Monthly Archive December 2016

ByBig Pink

The Day I was on the Scotland U-23 Bench

It’s been a crappy year. If you don’t believe me, look at the two lists below this piece – full of people who have left us since Jan 1 2016. Some might say in a post Brexit/Trump world they are all better off, but that is neither here nor there.

In addition we have witnessed yet another year of the “black is white – new is old” suspension of disbelief argument from the football authorities. The same dysfunctional crew who gave us the 5-way agreement and whose cerebral CPU cycles are dominated by a strategy to choose the correct term to use for various concepts like; liquidation, Rangers FC, pitch invasion, independent inquiry, (to name just a few).
They now think we will be satisfied with what their crack investigation into child sex abuse – and its no doubt cherry-picked and narrow terms of reference – will come up with.

Still in place at Hampden, is a Press Officer who thinks he IS the SFA, and a chief executive who should BE the SFA, but who prefers, in his own words to do “nothing”. These are the people who, in the midst of a public debate over concerns for racism and homophobia in the game, have given a coaching job involving young people to a man who has been proven a racist and a homophobe.

These are the people who constantly have their hands out for public funds, including one to fund a grade-A bonkers facial recognition scheme to root out sectarianism (and all the other ISMS that they have just endorsed by appointing Malky Mackay).

Yet we complain about the Americans when they elect an insane man to power?

All is however not lost. Within living memory, and since it is Christmas, I’d like to relate a warm, cuddly, sentimental and very true story about the late Jock Stein. It is proof that there was a time before the madness that has enveloped Scottish Football when real people of quality, blessed with empathy for fans, roamed these lands.


Rewind to 13th May 1975. Myself and three great friends, two teenagers from each half of the Old Firm, decided to walk over to Hampden Park to see Scotland playing a friendly match against Portugal. Two of the guys – ironically the Rangers ones – lived in a wee street right across the road from Celtic Park, and we set out from ‘their bit’, walking through Strathie’s Park and down Springfield Road into Dalmarnock Road. We were a bit behind schedule and of course we were all skint so we had to walk. As my mates dithered, I walked on ahead shouting at them something like ‘hurry up!’ (although a tad less politely).

As I approached the junction of Dalmarnock Road and Adelphi Street, I absent-mindedly did a bit of jay-walking and was nearly hit on the backside by a ton of German tin making a left turn. The passenger window of the car was rolled down, and I prepared an impetuous come-back to what I was sure was going to be a rollicking.

Instead, a strangely familiar man in a thick Irish brogue poked his head out of the window and said; “Where you going?”

As my brain registered “Sean Fallon”, I made a quick connection, turned to the driver and saw that it was Big Jock. Thoughts of “what an honour to be knocked down by Jock Stein” flashed through my befuddled between-ear mass.

Recovering quickly;  “To the game” I said.

“Jump in!” shouted Mr Stein

“My pals are just behind me”

“Tell them to jump in as well”

I never asked the guys when they realised it was the greatest living Scotsman driving the car, but we didn’t know many folk with a Merc, so I suppose they knew it wasn’t a relative who had stopped me.

The four of us climbed into the spacious big bench seat in the back of the car for the fifteen minute journey. Immediate questions.

Yes Jock (we were pals by now 🙂 ) was going to the game and so was Sean, but they were going home for something to eat first. Yes, it was a great perk of being a manager that you didn’t have to queue, but what did we think of the team?

The chat at the time was that Kenny Dalglish hadn’t hit it off with Scotland because Bremner was cramping his style. Bremner was injured that night, so my pal Gerry Connor (permission to use his name has been granted!) told The Boss (we were really close by now) that we expected KD fireworks.

What did we think of Hutchinson? Since it definitely appeared to be posed in rhetorical fashion we chose “not very much”.
The Gaffer concurred.

One of the Rangers guys (Big Jimmy) wondered aloud why Alfie Conn, by then of Spurs, was not selected. It was a ridiculous situation said my mate. Probably keeping him for the U-23s he thought out loud, before realising that Jock was the then Under 23 manager.

“Oh, eh, um, sorry! I forgot that was you!” said Big Jimmy. “No worries, he’s a very good player” said Big John (by now we felt we had known him forever).

Truth is, we were scared shitless; totally in awe of the man driving, DRIVING US, to the match. He really wanted to know what we thought, who we liked to see play, who we would pick who wasn’t in the squad.

Another thing was that despite it being huge for us all, we all wanted it it over with as quickly as possible so we could talk about it. But it wasn’t over yet. The final flourish was when we got dropped off at the Beechwood. We got out of the car as the crowds were descending on Hampden. Stein’s car was noticed right away, but who were these young scallywags emerging fro the back?

“Thanks Boss, thanks Sean!” we all shouted so the bystanders could ear. Stein smiled, waved at us and sped off to Kings Park for his dinner.

“See you in the morning Gaffer!”

Chests puffed out, we all assumed the pose of Scotland Under-23 starlets. Scotland won 1-0, but I can honestly say I don’t remember a bloody thing about that match. I do remember being on the Scotland U-23 bench though 🙂

The moral of the story is clear to me. In the background of Dave Scott’s claim in our podcast that the SFA needed to get its act together, and to engage more with the fans, the men of the Stein mould, our greatest football generation, are perhaps the last generation to possess the ability to do that.

He could have just beeped loudly in frustration and went off home for his dinner that evening, but he saw four young fans – guys who loved the game anyway – and made us love it a bit more after that fifteen minute ride. For a few minutes out of his time, Jock Stein gave us all a lifetime of a cherished memory, which I have dined out on, and will continue to dine out on, forever.

Many years later, footballers of that era told me that it was commonplace for the likes of Billy McNeill and John Grieg to do the same in Glasgow, for Pat Stanton and Davie Holt in Edinburgh, and for Alex Hamilton and Jerry Kerr in Dundee.

Sadly, three decades later, I regularly witnessed footballers go to extraordinary lengths to avoid autograph hunters, ducking out of back doors and having stewards deliver their cars to remote places away from the public gaze.

Of the four lucky boys who chanced upon Jock Stein that night, I am still in touch with two. Big Jimmy has fallen of the radar, last heard of in England somewhere – as is Gerry, condemned to a purgatory of watching Blackburn Rovers!

Despite that, we will always share the bond of the night we were on the Under-23 bench seat in the back of Big Jock’s Merc.

We should remember that the game in this country prospered when it was more in tune with the people who followed it. Perhaps market equilibrium will one day bring it back, who knows, but for now, football is an industry where no-one in control at the clubs gives a flying doo-doo what we think.

 

At least we still have our memories. Of the great Jock Stein, to whom I was briefly related, of his assistant Sean Fallon, who I got to know a bit in later years, and of many football folk I was privileged enough to know, and who are no longer with us.

Just like the class of 2016 below, we miss them all.

 

Non Football Deaths in 2016

Date Name Age
04 Jan Robert Stigwood Producer 81
08 Jan David Bowie Musician 69
14 Jan Alan Rickman Actor 69
15 Jan DanHaggerty Grizzly Adams Actor 74
18 Jan Glen Frey Musician 67
28 Jan Paul Kantner Musician 74
19 Feb Harper Lee Author 89
28 Feb George Kennedy Actor 91
08 Mar George Martin Producer 90
09 Mar Robert Horton Wagon Train Actor 91
10 Mar Keith Emerson Musician 71
17 Mar Larry Drake LA Law Actor 66
18 Mar Joe Santos Rockford Files Actor 84
22 Mar Richard Bradford Man in a Suitcase Actor 81
24 Mar Garry Shandling Comedian 66
06 Apr Merle Haggard Musician 79
21 Apr Prince Musician 57
24 Apr Billy Paul Musician 81
19 May Alan Young Mr Ed Actor 96
03 Jun Muhammad Ali Boxer 74
14 Jun Ronnie-Claire Edwards Waltons Actor 83
28 Jun Scotty Moore Musician 84
19 Jul Garry Marshall Actor/Producer 81
13 Aug Kenny Baker Star Wars Actor 81
20 Aug Gene Wilder Actor 83
06 Sep Hugh O’Brian Wyatt Earp Actor 91
25 Sep Arnold Palmer Golfer 87
28 Sep Shimon Peres Politician 93
14 Oct Jean Alexander Coronation St Actor 90
24 Oct Bobby Vee Singer 73
24 Oct Pete Burns Musician 57
03 Nov Kaye Starr Singer 94
07 Nov Leonard Cohen Musician 82
11 Nov Robert Vaughan Actor 83
13 Nov Leon Russell Musician 74
25 Nov Fidel Castro Politician 90
06 Dec Peter Vaughan Porridge Actor 93
07 Dec Greg Lake Musician 69
08 Dec John Glenn Astronaut 95
18 Dec Zsa-Zsa Gabor Actor 99
24 Dec Rick Parfitt Musician 67
24 Dec Liz Smith Royle Family Actor 95
25 Dec George Michael Musician 53
27 Dec Carrie Fisher Actor 60
28 Dec Debbie Reynolds Actor 84

 

 

Football Deaths in 2016

Date Name Club Age
22 Jan Tommy Bryceland St Mirren 76
22 Jan John Dowie Celtic 60
04 Feb Harry Glasgow Clyde 76
24 Feb Jim McFadzean Kilmarnock & Hearts 77
11 Mar Billy Ritchie Rangers Goalkeeper 79
20 Mar Alan Cousin Dundee, Hibs & Falkirk 78
24 Mar Johan Cruyff Ajax, Barcelona 68
31 Mar Jimmy Toner Dundee 92
06 May Chris Mitchell Queen of the South 27
11 May Bobby Carroll Celtic 77
14 May John Coyle Dundee United 83
20 Jun Willie Logie Rangers, Aberdeen 83
03 Jul Jimmy Frizzell Morton 79
06 Jul Davie Nicol Falkirk 80
08 Jul Jackie McInally Kilmarnock 79
21 Jul Dick Donnelly East Fife Goalkeper/Journalist 74
05 Aug Joe Davis Hibs Captain 75
21 Aug Rab Stewart Dunfermline 54
05 Sep Max Murray Rangers 80
13 Sep Matt Gray Third Lanark 80
01 Oct David Herd Man United & Scotland 82
10 Oct Eddie O’Hara Falkirk & Everton 80
16 Oct George Peebles Dunfermline 80
18 Oct Gary Sprake Leeds United 71
08 Nov Ian Cowan Partick Thistle, Falkirk & DAFC 71
16 Nov Daniel Prodan Rangers 44
25 Nov Jim Gillespie Dunfermline 69
26 Nov Davie Provan Rangers 75
10 Dec Tommy McCulloch Clyde Goalkeeper 82
11 Dec Charlie McNeil Stirling Albion 53