It’s a peculiar time of year for me. Whilst I love rambling around picking my own “black gold” (blackberries) from the brambles and briars, conversely I begin to feel withdrawal symptoms at the end of the Cricket season.
However, Consuela (my Tejana maid) has already started to come alive in a sporting sense. She is a devotee of Soccer or, as we call it hereabouts, fitba. Not that she actually goes to any matches – no, she swings on her hammock downstairs and watches them all on her HD television (we have had cable installed at the teepee). I can often hear her shouts while I recline on my chaise longue, and although they interrupt my appreciation of Mozart I smile indulgently because I can hear that she is truly getting to grips with the language.
“Handball… Aw ref, are you blind… Dive… Jings man that was never offside… Middle it… Och you dirty wee…”
I once asked her what so attracted her to the sport, which I consider to be a heathenish aberration where twenty-two bad-tempered, over-paid, usually-foreign jessies chase a beach-ball round a park (I also use a sexual analogy which I shall not shock you by repeating). To my surprise she told me that she had fallen in love, when she arrived in Scotland, with the names of the soccer stadia.
To her they were like the names of stations on a long-closed branch line, where now rose bay willow herb and monkshood grow from the cracks in the platform, the paint peels on the ornate, Victorian woodwork of the awnings, and the cast-iron girders of the footbridge are the nesting-place of jackdaw and doo… Tannadice… Ibrox… Tynecastle… McDiarmid Park… Pittrodie… Cappielow… Almondvale… Mosset Park… Ochilview… Borough Briggs… Galabank… One could almost add Tannochbrae and Levenford, so much is there an echo of A J Cronin in these names.
Also, Consuela confessed, there was romance in the names of the teams. Queen of the South seems to recall an ancient visit to Caledonia by, say, Cartimandua of the Brigantes or Boudicca of the Iceni. Raith Rovers could almost be another name for Tolkien’s "Nazgul". Heart of Midlothian is just Sir Walter Scott all the way, as is Kirkintilloch Rob Roy. Hamilton Academicals is what the Strathclyde Police get you to say when they think you’re drunk in charge of a bicycle. Then there there are the various Thistles of Buckie, Partick (aka The Jags), and Inverness… and the indescribably romantic sounds of Cowdenbeath (a minor character in the… er… Scottish Tragedy by Shakespeare? “Fair cousin Cowdenbeath, get you to Croy, the thane thereof to tell of our intent…”) and Clachnacuddin.
Consuela is fascinated by the extremes of these teams and places as well. Did you know, for example, that the largest stadium in terms of capacity is Celtic Park in Glasgow which can hold over sixty thousand, and the smallest is Cliftonhill in the town of Coatbridge, home of the lowly Albion Rovers, which holds about twelve hundred souls (if there’s naethin’ guid awn the Grace Kelly!). Then there is the issue of where some of these stadia are located. The ground of the Inverness Caledonian Thistle team is so close to the A9 Edinburgh to Thurso road that an injudicious punt by a player could well clear the stands and cause a pile-up. Similarly East Fife’s Bayview Stadium is uncomfortably close to the dank and unused basin of Methil Docks – many a wayward booting from a visiting fullback has been greeted by the cry of, “Haw, Jimmy… can you swim? Awa an’ fetch it!” The grounds of rival teams Dundee and Dundee United (Dens Park and Tannadice) are right next door to each other, and more than once a fan who got blootered before a match has found himself on the wrong set of terraces.
I allow Consuela to tell me tales of fitba, even though I have heard them all before. Here are a couple for you.
Inverness Caledonian Thistle – Cally for short – were at home to the mighty Glasgow Celtic in a league match once. The Celts were off-form, and the highland team trounced them. A Scottish tabloid newspaper headlined the match thus: “Super-Cally-go-ballistic-Celtic-are-atrocious”. Shortly afterwards the same two teams were drawn to play in a cup match, and once more Cally were all over Celtic like chicken pox. The same tabloid ran another headline: “Super-Cally-go-ballistic-Celtic-are-atrocious… again!”
On the 12th of September 1885 (I know, it sounds like the beginning of a poem by William Topaz McGonagall) the team then known as Dundee Harp beat Aberdeen Rovers in the First Round of the Scottish cup. The match referee recorded thirty-seven goals for the home side against nil for the visitors. The Dundee Harp captain, in sportsmanlike manner, said that he had only counted thirty-five. The referee accepted the revised figure of thirty-five, and the Dundonians went off to celebrate their record-breaking win. Little did they realise what had been happening eighteen miles away…
As the result of a clerical error, an invitation meant for Orion FC to play in the First Round against Arbroath had been sent instead to Orion Cricket Club. They accepted, and fielded a side under the name Bon Accord without football strip, playing in their street shoes and shirtsleeves. The field of play was muddy so they were unable to run, turn, or even stay upright, and by half-time they were fifteen goals down. By full time the total against them was thirty-six. Due to their fair play, Dundee Harp never held the record for the biggest win in professional football, and the score-line of “Arbroath 36 – Bon Accord 0” has remained a soccer legend to this very day.
The Arbroath team of 1885
I have to say that there are times when, despite fitba, the dreich winters do get to Consuela. I know that she is depressed when I hear her softly singing:
Oh tierra del sol!, suspiro por verte
ahora que lejos yo vivo sin luz, sin amor;
y al verme tan solo y triste cual hoja al viento,
quisiera llorar, quisiera morir de sentimiento…
Sometimes she will whimper in the middle of the night, and I have to hoist myself into her hammock (not easy) and we snuggle together for comfort, like a pair of chimpanzees. We stop short of picking parasites out of each other’s hair.
By the way, I now have Die Wacht am Rhein on my brain. Damn.