By Gerry Hassan, Scottish Review, January 18th 2012
The whole day out to Peterhead was enjoyable and entertaining and made me reflect. This was a warm, sociable group of Celtic fans. There were no pub bores or people who dominated the conversation of the whole bus. There was leadership, organisation and a culture of soft collective discipline.
Some of the songs being sung on the way up wouldn’t pass the Offensive Behaviour Act 2011. But what do I make of that? Singing of the hunger strikes and Bobby Sands is not something I really want as part of modern 21st century Scotland, but I also don’t want to ban it in a bus. The song about the 1971 Ibrox disaster and making light of its tragedy is more than awful bad taste, but then the law shouldn’t be involved in the universal stupidity of football fans to sing offensive ditties about their main rivals.
Most of the young men on the bus lived in one of the poorest parts of Glasgow, and were a mix of guys in employment, often in jobs they openly expressed their hatred for or boredom in, and some who were unemployed. They were animated, articulate and intensely knowledgeable about football. In the course of an entire day, I didn’t hear one sexist or racist comment, or outwith their singing, a sectarian or offensive comment.
Some would call these guys chancers or scallies, but if they were they were charming, filled with camaraderie and good-natured. These were mostly men at the start of their adult lives and to be serious for a moment, they showed a different side of Scotland. These guys dodged the forces of law and order, drank a lot, took illegal drugs, sang some offensive songs and engaged in a bit of shoplifting. There are clearly lots of these young men who have various ‘issues’, whether it is finding decent employment, relations with law and order and wider authority, or who have already experienced jail.
These were from my short impression, decent lads who have grown up in circumstances where this has been the norm. In this context, they showed thoughtfulness and consideration for other members of their group, were friendly and respectful to myself and Eddie who were strangers to them, and were never too boyish or out of control.
Eddie and myself set out on our 42 ground grand tour to see the Scotland on the other side of the tracks football wise, and to do something as friends.
We ended up via Peterhead and other places seeing another side of Scotland. We meet lots of warm, friendly people; we went to towns we would never normally go to, and we eat in cafes and pubs in town centres across our land. We went to towns some people didn’t know existed or even where they were (Stenhousemuir, which I nearly dragged a BBC film crew to as it was the Saturday after the SNP landslide victory), or that they had league teams. We ate and drank in some memorable places from the British Legion in Dingwall to bars by grounds such as Arbroath and in grounds such as East Fife.
We even watched one game: Albion Rovers v. East Fife where we got the teams the wrong way round, leaving thinking the mighty Albion had recorded a rare 4-1 victory to find out otherwise after the game. We watched Gretna play what turned out to be their last ever league match at Raydale Park as they failed to clinch promotion against St. Johnstone (they won it the following week); we weren’t impressed with the ground (or Gretna) to put it mildly!
And then to our last game, Saturday January 14th 2012, Berwick Rangers v. Stranraer, and a fitting swansong it turned out to be! Arriving well over half an hour before kick off, we had magnificent fish and chips from a food emporium in the ground. I then asked someone to take a photograph of myself and Eddie to capture the occasion, who turned out to be the club doctor, Alan Fortune. He then proceeded to take several photographs of us for use in the next home programme, and arranged for an announcement to be made at half-time over the tannoy that we had completed ‘the 42’ and had chosen Berwick as the site for this historic occasion!
We witnessed a superb game of football with two skilled teams playing a passing game with loads of chances. It was a great advert for Division Three and finished at the end two a piece with Berwick perhaps a shade unlucky not to just to shave it.
The whole experience has been incredibly positive, a deeper glimpse into a Scotland most people don’t give a second thought for, some glorious, entertaining football, and surprisingly few stinkers, and a real sense of two friends spending time with each other.
Maybe most of all apart from what we learnt about ourselves and our friendship, for both of us it has offered the opportunity to tell friends and acquaintances a very different story about Scotland, one which isn’t about football tribes, labels or judging others, but instead showing a sense of curiosity, discovery and empathy for others.
As for the best supporters? Without a doubt Eddie and I give our unanimous ten points each to East Stirling who don’t even have a home ground (playing at Stenhousemuir). And the best pie? Well the best food in my mind, superbly cooked and presented, was Queen of the South’s stovies!
Courtesy of Gerry Hassan – http://gerryhassan.com