Sunday, November 20, 2011

Blogathon: My First Hampden Date

Sort of feels like the final furlong.

And who better to join us, at this early hour, than Stewart Weir?

Stewart's seen it all in his long and distinguished career. And that includes some great Scottish footballing moments. And a fair few bad ones.

His weekly take on the world of sport can be found every week at Caledonian Mercury

Follow him @sweirz

First up a massive thank you to Stewart. His support of this blogathon has been above and beyond. He's one of the many people who have been absolutely fantastic in the time and help they've given what was, in all honesty, a bit of strange, speculative idea.

Here's Stewart's first Hampden experience:

Unless you were a Queen’s Park supporter, going to Hamdpen as a football fan was always going to be something special; a Cup Final, or a big international date.

On my study wall I have a couple of large frames containing all the passes and tickets I’ve collected over the years.

Surrounded by the press box passes for the 1993 Scottish Cup final, when Rangers completed the Treble by beating Aberdeen, one for Parma-Rangers, the all-Sheffield FA Cup semi-final in ’93 and a backstage permit for Isidro Perez-Pat Clinton world title fight, lies a ticket stub.

Other briefs attract more comment and attention from those who get to see them. But for me, that one in the middle means the most.

South East Stand, enter by turnstile B, row D, seat number 34, price 50/-, billed as international. Not any international mind you.

Saturday, 25th April, 1970, Hampden Park, Glasgow. Scotland v England.

I was ten. My dad was no big football fan, so he’d have gone out of his way to first take me and my brother to see our first competitive game, Hamilton Accies v Clydebank, the Bankies winning 2-0 on a wet, foggy, cold, dank day at Douglas Park.

Next game up that I remember attending was at Celtic Park, Rangers winning 6-1. No, not a dream or a nightmare. Semi-final of the Scottish Cup in 1969, Aberdeen swept aside, much the same as Celtic would do in the final to Rangers.

Clydebank, Parkhead. When my dad announced we would be going to the football again, there really was the element of surprise attached, because I didn’t know what we were going to see.

As the week went on though, it was apparent I was going to something special. When big men pat you on the head, and call you a lucky, wee so-and-so, you know it matters.

My mum, more a football fan than my old man, hyped up the atmosphere and the anticipation levels to the extent that come Friday night, I couldn’t sleep. I was going to see Scotland against the champions of the world, England. And I was going to see, in real like, those I’d previously only seen on TV or in my hands as I thumbed and flicked trough my bubblegum card collections.

Saturday morning, we were picked up in a big car, the kind of motor that made people in Hillhouse stop and look. It was a Daimler, I think. The driver got out, opened the doors for us, and got back in to drive, making the

gestures a chauffeur. That’s because he was a chauffeur, but this was his day off, and he was using his boss’s car, just like we were using his tickets!

The roads and surrounds to Hampden were mobbed. But being in a big, flash car, we could park right outside the stadium. I thought everyone was afforded this luxury. How wrong I was.

Inside Hampden, the place was just a sea of faces and tartan. Scarves, hats, bunnets, huge rosettes (something you never see these days). The only kilts I saw were those worn by the pipers, the only authentic Scotland football shirts, worn by the players.

I know my ticket said I had a seat, but I never sat, standing right down at the front amongst loads of other weans. My dad must have been able to keep a watchful eye on me, but I never saw him through the game, apart from halftime when I was presented with half a pie and a packet of Opal Fruits.

Memories of the game are few but vivid. Tommy Gemmell smashed a drive that rattled the chest of Gordon Banks, the best goalie in the world (supposedly), who a few months later would make that save against Pele.

Brian Labone, the England centre-half put Colin Stein up in the air, 137,000 shouting ‘penalty’ which wasn’t given. And Jimmy Johnstone tormented and teased Bobby Moore (“Superstar, wears frilly knickers and a padded bra”) and Emlyn Hughes, the makeshift left-back, to such an extent that the latter and Liverpool legend would use that memory as part of his after-dinner routine in later years.

In the end, Scotland said farewell to England for the last time as world champions, the game ending 0-0, ironically, the first such result since the first international meeting between the two a century before.

But me, I was gutted. For one of my all-time heroes, Bobby Charlton, didn’t play.

To my mind, at some given point in time, he was arguably the best player in the world. Okay, the whispy, blonde comb-over might not have been a glamorous as Georgie Best’s mop and sideburns, but Charlton could play the game, and boy, could he hit a ball with either foot, something I repeatedly tried to emulate, losing several toenails in the process.

Charlton had chipped a bone in his arm, and so Peter Thompson of Liverpool came into the England side. So I never got the chance to see Charlton play.

Still, I did see Hampden in all its former glory, filled with 137,000, singing ‘Scotland, Scotland’ in unison. Something else I’ll never see again.

And now mine:

I can't remember my first trip to Easter Road. I suspect I would have been four.

I remember a trip to Meadowbank at around the same time. I remember, of course, the day I was Hibs' lucky mascot and St Mirren stuffed us.

And I remember my first trip to Hampden.

I'm looking at the programme and the ticket stub now.

Sunday 27th October 1985.

The Skol Cup. Sponsored by Alloa Brewery Company.

That seems to have been the official title.

Can you still buy Skol? It was rubbish. You'd be met with, at best, simmering hatred or, at worst, widespread ridicule and derision if you turned up at a party with a case of it.

Still, it probably just about edges the Scottish Communities League Cup. At least Skol was a thing, not a meaningless, hollow concept.

I digress.

We set off the four of us: me, my brother, my dad and my grandad.

We probably set off astonishingly early. My dad likes to get to places early.

And my gran provided us with provisions for the car. Provisions that would have been handy if we'd encountered a retreating army on the road to Glasgow.

The match was the first cup final Hibs had reached in my lifetime. I was five. And, really, that's not too bad because the 1980s were not vintage in Leith.

They'd progressed with a certain panache though. In the quarter final they beat Celtic on penalties after a 4-4 draw at Easter Road.

In the semi final they beat Rangers 2-0.

To the final. And Aberdeen.

Daunting. This was when Alex Ferguson owned the north-east of Scotland and turned Aberdeen into the game's dominant force.

It was going to be a big ask for John Blackley's Hibs team.

First impressions of Hampden? Dump.

Shame that I thought that. But that's what it was in 1985. Easter Road wasn't exactly plush at this stage.

Hampden though? Heavens above.

The Hibs team that day:

Alan Rough, Alan Sneddon, Iain Munro, Ally Brazil, Mark Fulton, Gordon Hunter, Paul Kane, Gordon Chisholm, Steve Cowan, Gordon Durie, Joe McBride

Some of my favourites in there. A few youngsters too. And John Collins came off the bench.

So Hampden was a disappointment. And Hibs were big underdogs. How would the game be?

I have to be honest with you, dear reader, it was a disappointment.

It's been said that Hibs lost this one in the tunnel. An anxious Hibs team lined up, ready to enter the dilapidated arena.

And they waited. And waited.

Ferguson kept them standing there. When Aberdeen finally appeared Hibs had lost it.

Mind games. Not just discovered when you cross Hadrian's Wall.

An Eric Black double. Billy Stark added a third.

Bang. Bang. Bang.

Aberdeen took the £10,000 winner's cheque. And the Skol Cup trophy. And a £5,500 Skol bonus for winning by three goals.

Hibs got £7,000 as runners-up.

And that was that.

Hampden. Done and dusted.

Looking back I should be happy that I saw one of the last great non-Old Firm teams. And I saw Alex Ferguson win a trophy before he was Sir Alex Ferguson.

But I also got a nasty bite on my back from some unidentified beastie in that ramshackle old stadium.

The romance of a trip to Hampden.

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