The Absolute Game Revisited – Part 18

August 10, 2009


When you think of professional footballers you don’t immediately think of them as being masters of the art of after-dinner speaking. Fair enough, because the likes of Peter Ustinov, Stephen Fry and John Sessions don’t exactly cut the mustard in the penalty box. However, over the past few years many football celebrities have found the after-dinner circuit to be a useful way of ‘making a few bob’. This is particularly the case for those whose playing/coaching careers have come to an end. Most of us who are interested in football also have an appetite for amusing stories about the game, told by people who were actually there. Thus, George Best, Tommy Docherty, Jim Baxter etc have found themselves in demand.

I have been fortunate enough to be invited, in each of the last three years, to the annual dinner held for the benefit of Aberforth Rangers, a central Scotland amateur side. The idea is that part of the price of the ticket, together with the proceeds from raffles etc, go to the coffers of the club to help keep them afloat for another season. Everybody has a good time with a slap-up meal, plenty drink, and three or four humorous speeches from the top table, all punctuated with the chance to win autographed balls, team shirts, videos and other desirable football memorabilia. The dinners that I’ve been to have been all-male affairs, which usually means that the speakers feel free to indulge in fairly ‘robust’ language, and to make jokes which would be unacceptable in mixed company (example – Duncan Ferguson was in London last week and picked up a prostitute. The bold Dunc says, ‘How much for a wank ?’ She replies, ‘Four million pounds, apparently’ .).

Radio Clyde Man is Decent Bloke Shock Horror

This years speakers were Jim Leishman, Derek Johnstone, and Hugh Keevans. The latter was introduced as ‘the token Tim’ and responded appropriately by standing up, dipping his fingers in his glass of water, and sprinkling the audience in mock blessing. Most of you have probably become increasingly irritated by the pish that Hugh talks on Radio Clyde and in his Scotsman column. However, he was genuinely amusing and self-deprecating as a speaker. He began by announcing, “Like Lou Macari, I haven’t a fucking clue what I’m doing here“, and proceeded to regale the audience with numerous funny anecdotes, most of which I’ve now forgotten, unfortunately. He did reveal that Chick Young is a genuine St Mirren supporter, and never misses a Buddies game, provided Rangers reserves aren’t playing, of course. He went on to say that “one thing that really irritates me on the Radio Clyde phone-in is when Dougie MacDonald gives it the big build-up,

‘This is the Radio Clyde open line. Scotland’s number one. Hugh, Derek and Chick are waiting for your questions, so get dialling. Our first caller tonight is Joe Smith from Easterhouse. What’s your question for the panel, Joe?’

There’s then a short pause

and the caller invariably says, “Eh, can I speak to Davy ?””.

Lochgelly Man ‘Totally Fucking Bonkers’ say Doctors

Next up was Jim Leishman. Whether you think that Leishman is a ‘character’ or a ‘grossly-inflated balloon’, you can’t deny that he’s larger than life. In the context of an after-dinner speech to an audience of this sort he’s completely at home. Again there was a series of quick-fire anecdotes related to football. Many of the stories referred back to Jim’s youth when he was a member of the YLM – ie Young Lochgelly Mental. The qualifications to belong to this illustrious band were that you should be young and from Lochgelly. If you possessed both of these attributes then the ‘mental’ part was automatically built-in. While Jim was still an associate member of the YLM he was picked for Dunfermline for the first time, and his debut was against ‘the mighty Rangers’. The Dunfermline manager, George Miller, delivered a pre-match pep-talk which consisted of exhorting the young Jim to ‘put Greig out of the game. If Greig plays well, then the Rangers play well. Put Greig out of the game early, and we’ve got a chance’. Young Lochgelly Jim Mental was lapping all this up – ‘Yes, boss. Rely on me boss’.

Miller then paid Jim fae Mental Lochgelly the ultimate back-handed compliment by telling him, ‘Get stuck right in to Greig. Never mind if you get sent off – they’ll miss him a hell of a lot more than we’ll miss you’. Within minutes of the game starting Greig had the ball and Young Lochgelly launched into him with a criminal two-footed tackle, which would’ve crippled an elephant. Greig picked himself up, dusted himself down and shouted, “I’m going to rip your fucking heid off for that, ya bastard“. Young Mental sought the referee’s assistance – ‘Hey ref, d’you hear what he’s saying ?‘. The referee (Bob Valentine) responded calmly, “Yes, I hear it, but I believe that he’s talking to you and not to me”. Thereafter Greig proceeded to demonstrate over the next ninety minutes that although he was neither young nor from Lochgelly, he was certainly mental.

Dundee Man Impersonates Post-Box

When Derek Johnstone rose to speak he was greeted by spontaneous chants of ‘Sumo, Sumo’ alternating with ‘You fat bastard’. He took it all in good part, though. He was wearing that fluorescent red jacket which plays havoc with the old cathode ray tube when he wears it on Sportscene. He said that on his way in an old lady had tried to post a letter in him. He wouldn’t have minded, but he was bending over tying his shoelaces at the time. He told an amusing story or two, but I was disappointed that much of his contribution consisted of forced jokes culled from the Sunday Post, rather than behind-the-scenes funnies.

As an example, he spent a lot of time on speculation as to what football would be like in twenty years time – “The Secretary of the SF A, Mr Duncan Ferguson, said today that stern measures are to be taken to stamp out loutish behaviour amongst players“. That kind of thing. Pure pish. He even resorted to telling the well-worn ‘Boli soup’ joke. At least that’s reasonably harmless, unlike the overtly racist joke told by one of the celebrities which featured a combination of Boli, Rummenigge, Hazel Irvine and Ally McCoist. Work it out for yourselves.

Big Derek did tell a good story about one of Willie Johnston’s many sendings-off. This occurred late on in Willie’s career, by which time he’d already appeared on countless occasions at Park Gardens where it had latterly been made clear to him that he was drinking in the last chance Saloon. In a match with Hibs, Willie became involved in precisely the type of unsavoury incident which he specialised in. Kenny Hope reached for his book and called him over. It was obvious, even to Willie, that yet another early bath was awaiting him.
He pleaded with Hope, “Oh, c’mon ref, ye ken that if you pit me off that’s me finished. Gie us a chance“.
Hope was unmoved and simply said, “What’s your name ?”.
Aware that this was a fairly superfluous question, Willie engaged Hope in some knockabout banter “Och, c’mon, Kenny, ye’re fuckin’ jokin’. Ye’ve written it doon dozens o’ times. Gie us a chance.”
Hope remained unmoved and insisted, “Name?”.
Never one to admit defeat, Willie persisted with the merry badinage and gave his name as “Roy Rogers”.
Hope finished the conversation abruptly, “Well, Roy, you better whistle up Trigger, because you’re off’.

Neanderthal Man found alive in Hamilton

Derek also told another funny story featuring a combination of referee, Brian McGinlay, and the legendary Hamilton Accies supporter known to his intimates by the single nomme de guerre of ‘Fergie’. McGinlay had refereed a local derby between Hamilton and Motherwell on the Saturday afternoon. Motherwell had won thanks to a couple of questionable decisions by McGinlay. In the evening, McGinlay and his wife were out for a meal in Glasgow. As they strolled along Sauchiehall Street, Brian saw Fergie standing on the street corner pursuing his alternative vocation as an ‘Evening Times’ seller. In order to avoid the inevitable confrontation he and his wife jouked into a nearby up-market wine-bar. As they sat sipping their Pimms in the genteel, oak-panelled lounge, the door was kicked open and Fergie breenged in roaring, “Errsyerfinal Times. Read all about it. Referee makes a complete cunt of it ——- again !!! ”.

One of the speakers this year was not a football celebrity, though I was choking with anticipation when I saw his name on the ticket. He was Willie Allan. No, not THAT Willie Allan (see TAG 28 for further details). This one was a young guy, who was a very funny speaker, but who specialised in tales from the rugby world. He recalled an occasion when he had visited the very pits of hell, otherwise known as Alloa Rugby Club. He was in the company of Ewan Kennedy, who had earned several rugby caps for Scotland in the early eighties. As they were standing at the bar they were approached by one of the natives, an ancient veteran of about seventy summers. The old boy asked Kennedy if he was really Ewan Kennedy. Ewan was suitably proud of this recognition and agreed that he was indeed the very man. The old-timer took a step back and cracked Kennedy on the side of the head with a haymaker, knocking him to the ground – “That’s for letting 5 in at Wembley in 1975 ya useless bastard“, explained the deranged old soldier before re-joining the other Alzheimer casualties at the dominoes table.

Aberdeen Man Lost at Sea

In previous years speakers have included Gordon and Alex Smith, Archie McPherson, Jim Baxter and Billy McNeil. Alex Smith recounted the happenings in Aberdeen after he’d been to Holland to sign Theo Snelders. The following day Smith met Willie Miller and Alec McLeish in the corridor at Pittodrie. Smith explained that Willie and Alec considered themselves to be the real bosses at Aberdeen, and didn’t at all fancy the idea of anything having happened without their approval.

Willie said, “I hear ye’ve signed a goalkeeper“.
Aye, that’s right” replied Smith.
Fae Holland, I hear“, continued Willie.
Aye, fae Holland, aye“, responded Smith.
Can he speak English ?”, asked Willie.
Better than you can, Willie“, retorted Smith.
Willie grunted and brought the conversation to an end with, “Well, just as long as he can understand ‘Stay on your fucking line”‘.

The centre-piece of Gordon Smith’s speech was when he told us of an occasion a couple of years ago when he was lying sunning himself on a beach in the Bahamas or some equally exotic foreign locale. He was approached by a couple of local urchins who asked, “You Gordon Smith, famous footballer?” When Smith answered in the affirmative one of them said, “How the fuck you miss that goal in the Cup Final ?” Such is the price of fame.

Glasgow Man gets a Red Face

Archie McPherson recalled a Saturday evening when he was clearing up his papers after presenting a Sportscene programme which had featured him commentating on an Old Firm match. The phone in the studio rang. Archie was the only person there so he answered. The voice on the other end said politely,
“Can I speak to Mr McPherson please”.
Archie identified himself.
The caller then said, “Archie, there’s something wrong with my TV. The colour doesn’t seem to be working properly.”
Archie said, “Well, I’m sorry to hear that, but I’m just a presenter and that’s really out of my line.”
The caller persisted, “But Archie, I only got it last week and it was working fine right up until Sportscene came on”.
By this time Archie was becoming a bit impatient and said, “Well, really, there’s not much I can do about it, but if you tell me what the problem is maybe someone round here will know what to do”.
This was the opportunity the caller was waiting for, “Well, Archie, all the other colours were OK, but when I was watching you tonight I couldn’t see your big fucking blue nose”.

For those of you who’ve never been to one of these events I hope I’ve been able to convey a flavour of the kind of thing you can expect. Apparently they’re trying to line up Tommy Gemmell as a speaker at next year’s dinner. I can’t wait. Judging by his performances on Radio Clyde the man is an unconscious comedian. The producers of Super Scoreboard must spend the entire time that Gemmell is speaking with their hearts pounding and their resignation letters on the table. Tommy is an expert in off-the-cuff gaffes and bloomers, with his famous left foot usually firmly lodged in his mouth. One example will suffice. He was recently reporting from Rugby Park. When reading out the Killie team he found that their two substitutes were Black and Brown, which caused him to ad-lib spontaneously, ‘Sounds like a team of Africans’. If he can come away with this on national radio then God knows what he’s capable of at a private function. Watch this space.

First published in TAG 42 – March 1995


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