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They called us the Dirty Dozen . . . no wonder we played only one training match

MY WITTERINGS of last week seem to have struck a chord.

The lads get in some match practice in the pub
The lads get in some match practice in the pub

This was the result of both my readers rolling up the newspaper into a ball and throwing the mass at their pianos.

Their anger was understandable, and that is an accusation one can rarely level at this column. But my meanderings down the dusty road of nostalgia produce painful memories for some. Almost as painful, says Dr John, the resident psychiatrist, as reading the column itself.

There is, dear reader, an element of remembrance to the column this week and it is piqued by the stories of Swansea City players fighting at training. This incident has been reported by the media with the slavering worthy of a rabid dog sooking an ice lolly.

It is an example of people not quite knowing what goes on inside a professional football club. Fighting at training is akin to arguing in Cabinet, getting dirty down pit and being the subject of humiliating bullying by the sports editor. That is, it comes with the job.

One admits one was surprised that there was belligerence among Swansea City players. These guys all appear so nice they were surely all descended from the dotty vicar in a 1970s sitcom. Swansea City players are as tough as the Sun's quick crossword. Their idea of a good kicking is a Possil man's idea of a wee tickle.

Sure, they had a player sent off at the weekend but he was so daft in collecting two yellow cards that he subsequently passed both a drugs and dope test.

But football teams - particularly those who win - have fights in training regularly. Henrik Larsson was loved by the fans, but the respect afforded by his team-mates was memorably once marked by a black eye inflicted in a robust exchange of views on the training field.

This is a mere bruise, of course. There were moments in my career when the first team and substitute were known as The Dirty Dozen, and not just by the inhabitants of their armpits. We never, ever played training matches. Well, not after the first and only time.

This was an attempt to impose a shape on the team. One would have had more chance of imposing a shape on Anne Widdecombe. Big Norrie, our manager, blew the whistle in the manner of a young officer in the First World War and we all went over the top.

The tackles were flying in so high he had a call from a harassed air traffic controller at Glasgow Airport. I called Mick, our left-back, the Great Magician because he sawed you in half. Without a saw.

It was the only full-scale training match to descend into such violence that not only did the UN Peacekeeping force decline to intervene but an appeal to impose order made to the Gambino family in New York was ignored.

The match lasted for about an hour, or seven attempted culpable homicides as the procurator-fiscal described the events in his match report, which was officially a "preliminary investigation into a series of heinous crimes".

When that fateful match ended, there was no bad blood. There was plenty of sticky, red and fresh blood, though. One basically wiped off the effusions of the red stuff from various wounds, applied an arm to the snotters, tucked a detached leg under yir oxter and hopped towards the pub.

There, one succumbed to a disciplined hydration session that involved supping amounts of alcohol only hitherto consumed on Ollie Reed's stag night.

After this episode - thereafter referred to by the players as "that bit of nonsense" and by Scottish historians as The Great Disruption - big Norrie kept us all on a leash. This did cause abrasions to our necks and strangely saved at least one marriage but it meant training could return to a wee run around St Ninians, a mass and joyful slagging match and then the pub.

It did not, of course, curb the collective aggressive instincts of the team. This was a mob who if they turned amphibious would be a wolverine crossed with a shark. And a very crabbit wolverine and a psycho shark, at that.

Oh no, the team was splendidly belligerent and could be an equal opportunity aggressor. My evidence? Once, two of our players butted each other so relentlessly they were mistaken for rutting stags and appeared in a seminal episode of Life on Earth.

They were not only part of a team winning easily, they were not only members of a defence completing a clean sheet. They were brothers. And they would only have struck a chord if it was wearing a fitba' strip.

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