Roger Brown: Bedford, November 2021
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.