The day I understood the disappointment of being a Partick Thistle fan


When I decided to spend my free Saturday afternoon in Glasgow between the Laura Marling gig on Friday and the Celtic vs Rangers game on Sunday at Firhill I knew that it would provide a greatly different footballing experience to what I’m used to.  As a Celtic fan born in 1983 my relationship with disappointment is distant at best – confined to the nineties, really – if it even exists at all.  Some of us were disappointed at winning three trophies in two seasons under Ronny Deila, after all.

Venturing out into Glasgow’s west end for a game of football proved an altogether different affair to my regular Saturday afternoon.  When you are walking through the Gallowgate in the east end of the city to Celtic Park you often find yourself on guard for the jakies fuelled up on Buckfast who might be out for your wallet; but the most you have to be concerned with out in the west end is the guys in tweed jackets who might try to recommend that you listen to the latest unsigned Glasgow band on the indie scene.

Along Maryhill Road you are navigating through avenues of terraced houses with green lawns lined with cherry blossom trees, whilst on London Road you’d be struggling to find the horticulture amongst discarded cigarette butts and crushed cans of Tennents Special.  It is a striking contrast.

Firhill Stadium is cradled away at the end of a quiet residential area on Firhill Road.  The traffic moves freely, even after the match when three thousand Thistle fans are leaving the ground.  Prior to kick-off there is a small line gathered at the portable ticket office behind the Jackie Husband Stand.  It takes longer for me to get a pie at half-time at Celtic Park than it does for me to be in possession of a ticket for this game, despite a brief moment of panic in the booth when I ask if they take card payments.  “It will just be a minute, it takes the machine a while to wake up when it hasn’t been used.”

Having taken my seat in the main stand – those with white stickers indicate that they have been reserved for season ticket holders – I am struck by my first vision of Kingsley, the Partick Thistle mascot.  He does his best to entertain the young fans at the front of the stand, but I can only imagine how difficult a task that is when you look like the result of an intense one night stand between a Pokemon and Gollum.

The home support seemed on edge for much of this visit from bottom side Inverness Caledonian, despite being largely the better team.  Even at 1-0 there was a tension that I’m not used to feeling on the other side of the city, where it is usually only a matter of time until the second goal.  You could see the Thistle defence retreating deeper and deeper as the minutes wore on and the Jags around me could obviously sense the inevitable.  Even an appearance by Thistle legend Billy McGhie to conduct the half-time lottery drawing couldn’t alleviate the pressure.

“Who is he?”  Asked one older bloke.

“Billy McGhie.  He went on to manage Clydebank.  Owes my mate £100.  I should go down and get it off him.”

With virtually the last kick of the game – and certainly the last head – the inevitable occurred and Inverness snatched an undeserved equaliser which sucked the life right out of the stadium.  There was no anger, no howls of frustration, no anguished jeering as you might expect.  There was just silence, a solemn resignation.  Everyone raised from their seats in sync and left towards the exits, hardly a hushed word exchanged.  It reminded me a little of leaving mass, with the lack of eye contact and the unspoken agreement that we would all just get out of there as quickly as possible.

Then a voice spoke up.

“That was definitely the worst of them all.”

And that’s when I understood the frustration of being a Partick Thistle fan.  They’ve seen this all before, and they probably expect to see it again.  Yet they keep going back.  Similar to my attempts at flirtatious conversation with women in bars on a Friday night; there’s always the hope that all the pretty build-up play and stupid wordplay will, just once, not be dashed by a last-minute act of defensive folly.

Who knows, maybe one day it won’t.  Maybe one day those Partick Thistle fans will experience emotions other than disappointment and frustration.  As for me:  I’m going back to Celtic Park.

Final scores:
JJ 1-1 Frustration
Partick Thistle 1-1 Inverness Caledonian Thistle

The day where I couldn’t understand what the guy beside me was saying


It would probably be in everyone’s interests if I could get the Guy Fawkes puns out-of-the-way at the beginning of this blog post.  So, with that in mind:  Celtic blitzed Inverness with three second-half goals in a crackling atmosphere at Celtic Park in a performance where the Celtic attack sparkled, with a rocket from Tom Rogic particularly making the crowd oooh and aaaaah while Patrick Roberts dazzled like a Catherine Wheel as the Inverness defence disintegrated in a cloud of smoke.  After a drab opening 45 minutes where Caley Thistle managed to extinguish the home side’s attacking flame this game exploded into life following the interval when Griffiths sizzled and Stuart Armstrong was red-hot.  Celtic have as good as thrown this SPFL title race into the bonfire, etc etc.

My experience at Celtic Park this season has largely been that the folk in surrounding seats will not talk to you, and you don’t talk to them.  It is almost like an unwritten agreement where, unless you know someone (or are going to the game with someone,) you don’t make contact with anybody in the seats around you.  You can wrap your arms around them when doing the Huddle, but that’s it!  Despite that I have been able to characterise a number of people in my section.  There is the guy in the row in front of me who looks like a walking midlife crisis with greying hair swept back, he appears to be a student of the game.  The elderly gentleman in front of him begins to grow impatient if there hasn’t been a goal inside the first fifteen minutes and invariably demands that the ball is “blootered up the park.”  There is a woman a row or two behind me, whom I have yet to muster the courage to turn around and look at, who screams for anyone to SHOOT the moment they are within 45 yards of goal and is absolutely scathing when the ball inevitably lands several rows away from us.  I have been picturing Rab C. Nesbitt’s ‘Mary Doll’.

The two seats either side of me generally tend to lay empty most of the time, save for maybe the games against Rangers and Aberdeen earlier in the season.  There is a regular in the seat on the other side of the empty one to my left, however, and I will always remember, remember the fifth of November as the day that he chose to break the unwritten agreement of no contact.  (Dammit, sorry, that one just came to me.)

He hasn’t uttered a word all season.  At least I think this was the same guy: underneath all of the multiple layers of clothing he had covering virtually every inch of naked flesh on his being it was difficult to tell; he genuinely had the appearance of a man who was about to tackle Ben Nevis.  But today he was in right chatty form, from the very moment I arrived in my seat prior to kick-off.

“Blah blah blah blah blah lineup blah blah” is what I think he said.  Turns out he is Northern Irish and I had forgotten to bring my Ulster translation device with me.  I had no idea what he said.  I was able to decode the word ‘lineup’ and having seen the team selection on Twitter before heading out to the game I speculated that he was maybe quite surprised by it,

“Very attacking, isn’t it?”  I guessed.  How wrong could I be when it’s Brendan Rodgers?

“Blah blah blah blah blah three or four goals blah.”  His accent was impossibly strong and I had immediately switched to my default setting in situations where someone is talking very quietly or in a manner I can’t understand:  I nod and laugh.  He could have been telling me that he feared we would lose 4-0 with such an attacking set-up and I was standing there with a grin as wide as Emilio Izaguirre’s starting position.  For all I know he may have decided that this moment, on a freezing cold November afternoon at Celtic Park, would be the first time he would talk to another human being about the horrible death of his wife and children and the family dog in a sickening car accident and I was laughing along at every word because I can’t understand the Northern Irish accent.

“Blah blah Scott Sinclair blah blah blah.”

WHAT ARE YOU SAYING??

It was a trial, and while I wasn’t putting my utmost effort into finding out what he was saying I was trying nonetheless to converse with the guy – even if we did end up communicating in a mangled form of the English language whereby he would make a statement and I would make a counter statement which vaguely related to what I thought he might have been saying.

I can only conclude that my strategy must have been working, because at various intervals during the game he would lean across the empty seat between us and poke me on the arm to produce another incomprehensible observation.

“Blah blah blah blah blah midfield.”

“Aye, Scott Brown has been superb.”  At one point I’m sure he nodded and laughed.

Final scores:
Northern Irish accent 1-0 JJ
Celtic 3-0 Inverness Caledonian Thistle

Playlist:
Edwyn Collins – Gorgeous George
Gene – Drawn To The Deep End
Compulsive Gamblers – Crystal Gazing Luck Amazing
Wilco – Kicking Television, Live in Chicago
Lambchop – Flotus