The Stadium Memory as a Hole in the Head

2 Nov

The weeds thrived on the deserted steps. Brittle concrete swept up by the blustery wind fertilized the void. I stood solitary in a stadium built to hold 25,000 people, separated by fifty yards from the nearest fan watching our team. Some of the few present may have harbored decades old memories of the roars that once sang loudly here. But not now. There was no crowd of bodies, no fan’s life in multitudes. 500 scattered souls was a big congregation.

Shawfield Stadium in Glasgow was the home of lowly Clyde Football Club, founded 1877. The club shared the ground with Glasgow’s greyhound dog racing scene which was vastly more popular. Lithe dogs chased the hare three nights a week on a large oval track that cut off the soccer field from the proximity of the fans. Rumor had it that Liverpool legend, Kenny Dalgish, summed it up as the worst stadium he had ever played in, like playing in a vacuum. Yet, we unhappy few went every week to the breach, us nobodies, in the wind or rain, usually both.

The desire for greatness was not limp amongst us. Vigorous dreams of success energized the first few games of the season. But when the results offered no favors, we were left with a dank pathos and our trousers stuck to our legs by the marriage of wind and rain. Most of us Clyde fans blew down to Shawfield from the nearby town of Rutherglen.

The town’s bank clerk was a Clyde fanatic. He had no friends. His window at the local bank was decorated with a threadbare Clyde scarf. He housed my emaciated bank account. I felt safe banking there. Could he steal money from a rich bastard’s account and add it to a fellow Clyde sufferer’s ledger? – an act of charity, really.

No, he said, but I have a plan to bring an exciting atmosphere to Clyde.

In a magnificent effort to show the Clyde fans the meaning of ecstasy, the bank clerk arrived on gameday with a boombox and a megaphone. Suddenly, the sprigs of black weeds growing on the concrete steps were blasted by the junked up bung of his busted megaphone, feed backing on his crap boombox playing a recording of a cheering soccer crowd, recorded off his television by a cheap microphone held up to the speaker.

Blood curdling screeches of feedback skewered the stadium, crunching across the field of play, stiffening the players, hitting the vacant seats, rebounding backwards to the clutch of fans on the steps, ears covered, faces buckled in pain. What the hell was that? What a nightmare! A few gathered and booted his boombox to death, this space invader. We went back to the twilight of ends and watched Clyde lose again.

Shawfield was a man’s place but there was one female working behind the counter that served hot drinks. Her hair was aflame with reds, rouge busy on her lips, the pearls around her neck clashing with the sunset yellow of her nicotined dentures. A few male specimens stood boggle eyed, fixed to the spout of the tea lady’s charms. They were doomed to die prematurely.

The lady sold rounded meat pie. They made good weapons for attacking the odd rat scurrying at the back of the stadium. But no one could have heard the approaching mad moos of cows floundering on filthy barnyard floors. When Mad Cow Disease in humans began killing people in Scotland, the meatpie was fingered as a likely source of contamination. It had a magical luminous quality to it, the soccer meat pie, sparkling in the gloom, the spinal cords and brains of the herd delicious inside this partially hydrogenated slop. If your rotted brain did not fell you, the clamps on your arteries surely would.

And then there was the hot drink. Cue this thick brown fuzz trading under the name, Bovril.  A cup of hot Bovril beefstock resembled something brown and smelled like something brown. It was consumed in lubricating quantities, helping to wash the meat pie into the intestinal maze. Horrendous double acts of dietary danger knew no greater perfomers than the meat pie and the cup of steaming Bovril. As powerful as any pharmaceutical laxatives, the antiquated plumbing system at Shawfield was stretched to the limits, disintegrating with a vile ugliness that the dryness of words could in no way do justice to.

Fortunately for  the stadium plumbing, the pipes had only to run a short distance to the River Clyde, a mere hundred yards away. The Clyde, the great river and vein of Glasgow’s shipbuilding history, had become a dark, rusted water, filled with iron filings, amputated ship parts and meat pie and Bovril deposits sailing down the river on a Saturday afternoon. Some people went fishing in the Clyde, hoping to snare cast off shoes or wallets from those who had jumped in the final act.

Stripped of hope, Clyde Football Club eventually crashed and burned into the black hole of meaninglessness. Disputes with the greyhound authorities forced the team to leave their old home. Moving to a tiny stadium in the middle of nowhere amongst the fields of Central Scotland, the exile proved lethal. The once proud club sunk to the bottom of Scottish soccer. The sound of cows can be heard mooing in the distance to this day.

One Response to “The Stadium Memory as a Hole in the Head”

  1. Henry Clarson February 20, 2013 at 2:26 am #

    Great writing! It stirred a few memories.
    Back in the mid-sixties Shawfield was where I saw my first ever senior match. Aberdeen were the opposition. I don’t remember the score but I have a feeling that it was a draw. As a small, unworldly boy, struck by the novelty of the experience, it all felt very glamorous and magical to me. No pies were inflicted upon me.
    I don’t think I’ve ever seen Clyde win a match, anywhere.
    My final visits were in the early 1980s when Partick Thistle visited for an anti-climactic Scottish Cup replay which ended prematurely in extra-time when the floodlights failed. The crowd, such as it was, instantly seemed to correctly ascertain that there would be no resumption of play and, in absolute darkness, proceeded to leave the stadium. There appeared to be only one means of exit. This was via a gate with a roller-shutter which – for some reason for which an explanation was neither asked nor volunteered – had been raised to a height of no more than two and a half feet, leaving the departing hordes with no option but to limbo dance, blinking, onto the street-lit pavement beyond.
    I felt strangely compelled to see this episode to its conclusion so I returned the following week for the replay of the replay. Clyde convincingly succumbed to a 6-1 thrashing, with a clumsy own goal thrown in for good measure, leaving everyone present wondering why the Jags had needed full three matches to progress to the next round at the Bully Wee’s expense.
    It was football, Jim, but not as we know it.

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