IT’S PARTICK THISTLE NOT DAMASCUS

Let me explain. It was just one of those moments when you have a revelation, you see the light, a magic moment occurs and you think this is what it’s all about. This is why we follow a football team. This is why we bother. This is why we have travelled all the way to Scotland, as far in fact as Perth – and all for a silly game of football. But then something happens that confirms that it is not silly at all.


     First though lets get a short report out of the way – St Johnstone 1 Burnley 3. Let’s forget the silly bag searching that took place when even the saintly Mrs T was asked to open her bag so that a hairy Scotsman could see what was in it. “This is silly,” she said. “Do I look like a terrorist?” Let’s forget they couldn’t be arsed to provide a simple programme. “Sorry no teamsheets either,” they said at the turnstiles, and now they are appearing on eBay. Just what kind of a club is this? At Dumfries and Firhill there wasn’t a single grumble. But St Johnstone… nice to have beaten them is my remaining thought, nice to see Ade score and young Macdonald. He has pace; he’s a hustler and bustler, no respecter of reputations. This lad could be something special, unlike the one who has just gone to Rangers, the one I’m glad to see the back of, first touch dreadful and heading ability even worse. A good bit of refereeing saw Paterson ‘invited’ to leave the field after a bit of backchat with the referee. The alternative would have been a yellow card for the lad. Nice goal for him too from a good cross.


     The McDiarmid Stadium had a fair smattering of Clarets, fairly quiet too, probably traumatised by the unsociable reception received in Perth, apparently anyone in a claret shirt being turned away from the local hostelries. Mrs T and I did get into a Wetherspoons but then they do serve anybody. Apparently a local farmer called McDiarmid gave the club the land for the stadium and Asda built it for free (said Fergus our new Scottish chum from Partick). A hot air balloon drifted over the ground; some people will do anything to get to watch for nothing. In the afternoon the Murton Suite had hosted a funeral reception.
     This was the final game for the travelling Burnley Football Supporters’ Club contingent, so the second neat and tidy win was a fair reward for the miles covered. Starting in Dumfries at Queen of the South we’d visited a little terraced ground with rickety old stands that took your mind back to the 1950s when footie was the working man’s game. Dumfries is famous for Robbie Burns. We went in the museum, very nice restaurant upstairs. Here’s a bit of his poetry:


For a’ that an’ a’ that,
It’s comin yet for a’ that,
That man to man the world o’er
Shall brithers be for a’ that.’


And if you have any idea what all that means, answers on a postcard please.
     Monday was Glasgow and Partick Thistle, a 1 – 0 win. Must say Steve Jones was impressive at Partick and at the McDairymaid, (made the third goal here with a jink and a slick pull-back). Tuesday was a day trip to Edinburgh, a city that is as elegant and beautiful as Glasgow is ugly. Glasgow and Lafferty methinks doth deserve each other.


     In Perth before the game a gin and tonic in Wethersoons was £1.60. In Edinburgh ONE glass of wine in the National Art Gallery Bar was £6.50. The picnic we had in the sun-drenched Princes Street Gardens, with M&S sandwiches from across the road was a tour highlight. Another was the morning round of golf in the hotel grounds. Jonathan Baron the winner, but then he does play three or four times a week, he says. The extra strokes were sponsored by GM Fitted Furniture.  Sunshine was a feature of the whole tour, lucky us. We saw miles and miles of Scotland, coastline and countryside at its best, apart from Glasgow, that is.


     Maybe, at Perth, the 3 – 1 was a tad flattering. But they were three excellent moves that produced the goals. Paterson involved in the first two, scoring one and making one. The team that began the game was more or less totally different by the time the game finished as all the subs came on. I think all of us willed the Latvian to do well but it was not to be. We lack a fearless, good big centre-forward with pace, power, and who can really get up and head a ball. Some of us have been spoiled watching Andy Lochhead all those years ago.


           The pre match pie I have to say (when at last you found the underground kiosk) was not a patch on the fare at Firhill, which leads me neatly to what I started to write about in the first place.


     It was on the Monday that I had this sort of Damascus moment. We’d wandered up and down the length of Soccerhall Street, in Glasgow city centre, window shopping. We’d seen the Buchanan Galleries way down the bottom end. Ooh good an art gallery lets go and have a look we thought and enjoy some culture. We get there and it’s another bloody giant shopping mall. In a shop called Gifto I bought some rather nice garden gnomes holding thermometers. On the naffometer they registered a clear ten; and only £1 each.


     And then after all that we drove up to the Maryhill suburbs, the home of Firhill the home of Partick Thistle. The wooden main stand is old and full of history, tall red brick façade overlooking the road, but Fergus said they only open it for the big games.  One end has no stand at all just a grassy bank. One side and one end are the typical identikit lego constructions that you see at any ‘new’ ground. But, being nice and early we went into the social pre-match bar in the old stand and here the warmth and friendliness was as impressive as it was non-existent in Perth at the McMermaid.


     Partick is a club that struggles for support. In a city that contains Rangers and Celtic struggle is all they can do. The £4million Rangers paid for Lafferty would keep Partick in business for ten years, I suppose. And it was here in their homely social club with its lovely old bar, genuine people, and the hum and buzz of football talk, that I had my special moment.


     I hate to keep harping on about Lafferty (but here goes again) but if Lafferty in my ‘umble opinion is symptomatic of so much of what is wrong with the game today – inflated egos, agents chasing the money, determined to get away from the club that reared him, the lure of the big city, the glorification of minimal talent; then a club like Partick and the people who support it and work behind the scenes, represent all that is good in the game. You have to ask how they manage to keep going.


     Here we were made welcome, the room full of claret shirts, familiar faces; the staff friendly, informative, helpful and interested, anxious that we were enjoying our tour. At Perth I was told to put my camera away, here it was “of course you can take photographs.” The room brimmed with bonhomie and camaraderie between supporters. A Monday night game in Glasgow, how easy is that to get to from Burnley and Partick supporters in that room were impressed by that, and faces from not just Burnley but all over the UK.


     Books are written about moments like this; try Sing When You’re Winning, about a Southampton fan’s journey round the Championship during one season. There’s a good Burnley chapter in it as well.


     Anyway, you’d hardly describe the pre match social club at Partick as a glossy corporate event. This was ‘Working Mans Club’ territory. Not that I’m knocking the corporate experience; I’ve enjoyed a few in my time, and there are fans in there just as passionate about their clubs as what we endearingly call ‘the rank and file’. You don’t have to stand outside in a downpour to show dedication. But, you could never say that watching the game from the warmth of an executive box is what makes the heart of football. And a ‘heart of football’ moment is what I had in that packed clubroom deep in the old stand at Firhill. These are the ‘real’ football people I thought, ordinary people, grateful people, loyal to their clubs, not obnoxious starlets, not the galacticos on £100k a week, jetting around the world, filling the pages of Hello with their appallingly tacky mansions. 


     And all this was before I had the best pie and chips of any ground I have ever been to. I am not normally allowed pie and chips on account of cholesterol, healthy eating and the eagle eyed Mrs T. But here I was starving and sometimes a man just has to put his foot down and be a man. Just sometimes she knows that I have to be uncaged and that pie and chips is in order. Just sometimes I have to stand up to her.


     God that pie was good, and the chips were to die for. And maybe it was just at that moment when I put the plate down on the table, picked up the plastic fork (kind of spoiled it just a little), savoured the moment, that the revelation came to me. This is what it is all about. Travelling up and down the highways with a good bunch of people, bumping into familiar faces, seeing a new ground for the first time, talking to the locals… and a plate of pie and chips lathered with salt, vinegar and tomato sauce.


     St Paul must have felt much the same on the road to Damascus.

Dave Thomas July 2008