When I decided to spend my free Saturday afternoon in Glasgow between the Laura Marling gig on Friday and the Celtic vs Rangers game on Sunday at Firhill I knew that it would provide a greatly different footballing experience to what I’m used to. As a Celtic fan born in 1983 my relationship with disappointment is distant at best – confined to the nineties, really – if it even exists at all. Some of us were disappointed at winning three trophies in two seasons under Ronny Deila, after all.
Venturing out into Glasgow’s west end for a game of football proved an altogether different affair to my regular Saturday afternoon. When you are walking through the Gallowgate in the east end of the city to Celtic Park you often find yourself on guard for the jakies fuelled up on Buckfast who might be out for your wallet; but the most you have to be concerned with out in the west end is the guys in tweed jackets who might try to recommend that you listen to the latest unsigned Glasgow band on the indie scene.
Along Maryhill Road you are navigating through avenues of terraced houses with green lawns lined with cherry blossom trees, whilst on London Road you’d be struggling to find the horticulture amongst discarded cigarette butts and crushed cans of Tennents Special. It is a striking contrast.
Firhill Stadium is cradled away at the end of a quiet residential area on Firhill Road. The traffic moves freely, even after the match when three thousand Thistle fans are leaving the ground. Prior to kick-off there is a small line gathered at the portable ticket office behind the Jackie Husband Stand. It takes longer for me to get a pie at half-time at Celtic Park than it does for me to be in possession of a ticket for this game, despite a brief moment of panic in the booth when I ask if they take card payments. “It will just be a minute, it takes the machine a while to wake up when it hasn’t been used.”
Having taken my seat in the main stand – those with white stickers indicate that they have been reserved for season ticket holders – I am struck by my first vision of Kingsley, the Partick Thistle mascot. He does his best to entertain the young fans at the front of the stand, but I can only imagine how difficult a task that is when you look like the result of an intense one night stand between a Pokemon and Gollum.
The home support seemed on edge for much of this visit from bottom side Inverness Caledonian, despite being largely the better team. Even at 1-0 there was a tension that I’m not used to feeling on the other side of the city, where it is usually only a matter of time until the second goal. You could see the Thistle defence retreating deeper and deeper as the minutes wore on and the Jags around me could obviously sense the inevitable. Even an appearance by Thistle legend Billy McGhie to conduct the half-time lottery drawing couldn’t alleviate the pressure.
“Who is he?” Asked one older bloke.
“Billy McGhie. He went on to manage Clydebank. Owes my mate £100. I should go down and get it off him.”
With virtually the last kick of the game – and certainly the last head – the inevitable occurred and Inverness snatched an undeserved equaliser which sucked the life right out of the stadium. There was no anger, no howls of frustration, no anguished jeering as you might expect. There was just silence, a solemn resignation. Everyone raised from their seats in sync and left towards the exits, hardly a hushed word exchanged. It reminded me a little of leaving mass, with the lack of eye contact and the unspoken agreement that we would all just get out of there as quickly as possible.
Then a voice spoke up.
“That was definitely the worst of them all.”
And that’s when I understood the frustration of being a Partick Thistle fan. They’ve seen this all before, and they probably expect to see it again. Yet they keep going back. Similar to my attempts at flirtatious conversation with women in bars on a Friday night; there’s always the hope that all the pretty build-up play and stupid wordplay will, just once, not be dashed by a last-minute act of defensive folly.
Who knows, maybe one day it won’t. Maybe one day those Partick Thistle fans will experience emotions other than disappointment and frustration. As for me: I’m going back to Celtic Park.
JJ 1-1 Frustration
Partick Thistle 1-1 Inverness Caledonian Thistle