Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Scottish Cup: Latapy Love as City Crash Out

Saturday saw me return to the snooker table for the first time in years.

The results might generously have been described as mixed. But I was always rubbish at snooker.

Incompetence is permanent.

So, we are often told, is class. Saturday offered a chance to put that to the test.

Bemused by the baize and befuddled by the angles, I left the darkened billiard hall to head for Edinburgh's Meadowbank Stadium.

An odd place Meadowbank. There's nothing apparently wrong with it apart from a lack of love and affection. The pitch looks in quite good condition and the whole place could carry a certain charm as a multi-sport arena.

Sadly it's fallen victim to the local council's habit of building something and then ignoring it for years. The end game might yet be knocking the whole thing down and starting over elsewhere in the city. Efficiency like that will deliver a world class tram network.

This was one of my first trips to the old place since I was a spectator at the Lothian school sports day in 1991. Spectating because I'd been cruelly overlooked in the 100 metre trials despite breaking my personal best.

The teacher told me I'd show even more improvement if I didn't slow down before I crossed the finish line. Which I thought odd: I couldn't remember speeding up when I crossed the start line.

Chronic lack of pace. Finally I've got something in common with Saturday's star attraction.

Here we were at Meadowbank. And here too was Russell Latapy, much travelled magician, making his debut for Edinburgh City in a Scottish Cup game with Irvine Meadow.

Latapy is 43 now. His playing days were supposed to be over. But suddenly he was in City's midfield.

Just like old times? Not quite. The legs have gone. But the touch remains, so does the vision.

This was a tricky debut - Meadow are a strong, organised, imposing team - but Latapy's awareness will surely only help his less celebrated teammates.

It looked to this observer that tempting him from the beaches and bars of Portugal will, for however long it lasts, give City a boost. And not just through sales of Latapy t-shirts.

That's not to say the signing has met with universal approval. Two fans sitting behind me kept up a lengthy discourse on how Latapy's arrival had essentially ended City's Scottish Cup dream.

Interestingly enough for almost nobody this verbose Latapy knocking provided the punctuation in an even longer discussion about the price of fresh produce in these recession hit times.

Cuts and Euro woes obviously make ageing midfielders a luxury too far for some.

The programme notes told me that this was the first time City had met a team from Ayrshire. They also suggested that:

"There is a class of sports journalist which likes to portray junior football, and particularly the game in Ayrshire, as a melee of of raged-up, hairy-bottomed, gonad-crushing psycopathic shunting engines aiming for the man as much as the ball, while the terracings re-enact the fall of Baghdad with Buckie bottles replacing AK-47s. Followers of the sport tend to the find this a bit vexing."

You don't get chat like that in The Hibernian.

The travelling fans, along with the Russell fanciers, helped swell the crowd to almost 800.

That contributed some atmosphere, even if the barracking of Latapy in the opening stages was a touch too predictable to be endearing.

Two particular die hards kept this up through the 90 minutes, screeching "hit 'im, hit 'im" every time our hero got the ball.

Did they even know who they were directing their ire at? The same two fans had missed all the signs pointing to the away section of the stand. They also wandered, alone but for each other, into the snooker club I was in pre-match. On an otherwise pretty deserted Edinburgh street they'd lost the 40 other scarf wearing devotees who they had shared a supporter's bus with. Takes all sorts.

Meadow - Medda - displayed a superior athleticism and ability that saw them take hold of the game. But City stuck at it, Latapy - despite his fitness issues - continued to prod and probe. There was a gulf between the two sides but City either didn't let it overawe them or successfully pulled Meadow down with them. That made it a tense, nervy afternoon.

At 1-0, with the visitors unable to find a second, there remained a chance City might snatch a replay. They fell short. Defensive slips and industrious build up play were much in evidence but both teams fell victim to a toothlessness that denied the game more goals.

It was still harsh to hear a fan shout:

"£6? To watch this pish?"

It wasn't pish. It wasn't brilliant and it went the way the bookies predicted. But it was diverting enough.

There are worse ways to spend £6 in Edinburgh on a Saturday afternoon - it cost me £8 to play bad snooker for an hour - and there are less enjoyable ways to spend a damn sight more across Scottish football every week.

And Latapy's technical ability remains a joy, an artist whatever the canvas.

Edinburgh City 0 v 1 Irvine Meadow (David McGeown)

For a proper match report visit The Away End

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