Sunday, September 12, 2010

Stop Taking Me For Granted (MRR #328)

7 Seconds may have sung “I Hate Sports” but in my experience punks do not hate sport. Punks may definitely hate jocks, but almost all punks I know love sport. In the US, baseball seems to be the punk sport of choice, from Tim Yo’s longtime love for the San Francisco Giants, to Al Quint’s die hard Red Sox fandom. I can get into a little baseball from time to time, especially going to see the A’s play the Red Sox at Oakland Coliseum, but really, there’s only one sport that punks the world over are really into, and that is football, or soccer. And, at least here in America, that is never more apparent than during the World Cup.
In Scotland, the passion felt by the majority of the populace for football is inversely proportional to how well our national team can play the game. From an early age my dad kitted me out in a Rangers strip and purely by default became a fan of that team. We never went to a game or anything; he was a regular at Ibrox before he was married but once the kids came along he had better things to do on a Saturday afternoon. Namely, spend all day in the pub. I’d have to go round the Pine Lodge at dinnertime and ask the old guys going in if they could tell Big Davey McNaughton it was time for his tea. “Aye right ye are young shaver!”
I digress. My dad was a Rangers fan so I was a Rangers fan, there was really nothing else for it. Motherwell were the closest team in proximity but strangely most kids chose either Rangers or Celtic, based on religion as much as anything else. If you were a Protestant, you were Rangers, if you were Catholic, Celtic. It’s stupid when you look back on it but the rivalry was ferocious. We had loads of Catholic friends so we avoided the Sectarian shit at all costs. Neither my mum nor my dad would go anywhere near an Orange walk, but my next-door neighbors Janet and Alec took me a couple of times. I just thought it was a parade. The colors, the marching; the flute bands sounded good although I didn’t really know the songs. The fat, red-faced men in the bowler hats and orange sashes looked really pompous and self-important. I didn’t understand why the march would pause outside the St. Brigid’s Chapel and the drummers would pound the big bass drums on their chests extra hard. I told my best mate Brendan Burns all about it later.
We played football every day. Me and my brother Ross, Brendan and Anthony, Greg and Kenny Aitken, Stuart Broon, and others. All summer, every day from right after breakfast til it got too dark to see: at the height of Scottish July, that could be as late as 11pm. We mostly played in front of the garages at the end of our lane, with a lock-up garage door for a goal. One goalie and two teams trying to beat him, or ‘World Cup’, which was every man for himself. We had two full football pitches less than five minutes walk away but if you went up there you ran the risk of encountering kids from other streets, which could end up in some territorial aggro. It was safer to stick to your own scheme, which is what we did.
Following in my Dad’s footsteps, I joined the Newmains Primary School football team, trained by Mr. Quilter. We played at Dallie’s park, an actual football ground with terraces and everything. It was home to our local basement-league team, Coltness United, nicknamed The Dahlias. Don’t ask me how they got that girly nickname but maybe it’s because they never won a game. Still it was exciting to play on their ground. I’ve been back there since and in reality it was tiny and decrepit, but coming out of the Ralgex-smelling changing rooms onto the grass turf it may as well have been Wembley or Hampden to us.
I hardly got a game for the Bumble Bees (our school ties were black and yellow stripes) despite my best efforts. I tried to get my dad to practice with me and help me improve but he never found the time. My school report card was one long column of ‘A’s until you got down to a ‘C’ for PE. “Team games are not Allan’s forte” was the comment. Back then, not being good at football was basically akin to wearing a tutu to school. Luckily, my brother went on to become a star player, saving the family name from disgrace.
I half-heartedly follow the Scottish and English premierships throughout the season, but every four years the World Cup comes around and I once again get caught up in the youthful excitement I felt in the 70s for the competition. I grew up during a good period for Scottish football. It might be hard to believe from our poor showing in recent decades, but we qualified for five world cups in a row from 1974-1990. Argentina 1978 is the first one I have real memories of. Most of us boys were already fitba crazy: the World Cup pushed us over the edge to insane fanaticism.
My interest in the game waned in the early 80s, as I got into bikes, music, and girls. By the mid-80s though, something was in the air that almost drew me back. There was a fresh buzz on the street around football games that was pretty alluring. Football violence was nothing new: Old Firm games (Rangers vs. Celtic) were well known to be particularly brutal. But a new breed of hooligan was starting to emerge: gone were the shaved head, Docs, and team scarves of the stereotypical soccer thug, and in came the Casual, decked out in designer gear and fashionable sportswear. Although my friends and I were more into BMX and skateboarding, we had neighborhood connections with guys who were Motherwell Casuals. As it turned out, Rangers and Celtic were late to the party on the Casual thing. Their fans were probably too deep into the sectarian thing to see what was happening. Second-tier Scottish teams like Motherwell and Aberdeen ended up with the best-known Casual firms. We farted about on the outskirts of the scene, buzzing gas, breaking the odd window, and nicking designer gear from shops in Glasgow, but as someone with no stomach for violence I was more into clothes and girls than actually going to games and causing trouble. Just wearing the clothes would invite trouble though. What you wore sent a secret signal to other Casuals and if someone didn’t recognize you as one of their crew you were asking for bother. You wore the clothes anyway because they looked good and it was exciting to be part of this secret subculture that was so hated by society. The media had a field day over the Casual phenomenon and it was the common mainstream opinion that these thugs were ruining the game. So for a while we donned our Patrick and Nike cagoules, Pringle jumpers, Farah slacks and Adidas running shoes to ride our BMX bikes. Typical teenage fashion dabbling. We were looking for an identity.
Eventually we drifted away from the casual thing but continued to attract attention from the local hard-cases, even though we really just wanted to ride our bikes and be left alone. Mindless thugs don’t like to see people doing anything fun or creative.
Eventually most of us moved away, and now I’m watching the World Cup online on my laptop. We’ve come a long way since 1978 and obviously Scotland are nowhere to be found but I still get a buzz when someone breaks away from his mark and makes a burst towards the goal. Football fever is at an all-time high here in the States and it’s been a great time. The final is tomorrow and even though I’m all the way in California, in my head I’ll be watching it on a rare warm July evening in Scotland with Ross, Stuart, Greg, Kenny, Brendan, Sandy, Russ, Gib, Rab, and the late Chris Rooney (RIP). We will remember the good times forever!