Some people like to go to titty bars for a bachelor party, or play golf and smoke cigars. Others like to get a taste of the windswept futility of Scottish First Division football. The other weekend, I completed my duties as the best man for my brother by part-funding a trip to McDiarmid Stadium in Perth to see Partick Thistle (the club who gave him his online handle of Thistle71) take on St Johnstone. This post is a record of that excursion.
A Little Football Background
Partick Thistle is akin to the Non-aligned Movement for Glaswegian football fans who don’t want to support the traditional Old Firm powers of Rangers and Celtic. Some people claim allegiance simply to have an answer to the question “who do you support?” – my father, for instance, who doesn’t really care about football, has ‘supported’ Thistle since his days at the Glasgow High School in the 1950s, when association football was banned and rugby union was the order of the day. My brother chose to support them so that he could maintain some family peace (a Glasgow team supported) but avoid the sectarian nonsense.
St Johnstone is the only team in the British Isles to have the letter “J” in their name. They have a modern – new in 1989, at any rate – stadium on the outskirts of Perth. If there was a nearby pub, we didn’t see it.
Evolution of the Dream
My brother and (now) sister in law decided when they got engaged that they wanted to get married in Edinburgh. The main reasons: an excuse for a family reunion on our side that hasn’t happened since the missus and I were hitched 10 years ago, and a springboard to a European honeymoon including their birthplaces – Germany for her, and Holland for him. I was asked to be best man, which I think was to keep me from getting my feelings hurt when my daughters were taken on as flower girls. Suffice to say that they looked better in their dresses than I did in my kilt.
As best man for a wedding happening in another country, it became clear that the only way I could make myself useful was to arrange some sort of bachelor excursion. This presented a small challenge, for reasons that will become clear.
On the one hand, the rehearsal lunch and wedding were happening squarely in a part of Edinburgh known as the Pubic Triangle for the strip clubs. On the other hand, it was possible that the bride-to-be’s priest friend, who was to officiate at the wedding, would be joining us, and also we were genuinely afraid of what we might see in those clubs. Not for nothing has Scotland attained the distinction of being the fattest country after the US, and it’s not clear that the influx of attractive, hard-working Poles would be reflected in the city’s more naked bars. Plainly some of the more traditional breastacular entertainment might have to be stricken from the list of options. So a football game it was to be, a mixed blessing of sorts…
The first obvious choice was a local game, but that would have been Rangers at Hearts, and the prospect of a 90 minute competition to see who could chant “Fuck the Pope” louder seemed iffy. Plus my brother loathes Rangers and Hearts. After some back and forth, he admitted that what he really wanted was to see the Jags play St Johnstone. Fine.
Getting to The Game
It became clear that getting any sort of firm commitment from people not related to us was impossible, so an informed decision was taken: we would wing it on the day.
The brain trust (i.e., my father and I) decided it might be easier to get a van and driver to take everyone to the game and back, rather than splitting the group across a couple of cars and hoping that no-one (i.e., me) got lost. We duly hired on a driver from the local taxi service, not knowing that we would get someone who, while conscientious, would consistently make the wrong decision when faced with a split in the road when he was more than 15 miles from home base – note that Perth was 90 miles or so away. It also emerged that the priest had been called out on taxi service, so not only did we not need the bus, we needn’t have worried about sectarian chanting. Never mind, onwards!
We took the scenic route into Edinburgh to collect my brother and a friend of his, passing the faithful streaming into Tynecastle for the Hearts – Rangers match. At one point, a police van drove by that was sporting a wire screen that could be lowered over the windshield in the event of a ruckus. Serious business, hostile looking fans – even (especially?) the women and children. The scarves were no affectation, it wasn’t warm. Skirting the grumpy Protestants, we collected my cousin’s boyfriend, whom I presume had been unable to secure tickets for the Rangers match* (despite the fact that he doesn’t eat raw meat and wear a bowler hat, he’s a Gers fan.)
Since none of us had more specific directions for McDiarmid Stadium than “it’s right off the M90,” we were entirely unprepared when the van driver took the the wrong split off the M90 and we ended up on Dundee Road – a good start for the scenic route through downtown Perth, but nowhere near the bloody stadium.
Consultations with the locals got us to within spitting distance of the stadium, only to end up on the ramp onto the M90 going the wrong way. A few minutes later, we had got back and taken up position in the visiting fans’ car park, the first arrivals. Any thoughts of trying to find a pub before the game had been dismissed, and it never occurred to us to get some (warm) beer from another source.
An American rediscovers the cash economy…
While we were eating sandwiches, pies, hula hoops, scotch eggs, half-covereds, and other healthy light snacks, it occurred to me that perhaps my plan of paying with a credit card might have a flaw – this didn’t exactly look like the kind of place that took plastic. One consultation with an amused parking attendant later, I discovered that people paid individually at the turnstile and it was cash only. I had assumed that I could pay for everyone in one go with a credit card. Fuck. Easily solved though, since we were on the superstore fringe of Perth…
One dash to the Super Tesco across the motorway ramp later, I was cashed up, and we were off.
(I should note that the stadium and parking were incredibly well organized, and the half-wits who set up FedEx Field, for instance, could learn a lot about how to funnel people into and out of a stadium.)
(I should also note that I actually got all my change back from the other attendees, which is a testament to their fine character. My uncle insisted on paying for the van driver to join us, which was sporting of him, though a wasted effort as you’ll see later.)
A wasted effort…
While the players were warming up, I was watching the crowd, a mixed bag at best. My personal favorite was a group of 4 guys in designer shirts and jeans, fairly fit, and when one of them opened his mouth he had perhaps 3 front teeth. Jesus.
It turned out that the locals were all sheltering until kick-off
The first half in one picture: the Jags forwards and midfielders observe from a safe distance
Jesus wept, and smacked the baby orphans in his distress. Taken as a whole, it was dire, or possibly diabolical, and that’s only because the second half raised the bar a bit from the first half. The Jags’ manager described it thus:
It is perhaps for the best that no Irn-Bru apparatchiks overheard Ian McCall’s assessment of the entertainment value in Perth on Saturday afternoon.
“It was a crap game,” offered the Partick Thistle manager unprompted after mooching into the media room. “I don’t want to watch football like that – it was rubbish.”
“For 80 minutes today it was an absolutely shocking game of football,” he reiterated. “It should have been a 0-0 draw; it was absolutely rubbish to watch. There was a lack of spark in the whole game and after watching Scotland I thought that was dreadful.”
His gloom briefly dissipated as Thistle – hitherto hapless in attack – threatened a late riposte. Liam Buchanan, whose interval introduction at least occupied the home back three, was awarded a goal after the ball rattled against him in the area as he foraged for scraps.
But that was about as good as it got, despite Owen Coyle, the St Johnstone manager’s protestations to the contrary. Murray claimed a late penalty when Gary Irvine carelessly stumbled into him but the disenchanted McCall was not even in the mood to claim it.
“The boys are saying it was a definite penalty,” he admitted. “But I was quite a long way from it and players have been known to lie about these things before . . .”
…and there’s nothing much more I can say than that, except that the second St Johnstone goal was a cracker – of which more anon.
The Partick fans proved to be worth the price of admission – £17 or $34, if you’re curious. At any rate, they were much more entertaining than the 22 eejits wandering around the pitch.
There was a small group behind us who were “singing;” about halfway through the first half I realized that there were “tunes” to the shrieking, if you listened closely enough. There were a fair few kids, and when the choir started effing and blinding, an aggrieved individual shouted out, “Hey, nae swearing, there’s kids here.” To no avail. They only paused when they got the occasional glare from the local policeman who was stationed in the section.
Other banter… the referee was giving all the marginal fouls against Partick, so that when he finally penalized St Johnstone, someone behind me shouted, “Are you sure about that, ref? Are you sure?” After one egregious foul by a St Johnstone player that resulted in a Partick free kick, the same person shouted out,”You’re still a wanker, ref!” There’s no pleasing some people.
Half time meant a mad dash for pies and Bovril – not for your faithful correspondent, but others including the groom-to-be seemed to be enjoying them. Thistle71 also tried to deflect any responsibility for this by suggesting to the group at large that I had completely misunderstood his request “to see a bunch of fannies.”
At this point, the prospect of seeing two-tonne Tessie gyrating with a pie in one hand and a cigarette out the other wasn’t as frightening as it had seemed the night before. (A flawed vision, since smoking in pubs has been outlawed in Scotland, but not naked wobbling.)
Trying to get that image out of my head, I told the van driver that he’d have been better off staying in his van and listening to another game on the radio. He didn’t laugh.
Then we were distracted by the stadium announcer – some soft southern English git who had been forced to put down his shandy and get on the field. He made various witty remarks as three 10 year olds showed more skill scoring goals than any of the alleged professionals. The choristers behind us alternated between requests to “fuck off you English cunt” and “sign the wee boys!” – but the transfer window is closed, and I doubt anyone knows the work rules or the appropriate fee for a player on an under-12 team…
After half time, a group of young ladies walked by with the remaining pies, accompanied by one male youth. Cue shouts of “you lucky wee bastard” and assorted abuse, met by the response, “Haud on, he might not be a St Johnstone fan you know.” Very fair minded.
Oh, the second half of the game? Well, there was a small breakout of football and the result was three goals – only one of which was scored by Partick. As noted above, the second St Johnstone goal was the best – a Partick defender had completed a magnificent tackle on a charging Saint, but it fell to the feet of another St Johnstone player who shot an unsaveable ball past the splendidly named Jonny Tuffy. Tuffy later came out to field a ball outside the box, with hopes of passing it forward. However, he almost had it nicked from him while he was trying to find an open player, narrowly missing giving up a goal… how the Saints fans laughed. My cousin’s boyfriend nearly lost his pie and Bovril while trying not to laugh – we were in the away section, after all.
God that’s criminal – could we not lock them up for this?
You remember my little joke to the van driver about listening to another game on the radio? Apparently he agreed because at some point during the second half I looked over and he had buggered off, unable to take it any more.
I can’t say that this was the best game of football that I ever saw. Overall, Partick’s midfielder Stevie Murray seemed to be the best player on the pitch for the Jags, but he’s listed – generously – at 5′ 4″ and that wasn’t helping matters. The defense did all right, but the rest of the midfield and the strikers were shocking.
However. For all that I’ve gone on about what a crap game it was, and haven’t mentioned the, ah, brisk conditions, it was a good day out. We had a laugh, my brother got to do exactly what he wanted in the run up to the wedding (I missed the evening agenda of multiple pints of 80 shilling – Turkish chippy fish supper – Irn Bru and vodka cocktails, one of the real benefits of having young children), and we put a few quid into the Perthshire economy. God help me, I’d do it again, but this time I’m driving – I could have got lost far more cheaply and efficiently, and the taxi was a waste of my rented Alfa Romeo…
*Incidentally, the Rangers – Hearts game was a 6 goal thriller, and my brother’s friend who decided to freelance his football watching enjoyed being there to no end. Lightweight.