We’ve all experienced those awkward few seconds of satellite delay after being asked a question from left-field.
You know the type… What time did you get in last night? Where did you leave the car keys? How much were those new shoes again?
A self-defence mechanism usually kicks in as you punctuate the silence with an “ehh…” here or an “erm…” there while formulating your response.
Now, imagine you were going to make your debut on live radio and the only brief you’d been given was never, and I mean NEVER, allow any dead air.
That was the situation I found myself back in 1977 when I was asked to cover a Clydebank-Hibs game for Radio Clyde in my days as a local newspaper reporter.
It was no biggie, they said. A wee pre-match chat with presenters Richard Park and Paul Cooney, throw in some team news, another chat at half-time, phone in any goal flashes and then a full-time wrap, as they say in Radioland.
The producer, on hearing it was to be my first time doing a live broadcast, then gave me my pep talk about making sure there was no dead air.
“Just remember, George, radio silence might be good in war-time…but it’s no effin good any other time.”
Fair point well made.
I turned up at Kilbowie Park in plenty of time, got settled in to my seat in the left-hand corner of the social club – which doubled as a press box on match days – overlooking the pitch and pored over the team sheet when it was handed out an hour before kick-off.
This information would form the basis of the pre-match chat so I duly noted the changes in both sides from the week before, made a few notes and – as it was November 5 – dusted off a few Guy Fawkes Night puns.
You know the ones…the Bankies will have to light a bonfire underneath themselves if they’re going to get out of relegation trouble, Hibs have a few sparklers of their own up front today and Clydebank boss Bill Munro will be hoping he doesn’t have to give his side a rocket at half-time after falling behind to an early goal again.
I was ready as I’d ever be and put in the call to Radio Clyde HQ and spoke to the producer.
“We’ve got a few minutes before you’ll be on,” he said, “They’re just starting to go round the grounds just now. By the way, how do you pronounce your surname?”
“It’s Cheyne, as in gold chain.”
“Really?…okay then. Stay on the line and you’ll hear a click just before you’re due to go on.”
I spent the next 10 minutes or so trying to prepare for any curve-ball questions which might be coming my way – and so avoid the dreaded dead air.
Click. This was it, my live radio debut…..
“And now we’re off to Kilbowie Park where we can speak to our reporter George Shyann ahead of the Clydebank-Hibs game. Tell us, George…which way is the wind blowing at Kilbowie today?”
If I’d prepped for a week solid I could never have anticipated that question. Left-field doesn’t begin to cover it.
A trickle of sweat meandered its way down my back as I looked out the social club window for a clue, any kind of clue – about which way the wind was blowing.
Nothing, not a damn thing. Meanwhile, I had broken the world record for the number of times anyone has uttered the “ehh…” and “erm…” sounds on live radio.
After what seemed like an eternity, I was finally able to blurt out: “It appears to be swirling all around the ground.”
“Ah, well, and what’s the team news today, George?”
I was completely thrown by the question about the wind and went on auto-pilot to read out the teams, formations and changes. No Guy Fawkes references, no witty chat…nothing.
The call ended, I slumped back into my seat and and said a silent prayer for a 0-0 game so I wouldn’t need to go back on to tell the waiting world about any goal flashes.
No such luck. Clydebank scored through Billy McColl before half-time and I had to put in the call.
Click. “And we’re off to Kilbowie where George Chainey has news of a goal. Who’s it for, George?”
No dead air this time as I managed to give an account of the goal without tripping over my tongue.
Half-time arrived and, just before I checked in again, a press box pal sidled up to me with the reason behind the question about the wind.
He’d been listening to Radio Clyde on his way to Kilbowie and the topic du jour was whether games should be called off because of high winds.
That would have been handy to know, but I wasn’t able to hear the broadcast while I was waiting to go on.
No matter. I could go out in a blaze of glory with my full-time wrap peppered with references to the winds of change blowing through Kilbowie after a 1-0 win and tweak the Guy Fawkes Night puns that I never got to use.
I check in with the producer and he tells me I’m next up. “One thing,” he says, “Don’t use any references to high winds or Guy Fawkes Night…everyone else has being doing that today.”
I blame John Reid actually, if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be standing here on a miserable, wet, Sunday morning.
I’m out walking the dog but find myself staring at a group of guys playing football. I’ve no idea who they are, or who they represent, but it’s entertaining none the less. Like most amateur players the ability levels are as wide as the bulk of some of them, but you get drawn in all the same.
So why do I blame John ? Well, it was John who took me to my first proper football match on 4th September, 1971, and what an introduction it was.
Aged 14 I had never been to a proper game or for that matter, even followed a specific team. Sure, I had played football down the local park with pals, but I’d never had a real interest in the sport.
So on this fateful day and on John’s insistence off we ventured, catching the No.11 bus into town via Maryhill road, exiting at Queens cross (with just about everyone else on the bus) and then taking the short walk to Firhill, home of Partick Thistle Football Club
As we approached the stadium it was an attack on the senses from all directions… The smells – wafting from various vendors serving up burgers with onions and vinegar and chips. The noise – of merchants touting team merchandise, rattling in yer ears… scarves and hats and badges and programmes. The sights – thousands of people wearing their teams colours in the form of team shirts, scarfs and hats, young and old, male and female.
It was a veritable pre match opera with a drama unfolding on every step.
I had never seen so many people queuing in my life, or seen so many police congregated in one place at one time. Those on horseback marshalled enormous queues of segregated fans sporting their team colours, waiting to pay at (or to be lifted over) the gate.
Beyond that, coaches and mini buses parked up, hailing from towns and places near and far. It soon became my turn to enter, I approached the turnstile, listening for the heavy duty sound of the ratchet clicking as the person ahead gained entry. My heart was thumping !! I was just not prepared for any of this.
Having paid (the princely sum of 15p) I climbed up the Firhill steps and reached the top to look down on a green oasis with goal posts at either end.
Surrounding the pitch there were blue three wheeled invalid cars parked behind the far goal, a covered terrace to the right and the main stand opposite.
My jaw dropped. I had never been amongst so much commotion.
The noise grew even louder as we moved around the terrace to join the throng under the covered area. It was a mass of humanity of all ages, some dressed smartly, some casually attired, and a great number standing astride brown paper carrier bags resting on the ground…. “The Cairy-oot “
The sound was immense as thousands of Thistle fans sung their team’s praises, whilst the opposition fans chanted to show adoration to their team too. In amongst this cacophony though, a lone voice could be heard between the chants…. “Here you are now, here ‘s the Offeeeshall chewing gum, the macaroon bars”. A lone man was standing astride a brown cardboard box with the aforementioned goods, flogging his wares to all comers.
As 3.00pm approached the density of the crowd increased on the steeply stepped terrace. The noise which was already deafening at that point hit a new level as the teams ran out. The crowd converging in a giant mass, only resting when everyone finally found their feet again. Checking my immediate surroundings, I was at least 6ft away from where I had stood before.
The ref blew his whistle and we were off. Rangers were the opposition that day, a team full of Internationals and they took the lead after 5 minutes. There was silence in the Thistle end until the game restarted, with the fans soon trading chants again, and then ten minutes later…. GOALLL for Thistle!!!
The terrace erupted…. people were going mental, embracing each other… moving across the terrace, up and down, left and right. Some had fallen over, cairy-oots had tumbled, pies had disintegrated, but nobody cared. My ears were ringing but the smile couldn’t be wiped off my face or that of my fellow fans, at that moment we were all one.
As the celebrations ended and I literally came back down to earth, I realised that everyone around me was a stranger, the surroundings had changed, and I was about 20ft away from where I had been beforehand…. the “mass” had moved again.
The noise from the Thistle fans was in contrast to the silence of the away support who remained silently static, before hurling abuse at the opposition ( and the odd missile too). Chants and songs soon recommenced, both supports fortifying the support for their team.
The game restarted and normal service was resumed.
On three more occasions that afternoon, fans of each side would experience moments of joy or pain during the game’s 90 minutes.
At full time the Jags had won 3-2, a crowd of 24,500 had witnessed Thistle’s first game back in the top division having gained promotion the previous season.
That was it. I was hooked, I had never experienced anything like this before…. the noise, the smells, the joy, the pain, the camaraderie and most importantly, the belonging.
I was hooked on the match-day experience, this was how I wanted to spend my Saturday afternoons, but now I had to make a decision, who was going to be ‘My Team’?
Half a century on, my love has never faltered, I continue to follow the Jags from afar. As for John, we kind of parted ways as we grew older but then our paths crossed again in the early eighties. He was married and living in Milngavie.
I live down south now so if anyone sees John, please pass on my regards and thank him for gifting me this love of football.
Right, I better get a move on and walk the dog. There ‘s rugby training further down the park, a good excuse to let him off the lead.
My name is George…and I’m not a Partick Thistle fan. There, I’ve said it, I’m coming clean after living with my guilt for 50 years.
It’s more of a guilty pleasure, actually, because going to Hampden with my dad to see Thistle win the League Cup in 1971 was one of the best days of my life.
It started off as a homage to my grandad – a lifelong Jags fan who had passed away a couple of years before – and ended up being an amazing shared bonding experience for my dad and I.
The build-up to the game was pretty low-key. That was mirrored in our house as my dad tried to keep a lid on any expectations.
“We’re up against a team that got to the European Cup Final last year,” he said, “I just hope we don’t get embarrassed.”
To be fair, he wasn’t alone in thinking that. I don’t remember many people giving Thistle an earthly ahead of the game.
I had just turned 13 a few weeks before, so it was a huge deal for me. My first final…I couldn’t wait.
The excitement of the big day got to me and I woke just after 6am, went downstairs and found my dad in the kitchen. He couldn’t sleep either.
He made me a huge bacon and melted cheese sandwich – it was too early for the roll delivery – and a mug of tea. The breakfast of champions, as it turned out.
We chatted away about my boys’ club football, school, my younger brothers, the weather…anything, really, apart from the game.
That was about to change. Not because we saw the BBC Grandstand programme where presenter Sam Leitch told everyone: “It’s League Cup final day at Hampden where Celtic meet Partick Thistle, who have no chance.”
No, we missed that as we were heading to my grandma’s house at that same time, having arranged to pop in before the game. She was quite chuffed we were going to honour my grandad’s memory and handed over his old Thistle scarf for me to wear.
“He’ll be looking out for you, so mind and keep it on,” she said as we waved goodbye.
So that’s how I found myself in the covered end at Hampden that day holding aloft a Thistle scarf as the goals rained in. One…two…three…four…the fans around us could hardly believe what was happening.
Maybe we all should have. The number one single at that time was Rod Stewart’s Reason To Believe, a double A-side with Maggie May. Surely that was an omen for one of the greatest upsets in Scottish football.
My abiding memory of the final was turning towards my dad at full-time amid the bedlam and seeing him with the biggest of big grins on his face. He looked at me silently and then raised his eyes to the skies above Hampden.
I knew what he meant…grandad had been looking out for us.
I always associated Wimbledon with school summer holidays. I never played tennis. There was what I assumed an ancient tennis racket hanging up in my Dad’s garage (it could have been a snow shoe come to think of it.). We would dislodge it from it’s rusty nail and blow off the cobwebs. As there was only one (from a one legged Inuit perhaps ?) we were more likely to use it in our improvised interpretation of rounders than tennis. It was also too heavy to lift above our heads (unleashing the huskies might have helped !)
Tennis wasn’t for the likes of us anyway. It was for posh Laurel Bank girls called Catriona and Ffiona who wouldn’t look at comprehensive school adolescent boys sideways. There was a tennis club hidden in a leafy lane near Bearsden Cross but they would set the dogs on you if they thought you were an outsider from Courthill or Castlehill.
Tennis was the telly for us so in the summer in 1971 I sat there watching as two Australians were competing in the Wimbledon ladies final. One was the dour faced Margaret Court (now Pentecostal minister and public homophobe) and the other, 19 year old Aboriginal girl Evonne Goolagong.
I wasn’t sure what an ‘Aboriginal’ was back then but I thought she looked quite cute and I must admit, had a bit of a teenage crush on her. The rest is history and ‘my girl’ took the trophy.
She was prominent in finals and semifinals for the rest of the decade and won her second Wimbledon in 1980. Six years later I was to land in the country of Ms Goolagong’s ancestors and I’ve lived here ever since.
This week Australians celebrate NAIDOC. For those of you north of Darwin, it stands for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee. It has its roots in the 1938 Day of Mourning, becoming a week long event in 1975. If I was cynical I would say it’s a week were privileged white folk pretend to be concerned about the plight of the first nations’ people and then ignore their issues for the next 51 weeks but the official line is it celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Island peoples.
It’s fitting that Ash Barty, a proud Ngaragu woman should pick up the mantle from Evonne Goolagong Cawley, a proud Wikadjuri woman, some fifty years later.
……….and haven’t snow shoes improved over the last half century !
As I look forward to tonights match between Scotland and England I realise that some years just seem to stick in your memory more than others. It’s probably no coincidence therefore that some of my most vivid memories come from years when the football World Cup was being held.
As a kid the first football match I ever watched on TV was the 1966 World Cup Final.
By the time the next World Cup rocked up in Mexico 1970 I was a football obsessive spending all my spare time kicking a ball around with my mates.
By 1974 I was training a couple of times a week, playing Saturday mornings for the school, Saturday afternoons for the local boys-club and Sundays for the youth club.
Truth be told my club allegiances in those days were probably secondary to my support for the national team. I watched Scotland religiously in my youth, but I had never seen us beat England.
That was all about to change in 1974.
1974 is one of those years that’s etched in my memory…. Apart from leaving school, starting work and going on my first ‘lads holiday’… 74 was the year that Scotland were making their first World Cup appearance since the year I was born (1958).
A big part of social life back then was the Youth Club….. a bi-weekly haven of sport, music and social interaction. Approaching 16 I was now old enough to go on some of the organised youth club trips, the first one being a day trip to Butlins in Ayr on Saturday May 18th, 1974.
I remember the date because it was the day I finally got to see Scotland beat England and oh yeah, the day I got chased by a bam-pot with a sword and beat Alberto Juantorena’s 800 metre record.
The day started off well enough with an early morning coach ride to Ayr and was followed by time spent at the Butlins amusement park, a mini-pleasure beach, before we followed some of the older lads into the spectacular Beachcomber Bar.
The Beachcomber Bar at Butlins was probably the most exotic and glamorous place I’d ever seen, it was like something from South Pacific. Of course, looking back now it was a mishmash of bamboo furniture and plastic plants with a few paper lanterns, paper-mache artefacts and hanging baskets thrown in for good measure, however it seemed very avant garde in 1974.
The game was being shown on a tv in the bar and even allowing for the watered-down lager…. the combination of event, location and community spirit, made for an intoxicating atmosphere.
Every year we approached the big game against the auld enemy with ambition and hope, usually to be left in despair, but in 74 there was cause for optimism. Unlike England we had qualified for the 74 World Cup plus our team was full of top players and big personalities.
One of those big personalities was wee Jimmy (Jinky) Johnstone fresh from his ‘Largs Boat Incident’.
For those that don’t know… wee Jinky and a few teammates went out for a refreshment in Largs three days before the England game and whilst staggering back to the team hotel wee Jinky decided to jump in a boat that got pushed out to sea by Sandy Jardine for a laugh, there was only one problem, there were no oars on the boat. Knowing Jinky couldn’t swim, Davie Hay a teammate tried to help by setting sail on another boat, which duly sprung a leak and sank!
With Jimmy sailing into the distance and heading for the North Star the coastguards were called by his beleaguered teammates and Jinky’s exploits were splashed all over the front pages of the Scottish press, with most pundits calling for him to be sanctioned and dropped.
In the end Jinky had the last laugh. 95,000 fans watched Scotland win 2-0 that day. Jinky gave a man of the match performance and famously gave the V sign to the press after the game.
The punters in the Beachcomber went mental at the final whistle and nobody wanted to leave that bar except the coach driver.
On the way home I sat beside a girl I’d known since I was 7 years old who was not in the best form as she was having major boyfriend trouble. He was a few years older than us and a renowned psycho. As far as her friends and family were concerned she’d finally come to her senses as she wanted to break up with him, but she knew it wouldn’t be that simple. I tried to take her mind off things, talking about goofy stuff from our past 8 years as friends and classmates, however, when we got back to Westerton the guy was waiting and her face just dropped.
On a high from the day’s events I hung out with my mates for a bit, reliving the highlights of the day before I decided to head home, I was about half a mile from my house when I heard this guy shouting and running towards me, he was about 200 yards away but I could still see the huge blade he was brandishing, it was the mental boyfriend…. I’ve never ran so fast in my life.
My friend had attempted to split up with him again that night, which he didn’t take well. He’d heard that I’d spent the coach journey home with her, put 2 and 2 together… and decided I was dead!
Cut forward 6 weeks…. Scotland had been knocked out of the World Cup in Germany despite their valiant effort in remaining unbeaten during the tournament.
With the World Cup over, and proof if needed that German efficiency trumps everything…. even Johan Cruyff and total football, I headed off on holiday with my family to Majorca.
We were staying at a quiet part of the island so I thought I was seeing things, when on the beach, I spotted Dennis Law, one of my footballing hero’s, fresh from his participation in the World Cup with Scotland.
Law was footballing royalty; he’d been a member of the all-conquering Man United team along with George Best and Bobby Charlton and was jokingly referred to as having the reflexes of a mongoose, ‘and the haircut to match’. Indeed, with his spiky feather cut and gallus approach Law was footballs answer to Rod Stewart… who also idolised the ‘Lawman’.
I had never asked anyone for an autograph before, but I wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass, no matter how starstruck I was
Before I approached the Lawman however I had to do one thing… I nipped back to my room and in the absence of a Scotland top I put on my ‘Roary Super Scot’ t-shirt, like some weird fanboy. Roary, for the uninitiated was the rather juvenile mascot of the Scotland 74 World Cup team.
Looking back now I’m embarrassed that I disturbed the guy on his holiday when he was probably just looking for a bit of peace and quiet after a tough season, but he was really friendly and approachable and made a point of coming over to talk to me and my Dad whenever he saw us. He was staying in the hotel next door to ours, and even asked me to mind his son on the beach a few times whilst him and his missus went for lunch.
Despite being an Aberdonian he was a good tipper and always gave me a couple of hundred Pesetas, which in 74 was enough for a couple of beers and a few plays on the jukebox where Santana’s Samba Pa Ti and Oye Como Va were on heavy rotation….. unfortunately or perhaps fortunately the 1974 Scotland World Cup song wasn’t on there .
I remember a lot about 1974 as I do with 1978 and 1982, something big always happened for me in those World Cup years, 2021 isn’t a World Cup year but I hope I can remember it as the year we beat England and got through to the group stages of the Euros for the first time (along with our English cousins of course).
I left school after sitting 5 o’levels, in fact I can even remember my last day at school it was 14th June 1969.
I had a job lined up in an office in Charing Cross after the Glasgow Fair so I was looking forward to the summer holidays with six weeks of long-lie-ins and footie in the park. I was feeling quite pleased with myself at the family dinner table that day teasing my brothers David and Joe (below) about how they had to go back to school whilst I was finished with all that…. but I shouldn’t have spoken so soon.
Unbeknown to me my Dad had nipped out to the local phone box to make a quick call and when he came back he duly informed me that I was to report to the local farm owned by Jim Paul at 4am the following morning to start my summer job, no lazy summer lie-ins for me then, but at least I’d finish work in time to play a bit of footie in the afternoon!
My passion back then was football and it has been ever since. I was obsessed, and if I wasn’t playing football for the school or the Boys Brigade or with my mates in the park, I was watching it or thinking about it, so in the summer of 69 when I read in the evening paper that the 3 main Glasgow teams were inviting players for trials for their youth teams for the 69-70 season, I couldn’t apply quick enough.
Celtic were first to respond with a trial date, it was to be held at St Anthony Junior’s ground in the south side of Glasgow near Ibrox. On arrival I was filtered into a group of trialists for the Under 16 team along with 40 or 50 other lads, we were then told that we’d all get 30 minutes to make an impact and that it was up to us to impress the coaches.
I couldn’t wait to get started. I played in my favoured midfield position but for the next 30 minutes I watched the ball sail over my head from our defence to the oppositions, I was lucky if I touched the ball 10 times and 6 of those were throw-ins!
I remember Brian Thistle (of this parish) was also there trying out for the under 14’s, he did well and unlike me he was invited back. I couldn’t help but feel that I had let myself down but it was a tough environment, not knowing anyone and not really getting the chance to show what I could do. The 30 minutes seemed to go by in a flash and I had a sore neck into the bargain, looking up at the sky trying to see where the bloody ball was!
Next up was Rangers and the local trials were being held in Drumchapel. At least there were a couple of familiar faces in my age group this time, lads who I had played against previously, good players who went on to become pro’s, like Gordon Smith (St Johnstone Aston villa & Spurs ) and Phil Bonnyman (Rangers, Hamilton, Chesterfield & Dunfermline), unfortunately for me however the end result was the same as the Celtic trial. I just couldn’t impose myself in the limited time I had and I sloped off in the knowledge that I wouldn’t be getting a call-back.
The Teddy Bears in 1969
Last but certainly not least was a trial with the mighty Jags from Firhill. The trial was being held at Sighthill Park and I was a bit more relaxed this time as I was accompanied by a couple of pals, Stuart Millan & Ian lamb who were also trying out. There were also a few ‘well-kent’ faces amongst the other trialists, again, lads I knew from School and Boys club football so I felt a lot more at ease.
As I took to the pitch I noticed that the Thistle manager (and a hero of mine) Davie McParland was standing on the touchline. I was more determined than ever to make the most of this opportunity. I lined up in midfield and told the guys taking the centre to knock the ball back to me from the kick off so I could get an early touch, however the ball hit a massive divot, ricocheted off my shin and deflected to my midfield opponent, who I missed with a lunging tackle, and watched from the deck as he went on to score the opening goal.
I could see the coaches scribbling away in their notepads from the corner of my eye and I knew I’d blown it. I actually went on to play pretty well but the damage was already done and unsurprisingly I was not asked to come back unlike my two mates Ian and Stuart.
To make matters worse that day I had arranged to go to the park when I got home to let my mates know how I had got on, most of the boys were sympathetic but I remember one lad called Davie Jenkins who called me a donkey and said I was wasting my time. We had a wee game of football after that (first to 15) and I made sure Davie was in the other team. I also made sure that he was on the end of my first tackle, and I definitely made sure he knew donkeys had some kick on them!
I also decided that it would be best for me to keep any future trials to myself!
My next trial was with a team from Knightswood – Everton Boys Club who were a top youth team. This time my big brother Brian took me and stayed to watch me play. The manager and the lads were really welcoming and I had a great game. So good in fact that the team manager asked me to join the club as soon as I came off the park, which I gladly did and with Brian in attendance he was able to sign the forms as my guardian on the spot.
To round off a great day, heading back to my brothers car I bumped into Davie McParland who’d watched the game. He was kind enough to say that his coaches would have signed me based on todays performance and would I still like to come and train with them? At this point the Everton manager saw what was happening and shouted over “Hey, hands off, he’s ours now Davie”.
I went on to have a great season with Everton, met some brilliant guys and made friends for life with guys like Frank Murphy who went on to become a football agent and John Cairns who’s son I went on to coach at Lennox (see pic below).
I may not have signed for any of the big Glasgow clubs but I had a fantastic time at Everton Boys Club and as the song so aptly says…. “These were the best days of my life”
(Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson of Glasgow – June 2021)
“Well done … how would you like to come and train with our athletics club?”
I looked over my shoulder to see who the tall, lean blonde haired and bespectacled gentleman was talking to. There was nobody close by. He was indeed talking to me and my three similarly aged, fourteen year old school friends.
We had just been beaten in the schools 4 x 100m relay race at the 1972 local Highland Games. Soundly beaten, as I recall. So why would anyone ask us to join their Club, I wondered?
This was actually the second invitation we’d had since the race ended ten minutes previous. I could only think the coach from Clydesdale Harriers and the gentleman before us now had missed out on signing the race winners and didn’t want to go back to their committees empty handed.
“I think you’re better than that. I’d like to see you lads come down and train with us at Garscube Harriers.”
As a ten / eleven year old, wearing the regulation, no-tech, basic, slip-on gym shoes, I’d enjoyed racing my pals ‘around the block.’ Like many kids my age in West of Scotland though, I was obsessed with football and never gave a second thought to taking up running as a hobby. Then again, never had two football coaches asked me to join their team. Ever.
Athletics it was, then.
I knew of Garscube Harriers. They were a long established club, well known for producing quality athletes … and had their headquarters in my village of Westerton, part of the leafy Glasgow suburb of Bearsden.
But I’ll come back to that!
I learned a lot in my early times with Garscube Harriers, much of which remains with me to this day.
My school relay pal, Ronnie, bailed out on that planned initial session, so I had to walk into a large group of kids, mainly older, definitely taller, and introduce myself. While I was made to feel welcome, it was at the cost of having the pure ‘proverbial’ ripped out of me.!
Perhaps some of what went on would be frowned upon these days, but it did me no harm at all that first night. I just had to knuckle down and prove myself to the existing members.
I remember finding the training hard, as I’d never done anything like it before. But I don’t recall struggling too badly.
And I loved it! Even the mickey taking. I was the butt of it all that night and the following few … until Ronnie eventually decided to show up one evening.
I was no longer ‘new boy.’
I was a Garscube Harrier.
Little did I know that evening, but most of these guys would be like a ‘band of brothers’ some forty-nine years later.
I would learn the value of friendship.
The Club’s summer base was not their clubhouse in my village. It was a red blaes (shale) track at Blairdardie. Taking the direct route via the canal underpass and following the towpath, it was a two mile cycle or run away. Of course, it being summer, those not given to sporting pursuit would congregate along the canal bank with cans of cider, lager and spray paint.
In the four summers of track training before I could drive, I had several eventful journeys to / from training, I can tell you.
I kind of looked upon it as a non-chargeable add-on to that evening’s training session.
I learned that a good turn of speed and stamina were useful physical attributes to nurture.
Although I knew next to nothing about athletics as such, I was aware that I was joining a ‘famous’ club – one of tradition and a reputation for producing not only international, but World Class athletes. And right on my doorstep.
I would discover that the coach who had initially invited me to the club, Donnie McDonald, was a former Scottish 880yds champion and international. My other coach when I first started, Gordon Dunn, had represented Scotland at the World Cross Country Championships.
Only a few years before I joined, ‘Ming’ Campbell (the Lib Dem politician) had been a member and represented Great Britain and Scotland in the sprint events. And over the summer I first trained with the club, another sprinter, Les Piggot, was representing Great Britain at his second Olympic Games, this time in Munich.
Garscube Harriers at that time also had a sprinkling of others who had attracted national attention at various age levels. Thinking back, none of us youngsters being were struck in the slightest. Everyone was completely grounded and subjected to the same mickey taking as the next person.
Ours was a humble club.
And I learned the value of humility.
Track training was hard. Very hard. Our coaches, I’d say, were even then and in the nicest sense, ‘old school.’ Their methods I’m reasonably sure, did not come from any text book. Rather, they passed on the benefits of their experiences. And because they had our utmost respect, we appreciated that.
The drove us hard. Ten x 200m in 26 seconds with a 200m jog recovery is one session I remember vividly. It would frequently result in me scraping a hole in the red blaes with my spikes, puking into it, covering it back up, and running to rejoin the pack.
Time and Garscube Harriers wait for no man.
I learned the mantra ‘no pain, no gain.’
My first race for the Club came at Westerlands, home track of Glasgow University. I hadn’t yet received my club vest, so checked in for my invitational 800m race wearing my favourite dog-chewed mustard coloured vest. I surveyed the opposition as we warmed up and decided the two taller lads who looked well sharp in their neat track suits and top range spikes, were the ones to tag on to. They’d pull me through to a good finish.
Did they heck, as like! I sat with them for the first lap. They had the style; they had the gear. What they didn’t have was either pace or stamina. I waited for them to make their move, but of course it never came.
It quickly dawned I’d made a bit of a schoolboy error and a fast last two hundred metres brought me home to a mid-field placing.
I learned never to judge a book by its cover. Don’t pre-judge people one way or another.
During the late Seventies, the Club suffered a dip in membership as the ‘old guard’ moved away from the area for various family, work or study reasons. I don’t know why, but we were unable to draft in replacements. There just didn’t seem to be any interest.
Those athletes that remained were still good, but we now lacked the depth in our squad. This meant several of us would run various distances at the National Track and Field League meetings. It wasn’t unknown for a middle distance runner to compete not only in the 1500m, but also the 110m hurdles and possibly the shot put.
Once at Meadowbank, I ran 200m, 400m and then very rashly, entered the 5000m. The distance itself was not the issue, as I’d train over 5 – 10 miles. But the concentration was. As was the quality of opposition, with some of Scotland’s best in the field. I was lapped twice by the leaders, and though I was mortified I persevered. In doing so, I managed to finish a few from the back.
I learned to never give in. One point is better than none. Something is better than nothing.
Throughout the ‘70s, athletics was strictly amateur. The rules were vigorously enforced. No cash or ‘cash exchangeable’ prizes could be awarded. Not even book / record tokens as I recall.
No, no, no. On a couple occasions I travelled all the way to London (representing Bank of Scotland) won my race, and returned home the proud owner of a butter dish or something equally crass.!
The Highland Games circuit was no better. We would win the likes of salt and pepper cruet sets; cake stands; crappy framed pictures and plastic ice buckets (one of which was donated to the Club raffle, only for the raffle winner to re-donate it the following year.)
I learned that success need not be measured in monetary value.
Ah yes … the ‘headquarters.’ How could I forget.
Our base up until the mid-Eighties was ‘The Hut.’ A corrugated iron construction that was unbearably hot in the summer months and unbelievably cold in winter.
It was used predominately during the road racing / cross country months of autumn and winter, when we’d meet twice / three times a week to go on pack runs varying from 1.5 to 10 miles.
Over the years it became more and more dilapidated, and a health and safety hazard.
To say it was spartan would be an understatement, but to many of us it was a second home.
And I learned that indeed, ‘home’ is where the heart is.
My active years in athletics spanned only ten years. I never took it too seriously. I trained hard, of course. And I competed hard. But I took very few photographs; I didn’t formally record my Personal Bests. It was an excuse to go for a beer!
At the time, I also played football – to an adequate-not-spectacular standard. This meant for a few years around age nineteen to twenty-one, I was unavailable for many races on the roads and over the country – the latter being my best and favoured.
Of the two, athletics would have been my stronger sport, but I was young and had plenty years of running ahead of me. Play football now when you can, concentrate on running later.
It didn’t work that way, did it?
Injury at age twenty-two put paid to both sports!
I learned to live for today and take nothing for granted.
Just before my injury, I went on holiday to the South of France with a couple of the Garscube team. It was there that I met our Diane, my wife of thirty-nine years. (Thirty-nine years tomorrow, 5th June, as it happens.)
I learned Fate dealt me a pretty good hand!
I sometimes wonder how my life would have been shaped, had my school relay team actually won that race all these years ago?
The value of friendship; speed and stamina are handy; humility; no pain, no gain; don’t pre-judge; never give in; success needn’t equate to monetary value; home is where the heart is; take nothing for granted and yeah, overall, I’ve done alright.
Joining Garscube Harriers has certainly taught me a lot over the years, possibly the most important being that sometimes you don’t actually have to be a winner to win.
Right, class…we’re going to play a wee game of word association here.
If I say “World Cup qualification”, what’s the first thing that springs into those brilliant young minds?
Anyone? I know it’s been a long, long time, but may I remind you this is a history lesson and the subject is the 1970s.
What’s that, David? England, you say? Well, you can take that smug look off your face right now because that is wrong, wrong, wrong. Sure, England were at the 1970 World Cup – but they got a free pass, there was no qualification required.
Really, Torquil? The Scotland rugby team? Firstly, the Rugby World Cup didn’t start until 1987 and, secondly, if rugby is the first thing that springs into your mind, you should probably be in the advanced Higher class instead of being stuck in here with this lot.
Anyone else? What’s that, Johnny…Scotland? You’re on the right track but it’s only partially correct.
Okay, lesson over, the phrase I was looking for was novelty football songs.
The 70s charts were awash with teams belting out their tunes. You know the ones…terracing-style chanting backed up with some cheesy lyrics and fronted by a bunch of giggling players looking like they’d rather be anywhere else than in front of a mic.
It was big business. There were World Cup songs hogging the airwaves at the drop of a Mexican sombrero in 1970, a German tirolerhut in 1974 and an Argentinian gaucho hat in 1978.
Credit where credit’s due, the whole concept was kicked off by England’s 1970 squad singing Back Home.
It was just the nudge football needed to move into the marketing-savvy decade. Every player in Alf Ramsey’s squad was handed a Ford Cortina 1600E – quite the machine back then – and, of course, there was the Esso coin collection and other branded merchandise flying off the shelves everywhere.
That was the marker laid down for Scotland’s World Cup efforts in ’74 and ’78. There were Vauxhall Victors for Germany and Chryslers for Argentina.
From flashy suits to trashy tack, the merch and the money piled up. But it’s those anthems which stick in the mind from all those years ago.
Not that you’ll need any reminding, but here’s a guide to those novelty World Cup tunes of yesteryear.
Back Home – England’s 1970 squad.
Put together by Scot, Bill Martin and Irishman, Phil Coulter, the song somehow managed to avoid a jingoistic theme and settled for a more humble message and a strong connection with the fans who’d be watching the actions from their armchairs.
Cheesy lyric: “They’ll see as they’re watching and praying, that we put our hearts in our playing.”
Best lyric: “Back home, they’ll be thinking about us when we are far away.”
Easy Easy – Scotland’s 1974 squad
Also penned by Bill Martin and Phil Coulter, the single abandoned any pretence of humility and instead dived head-first into the possibility that it was going to be easy for Scotland in Germany. Left some of the tub-thumping behind long enough in the middle of the song to personalise things by name-checking Willie Morgan and Denis Law.
Cheesy lyric: “Eanie meanie moe, get the ball and have a go and it’s easy..easy.”
Best lyric: “Ring a ding a ding, there goes Willie on the wing…ring a ding a ding, knock it over for the king.”
Ole Ola – Rod Stewart and Scotland’s 1978 squad
Not sure if Rod was influenced by samba or sambuca when this official single was put together, but it never really caught on. Lots of name-dropping within the tremendously-upbeat lyrics, the song also used Archie MacPherson’s TV commentary from the game Scotland qualified for the tournament.
Cheesy lyric: “Ole ola, ole ola…we’re gonna bring that World Cup back from over there.”
Best lyric: “There’s an overlap, good running by Buchan. Kenny Dalglish is in there. Oh what a goal! Oh, yes…that does it!”
Ally’s Tartan Army – Andy Cameron, 1978
This may not have been the official World Cup song, but it was the one that caught the imagination of the fans. All the talk of really shaking them up when we win the World Cup makes it a proper in-your-face tune and Andy Cameron even got to perform it on Top of the Pops.
Cheesy lyric: “We had to get a man who could make all Scotland proud, he’s our Muhammad Ali, he’s Alistair MacLeod.”
Best lyric: “We’re representing Britain, we’ve got to do our die – England cannae dae it ’cause they didnae qualify.”
It wasn’t only the World Cup which attracted this genre in the 1970s – booking a place in a cup final was closely followed by booking a place in a recording studio.
It meant all sorts of ditties were around in the decade and the novelty never seemed to wear off.
We had Good Old Arsenal (1971 double team), Blue Is The Colour (Chelsea’s 1972 League Cup final team), I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles (West Ham’s 1975 FA Cup final team) and We Can Do It (Liverpool’s 1977 side).
Scotland’s sporting heroes of the 1970s seem to have missed a trick here by not releasing novelty songs of their own when they were at their peak.
But it’s never too late to pay tribute to them, so – with a bit of a tweak here and there for the lyrics – here are the tunes which befit these stars.
Ian Stewart and Lachie Stewart
Gold medalists at the 1970 Commonwealth Games – Keep On Trackin’ (Eddie Kendricks)
European Cup finalists 1970 – Hoops Upside Your Head (The Gap Band)
World lightweight boxing champion 1970 – Ken You Feel The Force (Real Thing)
World Formula 1 champ 1971 and 1973 – Life In The Fast Lane (Eagles)
European Cup Winners’ Cup winners 1972 – Barcelona (Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballe)
Two swimming gold medals at 1976 Montreal Olympics – Pool Up To The Bumper (Grace Jones)
League Cup winners in 1971 – Handbags and GladJags (Rod Stewart)
First things first, this is not a football post, neither it is a Partick Thistle post.
Posts of that nature can be easily found elsewhere on the site but for this travelogue, which details an epic journey from suburban Glasgow to the darkest recesses of Fife in August 1970, both the game of football and the Jags provide convenient pegs on which to hang this partick-ular (see what I did there?) jacket.
Along with Courthill legend Dougie ‘Sparra’ Davidson, I had been following Thistle home and away for some time and the club’s relegation to the Second Division at the end of season 1969-70 had opened up a cornucopia of new travel opportunities resulting in us spending the summer eagerly planning trips to the uncharted waters of places like Montrose, Arbroath, Stirling, Brechin and Forfar, all of which had been, to us, mere dots on a map of Scotland up until then.
Dougie was the main planner. he was the 70s equivalent of Google. How he did it I’ll never know but he seemed to know every bus and train timetable in mainland Scotland as well as the geographical and socio-economic features of most areas of the country and our first major adventure of the season was a journey to The Kingdom of Fife.
Not a trip to the historic burgh of Dunfermline where the bones of King Robert the Bruce rest beneath the town’s abbey.
Not a pilgrimage to St Andrews, the equally historic home of golf.
Not even an excursion to Anstruther where the most famous fish suppers in the world are flipped out from the sparkling friers in all their golden glory.
Nope, none of the above. This was a jaunt to see our team play a League Cup sectional tie against East Fife in the club’s home town of Methil, a locality which had apparently once been described by no less than Prince Philip as a ‘dump’ during his wartime service with the Royal Navy. A remark which the Chookie Embra has since denied, but an opinion which has been shared by, well, pretty much everyone who has ever had the misfortune to visit the place.
Dougie had the itinerary meticulously prepared – early morning bus into Queen Street, train to Edinburgh Haymarket, another train to Kirkcaldy and then a bus to Methil.
All went well until we rolled into Haymarket a few minutes late and missed our connection.
Not to worry, plenty of time in hand so we went out of the station for a brief stroll around the Haymarket environs (little did I know that in six years time I would be buying my first flat just across the road from the station).
The first thing we saw when we emerged was a group of about 15 sullen looking Hibs supporters who, on noticing our scarves, advanced en masse in our direction.
It was long before Irvine Welsh had created the characters of Begbie and Renton but even so, the sight of a group of Hibs fans coming at us was suitably frightening. However, it transpired that the supporters bus for their game at Airdrie hadn’t turned up and they merely wanted advice on how to get to the Peoples Republic on the Plains by alternative means.
Step forward the human Google, aka D. Davidson esq, and the happy Hibees headed off with a comprehensive knowledge of the train times which would ensure their arrival at Broomfield by 3pm….
Next stop Kirkcaldy and a pleasant walk along the esplanade to the bus station before enjoying a picturesque run through the east neuk of Fife, passing through a series of small towns with quaint names such as Coaltown of Balgonie.
Methil, however, was anything but picturesque. Ive never been a great admirer of HRH Prince Philip but his alleged description of the town was bang on the money.
Calling Methil a dump is an insult to dumps the world over and, having arrived there with over an hour to go before hostilities, and being well short of legal drinking age, the only source of amusement was, wait for it, a cafe with a bagatelle. That’s right, a bagatelle. A wooden board with a series of wooden pins where you manually projected a steel ball and waited for it to nestle in one of the areas at the base where numeric stickers confirmed your score.
Don’t knock it however. Bagatelle was probably the forerunner of pinball and, who knows, without it Pete Townshend might never had written Tommy.
In the unlikely event that anyone’s remotely interested in the game itself, it ended in an uninspiring 1-1 draw with most of the action occurring on the unsegregated terracing as either set of fans lobbed bottles and cans at each other in time honoured fashion.
The hostile atmosphere continued in the streets after the game and as the two of us looked for an escape route, we found ourselves face to face with a group of small boys, every one of whom looked to be around seven or eight years old.
One of them, who possessed an angelic-like countenance, stepped forward with a rather unangelic opening gambit of ‘fuck off back tae Glasgow ya cunts’.
We were amazed that such an aggressive and profane salvo could emerge from the mouth of one so young and cherub looking (unless of course, Methil Primary School had introduced the works of D H Lawrence to its curriculum), but we didn’t feel there was any mileage in debating the point and increased our pace a notch to ease clear of these mini gangsters, especially when I saw one of them picking up a discarded half brick from the gutter.
A quick glance over my shoulder and I was met with the sight of the said half brick hurtling towards my head, after which discretion quickly outstripped valour as we broke into a sprint and in fact, legged it all the way to the neighbouring town of Leven before seeking sanctuary in the bus station.
The return journey was uneventful up to a point. That point being our arrival back at Haymarket and finding ourselves with time to spare before catching the Glasgow train.
Never mind, it was August, the sun was shining and the Edinburgh Festival was in full swing so a pleasant evening stroll seemed a good idea.
Bad move. Hearts had been playing Ayr United at home that day and a group of their fans, clearly fortified by some post-match libations in the nearby hostelries, took exception to us invading their turf and we were chased back into the station where we jumped on to a departing train which looked to be heading a in a westerly direction.
Westerly was correct but we hadn’t checked the destination, an error of judgement which only became apparent when the train pulled into some God-forsaken place called Fauldhouse and the driver switched off the engine before heading home at what was clearly the end of his shift.
Not only were we up shit creek but the famous ship creek superstore ‘Paddles R Us’ was closed for the summer.
Dougie scanned the fading numbers on the station’s timetable board and established that the next train to Glasgow was not for another two hours so we trudged off for the proverbial ‘look round’ and decided a drink of beer would improve our jaded demeanour.
In terms of shit-hole towns, Fauldhouse could easily have given Methil a run for its money but we did find a pub that was open.
As stated earlier, we were well below the legal drinking age so we hung around the pub door like a couple of jakeys (ie blending in with the locals) until we managed to convince an old guy to pick us up a couple of cans of Harp lager which, as I recall, retailed at 2s 9d each, thats about 14p for those who may not recall the advent of decimalisation. The good old days.
The cans were drunk, the train arrived and we eventually got home about 10pm at the end of an eventful 14 hour odyssey.
Ive watched countless games of football in eleven countries within three different continents and as the memory fades with age, they all tend to blend into one another but that trip to Methil over 50 years ago is the one where, for reasons which I’m sure are obvious, every single detail remains firmly lodged within my psyche.
(Post by John Allan, from Bridgetown, Western Australia – February 2021)
It’s not that I’m not sporty, It’s just that I’m not that good at it. I wasn’t the last boy in the playground to be picked for the team – there was always the asthmatic, myopic fat kid with a note from his mother for that – but I was usually in the last 2 or 3.
I blame it on the fact that I’m right handed and left footed. A condition that should at least have a medical name if not a support group. I could throw, I could catch, I could kick – just not necessarily in the direction I intended.
I’ve tried them all. I got a bronze medal for swimming life saving which seemed to involve a lot of treading water in your pyjamas. An unnecessary life skill I thought unless you have a serious bed wetting problem. I could have, and probably should have gone for silver but no thank you. I was happy here with my bronze.
I loved football. My bedroom was adorned with pictures of the 1970 World Cup winners, Brazil. There was a time I could recite all 11 team members from memory – Jairzinho,Gerson, Tostao, Pele and Rivellino – Google ? I don’t think so !
I remember my mothers reaction when I paraded in front of her in my shiny new cub scouts team colours.
“ Look at you in your wee blue and yellow strip”
“Azure and mustard, mother !”
I played a sweeping left midfield role.
“Left half ? Left aff the park more like !” Yes, Dad jokes never change.
I tried Judo. The names of the throws sounded so exotic although we tried to anglicise them into something sounding vaguely rude. There was one throw where you grabbed you opponents lapels, pulled them down towards you while falling back, raised your foot to their solar plexus then flipped them over your head. We called it ‘ballsinagoni’ as it often went wrong.
Then there was the Judogi.
“Johnny is wearing a white heavy kimono style jacket with matching cotton draw- string three quarter length pants topped of with a loose fitting orange belt “ Gorgeous ! (Is there a theme emerging here ?)
I could of gone for my green belt , but no, I’m happy here with my orange.
Even darts. I could hit the board alright but it took ages to count back from 501 especially as I had to keep taking my shoes and socks off. Next !
I discovered basketball in my mid teens. I was tall (though 6 foot is considered smallish in basketball terms) It was indoors. No more running about in acres of swamp in the freezing cold with the promise of a wet ball to the knackers to warm you up from dry retching. I signed up and joined a team.
I was no more a natural than I had been in any other sports but I enjoyed the intense training and savoured my 10 minutes court time per season. I was the bench warmer who had to wait until all the first 5 had been fouled out, seriously injured or deported (we had some overseas players).
One good thing though, the team were going to Yugoslavia. 10 players, a coach and an entourage of about 6 were heading to Ljubljana. As you will know from your Observer Book of Interesting Places, Ljubljana is now the capital of Slovenia but in 1977 it was part of the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia led by former WW2 communist revolutionary and leader of the Partisan resistance movement, General Josep Broz Tito. Dah !
We were accommodated at the university, trained hard, played and lost to the locals.
What I remember most of course was the social life.
The first thing we had to do was learn to communicate with the comrades.
Pivo (пиво) = beer.
With that under our belt we could explore the night life. Our noses took us to an eatery where we tried to get some pivos, but when we went up to the ‘bar’ we were shooed away by a stern looking lady in a white coat and head scarf.
The place was tiled wall to wall, chest height tables bolted to the floor and mostly men with either, beer, plates or tickets in their hands. Eventually we worked out that you had to go up to one area to get a ticket for a beer then hand it over at the bar to receive your drink.
Similarly you went to another area to get a ticket which you would exchange for a light snack of small kebabs, a pile of coarsely sliced raw onion and a doorstep wedge of bread which I christened ‘pig on a stick’.
The alternative was small meatballs, onion and bread – ‘jobbies on a plate’.
Young Dougie had not armed himself sufficiently with either ‘pigs’ or ‘jobbies’ but had not held back on the pivo and decided to scale a large statue of General Tito and lovingly embrace it. The local constabulary took a dim view of this and Dougie found himself unceremoniously dumped in an outer suburb of Ljubljana and having to spend half of his holiday money on taxis to get back to the campus.
We related this story to the ladies team we had befriended (who had beaten us earlier in the week) and Larry (the Yank) referred to the polis as ‘Tito’s men’ and this 16 year severe looking Slav girl stepped forward, chest puffed out.
“We are all Tito’s men !” Wow !
We continued training, playing, losing and going out on the town every night. Eating one Chateaubriand (normally a dish for 2) each as we were so ravenous and it was so cheap, drinking copious amounts of rum and coke then doing a runner and driving up one way streets in our hired mini-van ignoring the clutch. The sort of things any normal tourist would do to ingratiate oneself with the locals.
We got away with it. Nobody ended up in the salt mines.
After 3 weeks of fun filled debauchery and a bit of basketball it was time to go home.
Sitting on the train waiting for departure our team captain Jon appeared ashen faced.
“We don’t have enough money to pay the min-van hire bill. Has anyone got any travellers cheques we can cash ? ”
I did. We jumped off the train and jogged to the nearest bank. I cashed my cheques and thrust the proceeds into Jon’s hand.
“Run ! The train leaves in 5 min”
I scampered through the streets of Ljubljana into the station where I could see the train doors being closed. I picked up the pace running the length of the platform.
This was my moment. My athletic prowess finally recognised. A sporting legend.
I got to the carriage door as the last door slammed shut and was greeted with loud cheers and applause. I slumped to my seat with a satisfied smirk as the train started to engage and slowly move. The cheers dissipated to a murmur only to rise again. Jon’s bald head could be seen bobbing along side the carriage. The door flung open and Jon fell into the corridor. The bastard had stolen my thunder. I had to settle for second place yet again.
After all these years I have finally realised that I still have a role to play in sport. I’m not on the bench or in the dugout. I’m on the recliner rocker remote in hand. I’m a pundit, a punter, a spectator.
The nearest I’ve got to cricket is backyard rounders. Not leather upon willow, more rubber against cat gut, but I know my cows corner from my googly and my silly leg.
I’m even swotting up on the rules of netball and not just ogling slim Amazonian type woman in short tight skirts.
And basketball. Yes I still follow basketball. The Perth Wildcats are my team but I sometimes hark back to my days in uniform.