• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Back in the day, the game came first . . . and no excuses

THE devotion of the football manager to superstition has a dangerous consequence for Stirling Albion's Greig McDonald.

“Don't worry, boss, a wee aspirin and I'll pass the fitness test.”

He missed last week's victory over Rangers because he was getting married. He has now joined the Mormons so that he can get married every week and thus ensure the run continues.

As an excuse for missing a match, one supposes that one's wedding is a valid option. As a football fanatic, though, I have my reservations (I am half-Apache on my Possil side).

I tend to agree with Bill Shankly, who was asked if it was true that he took his wife to a reserve match on his wedding anniversary. He insisted this suggestion was absurd because he would never have married during the season.

His message was that the sanctity of football should not be sullied by wedding ceremonies or any other blasphemous acts of frivolity.

My congratulations to Mr McDonald over both his nuptials and his team's success are significantly compromised by the belief that Mr Shankly was right. This stance is reinforced by my experience in the foothills of Scottish fitba'.

If one considers a marriage a trivial excuse for missing a football match – and we are all surely agreed on that – then the reasons given by team-mates over the years for not turning up on a Saturday or Sunday make "the dog ate my jockstrap" look like the most reasonable of statements.

Now, there were justifiable reasons for non-attendance. For example, if a player cannot make bail, he cannot make bail. One amateur team I played for would have been better hiring a lawyer rather than a physio if preparing players for matches was the sole criterion.

There was once a serious attempt to make the team bus leave from Randolphfield of a Saturday morning. This was, of course, the HQ of Central Scotland Police and this fine body of men had the recurrent, irritating habit of taking exception to the individual pre-match preparations of our leading players.

We forgave the players for missing the match. Unfortunately, the judiciary did not take a similar attitude to them rearranging much of the geography of upper St Ninians. It was the other excuses that grated. This may have been good for preparing carrots for soup but it was annoying when trying to field a team.

These excuses were, frankly, lame. I played in the era before childcare. This means that if the kids were dumped on our centre-forward, he simply brought them to the game and expected any supporters to look after them.

It is, after all, the way gorillas would do it, although, admittedly, they would not be sucking on cans of Tennent's Special and would have considerably less hair on their lips than most of the ladies. So using the kids as an excuse not to play was simply not on.

The range of cop-outs was limited. This was a period when people were employed, so a Saturday shift was acceptable as a reason not to don a shirt.

It was also possible to duck out if one had an injury, though the tolerance for this was low. Remember, this was Scottish football and if one's leg became detached in a tackle then one was expected at least to play outside left for the rest of the match and wave said leg at encroaching defenders. It was also possible to miss a game because of a funeral, though this had to be one's own.

Other excuses were laughed out of court. This venue being where most of the team convened. There was no tolerance for the idea of spending time with spouse or, horror of horrors, enjoying a weekend away from one's postcode, unless taken in a police van.

Still, some backslackers would contrive excuses that took them away from the joys of playing for a team of psychopaths against another team of psychopaths on a Saturday afternoon.

These involved family illnesses so bizarre that nowadays they would be featured on a Channel 4 documentary, job interviews conducted on a Saturday morning, moving house, building a house, nicking the lead from a house, and shouting house at bingo.

These malingerers were always found out. They were ostracised and told they would not be playing for the team in the near future. Well, until one of their mates was handcuffed. And not in marriage.

Contextual targeting label: 
Sport

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

119968