The Absolute Game Revisited – Part 41

August 23, 2010

Three Men Go To The Football

INTRODUCTION – One of the funniest books ever written is “Three Men in a Boat” by Jerome K Jerome. (See ‘My Favourite Books’ number 1). While under the influence of the national beverage, I thought it might be a good idea to celebrate TAG’s fifth anniversary by relocating the three men to Glasgow 1992. Judge for yourselves just what a bad idea that was.


It was a Saturday morning in February. The three of us seemed to have contracted exactly the same sort of virulent illness overnight. It was characterised by a thudding headache, a queasy feeling in the abdomen, an unpleasant sensation of things being not quite real, and furry tongues which had turned a disturbing deep red colour.

While George and Harris speculated that we had fallen victim to the latest round of exotic influenza, I, for my part, had an uneasy feeling that our conditions were in some measure due to the previous evening’s Lamb Vindaloos which we’d washed down with a dozen or so bottles of excellent Chateau Papin. I believe that the lower orders usually describe these symptoms as being due to “a bad pint’.

George suggested that we got out for some fresh air and perhaps we could stop off at the Steamboats Inn for a quick snort before luncheon.

Harris and I were inclined to part company with the contents of our stomachs at this idea. We were, however, all agreed that we should go out. But where?

Harris consulted the local paper. Suddenly he yelled, “I’ve got a tremendous idea why don’t we go to a game of soccer?” .

His brainwave was met with a sullen lack of enthusiasm. None of us had ever been to a football match before. I wasn’t even precisely sure whether it was played with bats or not. George said that the idea of watching seventy or so grown men attempting to kick a melon-shaped object into a hole at the top of a long pole did not appeal to him.

George is not a very sporty person. His notion of an energetic workout is to brush his teeth with a non-electric toothbrush. Harris, who now claimed to have recently seen part of a football game on television, was not to be put off and he enthused, “It s all frightfully exciting. There are two teams, one dressed in blue tunics and the other in green and white hooped tunics. The main object seems to be for the players on each team to try to kick the players on the other team as often and as hard as they can without being seen by a rather amusing small person in a black uniform, whose name I think is Mr Mason.

Mr Mason seems to have been specially selected because of his poor eyesight. As a result, a lot of kicking can be done without him spotting it. Sometimes someone throws a ball onto the playing field, but I haven t been able to work out the significance of that yet.

I don t think we need to concern ourselves with that until we’ve picked up the more important rules. One of the main rules is that every fifteen minutes or so one of the players in blue leaves the field to much applause. This usually happens when he’s been punched in the face by a player called “Jesus Christ Rogan”. Mr Mason hands him a greetings card, thanks him for his contribution and bids him a fond farewell. The blue player departs to a rapturous ovation, kissing hands to the crowd who shower him with tokens of their esteem, in the manner of an operatic diva.”

George was far from impressed, and asked sarcastically, “What happens if this man Mason sees one player kicking another?”

“Ah well,” replied Harris, “a free kick is awarded, which means that the player who was kicked is allowed a free kick at any member of the opposite team even if Mason is watching. The spectators become tremendously animated when this happens”.

“What about Montmorency”‘, I asked.

Montmorency is my dog.

“Oh, he can come too’, said Harris, who, you will observe, was turning out to be something of a secret authority on the game of football. “I’ve occasionally read reports of soccer matches”, he continued, “and there is always a reference to a small dog running onto the playing field. It’s all part of the game. In fact, they’ll probably let us in for nothing when they see us coming with Montmorency.

George snorted. “Don’t be silly. They’ll already have a dog which is trained to run on at appropriate moments. These people won’t leave anything to chance”

George is like that. A spoilsport, but practical.

We decided to take a vote. George was very much against the idea, much preferring the option of a curer or five in our local hostelry. I tended to agree with George but I misunderstood the motion and inadvertantly found myself voting with Harris.

The next question was which match we were to go to. Harris, who was beginning to irritate me with his encyclopaedic knowledge, told us that our choice of venues was strictly limited, as he had often heard people in the street declaiming that there is only one team in Glasgow.

We fished out an old street map to search for the home of this solitary side. Harris spotted it in a matter of moments, though, in truth, neither George nor I were looking too carefully. It was called Firhill. We all agreed that it was a distinctly promising name, summoning up, as it did, visions of a tree-lined slope of verdant greenery in this city of noise.

George, who had a hazy idea that our outing would be along similar lines to a day at Henley Regatta, began to pack a small picnic hamper, containing all the usual necessities like several bottles of French Vin de Table, assorted luncheon meats, pork pies, a bottle of brandy for “afters” etc.

trol.jpgHarris said, “Don’t forget the toilet rolls. They’re to be thrown onto the playing field at irregular intervals yet to be determined.”

I began to suspect Harris. I really did. For someone who had allegedly never been to a football match he knew an inordinate amount about the more arcane rules and regulations.

Eventually we were ready to set off. Harris was wearing an utterly preposterous multi-coloured scarf which he’d received from an aged and senile aunt many years earlier in lieu of a Christmas present. This creation was about twenty feet long. Apparently the old dear had started off to knit a pair of socks, forgot what she was doing, and just carried on for months before her knitting needles were forcibly removed from her grasp by the meals on wheels lady.

“Scarf-wearing is de rigeur, my boy”, he said with insufferable smugness.

Bloody know-it-all. He was also in possession of an alarming looking device which consisted of a wooden handle with an attachment at the end which made an unbearable noise when shaken vigorously. Harris said that this was a “rattle” which had belonged to his great-uncle Seth.

“No self-respecting spectator would be seen at the match without one of these”, he said pompously. I refrained from reminding him that his uncle Seth had ended his days in a lunatic asylum convinced that he was a ferret from the planet Thargos.

Later in the day another spectator at the match was to suggest that Harris should insert his “rattle” into his own rectum at high velocity.

We set off. George, Harris, myself, Montmorency, hamper, rattle and scarf. nat4hamp.jpg

As we made our way to the hill of Firs we saw others apparently heading in the same direction. Some of them were wearing scarves but I didn’t see many rattles. Well, to be truthful, I didn’t see any. Harris was undaunted and said that the regulars probably kept their rattles in their own private lockers within the stadium complex.

As we approached the football ground a uniformed officer of the law hove into view. When Harris saw him coming he said that this would no doubt be the predicted offer of free admission on account of our possession of Montmorency.

Contrariwise, it turned out that the constable was not amiably disposed towards us at all. He hailed us (I now quote as verbatim as I can, though I don’t pretend to understand all the words used),

“Hey, you lot. Whaur d ‘ye think yer gaun wi’ that dug? An’ whit’s in thon basket?”
He did not seem overly impressed when Harris patiently explained that we had been hoping that Montmorency would be the small dog who would be chosen to take the field that day. His eyes bulged dangerously when George opened the hamper.

“Just the usual modest refreshments, officer “, said George, “Admittedly, the vino collapso is of slightly less than the finest vintage, but it will nevertheless provide us with a suitable libation to accompany our meagre repast”.

The policeman regarded George as though he’d just flown in from Venus. “Hiv you never heard o’ the Criminal Justice Act? ­Ye’ve got mair controlled containers here than Victoria Wines. In fact”, he said, turning to Harris, “you, sir, if you don’t mind me saying, look as though you are yourself a controlled container”.

We were completely baffled by all of this, and had to admit that we had no idea what he was talking about. Even Harris, that veritable Thesaurus, had to confess ignorance. The policeman went on to inform us that if we attempted to enter the football ground with the hamper then our feet would not touch the ground again until we were deposited in “B” wing of Barlinnie, wherever that is.

The technical language of soccer was beginning to prove too much for me. The officer suggested that he would take the basket and Montmorency off our hands for the duration of the game. He said,

“Perhaps me an’ the lads can make a modest repast o’ yer dug at half-time an wash it doon wi ‘wan o’ ‘yer delicious libations, har har “.

I think this was supposed to be said for comic effect. I sincerely hoped so, as I seemed to have no choice but to hand over Montmorency along with the hamper. Both were thrown unceremoniously into the back of a nearby van. The policeman said that we could retrieve both hamper and dog after the game by, and I quote, “calling at the police room and asking for mad Jack Roberts, the dog-eating lunatic of Mary hill, har, har no only joking, sir, just ask for PC Roberts “.

I wondered whether this particular officer had missed his vocation in life.

Having thus been relieved of our food and my dog, we made our way slightly forlornly towards the entrance gate. George was substantially less than overjoyed at this turn of events.

George has a fragile constitution which requires regular infusions of alcohol to keep him healthy. At least that is what he claims. He was diagnosed by a doctor at an alcohol clinic. He doesn’t usually mention that the doctor was a patient at the clinic.

As George made one last attempt to persuade us to repair to a nearby inn for “medicine”, Harris, or rather his scarf, became entangled in a turnstile mechanism. The harder he tried to free himself, the closer he came to self-strangulation. By the time his face had turned completely blue a largish crowd had formed behind us.

It would be fair to say that they were not entirely sympathetic to my friend’s plight. As Harris slowly suffocated they shouted out less than helpful remarks like, “Get a move on ye daft old bastard “, “Hey, Doctor Who, where’s yer Tardis?” and “That’s what your mother should have done to you at birth”.

Eventually the turnstile operator emerged from his box brandishing a large carving knife, which he just happened to have handy, and with one swift blow he separated Harris from the larger part of his scarf. Indeed, for one awful moment it appeared as though he had also successfully separated Harris from the larger part of his neck, but Harris quickly assured us it was just a flesh wound.

The crowd became considerably excited at the sight of blood, but became inordinately dismayed when it became clear that the injury was not serious. Most of the scarf now lay on the ground like a deceased multi-coloured snake, while Harris now sported the equivalent of his mad old Auntie’s pair of socks round his neck. We thus passed into the arena in a rather less enthusiastic frame of mind than we had begun the day with.

(to be continued) (maybe)

First published in TAG 27 – March 1992

Cartoons by Paul Burns


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