Tag Archives: scottish football

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.

The Strange Case of Scotland’s Glasgow Rangers Football Club

11 Jul

Scottish author, Robert Louis Stevenson of Treasure Island fame, penned a novella that many consider to be a foundation stone of modern fiction’s addiction to substances, transformation and death – The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Dr. Jekyll liked to swallow chemicals turning himself into something unpredictable, Mr. Hyde. It’s a good metaphor for the calamity that is tearing Scottish soccer apart.

Think of Scottish soccer as a test tube in Dr. Jekyll’s lab marked with skull and cross bones, WARNING – DO NOT SHAKE! Sitting at the top of the mix is the colors of Irish green and British blue – green is the substance called Glasgow Celtic Football Club bonded to the blue known as Glasgow Rangers Football Club. Mix them up and they can explode but when they sit side by side at rest they produce something called the Old Firm, a successful alliance of opposites that has largely dominated Scottish soccer, economically and culturally, for over a hundred years. The elements that make up their wholes would require too long a label to delineate – suffice to summarize it as an emulsion of historical grievance, religious division, sectarianism, and nationalist politics that produces a soccer clash unrivaled anywhere in the world. The Old Firm is the defining intense soccer rivalry. Super hot, beyond sport.

But now things have changed. The tube has been ruptured. The blue half of the mix has evaporated. Rangers have been declared bankrupt due to many years of mismanagement. They consumed a hubristic formula of reckless expenditure in an effort to destroy their other half, Celtic. They failed. And were left weak to the point of death like Dr. Jekyll.

They have been discharged from the top Scottish league. The league rules and the animosity of rival clubs and their fan bases dictated their plunge. They now face the prospect of starting from scratch in the bottom division of Scottish football, three levels below the top tier. The economic implications are negative. Fears for other teams evaporating are real. Rangers worked the pump of investment in the Scottish game – their games with Celtic broadcast globally, a premium brand – the Old Firm was the bank that all the other clubs had an interest in. No Old Firm game and it could mean less or no money from TV contracts, and therefore less monies to share with the other clubs. The prospect of Scottish soccer boiling down is now a possibility.

The Scottish Football Association believes it may be the end for the Scottish game should Rangers not be allowed to return to the top flight within a year. Besides the economic armageddon for the clubs, the chiefs have warned of “social unrest” if Rangers are exiled to the deep. It’s an extraordinary claim that social strife could result as a consequence of a soccer club going bust. The commentary from Scottish soccer fans has ranged from celebratory dances on Rangers grave to dire warnings of revenge when/if Rangers return from the shadows.

Dr. Jekyll was unrecognizable after swallowing the poison – disfigured, mean and hostile – and finally death. Will Scottish soccer follow the script or synthesize a new beginning free from the mix of the Old Firm chemistry?

Scotland’s Rangers and Celtic as a Zombie Flick

17 Feb

Saw this piece on The Header, a new online soccer magazine.


As Scotland’s biggest football club, Glasgow Rangers, falls into bankruptcy, imagine the story as a completely unrealistic, crap horror film. Apologies to both Rangers and Celtic fans for the suspension of disbelief.

 

 

NOW SHOWING – THE OLD FIRM starring Celtic and Rangers

At the dying heart of Scottish football are two zombies, Glasgow Rangers and Glasgow Celtic, known as the Old Firm. They have terrorized their soccer politic for well over a century. Together, they ate the life out of Scottish football. Their zombie flesh transfused by a foreign host, in this case, cousin Ireland. Descendants of Irish immigrant Catholics in Glasgow, many loyal to their ancestral roots, are the Celtic choir for the Irish tricolor in Scotland. Inside Celtic’s stadium some, (director’s note) but not all, once sang for the brigades fighting to unite Ireland.

Cue the conflict scenes with the British Union Jack-loving Rangers, the neighbor across town, holding the line against this encroachment of Irish popery in Celtic uniforms, a clear and present danger to British civilization if you are somewhat Protestant and have consumed enough lager and bigotry on a Saturday afternoon in Glasgow. Naturally, both zombies become bloated with vanity and money from the divide-and-rule arrangement. Politicians, religious institutions and corporate sponsors plunge their teeth into the necks of the zombies while many in other parts of Scotland wish they would die, or go to Ireland to fight it out.

It is the football version of Groundhog Day. The Scottish football season awakens every year to the same script. Who will win the League? Celtic or Rangers? Rangers or Celtic? Perhaps next season it will be Rangers or Celtic? The dark winter continues for decades. Suddenly, the host in Ireland gives up supplying flesh. The proxy zombies break out in wounds, the old bruises don’t heal, sectarian boils suppurate openly on the skin of Scotland, some call it Scotland’s shame, and the veins begin to rot, the Old Firm zombies slash and lash at each other in a terrible frenzy, staggering through the death throes of yesterday, hungering for the sash and the ribbon of their abandoned host. But it is not to be found. The Irish are at peace.

The Rangers zombie, the muscular one that refused to play any Catholics in its team until 1989, finds itself desperate. The zombie’s business arm has grabbed other people’s money and commits to painful surgery, transplanting its decaying organs with modernity – to be new, to be a modern soccer club, to compete at the heights of European glory. But the body rejects the transplant. The zombie begins to die. The vultures move in. They sell the silverware. They dismantle the red bricks of Rangers’ hallowed ground, Ibrox. Tributaries of Protestant tears flow into Glasgow’s River Clyde, turning it blue. Across the city, the Celtic zombie is alone, lost without its other half, and soccer, being a game of two halves, loses its most famous act.

Roll the credits.

Reviews for this film –

“Can we get our money back? That was total rubbish. Complete, unrealistic crap.”
“Totally one-sided and biased nonsense. Obviously, a Rangers hater.”
“Totally one-sided and biased nonsense. Obviously, a Celtic hater.”
“As a zombie, I am insulted by the stereotypical depictions in this insulting film.”
“Is there a sequel in the works?”
“Casting Mel Gibson as the Pope was an inspired move, well done!”

Next week at this cinema – a new Scottish independent film starring…

THE SITTER – How Missed Chances Can Destroy a Nation

19 Sep

billy_bremner

It’s called a sitter. The ball is right in front of the goal, it’s easier to score, harder to miss, but somehow the ball refuses to go home to the net. The player’s face is agape in disbelief. He has missed a sitter. And he will be remembered for it. It might be the only thing he is remembered for. He might wake up in the middle of the night screaming, his form might plunge, perhaps the opposing fans will compose a new song celebrating his disaster, maybe he’ll think he is cursed.  Or doomed.

It might not be damaging if it is a mid-season game but missing a sitter in a precious moment will haunt a player like a ghost in a Dickens novel. Best to look at an example. Billy Bremner was a tough, popular redheaded Scottish footballer. He shone in the seventies, played for his country, starred at his club, and enjoyed the party-boy lifestyle of the celebrity. But then he missed a sitter. It blackened his name forever. No one wanted to buy him a beer anymore. People turned their backs on him and whispered – There’s Bremner. He let us down.

Bremner’s doom came in the Scotland v Brazil match during the 1974 World Cup Finals. The ball was one yard from the goal line. The nearest Brazilian was five yards adrift, and the goalkeeper may have been on the beach in Rio. And there was Billy Bremner, alone with the ball, the moment that would have made him a national hero, a new Scottish Braveheart, beckoned. The nation rose from its seat in front of its television. The word goal was shaped on lips and roars dredged from throats, Scotland were about to beat Brazil. But Bremner blew it. Like a stumbling drunk, he fluffed, and puffed, and defying Newton’s laws of motion, put the ball past the post. The nation never recovered. The Bremner hangover has lasted three decades. His curse was last seen a week ago, when Scotland missed several sitters against Holland, and went out of the World Cup.

The media made sure he never forgot it. In 1998, with Scotland drawn against Brazil in the opening game of the France World Cup, the Bremner sitter was shown on TV, over and over again. Billy Bremner dropped dead from a heart attack, aged 54.

With the World Cup Finals now on the line, all countries still in with a shout, will be praying that Bremner’s ghost will not rattle his chains.

www.alanblack.info

The Death of Scottish Football

13 Aug

funeral

If you’re Scottish, your football is dead. Once, a thriving field of imaginative players lived in this football worshiping country; now a dead zone, populated by footballing zombies. Scotland’s latest humiliation against Wales ranks as the worst effort by a Scottish team, probably, ever. An abomination of capitulation.

So what has made this footballing country die? Is it the culture? So long enveloped in drink and bad habits. Throughout the years, so many Scottish players banned for alcohol inspired abuse. Is it the fact that Scotland is not a nation, but a region of the United Kingdom? You can only play for your country if you truly have one. Or maybe Scots can’t dance? Brazilian Samba, Argentine Tango, cool, and svelte; the Scottish Highland Fling, no use in football. A corrupt and provincial mindset at the top of the Scottish football establishment condemns it to the grave. Scotland is now a minor football planet, a Luxembourg, an Iceland. And once they talked of winning a World Cup. And still they sing that ironic dirge, I’ll Walk a Million Miles for One of Your Goals, Oh Scotland. Indeed, that is the distance the Tartan Army will have to travel to see their nation score big again. And all that they have left..Let’s hope the English lose. Ashes to ashes. Dust to Dust. The end of Scottish football.

If you fancy it, check out my guide to the World Cup Finals, published on May 4 – www.thegloriousworldcup.com