One of the plus points of a job that involves travelling the length of the country is that it often affords the opportunity to take in some of Rangers’ more distant midweek away games. For others, these trips are far more demanding in terms of time and money - yet year in, year out, the happy few make these marathon trips to support the team. I applaud you all, even if not all of the players will - no names (Andy Impey). Why any of us do it is a mystery. It can’t possibly be for fun. Personally, I can’t enjoy watching QPR until we’re at least four goals up with three minutes to play - and even then nagging doubts remain.
Furthermore, like many football fans, my interest (obsession?) extends only to QPR and I really couldn’t care less what anyone else ever did. Strange then that, whilst away on business in the Godforsaken conflagration of pebble-dashed tenements that is Glasgow, the urge should take my colleague (Kev) and I to take in a match. We scanned the fixtures for a suitable venue, fully expecting one of the Scottish giants like Rangers or... er, Rangers to be plying their trade, as was once the tradition in the UK, on a Wednesday night. No such luck, however. It was a straight choice between Stirling Albion and Hamilton Academical. Both mouth-watering prospects, I think you’ll agree. One look at the map and Accies won the day. A short motorway trip across the city and we could soon be enjoying the atmosphere of a derby match against local rivals St Mirren.
So, off to Hamilton we went, full of hope and expectation for the feast of football that awaited us. A feast that we could consume and savour free from the pressures that burden us when following our favoured sides (Blackpool in Kev’s case, so he knows a thing or two about pain). We hit the town of Hamilton, which was about 20 minutes drive east out of Glasgow, mere minutes prior to the scheduled 7.30pm kick-off. We had seen the modest floodlights from the motorway and, as seasoned away travellers, would surely home in on the stadium without difficulty. Upon entering the bustling metropolis that is Hamilton town centre, we were surprised yet undeterred by the total absence of human life - what a crowd there must be at the game! Yet no sign of latecomers rushing to make the kick-off and no sign of the glare of floodlights. Our concerns grew when the female assistant at the petrol station was unable to direct us to where the Accies played - bloody typical! We drove on until, to our relief, the distant glow of the lights illuminating the night sky beckoned us to our destination.
Regrettably, wise men we were not - a fact laughingly acknowledged by the lone spectator observing the local ladies team training under the undeniably bright yet, as was now painfully evident, extremely modest floodlights that surrounded the asphalt pitch. Having regained his composure, our Scottish friend delighted in informing us that Accies sold their ground last year and were now sharing with Partick Thistle. That would be the same Partick Thistle located to the north-west of Glasgow. About five minutes from our hotel, as it happens. We had gone too far (albeit in completely the wrong direction) to give up now. To cut a long motorway short, we hit Partick, home of Hamilton, a little before 8.00pm, slipped the custodian (c. Terry Cinzano) of the members car park the price of a pint of ‘heavy’ (it isn’t) and went through the first available turnstile into what it transpired was the St Mirren section of the one stand in use that evening. We were pleased to see that the section was well populated as was the somewhat smaller area alongside, allocated to the Hamilton contingent.
We took our seats, checked the score - 0-0 - and, in the absence of a programme, attempted to determine which team was wearing the Newcastle kit. It was St Mirren, but there the resemblance ended. Having said that, our first impression was that ‘Saints’ were well in control, making light of a pitch strewn with divot marks equalled only by that one just in front of Ellerslie near the halfway line. You know, the one Steve Yates made 18 months ago, which they haven’t got round to repairing yet. He was kicking it off for a throw-in at the time, I think… yes I’m sure he was.
Anyway I digress. Back on the pitch, the hapless Accies had launched a rare foray into the opponent’s half and had come away with a surprise goal. Well, the Accies fans were surprised anyway, whereas the mood of the Saints followers which had never been that positive, shifted towards a contempt borne out of familiarity with the circumstances which now confronted them. The target of their abuse was, we assumed, the manager Jimmy Bone - unless, that is, the term “Bone out” has another meaning which my companion and I failed to grasp.
Saints’ fortunes dipped further following the break, during which time the match programme which, representing proof of our presence, had assumed the stature of the Holy Grail, had been acquired for the price of “a poond”. The game had now swung completely in Accies’ favour and, backed by a gale force wind, we estimated at -10°, they pinned back a St Mirren side rapidly appearing to turn to stone. The sequence of events that punctuated the second-half defied belief and left the two sassenachs chewing on our frozen hands in an effort to contain our hysterics. We had little clue as to the exact nature of the ‘instructions’ being directed at the aforementioned Bone, but they didn’t half sound funny. In order to gain a better insight into events, we established verbal contact with the nearest amenable Jock - about three blocks away. Never one for subtlety, I pointed out to him that his no.14 midfield schemer was total garbage and should be put out of his misery forthwith. Kev, meanwhile, was shouting “Come on Sheeants” in what he perceived to be the local dialect and had completely disowned me. He need not have worried for, in terms of accent at least, I was far closer to the fan than either of us had anticipated, coming as he did from deepest Suffolk!
The national language barrier having been successfully sidestepped, I re-tuned to East Anglian and awaited his response. “What do you mean, garbage? He was our player of the year… by a mile.” Whoops, put my foot in it there. In an attempt to restore relations, I lavished faint praise upon their no.10 shirt and was congratulated on my astute judgment. “Keegan came up to watch him,” I was informed. “Yeah, great minds,” I thought. “Saw him warming up, said his arse was too big and buggered off back to England.” By now all his Scottish mates wanted a say. “Drugged to the hilt he is. Only man ever to get fat on amphetamines.” Opinions were now being volunteered from all quarters.
“See that number five? Two days ago he was playing for Canada against Brazil. Bet he’s enjoying this.”
“We’ve just bought the goalie with the worst defensive record in Europe.”
“What’s the record for the most centre-halves in one team - ‘cos we’ve got seven playing tonight.”
It soon became six as the centre-half on the left-wing was red-carded, without a prior booking, for dissent. To my amazement, they all seemed to think this was fair enough, and it was pointed out to me by a smartly dressed man, who we discovered was their chief scout, that, “He couldn’t string a sentence together without two fucks and a cunt, and that’s just saying good morning to his parents.” Other decisions by the ref were greeted with less enthusiasm - but speaking as a neutral, I felt that the five ensuing bookings for violent unprovoked assault were possibly justified.
The Accies manager, Iain Munro, expressed similar sentiments and found himself expelled from his perspex windbreak. His work was done. Hamilton were three goals and one player to the good and St. Mirren’s only remaining aim was to take out Accie’s no.10 Paul Hartley (jammy bastard?), who had been running rings round them all night. He was, in our considered opinion, the only class player on view, and the hostility directed towards him by Saints fans only served to confirm our assessment. I’ll go further, he was outstanding - a maverick in making. Sign him now, Ray, before Kev’s letter gets to Sam Allardyce - £150,000 should do it. They can buy a new stadium in Hamilton for that.
Now deep into the second-half, the away fans were starting to complain about their manager’s apparent lack of ambition. How wrong they were! Bone idled from his dugout and issue instructions for a second striker to be employed for the last 10 minutes. Well, eight minutes anyway, as two minutes later he took off the lard-arsed Newcastle reject and replaced him with an additional defender. The fans went spare. Never have I heard such unanimous disapproval for a substitution as was expressed at this point. The cries of “You’ve cracked, Bone” and “You’re for the elbow, Bone” were the only ones which bear repeating given current obscene publications legislation - and, yes, alright, I made those two up.
Further substitution followed. Hartley, the creator of all three goals (sign him, Ray!) was removed for his own protection following an attempted strangulation, and the obligatory nippy winger, who for the duration had sported one, just one, enormous black glove, soon followed, waving the aforementioned garment Kenny Everett-style at the delirious home contingent. The battle fought and won, Accies sat back on their unassailable lead and, for a few brief moments, St Mirren’s Player of the Year and captain, the man likened to domestic waste at an earlier juncture, finally showed his class by making a forceful 40-yard burst through the middle. If only he had taken the ball with him, who knows what may have transpired. One thing is certain: I don’t think the reserve team player with the worrying facial scar was offering him light refreshment when imploring him to, “Have a fucking pop” - although judging from the level of gas in Tennants bitter, I could be wrong.
As the game drew to a close, the disgruntled Saints followers made their sorry way home. We followed close behind, barely able to conceal our delight concerning the night’s events and vowing to delve deeper into the lower leagues on our next trip to Scotland. For Accies, the struggle against relegation continues. For St Mirren, further mid-table mediocrity at best, but they have one proud memory which cannot be taken away, for this is the club that once sacked Alex Ferguson.
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