Partick Thistle superfan

Born: April 7, 1919;

Died: September 3, 2017

HARRY Calderhead, who has died aged 98, was a football hero, a club legend, yet he never kicked a ball for his beloved Partick Thistle.

Rather, he was the team’s most devoted and totemic supporter. He had been going to the games for so long – since the end of the Second World War – that, effectively he was Partick Thistle, the most senior, experienced and representative figure in Firhill on any given match day.

He stood for everything good about football fandom – loyalty, not in the pursuit of glory (remember, this was the Jags) but based on unconditional love. A man and his club, it was a marriage of sorts; till death do us part.

Well, now it has parted them, but who would bet against Harry Bingo continuing to watch from some celestial version of the Jackie Husband stand? Harry Bingo – that is how he was best known. Christmas cards would come addressed to that name. Bingo was his other grand passion. He went twice a day every day, except Saturdays, when football took priority.

He was very particular about having the right seat, right book, right board, and could fall out with bingo staff if they didn’t meet his standards. He started off playing in nineteen-canteen in the “Wee Mac” in Maryhill, covering the numbers with sweeties, but over the decades made a royal progress around many Glasgow halls: the Vogue and Astoria in Possil; the Gala, Maryhill; and finally the Carlton on Dumbarton Road, which he still called the F&F, its name from the days it was a Palais de Dance.

Known in the Vogue as Mr Winalot, in reference to perceived jamminess, his biggest ever win was £2,000 – back in the early 1990s. Whenever he was only needing one number, he’d bang his pipe on the table, announcing that a win was imminent. Soon after came the shout – “House!” – followed by the groans of rivals. “Ach,” they’d say, “That’s Harry won again.”

Harry Calderhead was born in Port Dundas, in the north of Glasgow, in 1919, the eldest of ten children. His father was a carter. His childhood was said to be poor but happy. He attended St Joseph’s, but left school at 14 to work as a “trace boy” – leading a Clydesdale horse as it pulled a cartload of barrels from the breweries to the pubs.

His interest in horses went beyond the professional. He liked a bet. While still at school, when street gambling was illegal, he found work as a bookie’s runner. Whenever he got lifted by the police, the bookmaker would bail him out then slip him some cash in compensation. This he took straight home to his mother.

As a young man he made deliveries for a bakery, and then worked in a malt barn and whisky bond. His last job was as a porter at Stobhill Hospital, which he did for 12 years until an unwilling retirement at 65.

He had been conscripted during the war but was given a medical discharge. In 1944, he married a local girl, Mary, known as May, who worked in a munitions factory. They had four children – Jean, Mary, Henry and Alex, of whom only the daughters survive. Six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren followed. May died in 1981.

His family remember him as generous, if sometimes cantankerous. His mood was index-linked to the fortunes of Partick Thistle. If they won, all was sunshine; if they lost, clouds descended. His greatest moment as a supporter was the 1971 League Cup final when Thistle beat Celtic 4-1. His deepest low was in 1998 when the club faced ruin and a “Save The Jags” fans campaign, in which Calderhead played an active part, raised enough money to keep them in business.

He took his daughters and then granddaughters to Firhill; later, they took him. That Thistle DNA seemed to pass down the female line. He enjoyed being the head of a Jags dynasty. His status as such has been celebrated, lately, in a book named after him: The Passion Of Harry Bingo. His final game was a 4-3 loss to Aberdeen, just a week before his death.

“As our oldest supporter Harry is, and always will be, part of the history of the club,” said Jacqui Low, Partick Thistle’s director. “Over 72 years, he sold programmes, fought to save us at our lowest point, brought his family into the Thistle family and stuck with us through thick and thin. Harry loved Thistle – and we loved Harry. We are devastated that we won't see his mischievous smile or bunnet again.”

Ninety-eight years old. You’d call it a good innings, but that’s the wrong metaphor for such a staunch football man. Calderhead survived lung cancer and skin cancer. He refused to accept fading eyesight, failing hearing, regarding them as fouls upon his person as dirty as those committed against his team. He died in the Marie Curie Hospice after a short illness.

“He was my granda,” said his granddaughter Mary. “He was my fitba pal.” Nine simple words, but they said so much. The passing of Harry Bingo is a sad thing, no doubt, but his family and friends will be comforted by the many memories of an extraordinary ordinary man.

Peter Ross