The Absolute Game Revisited – Part 33

July 5, 2010


Celtic 2 – 0 Falkirk 31 December 1994

Hogmanay 1994. The last day of the year, and it’s a Saturday, and there’s a full league programme on. Nothing could be better than going to a match as a prelude to the inevitable drunken excesses to follow later that night.

In the morning I met up with two of my brothers and two pals in a Glasgow hostelry, and over a few pints we debated which of the many attractions we should succumb to. I lobbied hard for a trip to Ochilview for the clash of the Warriors and the Sons but I was comprehensively outvoted by my philistine companions. They say that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. Well, as it turned out, our small committee sure as hell designed a mutant dromedary when it was decided that we were to go to Hampden for the Celtic-Falkirk game.

The suspicion lingers in my mind that the principal attraction was that it was the nearest ground to the pub we were in, thus allowing longer ‘drinking-up’ time. This democratic decision was arrived at about 1pm. We are happy-go-lucky people who like to live life on the edge, making wackily spontaneous, and outrageously unconventional, last-minute decisions like this. Call us mad. Call us crazy. Call us a bunch of loonies. But, hey, that’s just how we are.

Waiting For God Knows How Long

We arrived outside the ‘home of Scottish football’ at about 2:35pm. It was the first time I’d been to a league game at Hampden since Celtic started squatting there. I was fairly astonished to find that it was an all-ticket game. OK, I know that Falkirk are blue and white and fucking dynamite, but I hardly thought that there was any danger of demand exceeding supply for this match at the erstwhile biggest football stadium in the known world.

We were told by a steward that tickets were on sale from a portacabin outside the main door. Within seconds we realised to our horror that every happy-go-lucky, wackily spontaneous, outrageously unconventional loony in Scotland, along with their mad uncles from Australia who were ‘over for the bells’, had had the same idea as us, and they were all now standing in front of us in a monstrous queue.

It turned out that the portacabin was manned by two young girls and despite their best efforts the movement of the queue was pathetically slow. It was not helped by some of the customers apparently attempting to buy tickets with exotica like Irish punts or crates of empty Irn Bru bottles.

As kick-off time became imminent and we were still 100 yards from the portacabin, it was increasingly frustrating to view the guys at the front fishing out cheque books and searching their pockets to find that elusive cheque card and a pen that naturally didn’t work.

By 3.10 pm we seemed to be still in more or less the same place we’d been in half an hour earlier. One of my brothers entertained the crowd for a while by pretending to be a disaffected Celtic supporter. He was shouting, “No wonder this once-great club is down the fucking drain. What’s the matter? Did they not expect a lot of people to turn up on Hogmanay with their idiot uncles from Australia? Get McGoo out here. Baldy wee bastard that he is. Man and boy I’ve supported this club, but this carry-on is just typical of the bungling incompetence which we’ve had to suffer over the years. No wonder the team’s so piss poor. Sack the fucking board“.

This was a fairly convincing performance from one who in fact is a Rangers supporter.

Convincing enough to have Celtic fans in the queue shouting encouragement like, “Aye, you’re right, big man. It’s a fucking scandal, so it is, by the way“. For a while there was a fairly menacing situation developing as hundreds of Celtic supporters took up the ‘sack the board’ refrain, but large-scale crowd trouble was pre-empted by the arrival of several mounted polis and the departure of my brother, as by 3.20pm he had tired of this sport and he and my two pals decided they’d be better off back in the pub.

There was no way that me and my youngest brother were leaving. We had to get our football fix, and in any case we’d bought programmes, and we’re a bit parsimonious that way. Thus, our committee of five was now reduced to two.

We Only Know There’s (Not) Going To Be A Show

Many other people in the queue were leaving as well. It was genuinely affecting to see fathers leading their tearful children away from the ground. One wee boy was crying, “But daddy you said I could see the Celtic today”. His grim-faced father could only drag him away saying, “Not today, son, maybe some other day”. At a rough estimate I would reckon that several hundred people buggered off from the queue. On any view of it, this was money that Celtic could ill-afford to lose. Perhaps some of these fans will NEVER go back. I made a mental note to cancel my application for shares. (This is satire, readers).

It was 3.35 pm by the time we finally got to the portacabin. One final wee horror awaited. I asked for two tickets for the Falkirk section. The girl said that she was only selling tickets for Celtic sections. I enquired how one might gain entry to the Falkirk bit. “By buying your ticket at Brockville last week” she replied pithily.

We got into the ground just as the half-time whistle was blowing. I attempted, in vain, to persuade the jobsworths manning the gate which separated the two sets of supporters to let us into the Falkirk section. The conversation went along the following lines:

Me – “Can we get through into the Falkirk section please“.

Jobsworth – “No“.

Me – “Presumably this fence is designed to cutdown the prospect of trouble by segregating the opposing supporters”.

Jobsworth­ – “Yeah, that’s right”.

Me – “Well we’re Falkirk supporters who are inadvertently in the Celtic section“.

Jobsworth – “Yeah?”

Me – “Well, can we get through the gate please“.

Jobsworth – “No“.

A couple of Strathclyde’s finest approached to see what the problem was. Ah, I thought, we’ll get this sorted out now, and explained our predicament to the officers of the law.

PC Knobsworth then informed me that if I didn’t sit down and shut up then I’d be seeing the inside of a polis van. We were thus condemned to risk life and limb by cheering on the Bairns from the midst of the green-swathed throng.

Return Of The Biscuit Tin

I spoke to one of the stewards and asked why this game had been all-ticket. He told me that all Celtic’s games at Hampden were all-ticket because Celtic refused to pay the going rate to the gate-men for taking money at the gates. Apparently it’s cheaper to pay them as mere ticket collectors. The club then employs a couple of YTS girls in the portacabin to sell tickets outside the ground. Brilliant, eh? McGoo didn’t make his Canadian millions without such devastating demonstrations of financial acumen.

Apparently, if you’re not a season-ticket holder at Hampden then the only way to guaranteeing that you’ll get in before half-time is to turn up and join the queue on Friday night.

Ach, it just makes you weep. Like so many of the recent developments in football this one just kicks spectators (or ‘customers‘ as the new jargon has it) in the balls. Have we really reached the stage that you have to queue for an hour to get into a game when the ground is only one third full? Have we really reached the stage that, if you’re supporting the away team in a half-empty ground, you’ve got to equip yourself with a ticket a week in advance, and are thus effectively barred from making a ‘last-minute’ decision to go?

To round off a thoroughly miserable afternoon Falkirk became one of the few away sides to actually lose at Hampden this season.

The only glimmer of satisfaction I got was when I was listening to the other scores on my radio at half-time. I was approached by a neanderthal in a green scarf who politely enquired,

Whit’s the fucking Huns score?”

I replied “One nil“.

He said, “Who fur? “

I responded, “Who the fuck do you think for? The magnificent Teddy Bears, the mighty Glasgow Rangers, eternal champions of all Scotland”.

(No, that’s a lie. In fact I said, “For the fucking Hun bastards“.- I may be a loony but I’m not crazy).

This match qualifies as a match to remember on the basis that I find it impossible to forget what a bunch of miserable, tight-fisted, incompetent van Honkydonkeys the Celtic management are. OK, Fergus, with all the share-holding millions sloshing around in the biscuit-tin, how about paying the guys on the gate to actually let us in to the game!

First published in TAG 43 – May 1995


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