Do you remember the first game you ever attended?
I can’t remember many of the finer points of my first ever game. I know it was a home game against Berwick Rangers that ended in a one each draw, and it was raining. That’s about it. We scored from a free kick. I’ve no idea how we lost one but I shouted loudly for offside with all the big people around me despite the fact I had not a feckin clue what offside was. In fairness I was only a wee kid at my first game, there are plenty of officals who have made a fair career in the game without getting to grips with the nuances of the off-side rule.
When I think back its more general things particular to that era that stick in my mind. Crowds seemed bigger and more enthusiastic (standing rather than sitting helped I suppose), strips were plainer but more outstanding because of it and they seemed to contrast better with the opposition.
At cup finals people still wore rosettes unashamedly without realising how stupid they looked. It was a harder, more honest game too. This sounds like the sort of sentimental crap that would come from your semi-incontinent mind wandering 90 year old neighbour, but it’s true, I swear!.
A yellow card back then had to be earned and red cards were infrequent and only came as the result of some form of grizzly, carnage inducing incident. Cheating only happened during the afternoon card schools where players bet their families and posessions for a laugh, and to miss a game through suspension meant the player in question was still hanging by his toe from the nearest lamp-post in punishment on account of him ‘no howfin the baw oot the grund tae waste time when he was telt’ during the previous weeks encounter.
Slip back further in time and it was really a man’s game, if the definition of ‘man’ happened to be ‘homicidal maniac with a penchant for mindless thuggery’ that is.In those days you could legally melt the goalie with a crowbar at corners and if they fell into the back of the net with the ball it was a goal and they were branded ‘a poof’
The tricky skilful artists of their day, were such because they had to be. It was survival. Amidst the fading spectacle that is football in the modern age, maybe we should cast an eye back to the halcyon days of stanley Matthews and understand, why he had such finely honed skills allied to his commitment and determination. It was self preservation, pure and simple. Failure to develop the required level of skill and tenaciousness, meant only one thing; a size twelve, steel toed boot so far up your back passage that the offender had squatter’s rights.
I miss other things too, like switching ends at half time so you could abuse the opposition goalie for the full 90 minutes.
And then there was comics, the staple diet of any kid from the 70's with ambitions to play professional football one day. Well we could but dream! I can recall vividly the sories from my weekly buy of Roy of the Rovers, and can recall very clearly the storylines and characters.
The Hard Man – originally inspired by the afore mentioned ‘homicidal maniac’, Johnny Dexter knocked over all who stood in his way. Under the certifiably mad gaze of Victor Boskovic an alarmingly fat, bald manager with a penchant for tight fitting tracksuits. Johnny consistently took no prisoners. In the words of my 90 year old neighbour he was ‘hard but fair’
Billys Boots – Young Billy Dane lived with his gran and played for Groundwood school team in an ancient chewed up pair of boots of his hero dead Shot Keen. The boots gave Billy fantastic skills and seemed to relive the events of Dead Shots career when he was alive. Undoubtedly the inspiration for football movie ‘Theres only one Jimmy Grimble’
Hot Shot Hamish – The famous Herculean Highlander, who played for Princes Park. Despite being in the scottish League, every game inexplicably seemed to have 200,000 fervent fans at every game crammed into a huge stadia. At least once every game Hamish would hit a thunderous shot so hard that the keeper would end up in the back of the net with the ball.
Mighty Mouse – The detailed career of clinically obese junior doctor Kevin ‘Mighty’ Mouse. From his days of turning out for St Victors medical team, incurring the wrath of Dr Mender and ‘Mad Annie’ the matron, to his professional career playing for Tottenford Rovers and Princes Park alongside Hamish.
The Wheelchair Wonder – Danny Kidd, tragically mowed down in a car crash at the age of fifteen is nursed back to fitness to resume his budding football career. All week Danny can barely walk, yet on Saturday he manages to pull on his boots and snatch a couple of goals for Overbridge by way of crazy, curvy shooting ability, the direct affect of his accident leaving his foot in a funny shape.
Nipper – Gritty Northern realism prevailed as winger Nipper Lawrence plied his trade for Blackport Rovers. Other characters included Mike Bateson, Len Duggan, Andy Stewart and Stumpy the dog. Not only did Andy Stewart never once sing ‘Flower of Scotland’ in this story, he never even got his kilt on.
Millionaie Villa – David Bradley, rich young playboy bought Selby Villa on the basis he would give himself a game – despite being utter rubbish. I always figured I would do the same at my local club. It will need to be next year.
Tommys Troubles – How mullet haired schoolboy Tommy Barnes formed his own football team, Barnes United, and aided by his specky pal Ginger Collins, thwarted sworn enemies Waller & Swate. Collins eventually became a politician and Barnes lost control of his club when some mysterious Arab consortium took over his club.
The Footballer Who Would’nt Stay Dead – Bizarre tale of Mel Deakin who continually saw, and conversed with, the ghost of Andy Steele. A warning shot on the effects of drinking Buckfast in the morning if ever there was one. Mel eventually went to Hollywood and appeared in the film The Sixth Sense.
Roy Race’s School days – These stories only actually turned up in annuals and summer specials. They did exactly what it said on the tin, chronicling Roy & Blackie’s early days as youngsters at school. Highlights included Roys first wet dream, Blackie getting caught sniffing glue behind the bike sheds and Roys sister getting pregnant to Mr Sands the careers adviser.
Other honourable if sketchier mentions went to Durrells Palace, The Marks Brothers, Tipped for the Top, and The Boy Who Hated Football. Ah Happy Days!
Bottom line and the whole point of this story, is that the next time your kids tell you that football today is better than years ago or you find yourself preaching to your kids about football in bygone days, or show them these funny smelling paper things you have just procured from the loft, with some guy called Roy on the front, it comes down to your own memories, you cant push them onto anyone else.
I dont know about you but my memories of football and the bygone days of comics are fantastic, and I dont care if my kids think Im strange or think Im talking total crap when I say about football in the 70's. They might one day experience it for themselves, What goes around comes around.!!