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A GUIDE TO THE SCOTTISH FOOTBALL LEAGUE

Dool and wae for the order sent our lads to the Border!
The English for ance, by guile wan the day.

As a child of about eight I remained an unthinking
non-believer in St. Johnstone, St. Mirren and Albion
Rovers. I certainly had witnessed Airdrieonians
(huge red V's on white shirts) turning out for a pre-season
friendly at Edgeley Park, but they might as well have been
the Ultima Thularians. So, in those days when at
five o'clock on Saturday the English classifieds on
Sports Report meant the world to me, I cursed long catalogues
of the Scottish divisions that held up the match accounts
of the English League, Division One. Too young then to
understand about the ex-pats and pools punters, or
realise how much centred on that old religious business:
the alpha and omega shall be for aye - Rangers and Celtic.
For a few strolling bit-players, the ground rules permit
rare, bright-bubble moments chasing knock-out cup glory,
but where it really matters souls proven as true-seasoned
timber Calvinism rules, O.K. There must always be
the elect and the damned. Glaswegian Catholics, too,
long ago accommodated themselves to a safely
Manichean conception of a Football League.

 

Team changes. Maybe it was
mother well that opened up
the catenaccio defence of
prosaic Aberdeen and Dundee...
With the incisive delivery
of a perfectly weighted ball
over the top, the names began
to strip gracefully free of
any nondescript home ground.
An elemental tongue struck through,
celebrating sterling hearts
that roved out, uncowed by hovering
wraiths in moorland air;
over mountain thistle and dowy dens,
they ranged - by meadow banks
of wild rose across Clyde water
on, on to the gathering in a Queen's park.

There the whole host of Hibernia,
stiff with claymores and inflamed
by pipers with fife and drum,
received its call to arms from
a saintly-warrior Queen of
the South: Out! Out once more
from the Heart of Midlothian
to outdare perfidious Albion
over our border. Forward
athletic clans the re-united,
ranks of loyal Third Lanarks
and those oft-acclaimed reservists
of veteran Academicals!
Oh land of saints and Celtic
crosses by lonely kirks!

Fingers, featly nimble as maggots
in tins, danced taps over chanters
to translate her speech into
skirling pibrochs that were not
entirely lacking some grace notes
of homely farmyard presences
of cows and beef; dumb animals
in bartons. Yet always discernible,
beneath it all, droned the fierce,
eternal, ancestral imperatives:
     Kill! Mar! Knock!

Later on, I ran down several characters who were in hiding
from Shakespeare's second Scottish play: Arbroath, Lady Hamilton,
Ross (return of) and the comic buffoon, Brechin.
Right until the last days of my interest in all football results
a couple of names (Stenhousemuir, for instance) remained
so recalcitrantly implausible they inspired cod etymologies;
others joyously never quite resolved themselves into any proper sense:
Ello-a? Done firm Lynne. For far? Our brothe.
And so, against all the odds, I became for a time a lover of Scottish Football.

ANDREW MAYNE


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This page last updated: 13th November 2006.