The Absolute Game Revisited – Part 34

July 11, 2010

This was the very first thing I ever wrote for TAG – it was published in TAG 9 in August 1988 (under the pen-name ‘Auld Bertie’). As I put my pen down, exhausted, I thought it was my first and last attempt at football writing – obviously I was wrong. Since 1988 the World and football has changed remarkably, though some things never change. The subject of this piece, Dumbarton FC, were relegated in the season in which I was writing. Coincidentally they were relegated this season as well. It’s so much fun being a Sons fan! Of course, they no longer play at Boghead which is now a mature housing estate. In 1988 I still harboured reasonable ambitions for the Sons playing in the premier league – how absurd that now seems. I was mortified at them dropping into division 2 – how I’d love to be as high as div 2 now. And I refer herein to paying £2 to get into the game. If only !! So join me as we go back to another world…….

Total Eclipse Of The Sons

Dumbarton’s recent history will be a familiar tale to the supporters of a number of clubs who are occasionally good enough to mount a challenge for promotion to the Premier League but are never good enough to stay there.

You know the routine – promising young players work their way into the side, help get the team into a favourable position, then are sold to predatory larger clubs. They are usually replaced by ageing has-beens or never-weres who seem to have played for every other team in the First and Second Divisions, and who arrive at your club with the main aim of accumulating the necessary National Insurance stamps before going off to collect their pensions.

In Dumbarton’s case this routine has been accompanied by a constant merry-go-round of managers, making it inevitable that at some stage Wee Bertie would be wheeled in to attempt his world famous patented escape from relegation trick.

Since February 1984 Dumbarton have had seven different managers. Billy Lamont took the team to the verge of promotion, and then inexplicably left to manage Falkirk, who were then well below the Sons in league position.

Davy Wilson (who had previously had a spell as manager and departed in odd circumstances – but we won’t mention that) then took over, and completed the formalities of promotion and relegat­ion. Failure to return immediately to the top league resulted in Wilson gett­ing the bullet.

Next to take over the hot seat was Derek Whiteford. So hot did the seat prove that Whiteford never actually sat in it, buggering off to Airdrie before getting round to picking a team to play in a competitive match.

One of the club directors, Alex Wright, took a shot at the helm, before Alex Totten (one of the casualties in the wake of the arrival at Ibrox of the Beast of Sampdoria) was appointed, and for a while things looked promising. But it wasn’t long before Totten was lured away to St. Johnstone, with the Sons programme bemoaning the fact that the club couldn’t stand in the way of ambitious young men wanting to better themselves. Bear in mind that at the time the Sons were third in Division One, while St. Johnstone were languish­ing in the middle of Division Two.

The directors then showed they had been keeping an eye on happenings down Govan way, and appointed Mark Clougherty as player/manager. Now, Mark wasn’t the kind of man to desert us for some crummy Second Division outfit. Instead he set about making us into one. It took the board half a season to cotton on to Mark’s cunning ploy. The panic button was pressed, Clougherty was shown the door, and hey presto, enter Bertie Auld.

Well, this time it didn’t work. If any­thing, the Sons’ results were even worse under Wee Bertie’s reign than they had been before he arrived. Rele­gation to Division Two was thoroughly well deserved.

Boghead denizens in the 1987-88 season were afflicted by some truly awful home performances. Including a couple of pre-season friendlies, League Cup and Scottish Cup ties, home results speak for them­selves:

P26 W4 D10 L12.

This is hardly the stuff to inspire the town’s apathetic hordes to remove themselves from the local hostelries of a Saturday afternoon. Indeed, the size of the crowds at Boghead was a testimony to the fact that sensible Dumbartonians preferred to stay in the pub and drown their sorrows before, during and after the game. At least it was warm.

For the real nutters who insisted on forking out £2 every fortnight, the activity on the park was so dismal that most of the entertainment was provided by the antics of other dis­gruntled Sons fans, whose increasing impatience manifested itself in ever more colourful abuse directed at those unfortunates who were picked for the home team.

Mention has been made in previous ed­itions of the peculiar phenomenon of English voices being heard not only on the parks, but also increasingly on the terraces around Scotland. Incred­ibly, Dumbarton were graced by the pre­sence of at least a couple of demented southern visitors for most of the home games throughout the season. One of these lads provided some light relief from time to time by letting loose the only words ever heard to escape his lips, namely ‘YA FACKING DICK’EAD’. This was variously direct­ed at the three match officials (sometimes all three simultaneously), the players of both sides, Wee Bertie, opposing supporters, stray dogs, or anyone else who happened to be hang­ing about. The other English lad showed acute perception on one occ­asion when, following an offside de­cision going against the Sons, some­one shouted the usual protest ‘HOW CAN HE BE OFFSIDE? HE WASN’T INTER­FERING WITH PLAY’. Our English friend retorted ‘THAT’S THE TROUBLE. HE NEVER FACKING DOES’. His pal merely remarked ‘YA FACKING DICK’EAD’.

Strangely enough, the Sons’ away form was far better than their home per­formances. They actually won nine games on foreign turf. How was this to be accounted for? The match pro­gramme carried a regular column by a local journalist whose name was eith­er Tony McGinley or Gare Clyde depen­ding on whether he had been to see his psychiatrist that week. In one of his columns Tony/Gare opined that ‘there are sections of the support here who come along merely to give the manager and players a bad time. You can hardly expect the best out of players who are repeatedly sub­ject to dog’s abuse’. This was un­doubtedly true. So were the Dumbarton players afraid of their own support­ers? Perhaps there is a sign at the end of the tunnel leading onto the park reading ‘THIS IS BOGHEAD, HOME OF DUMBARTON FC’ which turns the home side’s legs to jelly, while fir­ing the likes of Forfar Athletic with great confidence.

The entry of the Sons team into the arena is usually met with total in­difference, as their supporters stand around chatting to each other about the previous night’s televised snoo­ker. When the only noise to be heard in the ground at 3pm comes from a dozen Queen of the South supporters singing ‘WHAT A SHITEY HOME SUPPORT’ you have to think they’ve got a point.

This is the old vicious circle: the supporters get angry and abusive when the team doesn’t play well: the team doesn’t play well when it’s abused from the terracing, and so on. Perhaps the manager could pull off a tactical masterstroke and issue the players with earmuffs. Only then they would not hear the abuse from the manager.

One dreich Tuesday night last season I went to Boghead to watch the reser­ves (quick nurse, the screens). Those of you who know Boghead will be aware of the areas behind the terracing where the kind of vegetation grows in which you might find David Bellamy. Occasionally (well, often actually) a misdirected pass finds its way there. Usually some adventurous youngsters are on hand who will risk never being seen again to go and retrieve the ball from the dense undergrowth. Since this was a reserve match there were no young­sters, adventurous or otherwise, in att­endance. In due course the ball was sent hurtling into this jungle. Short­ly afterwards one of the Dumbarton substitutes who shall remain nameless (Benny Rooney) emerged from the dug­-out and began trotting round the runn­ing track. As he passed by where I was standing he said ‘This is all I’m good for, getting the ball when it’s lost’, though he expressed himself slightly more colourfully.

When he reached the other side of the park he scampered up the deserted terracing and plunged into the nearest thicket. Naturally enough, as soon as Benny dis­appeared a Dumbarton player got in­jured. Wee Bertie appeared from the dug-out and the cry went up: ‘Benny‘.

In the evening gloom a blonde head could be seen popping up from the middle of a bush. Thirty seconds later the unfortunate Rooney was on the park as a substitute. There were only two minutes to half-time. As the in­terval whistle blew Wee Bertie raced onto the pitch and collared Rooney: to the amazement of myself and the other spectator, he proceeded to cas­tigate him publicly for his lack of effort.

Now I don’t know much about player ­motivation, but this piece of non­sense didn’t seem to me to set much of an example to the abusive supp­orters.

One method of drowning out the home support has been tried already, and failed. A couple of seasons ago there was some problem with the lighting, and so the club had to instal tem­porary lights for evening matches. These were powered by a small gener­ator positioned on the terracing. This device made such an almighty racket that the effect was similar to having your head stuck inside a speaker at a Status Quo concert. Al­though this allowed the players to get on with the game, oblivious to supporters’ comments, it had the major flaw that no-one could hear the ref­eree’s whistle, not even the ref him­self. The generator was soon got rid of. I think we got a midfield player from Cowdenbeath in exchange for it.

As a new season beckons, the future at Boghead is far from rosy. Playing in Division Two seems unlikely to stimulate an increase in attendances. I haven’t studied the club’s finances, but local talk usually portrays near ­bankruptcy. Many of the players could politely be described as veterans. The hard core fans have grown used to carping and criticising, and are unlikely to turn over a new leaf for the start of the new season. And of course, Wee Bertie has indicated he will remain as manager. All the in­gredients are there for continuing disaster.

Neil Young once remarked ‘ONCE YOU’RE GONE YOU CAN’T COME BACK’ (that’s the Neil Young who played for Buff­alo Springfield in the late ’60s be­fore being transferred to Manchester City in time to score the winner in the 1969 Cup Final). Dunfermline, Ayr United and St. Johnstone have all recently proven this dictum wrong. If Dumbarton are to follow them, then a degree of commitment not seen last season is required from players, man­agement and supporters. Otherwise the Sons could become a permanent fixture in Division Two, or even drop out of the League altogether.

It’s not all doom and gloom. Who knows, maybe a few tankings dished out to Stranraer, Arbroath et al, will gal­vanise the whole club and give the faithful a real reason to frequent Boghead. We can dream. If, as is more likely, Bertie goes for promotion via thirty-nine no-scoring draws, then the black and white Saturday afternoon movie on BBC2 will seem like an en­ticing prospect. What am I talking about? Already I can feel the excite­ment as the big kick-off approaches. Altogether now: ‘WHAT A SHITEY, WHAT A SHITEY…..’


4 Responses to “The Absolute Game Revisited – Part 34”

  1. aj Says:

    dumbarton were relegated this season as well? i must have missed this. comfortable mid-table, no?

  2. almax Says:

    You are quite correct.

    I originally wrote the article in 1988, and then re-published it on another blog in May 2006, and this posting is just a copy of that one – thus, the reference to ‘this season’ is a reference to 2005/6.

  3. aj Says:


    carry on. great to see these resurfacing again. look forward to some more to follow.

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