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When having a ball at Christmas was child's play . . .

THE rules for the columnist at festive times are as strict as a dominatrix in a dungeon.

'Right, this is for the World Cup then we'll go home for some turkey . . .'
'Right, this is for the World Cup then we'll go home for some turkey . . .'

I would imagine. The scribbler either has to look back on the year or peer forward and give a month-to-month guide with a running joke.

This is all beyond me.

My looking back is restricted to pondering why my car keys are in the fridge. And I cannot look forward with a running joke. My humour is as lame as This Man Ironside. Instead, I propose a public service. This column will tell you what to buy the wean in your life for Christmas.

It is built on personal experience. There were Yuletide moments in Possil and Busby that may seem peculiar in retrospect. Stocking fillers included apples, oranges and the occasional tangerine. This idea that fruit was exotic and only for Christmas may have contributed to the subsequent death rates of a generation.

There was also the very popular category of Presents That Will Do Harm To Others. These included guns, daggers and swords. These were normally of the plastic variety, though many of my contemporaries graduated to the real thing with undue haste.

The other routine gift was the compendium of games. The idea that a couple of hours of snakes and ladders could keep a group of kids entertained seems quaint now, but these were simpler times.

For boys, though, there was the mandatory fitba' present.

There were no replica shirts then. In some areas of Possil there were no shirts. But football jerseys were restricted to players. Nowadays they seem to be only for wee boys and very fat, middle-aged men. The fitba present in my childhood was either the boot or the ball. The boot was as unbending as a bigot. There were suspicions among children that they had been prised from the feet of a miner. They were so heavy they substituted for diving boots, hence the term playing deep.

They had studs that would not have survived any inspection by the Geneva Convention on warfare. They also had more nails than a joiner's toolbox and all of them eventually ended up in one's sole. The bottom of a child's foot thus resembled one of those puzzles where one had to join up the dots to reveal a pastoral scene.

But the mandatory present was The Ball. In my earliest days, it came in the shape of a flat bladder. Strangely, half a century on I still have a flat bladder for Christmas. But that is another story and one for my urologist.

Anyway, the flat bladder was blown up using a bicycle pump and a valve and left a protuberance of laces that inflicted horrific injuries on the foreheads of a generation. This has untold effects (See earlier reference to car keys in fridge). This weapon . . . sorry, ball, was kicked about with such abandon that it lost its colour, shape and bounce. Its gradual disintegration was mourned, but the consolation was that Christmas was coming and it would be replaced by a ball that would have the same capacity to induce a migraine.

These splendid beasts were gradually replaced by the plastic ball. I was never a fan. They were as light and insubstantial as a Nick Clegg promise and they were frankly unsuited to the rigours of street football. They burst as easily as a plook and were carried away by the merest breeze.

But, too late for me and my mates, the perfect ball came along. It is of the replica variety. It is durable, consistent and comparatively cheap. One can even play with the ball used by the pros.

Now children, understandably, want to spend time with their computers. Listen, we used to queue for a game of blow football, so I am not going to chide those youngsters who can now set up games that involve picking a Barca team to play Real Madrid on a wet night in Camp Nou.

But I believe every wean – girl and boy – should be given a ball for Christmas and then taken to the back garden or the local park for a kickabout. Then, one day, the festive columnist could maybe look back on a year when Scotland qualified for a major tournament instead of being a running, or limping, joke.

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