How to Adopt a Football Club
We used to sit outside the pub, my sister and I, on the crumbling brick wall that bordered the potholed car park, bottle of coke in one hand and packet of cheese and onion crisps in the other.
Our Dad would be inside with Uncle Johnny, Uncle Davy and Uncle Bob, not real Uncles you understand but that’s what we called them, Dad would be downing the obligatory four pints before emerging with that cheery smile brought on by him having slaked his thirst and removed the grime of his weeks labour in the factory where he had worked since he was a boy.
He was invariably optimistic as we walked to the ground no matter the beating we had taken the week before. Today would be different. Today the boys would win!
Scarves were obligatory, my sister’s neatly folded around her neck and tucked into her coat, mine slung loosely round my neck all the easier for raising aloft when the ball went crashing into the back of the opposition’s net!
The walk to the ground was always one of mounting excitement, holding onto our Dad’s hands looking upwards into the faces of excited adults chatting and singing as we went.
As the ground got nearer so the press of the crowd became greater, our horizon would become no further than the person in front of us, a sea of blue jeans and coat hems and the aroma of cigarette smoke, that snaked and coiled its way between the expectant masses.
The click of the turnstile, the shouts from the pie stalls below the stand, our nostrils filled with the sweet smell of frying onions, whilst the men would queue with barely disguised impatience for the toilet, and that moment of relief.
Then we would start climbing up the dark and dingy staircases, preparing for our Nirvana. First came the sky, as though we were emerging from the one of Tolkien’s dark forests.
All of a sudden the noise would hit you and the stadium would open up in front of you, senses assaulted by the vivid colours and the noise. Evening matches were particularly vivid; the green grass of the pitch would glisten under the dazzle of the floodlights, the sky a deep blue black, in stark contrast to the dazzling spectacle that lay before us.
We would walk down the gangway squeezing between the early arrivals to reach our spot on the terrace, half way between the penalty area and the half way line at the home end.
Here was our two square metres of real estate, the chipped and stained concrete wasn’t exactly what others might describe as desirable but it was where my Dad had stood as a lad with Grandad, it’s where we stood with Dad and it’s where we, in out turn, would stand with our children - one of life’s sureties.
The sun would rise in the East and we would return always to that well-worn square of gravel and chipped cement. Uncle Davy’s profanities ringing in our ears, ringing still…
This is what we understand being a fan to mean – a true fan that is – you support your local team because your Mum or Dad did and their Mum or Dad did, and so on.
You follow them through thick and thin because you have no choice, your team chooses you by a process of geography and, most importantly, familial ties. Only in my case it’s simply not true, the above is a fiction, pure fantasy.
My Dad didn’t take me to see my football team, even though they were local because he wasn’t remotely interested in football. I have no familial ties or lineage to legitimise my supporter passions. I don’t even have a sister!
My early years were more about pen pals and long distant relationships; snatched glimpses of occasional football highlights on Saturday night TV when I was allowed to stay up, constant reading of much thumbed football annuals to satisfy my boyhood dreams, and intensely studying glossy coloured football plates with perfectly styled players in crisp cotton kit, holding a bright orange ball, framed by a cobalt blue sky.
In the 50 odd years I’ve been watching football, over half as a Hibs Season Ticket holder, I have come to realise that the fans stories are as diverse as in any other sector of society. Which is to say that, alongside the narrative of “it’s in the family, in the blood, from generation to generation we support the local team.”
Many people from a much wider background have become passionate supporters of a club they have no geographical connection to. Their passion and love of their team came through a choice, their stories run side by side with those fortunate enough to grow up with the terrace chants drifting through streets on winter afternoons.
My own story started hundreds of miles away from the dark tenements of Albion Road and the cracked headstones nestling amongst the weeds of Edinburgh’s Eastern Cemetery.
There is no long lost Scottish grandparent that sat me on their knee and told me tales of the Famous Five and how the crowds swayed on the massed ranks of the old East terrace.
I couldn’t even claim to have passed through the venerable streets of old Leith, as dockworkers crammed into the drinking dens of The Shore before making their pilgrimage up the cobbled street that was Easter Rd.
My story starts in the leafy Home Counties where I was cultivating a nascent hero worship of the wizard that graced the wide-open spaces of Stamford Bridge, Charlie Cooke (the True Bonnie Prince Charlie). It is with this Scottish Legend that my tale begins, a tale that set me on the road to my love affair with the Mighty Hibs.
Evening matches were particularly vivid…