The Absolute Game Revisited – Part 35

July 15, 2010

This is the second of my articles about Dumbarton – this one appearing in TAG 20 – October 1990. In this blog I have over-used the qualifying term ‘revisited’ (the undernoted article was the first time I had ever used it – it was not lifted from Highway 61 Revisited as you might expect, but came from the fact that it was the second article and also that ‘Brideshead Revisited’ was being serialised on TV at the time. It amused me greatly to use a modified version of Brideshead for the title of this piece. Especially since Brideshead is about mincing ballet-dancers and Boghead isn’t).

Boghead Revisited

On a warm sunny day at the beginning of August 1988 Dumbarton became the undisputed champions of the World by defeating West Bromwich Albion 2-1 at Boghead. (TAG exclusive – Ed). This news may come as something of a surprise to some readers who may wonder how West Brom managed to reach the dizzy heights of a World Final.

The answer is that the match was played to mark the centenary of Renton (the Scottish Cup holders) defeating W B A (the English Cup holders) in 1888. In true imperialist Victorian fashion it was only natural that the champions of Britain should automatically also be champions of the World, and that title went to the victorious Renton. In the centenary game, Dumbarton, as the nearest living relatives of the deceased Renton, retained the trophy! Their World Cup-winning performance that afternoon merely served as an appetising hors d’oeuvre to a season in which the Sons swept very little before them on their way to finishing 3rd bottom of Division 2.

It will be recalled that as recently as season 1984/85 the Sons had appeared in the Premier League and for most of the season had clung grimly to 8th place before finally being pipped by Hibs in the run-in and being relegated along with Morton. In that year they had thrashed both Celtic and Rangers, 1-1 and 0-0 respectively. The story of how they plunged from 8th in 1985 to 36th in 1989 is partly told in a sarcastic wee article which I wrote in TAG 9 under the nom-de-plume “Auld Bertie”.

That pen name was a tribute to the semi-legendary and semi-coherent Bertie Auld who was the man who masterminded the Sons relegation effort of 1988 when they dropped into the dreaded Division 2. Auld was inexplicably still in the manager’s chair on the day of the triumph over West Brom. The match programme for that game featured a photograph of a grinning Bertie next to a column bearing his own words of wisdom, under the inventive heading “Bertie’s Bit”.

There was no doubting his optimism. “I can promise our fans that the 2nd Division will be the breeding ground for a young and progressive Sons team that will be geared for promotion. My motto has always been that today’s reserves are tomorrow’s first team….. influx of young players rum-ti-tum…… this club as a force in Scottish football…….bright future ….will this do ?…….when do I get the sack?” The answer to the first question was no, and the answer to the second question was the middle of September.

After 7 games in Division 2 the Sons were languishing in second bottom place. Bertie simply had to go, as even the Dumbarton Board had finally sussed out that possession of a daft bunnet and an even dafter cigar did not automatically guarantee success. For some time prior to his dismissal Bertie had persisted in flooding the midfield with a player by the name of Cairns. “Cairnsy” was doubtless a really nice guy and all that but he was a piss-poor footballer. He had come from Partick Thistle reserves (yes, that bad) and none of the fans had the foggiest idea what he was doing in the Dumbarton team. A clue was forthcoming when someone found out that he was actually Bertie’s son-in-law.

Apart from this spot of free-lance nepotism, Bertie found time to sell Owen Coyle to Clydebank for £20,000 and a box of giant Havanas. It came as a complete surprise to no-one at all when, within a year, the Bankies sold Owen to Airdrie for £175,000.

With Auld’s departure, the board appointed Jim George as the team coach (as in tactical mastermind rather than one-man bus). Jim George. Who he? Nobody had ever heard of him. Some of the punters were convinced that he was really two people, namely Jim and George from the Beechgrove Garden.

As it turned out, they would probably have done better to hire Carole Baxter. Well, that’s perhaps being slightly unfair – Jim mounted a rescue campaign which over the next 32 games saw an amazing revival as the Sons raced up the league table to finish 3rd bottom, overhauling the likes of …er……… Stenhousemuir…on the way. In the midst of all of this, some genius decided to recruit Gregor Stevens to “bolster the defence”. Stevens’ record for the Sons was something like, played 3, sent off 2, booked 1, banned sine die, ta ta Gregor.

At about the time that Bertie got his cards, I had to move away from the Dumbarton area and, perhaps fortunately, was less able to get along to the Sons games than before. At the beginning of last season I made the long trek to Boghead and was rewarded by the Sons going in at half time 1-5 down to Berwick Rangers.

Was it really only 5 years earlier that Dumbarton had been 1-0 up on Glasgow Rangers with ten minutes to go in a Premier League game? The only pleasure in that Berwick game was witnessing a little cameo which was going on on the terracing in front of me. In TAG 9 I had mentioned that there were some English lads regularly attending matches at Boghead. One of them had invited a number of his pals to the game with Berwick, clearly expecting the Sons to win. As the goals rained into the Dumbarton net in a truly extraordinary opening half hour, the host stood grim-faced while his guests rolled about helpless with laughter. One of them announced to all and sundry that he had been watching Leeds United for 15 years but he had never had so much genuine entertainment crammed into 45 minutes in his life. Waving a fiver above his head he declared that he was going to pay the gateman on the way out, as £2 was a completely inadequate amount to pay for such fun.

Many of the Sons fans were unable to appreciate the humorous side of all this.

Despite that particular thrashing by Berwick, Dumbarton flirted with promotion throughout the season. Well, they flirted with promotion in the same way as you or I might flirt with Cherie Lunghi (ie. nice idea in theory, bugger all chance in practice). They were slightly handicapped by Boghead once again living up to its name and becoming completely unplayable for much of the season. There were real fears that the Sons might have to play their last 12 games in hand one after another on a Sunday night at the end of May.

I think it was probably because of this fixture pile up that Andy Roxburgh decided against including any Dumbarton players in his World Cup squad.

And so to this season. I saw the Sons against East Stirling in the Skol Cup at Firs Park. I didn’t recognise many of the players. Current management policy in relation to the recruitment of players appears to consist of the Manager and a couple of Directors going on a trip round the West of Scotland Junior grounds. What they are looking for are guys who are clearly coming to the end of their Junior careers and who should really just be put to sleep quietly. Instead they are offered the chance of Senior football and Hey Presto the Sons have got a team to launch on a “promotion campaign”.

Against the ‘Shire, Dumbarton somehow managed to squander a 2-0 lead. Ordinarily that would hardly be something to get too worked up about. However as they demonstrated their total inability to hit the target from 12 yards during the penalty shoot out, it was in the knowledge that the winners were through to meet Rangers at Ibrox in the next round. I could only weep silent tears of frustration as East Stirling went on to claim their £60,000 jackpot.

Nothing daunted, I decided to make the pilgrimage to Boghead for the opening League game of the season. The old place looks much the same though the surrounding housing developments are encroaching even closer and it surely only a matter of time before a desirable detached bungalow is built in the centre circle. Boghead really is a nice place to watch football (see Simon Inglis “Football Grounds of Great Britain” for a lyrical evocation of the pastoral qualities of the ground). Of course, you’re in no danger of having your view of the action obscured by “crowds” as the regular attendance is about 700.

I got a bit of a shock when I read the match programme. It contained a team photograph and at first glance it seemed as though Hazel Irvine was in the squad. While I was trying to work out which position she might be playing in, it was with some relief that I realised that she was in fact merely posing with the team as part of some very bad taste publicity stunt.

Since last season Jim George has been sacked, natch. Billy Lamont has returned to the scene of his former glory after having been run out of Falkirk with a posse on his tail. All the usual crowd of spectators were there, including my favourite, who’s the guy who only has one joke, but it’s a good one. As soon as the referee emerges from the tunnel he shouts at the top of his voice, Hey McGinley/Thow/Waddell/Hope/Smith etc (delete as appropriate) are you jist oot o’ Barlinnie on bail ya bastard“. Special venom is reserved for Tommy Muirhead who is invariably greeted with, “Muirheed…Squareheed…Squareface ya bastard“.

It’s slightly more alarming when you realise that this guy is one of the Club stewards.

The P.A. announcer spends considerably more time listing the various sponsors than he does on reading out the teams. Practically everything seems to be sponsored. The League itself, the match, the team, the match ball, the player’s kit, the players themselves. Gawd knows why. I can’t imagine what Polaroid, for example, get out of their association with Dumbarton.

Top class photographs of crap football apparently.

The Sons manage to scrape a 1-1 draw with Arbroath. At the time of writing it’s well in keeping with their average of a point per 2-3 games and they’re anchored at the bottom end of Division 2. It will not be a major surprise if they remain there.

A few years ago I read an interesting story about a Red Indian tribe who worshipped a fish. It seems that about 800 years earlier, some of their ancestors went down to the river and a fish came out of the water and bestowed bounteous gifts on them. On that same day every year since then the whole tribe went to the river and sat round it hoping that the fish would return. It never did, but they kept hoping.

Dumbarton supporters are a bit like that tribe. They had a good team once, and on the first day of every season they congregate at Boghead hoping that the good times will return.

I’m sorry lads, but on the evidence of what I’ve seen so far this year, the fish ain’t ever coming back.


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