Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Boy Done F*cking Awful

Scottish football said goodbye to one of its all time greats last week when Jimmy Johnstone passed away after a long battle against illness. I saw him play a few times in the early 70s and although past his best, he was still electrifying to watch. I also attended his testimonial match against Manchester United in 1976 but typical tight-fisted Celtic – they made him share a bloody testimonial with another player, Bobby Lennox.

Anyway, in that spooky way that fate sometimes has of throwing up seemingly unconnected events and colliding them together like perfectly matched Velcro strips with a little bit of superglue thrown in for good measure, comes the following. Just as one footballing fable fades fast and forlornly into the historic background of history, so another footballing fable rises phoenix-like from the ashes of mediocrity only to get mercilessly clipped with a silver bullet from the gun of the custodian of all that is just and good about the game.

Eat your heart out Hugh McIlvanney.

Looking back on it all now, I guess the first mistake I made was deciding to clean the house. My mother was due to pay a visit and despite having had 40 odd years to get used to my quirky ways, she doesn’t seem to get as much pleasure from drawing funny pictures in dust-covered furniture as I do. As she pulled into the drive, I was still running around in a panic so decided to stuff two weeks worth of ironing and assorted magazines into the back of a wardrobe.

And that’s when I saw it. There, hanging between my Frankie Says t-shirt and a wrinkled Miami Vice suit, was an old football strip; a sacred garment I once wore every week to play 5-a-sides. In an instant, the happy memories came flooding back and I allowed myself to dream.

The second mistake I made was not punching a friend in the face. I was minding my own business in the office canteen last week when I was suddenly aware of a presence standing over me. It was on old golfing buddy who, for the purposes of this story, we’ll call Terence.

“Hey Neil,” he chirped, in that slightly effeminate way of his. “Do you fancy a game of footie on Friday after work? Rumour has it you were a bit of a player back in the day.”

My fist clenched at the mention of my advancing years but was immediately tempered by the complimentary words and the thought of pulling on my old strip again. I didn’t think it worth pointing out that being “a bit of a player” extended only to the fact that I owned a pair of football boots. Nor did I admit that I was the one who had started the rumour.

“Okay Dave, eh sorry, I mean Terence,” I spluttered. “Count me in.”

The pre-game rituals of changing room banter and the liberal application of wintergreen were much as I remembered them and I managed a thorough warm up whilst attempting to squeeze in to my old strip. Although the rest of the players looked rather youthful I was confident that my ball-does-all-the-work philosophy would stamp its authority on the beautiful game early doors.

As the first pass of the evening arrived at my feet, I looked up ready to skip past a couple of the young tykes and deliver a gorgeous, inch-perfect pass to Terence to open the scoring. And I would have done so too had a crunching tackle from a bionic 20-something not left me flat on my back counting stars.

The next 59 minutes were a blur as I watched the game being played at a speed I hadn’t thought possible. My competitive pride tried to keep up but I knew I was in trouble when Terence turned into a maniac and started barking orders.

“Neil! Who the f*ck are you marking?
Get back here!
Get up there!
Pass the f*cking ball!

I tried to counter by giving him a piece of my mind but I was having some trouble breathing at the time having just coughed up a lung. By the time the whistle blew, the only things that didn’t hurt were my eyelashes.

Since Friday night, my entire body has shut down due to the pain* and I’m typing this now using some gentle head movements to operate the pencil in my mouth. I don’t even have the energy to lift my hands and draw cruel effigies of Terence on the dust-covered computer screen. Which reminds me, note to self - no more maternal visits till Christmas.

*I once knew a guy who told me a story about a chance meeting he had with the manager of his favourite football club. The manager in question was at the side of the road with the bonnet of his car raised, staring blankly at the engine.

“Got some trouble there Jimmy?” shouted my pal as he stopped to help.

The articulate response he received would have perfectly summed up my physical condition over the weekend.

“Aye son. The f*cking f*cker’s f*cking f*cked.”

More newspaper stuff here.


At 23/3/06 5:35 am, Blogger carl said...


At 27/3/06 10:11 pm, Blogger DC said...

Forget the old Celtic top - you should go for the black plastic bin-liner as worn by JJ when he too was past his prime - it's troo!



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