The night that was a damp squib


The phrase “such and such turned into a real damp squib” has always given me a lot of trouble, not least because I was never aware of what a squib actually is, which in turn lended to my natural instinct to determine that the saying must be referring to a damp squid.  That never sat kindly with my common sense, though:  why would a damp squid be a disappointing anti-climax to anyone?  The squid is a sea dwelling creature, of course it is damp!  It would surely take a real fool to expect anything else.

It turns out that a squib is a short, often cylindrical, firework.  If one of those becomes damp, and your sizzle transpires into little more than a pfffffloppp, disappointment is likely to be chief amongst your emotions.  Hence such and such turning into a real damp squib rather than a damp squid.  Thank you, Google, for finally resolving thirty-three years of literary confusion.

Hindsight, I have learned recently, is a marvellous and frustrating tool of the human mind.  When utilising it now I can acknowledge that I really couldn’t have expected anything more from last night than the wettest of damp squibs.  The real sizzle and sparkle had occurred earlier and Celtic had won the Scottish Premiership title for the sixth consecutive season on Sunday; this fixture against Partick Thistle was never going to be of any significance.  But I had booked this time off work in January and, more than anything, I needed some time out of my own head.  I was looking forward to this night.

A landslip outside Glasgow on Tuesday threw my travel plans into a mild disarray, with trains from Oban being forced to stop at Crianlarich, where buses would commute the remainder of the distance.  Dual modes of transport are rarely enjoyable, especially when the bus from Crianlarich to Glasgow was much more dry than the squib this day was becoming.  I was, though, offered a brief glimpse into how it must feel to be Clark Kent when I returned from a poorly timed toilet break as the train was approaching the station and everyone was dashing off to meet the bus.  I combed my way through the throngs of people and made it back to my table, the last man on the train, and began gathering up my belongings when I noticed that the elderly gentleman who had been sitting opposite me had left his plastic railcard wallet on the table.  I jammed it into my coat pocket, returned The Smiths to my earphones and left the train, hoping that I might encounter this man along the way.

I clambered onto the spacious coach and took a seat near the back, eyeballing every passenger along the way.  No sign of the old man; he probably got onto the other bus, I thought.  Then minutes before departure he appeared.  He used his crutch to slowly amble up the aisle and I anxiously reached into my pocket for the wallet, a small part of me paranoid that I could be accused of theft.  As he neared I stood up, but he greeted me first and said that he thought he might have left his tickets on the table.  “I picked them up!”  I exclaimed, and there was an audible ‘awwww’ from a couple of the seats around me as I returned the wallet to him.  “I’m in your debt,” he said – but little did he know that an hour previously I was cursing him for having the temerity to sit opposite me on the train.  It felt like we were even.


There were a few notable observations to be made inside Celtic Park, aside from the goal both teams scored in the second-half.  Perhaps the most striking was the man, probably aged in his late fifties and definitely dressed in the 1967 European Cup final replica strip, who decided to get up out of his seat minutes before half-time, moved to stand in the aisle and turned to face the Partick Thistle fans at the opposite end of the ground before blessing himself and flicking them the V’s.  I couldn’t understand the gesture.  I mean, I understand what making that two-fingered salute means, but I cannot fathom the need to bless himself before doing it.  Was he trying to insist that, in this period of Lent particularly, Jesus was telling the Partick Thistle support to fuck off through the vessel of this man’s body?  Or was the blessing an attempt at absolving himself of any judgment from a higher power for his silly behaviour?

While the action on the field wasn’t especially eye-catching, my eyes did happen to catch sight of the most beautiful steward I have ever seen.  I spent a good bit of time contemplating her existence and came to the conclusion that not only was she the most beautiful steward I have ever seen, but she was also the only beautiful steward I have ever seen.  I lost a great deal of focus on the football as I tried to imagine scenarios where I could approach her and convince her that spending time with me wouldn’t be a complete waste of her time.  I recited a wealth of lines in my inner monologue, but they were proving more terrible than the quality of football on the pitch behind her:

 

  • “Excuse me, I have a medical emergency.  I think someone may have stolen my heart.”
  • “I think I’m lost, I can’t find my seat.  I’m supposed to be in section UR PANTS/HEART.”  (This would have required a last moment judgment call as to which is more appropriate.)
  • “Your jacket may be high visibility, but it’s your eyes that really sparkle.”
  • “Your jacket may be high visibility, but it’s your body which caught my eye.”
  • “I’m in row L for ‘linguine’.  Fancy going for an Italian after the match?”
  • “I’m all about making those safe exits.”
  • “I can’t tell if I have an irregular heartbeat or if it’s just you/or am I just horny?”  (Again, probably better to delete as appropriate.)
  • “Your jacket may be high visibility, but do you see a future for me?”
  • “As a steward I feel I should inform you of the men smoking cigarettes in the toilets, but instead I’m going to inform you that you are smoking hot behind the goal.”
  • “Your jacket may be high visibility, which should be useful when you’re looking for it on the floor of room 423 of the Travelodge later.”

There was a change of stewards midway through the second-half and I never did get the opportunity to add the most beautiful steward ever to my growing list of failed flirtations.  Instead my thoughts were forced to turn to the floppy grey-haired guy who sometimes wears red jeans sitting in the row in front of me.  Often he can be seen rolling cigarettes during the match, but last night he spent much of the game sucking on a lollypop.  He had that lollypop in his mouth for so long that I surmised that he either really likes hard candy or he is trying to give up smoking.  Either way I was impressed with his resistance to the urge to bite, particularly during what turned out to be a bit of a frustrating evening.

Walking back into the city centre following a score draw at Celtic Park this season has been a rarity, and on a deceptively cold April night it was a bracing experience.  The ideal conditions for a damp squid, maybe, but not so much on a night which had already become a damp squib.

Final scores:
Celtic 1-1 Partick Thistle
JJ 0-1 damp squibs

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