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Hope triumphs over common sense

The quality of books written about football is generally relegation material.

That's why bargain bookstores are elephants' graveyards for ghosted "autobiographies" of vaguely remembered players. Fans write the best books.

My old classmate Jim Addison wrote one of the best. Behind the Goal is his homage to the place where we watched our beloved Dons in the 1960s.

Tellingly, the book is subtitled Sentenced to Life as a Don, capturing the trials and punishments of those of us condemned to be fans of provincial teams. As with ducklings, involuntary imprinting is involved. We become irrevocably attached to the first colour or ground that we encounter. For me it happened in 1954-55, the first (and only) time the Dons won the old First Division.

That same year my first Hampden visit saw them win the League Cup. I must have wondered: when does this game get difficult? It didn't take long to find out. The next 30 years until the Fergie aberration were a roller coaster of ups and downs, mostly downs.

For the provincial fan, there is no escaping the imprinting. The early season optimism at Cappielow, Stair Park or Cliftonhill is the triumph of hope over common sense. When it comes to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, our teams are world class. As Jim Addison wrote of yet another Dons' collapse, "… it had been a glorious failure and they are the best kind".

That bitter-sweet masochism is something supporters of bigger clubs don't experience. I understand those born in the shadow of Ibrox or Parkhead becoming imprinted on the Old Firm. However, something has gone wrong when green and blue busloads leave our towns and cities headed for wherever the big city slickers are playing. What satisfaction can they derive from watching mismatches nearly every week? I suppose their biblical equivalents would have been the fans with Goliath printed on the backs of their robes.

Harry Reid, another fan, in his book The Final Whistle, cites a Dumbarton supporter getting a sense of both righteousness and community through lifelong support of his local team. He and those who populate, however sparsely, the terraces at Ochilview or Glebe Park represent the soul of Scottish football. They are the antidote to the sclerotic influence of corporate hospitality, television determined kick-offs and badge-kissing millionaires. Even in these days of 3G surfaces, they remain the game's grass roots.

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