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It's a wonderful life . . . made even better with the beautiful game

FOR reasons beyond my control, and the control of a surfeit of medications that would nobble a Derby favourite, I have been unable to fulfil my professional obligation to fill this space in my singular style, that is in the same manner as a cow with a dodgy stomach fills a byre.

It's a funny old game . . . after all, generations of fitba fans cannae be wrong . . . Picture: Herald Archive
It's a funny old game . . . after all, generations of fitba fans cannae be wrong . . . Picture: Herald Archive

Frankly, dear reader (and I know there is only one of you and thanks for the poison pen letter), I have not been missed. Graeme MacPherson and Nick Rodger stepped in, prompting the sports editor to opine to me as I searched for my tartan rug and my carer: "At least you can now say you write the third best Hugh MacDonald column in The Herald."

Intoxicating praise.

It came in a week when I suddenly rediscovered something deep in my core. It was a crayon I swallowed in Possil nursery - or pre-Barlinnie induction centre as it has subsequently become known.

I also rediscovered my station in life. It is Hillfoot and connects to Queen's Street. I also rediscovered that I am condemned/fated/ blessed to be a fitba' fan.

This realisation came to me this week after I was accused of demonising football fans. Someone had spotted me with a full-size photie of a fitba' terracing and I was drawing horns and cloven feet on every punter. Naw, I was just criticising bampots for ripping seats and setting off flares.

There is, I confess, a bit of the old dodderer in me when it comes to being Outraged of Bearsden over football hooliganism. My experience of flares at fitba matches was confined to my trousers that were so baggy at the bottom that I once smuggled in three of the smaller members of our supporters' clubs.

But I would find it impossible to demonise football supporters because of one straightforward reason. Brace yourself, reader. I am going to say something that should not be heard outside a 12-step recovery group.

My name is Hugh and I am a football fan.

I do not say this lightly. I am, after all, morbidly obese. But I say it in full recognition of precisely what football means to me and how it consumes a huge chunk of my life with such a relish one would think my existence was a Tunnock's snowball with a roll on square sausage on top of it. Mmmmmm . . .

In a difficult week personally, I have both sought refuge in football and reflected on how I am surrounded by football lovers.

It is not difficult to in modern times. Even my council telly has wall to wall football (it is a big telly) and I am also prone to seeking out the odd amateur game. And most amateur games are odd.

One occurs in the park that doubles as my back garden every week. And if I fancy a walk around Mugdock, one can be attracted deep in the woods by the cry of a torn hamstring as a match takes place in Stanley Park.

Whisper it, but the work continues to pay me to watch football and clubs give me a seat, a half-time pie and a programme. Though in the interests of health and safety I usually study the pie and eat the programme.

Whisper it, too, but I also mainline football, paying for it at a grubby turnstile and being gently transported by the delights of Somerset Park, Forthbank or other dealers. The column reader, or enabler as he has become known by the column's psychiatrist, is also tempting me with an offer to watch Petershill this season.

I hate myself but I know I will succumb. My first big games were at Greenfield Park, home of the mighty Shettleston, and I will head back to the Juniors this season. It is, after all, the crack cocaine of football.

In the meantime, I will talk and argue fitba with brothers, daughter, son, cousins, nephews and nieces, mates, colleagues and my probation officer.

I have watched fitba' in seven different decades, I have read about it in Pink and Green and in black and white. I have peered down from high stands and swayed in sheds. I have been bored, intrigued, exhilarated, disgusted, joyous and disconsolate.

But, even better, I have been lost in it. I know it is not the most important aspect of life but it can help one through the hard moments, 90 minutes at a time.

Thanks, fitba'.

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