The day I was three minutes and thirty seconds late to the game

There is something about the first day of a new football season that makes it more exciting than any other on the calendar.  There is a hope and expectancy that comes with it, a tangible belief that anything is possible when you’re working from a blank page.  There has been an entire summer to learn from the mistakes made over the previous season, an opportunity to put in place new routines and systems which will surely lead to better results over the coming year.

When I roused myself from a fairly ordinary slumber on Saturday morning I was filled with intentions of ensuring that I didn’t repeat the missteps I took during my first year as a season ticket holder at Celtic Park.  I had promised myself that I wouldn’t get so drunk on a Friday night that the train journey the following morning to Glasgow would be an unbearable trek through the various stages of a hangover:  Wishing the world would end, remorse, discomfort, a need for sleep and, finally, an unquenchable desire for another drink.  I also vowed that I would dress appropriately for the climate; make sure that I reach the queue for food at half-time before they run out of steak pies; eat some form of breakfast in the morning; watch more of the game than the stewards; become more fluent in my understanding of the Northern Irish accent.  On the opening day of the season I was convinced that I would have learned from my mistakes of the previous campaign.

As I stuffed my green and white scarf into my olive satchel I became increasingly aware of the fact that, despite my better intentions, I was feeling a lot like a person does after an evening spent at the bar.  I found myself contemplating how a football scarf must feel between the months of May and August, when it sits unused and unloved in the dusty bottom drawer that you keep all the things you no longer wear.  Because, really, there is no use for a football scarf once the season has finished.  Nobody is walking around town in July with their club’s colours wrapped around their neck in some crazy, woolen warm show of support.  A grown adult wearing a football shirt in a non-sporting environment is ridiculous enough of a sight.

I planned my day so that I woke up early enough on Saturday morning to allow me adequate time to get a bacon roll from the corner shop close to the train station.  I took care of matters of personal hygiene as best I could given my condition and arrived at the fast food outlet just as the girl behind the counter was thrusting a tray of light pink bacon slices under a grill.  She informed me that there were only hot drinks available at that moment as “we open at eight o’clock on a Saturday.”  I looked at my watch in the manner a person does when they know what time it is but they want to emphatically make a point.  It was 8:35am.  My famished frustration turned to a concern that this humble employee didn’t know how to cook bacon.  I had visions of some hungry patrons walking into this establishment at 10am expecting a bacon roll only to be told that they open at eight o’clock on a Saturday and they would have to wait until the portions of pork have been turned before they are ready for purchase.  In my confused panic I poured a medium cappuccino from the machine at the side into a large cup, when what I really wanted was a small coffee.

I departed the corner shop hungry and over caffeinated and made my way towards the train station, early for a change.  I located the carriage relevant to my reservation and found that my table seat was positioned opposite a fairly attractive young woman.  Ordinarily this would present a pleasing opportunity, but with a hangover and a large cup of coffee filled only with a medium-sized cappuccino I was in no position to pursue any kind of romantic agenda.  I pushed my earphones deeper into my ear holes, as though to indicate that I was not to be spoken to under any circumstance, and plopped into my seat by the window.  As I performed this grand spectacle I noticed the slender woman opposite me reach into her bag and proceed to parade a variety of items across the surface of the table.  A bottle of water; a black Bose headphone case; an iPod; a copy of the Sunday Times Magazine dated 12 March 2017.  It was this latter item which caught my eye the most.

As the train progressed its painfully slow journey through the West Highlands I began to question why this woman had a copy of the Sunday Times Magazine from 12 March 2017.  Surely she was aware that today was Saturday?  And, despite what the weather later in the day may have suggested, it was most definitely August.  It is possible that the 12 March issue was an especially good edition of the Sunday Times Magazine, but I have never heard that said in every day conversation and it wouldn’t explain why she didn’t thumb through a single leaf of the issue.  If it wasn’t a noteworthy edition worth keeping for future reference then it is perhaps reasonable to assume that this stranger is a slow reader.  After all, it is said that the Sunday Times can be read over an entire week; maybe this girl needs five months to read a copy?  It was probably around Ardlui when it struck me that she was probably employing the same strategy I use on the train of leaving a piece of high brow content sitting in public view next to me in order to intimidate potential train talkers from interacting with her.  My deployment of this tactic is typically to convince my fellow passengers that I’m not some kind of drunken scumbag, but I definitely recognised this is a variation of the tactic.

It turns out there was a reason that the journey was feeling more arduous than usual:  a signal failure in the Helensburgh area caused a 13 minute delay to the service, which wasn’t ideal when I was already pressed for time in making the 12:30pm kick-off.  I walked off the train at Glasgow Queen Street with some urgency and found a ticket machine to purchase a single journey to Bellgrove, which is still a significant walk from Celtic Park but I felt confident that I could make it without missing more than maybe ten minutes of the football.

The 12:18 service to Edinburgh Waverley screeched alongside platform 9 at the exact moment I was bounding down the steps to the lower level of the station and I began to feel that things were finally going my way.  I stepped in to a fairly quiet carriage and waited for the train to depart, knowing that in four minutes I would reach my destination.  The conductor announced that we were on the delayed service to Edinburgh Waverley, confirming that I had successfully managed to get on the right train.  He continued in his flawless tone to inform passengers that as the train was so far behind schedule it would be skipping several stops and would next call at Airdrie, far beyond where I needed to go.  I stormed off the train as emphatically as a fairly aloof, placid guy can and clambered up the stairs I had just come down, unsure of how I would now get to Celtic Park.  I meandered around the station concourse before deciding that I would take a taxi, which I should probably have done in the first instance.  There were a couple of taxi’s waiting outside the front of the station and so I got into the back seat of the first car, asking the driver to take me to Celtic Park.  He asked me to repeat this instruction, leading me to suspect that he might either be incompetent or a Rangers fan.  With some hesitancy I asked him again to go to Celtic Park, fearing that he was intending on driving me to some wildly distant part of the city far from the football.  Kick-off was nearing and I sat anxiously in my seat listening to the league championship flag being unfurled on the radio, an event which really doesn’t lend to an exciting radio commentary.  I stared intently out the window, soon recognising the familiar landscape of the Gallowgate and feeling my fears of being double-crossed by the taxi driver subside.  He drove me close to the stadium and I told him to keep the change from £10 as gratitude for him not taking me to Govan.

I arrived inside Celtic Park with 3:30 shown as having elapsed on the stadium scoreboard.  I walked down to my row to find that my seat had been taken by a young woman, probably around my age.  I decided that I wouldn’t challenge her over her erroneous seating, accepting that the empty seat next to my own would offer the exact same view of the game in an equally uncomfortable green plastic.  Of course, this put me right next to the Northern Irishman whose thick accent proved incomprehensible all last season.  He provided a running commentary on every aspect of the game, all the way through.  Every word spoken in an accent I couldn’t understand.  I would throw in an occasional “aye” so as not to appear rude, but really I could have been agreeing to anything.

The half-time whistle brought some respite from the barrage of opinion, which came as frequently as Celtic attacks on the Hearts goal.  I stood in the queue at the pie stall for close to fifteen minutes and observed how peaceful it felt.  Finally I made it to the front of the line and ordered a steak pie, which I noticed had increased in price by 10p since May.  The young cashier took my money and then asked me once again what I wanted, presumably because she had forgotten.  I told her and she slumped over to the hot cabinet, returning seconds later empty-handed.  “Sorry, we only have Scotch pies left,” she informed me.  A curious thing to say after she had taken my payment for a steak pie, I thought.  However, a pie is nothing if not a pie, in my opinion, and so I accepted the substitute meat offering and ate it before the start of the second-half, despite my failure to find a single sachet of brown sauce anywhere.

As it happens the pie was almost as warm as the sun which beat against my forehead for most of the afternoon.  It felt like a pleasant summer football experience, at least until the walk back to the city centre brought the most almighty downpour of rain I can remember.  It wasn’t a long shower, but for a while it rained and rained and rained.  Every article of clothing was soaked through until it felt like the water had gone beyond my skin and into my bones.  It kept raining, harder and more viciously with every step I took, my clothes clinging to every identifiable part of my body and my socks sodden in my boots, until eventually I was little more than a man wearing wet clothes walking into a bar.

Final scores:
JJ 0-1 Lessons Learned
Celtic 4-1 Hearts

 

The weekend where many small things happened

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Anyone who frequently reads these blog posts would quite reasonably be able to draw the conclusion that my life is not made up of a series of staggeringly exciting events.  It is highly unlikely that there is going to be a cinematic release of the biopic of my life, and if such a film is ever made it will surely go straight to Netflix with a single star rating under the category:  “Films only a completely mad fool who has exhausted all other forms of entertainment would consider watching.”

This post promises to make a mockery of such thoughts, however.  Whilst ordinarily I have one single event to focus on when I make these trips to the football, this weekend could have produced exactly eleven different blog titles:

  • The night I joined a choir
  • The night I talked to a woman without making her cry
  • The night I drank minty green shots
  • The afternoon I sat at a table on the train opposite an attractive young lady and was vocally impotent
  • The night I ate Malaysian food and couldn’t figure out how to use the chopsticks
  • The night they played KISS in the hipster craft beer bar
  • The night I found the best coffee and chocolate milk stout
  • The day I didn’t eat a half-time pie
  • The day the guy next to me jinxed the weather
  • The day Celtic went an entire league season unbeaten
  • The night the quiz ended prematurely

The weekend was blossoming with new experiences.  It is often said that if life gives you lemons you should use them to make lemonade, but over the last few years I have been of the view that why would you want to wait until someone hands you a fruit which is fairly boring and not immediately pleasing when you could instead go out into the wild and pick all of the juicy and delicious berries you want.

It was with this fruit salad in mind that I made the drunken decision to go along to a ‘scratch choir’ on Friday night – an event where a group of people come together and learn how to sing a song from the beginning, in this case the audio treat being Erasure’s “A Little Respect” – and on Saturday to put aside my usual reluctance to dabble with unfamiliar ethnic cuisine by making an impromptu judgment to eat Malaysian food.

It was perhaps unfortunate that in my enthusiasm to savour life’s fruits I walked through the door of a restaurant and was greeted by a friendly busboy who directed me to a table suitable for a solo diner and handed me a menu, which I immediately recognised as being one for the Italian restaurant next door to the Malaysian place I thought I was entering.  I sat fairly sheepishly at this table by the door, listening to the authentic Italian Muzak taunt me as I feigned interest in the menu and considered ways of leaving without it being too awkward.  I contemplated inventing a story whereby my ‘friends’ had decided that they were going to eat elsewhere, but then I had already told this dude that I was going to be eating alone, and I looked very much like someone who would eat alone and so feared that he would see right through my web of deceit and insist that I order.  The server returned and I panicked, my mouth operating far in advance of my brain by announcing that I had just remembered that I had already eaten this weekend and that I would have to leave.  He looked baffled as I stood up and made a sharp exit, barely able to get my arm through the sleeve of my jacket by the time I had reached the door.  My confidence was dented and I took a walk around the block before returning to the Malaysian restaurant next door, where I enjoyed what was at least my second meal of the weekend despite the adversity of trying to master the chopsticks.

Against the backdrop of a sky which was thick with grey clouds Celtic Park was a carnival of colour and noise on Sunday afternoon.  I arrived in time to take part in the full stadium display in honour of the 50th anniversary of the Lisbon Lions winning the European Cup, squeezing into my row between unfamiliar faces as every seat was taken.  The older man to my left uttered some words which were not quite as incomprehensible as those spoken by the Northern Irishman who ordinarily sits close by, but his Irish brogue did require a second listen.  He repeated:  “It looks like the sun’s going to come out.”  Three hours later I walked back into the city centre in a deluge of rain which soaked all the way into my skin.  It was probably the only thing that was gotten wrong at Celtic Park this season.

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It takes a little rain to help you grow, though, and Sunday was so strewn with historic happenings that drenched denim was never going to be cause for accepting lemons.  A win for Celtic ensured that they became the first Scottish team since the 1890’s to complete a league season without defeat, and the first to do it in the modern 38 game era.  A feat so phenomenal that it almost put into shade the fact that for the first time this season I didn’t eat a pie at half-time, so full was I from the two meals I had the previous day.

My first year as a season ticket holder at Celtic Park brought a lot of joy and some fun new experiences, even if I never did learn the name of the eccentrically dressed grey-haired man in the row in front of me, or find myself in romantic rapture with the most beautiful steward in the world.  My seat may be located right underneath a drip on rainy days, and sometimes the pies have a frustrating habit of clinging dearly onto their foil tray, but you have to go picking berries.  I can’t wait to do it all again in August.

Final scores:
Celtic 2-0 Hearts
JJ 1-0 Lemons

The day I didn’t wear a jacket


I am not a man who typically makes bold decisions.  On a day-to-day basis my greatest considerations are typically whether or not to match my socks to the colour of my tie, what kind of sandwich I should eat for lunch and how many sticks of celery I will use in my juice.  There is not much bravado required for any of those decisions, no matter how many minutes I spend each morning agonising over my socks.  I don’t lead a particularly complex life, which is what made my choice to leave for Glasgow on Saturday morning without a jacket all the more remarkable.

It was a moment of wild improvisation when I opened the curtains and my bleary, still-drunk eyes were met by a radiant spring sunshine and I first considered the possibility of not wearing my denim jean jacket.  Such a notion should surely at least be contemplated over the bathroom sink whilst brushing your teeth, so I gave myself those few minutes to account for all of the possible outcomes.

I don’t tend to wear a jacket as a statement of fashion; I view it more as storage space.  My jacket is a vessel for carrying my wallet, earphones and phone.  Those are pretty much my only three possessions of note and if I wasn’t going to wear a jacket the question would beg to be asked:  where would I keep my worldly belongings?  There is only so much space in the pockets of a pair of jeans and I argued with myself that it might be too uncomfortable to try squeezing everything into those pockets for an entire day, but I successfully argued back that it would probably be more uncomfortable to be wearing a heat sucking jean jacket all day and sweating like a hog roast.

There is a certain element of risk in leaving your house in the west of Scotland without a second layer of clothing, and there was a part of me that had visions of sudden explosions of rain and grumpy black clouds prowling over Glasgow.  I wondered whether I would be able to survive if there was an unexpectedly cool evening breeze on my walk back into the city centre.  But then part of the process of making a bold decision is to acknowledge that although there may be risks, the potential gains are so overwhelmingly spectacular that you are almost compelled to take the gamble, and it was with that in mind that I cast aside my fears of what could go wrong and enjoyed the freedom of going jacketless.


Others around me in the Jock Stein Stand had made even bolder decisions in their sartorial selections, with some wearing simply a t-shirt.  The middle-aged dude with the floppy grey hair and occasional red jeans who sits in the row in front of me wore a black t-shirt which afforded me a brief glimpse of a tattoo on his tricep.  It appeared to be a heart with the date “28-12-1929” etched beneath it and for a few minutes of that goalless first-half I wondered why that date would be relevant to him.

Celtic Park was bathed in a pleasant warm sunshine.  Beams of light cascaded from the top of the stand, casting a lustrous and illuminating glow on the forehead of an inviting figure at the front of the section next to mine, 139.  It was the most beautiful steward in the history of the world.  She was looking hot in her high visibility jacket, and I can only assume that the temperature was quite high for her as well.

There was a slight disappointment that the most beautiful steward in the history of the world wasn’t casting a watchful eye over the safety of my section this time, but I still couldn’t help but wonder, if she could see me, would she be impressed by my bold decision to come to the game without a jacket.  I had to think that she would be; although almost everyone in her section had also attended without a jacket and she didn’t appear too fussed about that.  In fact, she seemed more amused by the playful children in the front row of section 139.  I have never envied young boys so much.

The longer the game went on with the Celtic attack scorching the St. Johnstone defence with four second-half goals the more comfortable I was feeling in my minimally layered approach.  There was a certain freedom which came without the burden of a jacket on my shoulders or the need to take it off and find a safe spot to rest it in.  I was able to leap from my seat with no inhibition, chant along and celebrate.  It seemed a shame that the Huddle had whimpered out before it reached my end of the stadium, though with a string of empty seats around me it would have been a bit of a stretch for me to get involved.  Many of the familiar regulars who sit around me weren’t present, with some day tourists taking their seats.  The Northern Irishman with the inaudible accent was replaced by a trio of Spaniards who were marginally easier to understand, despite communicating exclusively in Spanish.

As I embarked on the walk back to the city centre with my wallet safely snuggled in my jean pocket and my earphones attached to my phone I was able to bask in the dying embers of the afternoon sun and with it the glow of knowing that my bold decision to not wear a jacket was correct.  Even if I subsequently ate a disappointing ham and egg salad on the train home, the shine couldn’t be taken from my day.  The risk I took earlier in the day had been rewarded with a regulated body temperature and a refreshing lack of sweat on my shirt.

Final Scores:
Celtic 4-1 St. Johnstone
JJ 1-0 The discomfort of wearing too many layers

 

The day the Aussies came to the soccer

Here is what I know about Aussie rules football:

 

What follows is what I know about Aussies who rule going to the football.

Saturday was a remarkable day at Celtic Park for a multitude of reasons.  The stadium was bathed in a warm glow reminiscent of sunshine for what was probably the first time since September and the atmosphere inside it was one of the best of the season, with a large buoyant crowd still celebrating last weekend’s title win.  There were tops off in the standing section, a catchy new song in honour of Brendan Rodgers set to the tune of ‘This is How It Feels’ by Inspiral Carpets and a pitch invader who was captured and escorted off the park and past the Kilmarnock fans just in time to goad them as Celtic scored their second goal.  It was everything you could ask for from a day at the football.

The tone of the day could have been dramatically different following a near catastrophic incident in our first bar of the day, The Avalon, at Charing Cross.  An eager labrador dog went bounding out of the door and onto a busy road in a single-minded pursuit of his favourite ball, very narrowly avoiding the onrushing traffic.  It was dramatic, and almost as troubling as the fact that all of the good beers on tap were out of stock, leaving me with little option but to have a pint of Tennents.  Fortunately it wasn’t entirely terrible and the day got off to a good start.

Going to the game with three other people – let alone two of them being Australian – was an entirely different proposition to every other Saturday this season spent trying to translate the Northern Irish dude next to me or considering the fashion choices in the row ahead of me.  Perched high up in the Lisbon Lions Stand we set ourselves the goal of having our chant enthusiastically repeated around us – partly in celebration of our hero Tom Rogic, and partly because it was really cool.  Unfortunately there was little appetite for it, ie. nobody joined in, but “let me hear you say aaaaayyoooo” did go on to become a triumphant team at the pub quiz the following night.


The walk back from Celtic Park through the Gallowgate to the city centre is one which probably doesn’t feature in any sensible travel guide, but it does offer a unique insight into a certain element of Glasgow’s culture through its clutch of colourful bars.  Amongst the first of those approached along the route is Brendan’s, which has a larger interior than appears from the street and has taken the novel approach of disregarding all elements of furniture and has instead lined wooden pallets up along each of the walls.  They employed a shameless marketing technique of sending an attractive female around the bar with a tray of sourz, offering them to gullible men at £2 a shot.  It is a tacky marketing gimmick aimed at those who are easily swayed by a dazzling smile and a bit of conversation.  Though the apple flavour did prove quite delicious.

Despite the ball traveling under the crossbar more often than over it and the questionable ability to take a physical challenge of professional footballers I reckon this was a fine introduction to the football going experience.

Aaaaayyooooo.

Final scores:
Celtic 3-1 Kilmarnock
Scotland 2-2 Australia

The night that was a damp squib


The phrase “such and such turned into a real damp squib” has always given me a lot of trouble, not least because I was never aware of what a squib actually is, which in turn lended to my natural instinct to determine that the saying must be referring to a damp squid.  That never sat kindly with my common sense, though:  why would a damp squid be a disappointing anti-climax to anyone?  The squid is a sea dwelling creature, of course it is damp!  It would surely take a real fool to expect anything else.

It turns out that a squib is a short, often cylindrical, firework.  If one of those becomes damp, and your sizzle transpires into little more than a pfffffloppp, disappointment is likely to be chief amongst your emotions.  Hence such and such turning into a real damp squib rather than a damp squid.  Thank you, Google, for finally resolving thirty-three years of literary confusion.

Hindsight, I have learned recently, is a marvellous and frustrating tool of the human mind.  When utilising it now I can acknowledge that I really couldn’t have expected anything more from last night than the wettest of damp squibs.  The real sizzle and sparkle had occurred earlier and Celtic had won the Scottish Premiership title for the sixth consecutive season on Sunday; this fixture against Partick Thistle was never going to be of any significance.  But I had booked this time off work in January and, more than anything, I needed some time out of my own head.  I was looking forward to this night.

A landslip outside Glasgow on Tuesday threw my travel plans into a mild disarray, with trains from Oban being forced to stop at Crianlarich, where buses would commute the remainder of the distance.  Dual modes of transport are rarely enjoyable, especially when the bus from Crianlarich to Glasgow was much more dry than the squib this day was becoming.  I was, though, offered a brief glimpse into how it must feel to be Clark Kent when I returned from a poorly timed toilet break as the train was approaching the station and everyone was dashing off to meet the bus.  I combed my way through the throngs of people and made it back to my table, the last man on the train, and began gathering up my belongings when I noticed that the elderly gentleman who had been sitting opposite me had left his plastic railcard wallet on the table.  I jammed it into my coat pocket, returned The Smiths to my earphones and left the train, hoping that I might encounter this man along the way.

I clambered onto the spacious coach and took a seat near the back, eyeballing every passenger along the way.  No sign of the old man; he probably got onto the other bus, I thought.  Then minutes before departure he appeared.  He used his crutch to slowly amble up the aisle and I anxiously reached into my pocket for the wallet, a small part of me paranoid that I could be accused of theft.  As he neared I stood up, but he greeted me first and said that he thought he might have left his tickets on the table.  “I picked them up!”  I exclaimed, and there was an audible ‘awwww’ from a couple of the seats around me as I returned the wallet to him.  “I’m in your debt,” he said – but little did he know that an hour previously I was cursing him for having the temerity to sit opposite me on the train.  It felt like we were even.


There were a few notable observations to be made inside Celtic Park, aside from the goal both teams scored in the second-half.  Perhaps the most striking was the man, probably aged in his late fifties and definitely dressed in the 1967 European Cup final replica strip, who decided to get up out of his seat minutes before half-time, moved to stand in the aisle and turned to face the Partick Thistle fans at the opposite end of the ground before blessing himself and flicking them the V’s.  I couldn’t understand the gesture.  I mean, I understand what making that two-fingered salute means, but I cannot fathom the need to bless himself before doing it.  Was he trying to insist that, in this period of Lent particularly, Jesus was telling the Partick Thistle support to fuck off through the vessel of this man’s body?  Or was the blessing an attempt at absolving himself of any judgment from a higher power for his silly behaviour?

While the action on the field wasn’t especially eye-catching, my eyes did happen to catch sight of the most beautiful steward I have ever seen.  I spent a good bit of time contemplating her existence and came to the conclusion that not only was she the most beautiful steward I have ever seen, but she was also the only beautiful steward I have ever seen.  I lost a great deal of focus on the football as I tried to imagine scenarios where I could approach her and convince her that spending time with me wouldn’t be a complete waste of her time.  I recited a wealth of lines in my inner monologue, but they were proving more terrible than the quality of football on the pitch behind her:

 

  • “Excuse me, I have a medical emergency.  I think someone may have stolen my heart.”
  • “I think I’m lost, I can’t find my seat.  I’m supposed to be in section UR PANTS/HEART.”  (This would have required a last moment judgment call as to which is more appropriate.)
  • “Your jacket may be high visibility, but it’s your eyes that really sparkle.”
  • “Your jacket may be high visibility, but it’s your body which caught my eye.”
  • “I’m in row L for ‘linguine’.  Fancy going for an Italian after the match?”
  • “I’m all about making those safe exits.”
  • “I can’t tell if I have an irregular heartbeat or if it’s just you/or am I just horny?”  (Again, probably better to delete as appropriate.)
  • “Your jacket may be high visibility, but do you see a future for me?”
  • “As a steward I feel I should inform you of the men smoking cigarettes in the toilets, but instead I’m going to inform you that you are smoking hot behind the goal.”
  • “Your jacket may be high visibility, which should be useful when you’re looking for it on the floor of room 423 of the Travelodge later.”

There was a change of stewards midway through the second-half and I never did get the opportunity to add the most beautiful steward ever to my growing list of failed flirtations.  Instead my thoughts were forced to turn to the floppy grey-haired guy who sometimes wears red jeans sitting in the row in front of me.  Often he can be seen rolling cigarettes during the match, but last night he spent much of the game sucking on a lollypop.  He had that lollypop in his mouth for so long that I surmised that he either really likes hard candy or he is trying to give up smoking.  Either way I was impressed with his resistance to the urge to bite, particularly during what turned out to be a bit of a frustrating evening.

Walking back into the city centre following a score draw at Celtic Park this season has been a rarity, and on a deceptively cold April night it was a bracing experience.  The ideal conditions for a damp squid, maybe, but not so much on a night which had already become a damp squib.

Final scores:
Celtic 1-1 Partick Thistle
JJ 0-1 damp squibs

The day I realised I had a crack in my sole


All good things are destined to come to an end at some time, be it potentially record-breaking winning streaks in the league or the sustainability of a fine pair of boots.  Unfortunately for me I experienced the expiration of both of those yesterday, and it would be difficult for me to deny that it wasn’t the latter which upset me the most.

In my time I have found that, much like a good woman (or a woman of any sort, really) a good pair of footwear is really difficult to keep a hold of.  I will often get a pretty solid couple of months out of a pair of shoes or boots – more than those aforementioned ladies – but soon find that they begin to fall apart.  And I have not yet been able to figure out where it is that I’m going wrong in my treatment of my footwear.

The pair of boots which I am currently wearing have been on my feet for less than two months.  Not continuously, of course; I take them off to shower, sleep and for at least five days a week when I am not casual JJ.  In that time I have grown fond of them.  They are a solid oak brown colour and can be worn with just about any outfit.  They have seen some sights in their short lifespan, notably a couple of visits out to Celtic Park, a wee venture to Manchester and one unexpectedly exhilarating train journey home.

But much like with every other piece of footwear I have owned in my life my relationship with these brown bad boys would become strained.  I was walking through the rain kissed streets of the east end of Glasgow when I felt an unexpected dampening of my socks.  I knew that I wasn’t engaging in any extreme sport and so, for once, this wasn’t sweat.  It could only be the puddles I was nonchalantly striding through – but how was that possible?


I sat through a frustrating 1-1 draw with Rangers at Celtic Park and forgot all about my leaky boots for a while, instead contemplating how a Partick Thistle fan might feel about the late equaliser Celtic conceded.  I reflected that it might be close to how a Celtic fan felt about the frustration at Firhill the previous day.

Following the disappointing outcome at the football I had approximately three hours to kill in The Raven, where I could sink pints of Caesar Augustus and shoegaze.  It was here that I realised that not one but both of my boots each have a crack etched all the way across the sole.  I’ve heard of a broken heart, but a broken sole??  (PS.  this possibly ties in with a joke I recently made at work, which was met with minimal fuss, when I asked if a pair of new sole traders might be in the business of selling shoes.)

I can’t figure out where it is that I’m going wrong with my footwear.  The casualty list is growing longer than the number of Rangers fouls which went without punishment yesterday and it seems impossible that it can’t be, in some slight way, my fault.  Are my feet too big?  Surely not if they are capable of crafting leather into my size.  Are my strides too powerful?  Am I treading on hazardous ground?  These are all questions I ask myself on a near-daily basis.

Those answers aren’t forthcoming as yet, but it is becoming clear that, a lot like with my current inability to stay asleep, I am possibly in need of lessons in shoe maintenance.  Perhaps some classes on developing a more fleet-footed gait will help protect my sole.  A tender soul is to be desired, after all.

Is there a right way to walk, or am I doing it correctly with my right-left-right-left etc. approach?

I am tentative when it comes to buying a new pair of boots or shoes.  I have a very short threshold of patience for shoe shopping, and it doesn’t help knowing that I am inevitably going to end up breaking the sole or poking a hole through them and I’ll be right back there sighing in that shoe shop.  Though as with the ending of a potentially record-breaking run of league wins, it seems like the best way of getting over the loss of a pair of boots is to jump feet first into the next ones.

Final scores:
JJ 0-1 Footwear
Celtic 1-1 Rangers

 

The day I understood the disappointment of being a Partick Thistle fan


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.

Final scores:
JJ 1-1 Frustration
Partick Thistle 1-1 Inverness Caledonian Thistle