There were happy times in my Childhood too
It was a cold Sunday morning. I had been up and dressed super early today because I had to be ready for my Uncle Rab to pick me up. My Mum wasn’t awake yet, but that was fine because she worked hard and football; well, football didn’t interest her. She couldn’t understand 22 men kicking a ball around a muddy field never mind the off side rule. Not many people understood the offside rule if they weren’t football fans.
I can remember thinking to myself what a cold day this was and that I would have to wrap myself up warm. You could feel the cold bite of the air and the condensation from my mouth. It was chilly. Scottish winters always were. I waited outside our new build as the brown dead leaves from the nearby wood blew lifelessly across our little road. We hadn’t long moved into this area. Our housing organisation were upgrading all of their houses and we were one of the first to receive that. It was a far sight from the last house we lived in. Cold, damp and mucky. My Mum had tried to do her best; she couldn’t wait for the new house to be built and be moved back. We had moved, though. And that’s all that mattered.
My uncle picked me up early, I can’t remember what time exactly but early enough that my Mum wasn’t awake yet. We didn’t travel to theirs in East Wemyss. No, we were off to Kirkcaldy bus station. This was the day that Raith Rovers were playing Celtic in the Coca Cola Cup Final. This was the stuff that dreams were made of for young boys. Any lower league football team supporter would tell you how amazing it would be to have their team win something important. That it mattered. That it’d be there for as long as history would remember it. As long as we record cup wins and dates. It would be there. I was hopeful. Not too much, but hopeful enough to feel that nervous excitedness in the bottom of my belly. I remember thinking in the car journey to the station that it can’t be that exciting to be a first-rate team that wins something year after year. You would fall into the idea of expecting to win. Should win. A dangerous mindset for a sports team.
The car journey through Kirkcaldy was strangely surreal. It was like a ghost town. It was like everyone had been zapped from what they were doing and left everything behind. Empty gardens, streets and hardly any cars on the road. Yet not surprising since the local team was starring in a cup match. They were either going to the match or gearing up to watch it on TV.
I can remember piling on our allocated bus. My Uncle had secured us match tickets from one of his friends at work. Apparently he knew someone that knew someone. That’s usually the way these things go. It was a double decker, and unsurprisingly there were loads of people cracking open their Tennent’s lager; getting in full swing for the start of the game. Singing on the bus and so on. We made an honorary detour through Dunfermline. I was glad that we travelled that way. Mainly because we can pass Dunfermline Athletic football ground and wave our flags and shout our obscenities. No-one was there. But we made sure to wave our flags at every walking pedestrian we saw. We were in our elements. Yet. If we were to lose this day you can bet your boots all their supporters will be out at the main roundabout. Waving THEIR flags and jeering US as we drove past. It would be a nail in the coffin.
It took us little over two hours on the bus to travel to Glasgow. It was a long time to be cooped up with older lads that I didn’t know getting drunker and drunker. I was glad to be off. I was only 14 and not experienced to the wide and diverse ways of the world yet. I felt safer off the bus. I can remember thinking I wasn’t pleased with the chosen venue of Ibrox. Ibrox being a Premier league stadium and the home of Rangers FC, Celtic would have far more experience playing at that ground. I wasn’t happy. I always felt they had an extremely unfair advantage over us. It was because Hampden was being renovated at the time. It was either that or Parkhead. Obviously, Parkhead was the last ever choice to be made. Non-football supporters will never understand the advantage a team hold at their home ground. But the advantage is high. A team knows every nook, cranny and crevice of their own stadium. They can use it to their advantage.
I met Scott whilst I was waiting for my Uncle to go and check something. Scott Auchterlonie was a school friend of mine, a young man that was in a lot of similar classes at school to me. Yet this time, we were on opposite sides of the fence. Him, being a die-hard Celtic supporter and me a Raith Rovers supporter. He was outside a chip shop. I think his Dad or whoever he was with were buying some food to take with them. We exchanged typical football banter.
“I’ll see you at school tomorrow crying in your scarf,” he said with a cheeky grin on his face, confident that his team would take us to the cleaners.
“We’ll see” not saying much because I was unsure, unsure of the outcome. I couldn’t fully comprehend the situation at the time.
I remember finally going through the turnstiles and walking into the Stadium. It was like nothing like I had ever seen before. There were fully staffed McDonalds, Burger Kings, shops and retail outlets as far as the eye could see. Unlike our stadium where you could get a pie and a Bovril if you were lucky.
The walk up the stair was like an entrance I had never seen before. I walked into this massive arena. Filled with 40,000 fans. The pitch, well, it was small. You could see all the players prepping for the game. And the fans, when they got out their scarves and proudly displayed their team colours. Every last one of them. It was an amazing feat. Electrifying. I felt at home. I felt as if I was going to explode with excitement. Our seats were nice and comfortable too. Ibrox was mainly all seated if not all seated. It was cushy.
As the whistle blew and both teams went on their way battling it out as if their lives depended on it I can remember the agitation I had with the crowd. In the first half, we were on the side of our own team. And every time our team entered the side of Celtics it would cause a ton of people to stand up, it was like a chain reaction of horribleness that forced us to stand up every time we were on the attack. I didn’t like that. Some people were just too darn eager. I remember thinking that if the front person sat down then perhaps it wouldn’t have been difficult for the people behind him to stay seated. Angry I was, but not for long.
In the first quarter of the match, a high kicked corner saw Jason Crawford catch the ball and rocket the ball into the bottom corner of the net. At first, I was in disbelief. It took a moment for me to properly digest the information that was presented to me.
“Had he, had he just scored?” I thought to myself before jumping up in ecstatic revelation. Our team was ahead. Our team was winning by one goal. I was amazed. I can remember hugging the person next to me. I hugged uncle Rab, I jumped on my seat and was going mental. It was an awesome day to be a Raith Rovers supporter. I couldn’t imagine how wee Crawford felt. It must have been his pinnacle moment. It was sheer bliss. A moment of floaty happiness enveloped me; drunk on happiness. It ebbed, though, and finally, we all sat down. Ready to watch the rest of the game because it wasn’t over just yet.
I remember the intense anticipation that followed. Celtic really ramped up the pressure after this. I can remember feeling it in my bones that they would score. They would bring the score to a level pegging and there was nothing I could do about it. For the next 10 minutes, we were barely on the attack. Continual defence. We could barely hold it together, until, they equalised just on the 32-minute marker. A low cross sent Andy Walker into a diving header which sent Thomson the wrong way. And bam. Our dreams of Cup winning were so much further away.
I remember thinking about Andy Walker. How he looked like his face had been doused in petrol, set alight and then put out with a sand wedge. I didn’t think any of the Celtic team were good lookers. They were an old and experienced team, we were young and up and coming. I don’t think youngsters think anyone over the age of 30 looks good. Probably harsh of me, but I’m allowed to think aren’t I? I was angry. I wanted Celtic to all be burned alive at the stake right now. I wanted to see them scream. I didn’t want to be watching this game anymore. I wasn’t happy.
The second half was rather uneventful. Both teams pressurising each other into giving way but none of them would. We were tightly weaved. To and fro. The goal didn’t come until the 84th minute. 6 minutes left to full time. Andy Walker struck an amazing right foot shot that saw the post, rebounded, and Charlie Nicholas low balled it into the right corner of the net. Well, that was it. Cup dreams were over for us. All the way to Glasgow for what? Nothing. I couldn’t hate Charlie Nicholas. I always loved him as a footballer. He was one of my childhood heroes. I was torn. Torn between a Childhood Hero and one that was about to send us packing from our cup win dreams.
I can remember the Celtic Crowd chanting,
“Whose no’ singing anymooooore”
I wanted to scream. We saw the officials in the entrance, with the cup. Green and white they had on it. They were getting ready to present it to Celtic. I can remember thinking that it was cruel to do that. That we were sitting on the losing end but we could see them, sitting there. Waiting to present the Coca-Cola Cup. It was over. Our end was nigh. I could just see my friend Ryan sitting in his living room, screaming at the TV,
“Take that Raymond ya Bastard”
He wasn’t able to make the game. Which was surprising because he made EVERY Celtic game. I’d often see him on a Saturday evening or Sunday morning with fresh tales of what he, his Dad and his brother got up to. Truth be told I was jealous of that. Jealous that he was able to go there and drink to his hearts content. I wanted to do that. But my Auntie and Uncle would never in a million years allow that. Perhaps as I sit writing this I’m glad. looking back it probably wasn’t the greatest thing to be doing at 14.
We sat silently as the Celtic crowd opposite had descended into utter chaos. It was a sight to see. One that broke my heart. A young boy’s dreams of his little side winning dashed in the blink of an eye.
I must admit it took us by complete surprise when Gordon Dalziel “nosed” the ball in a few moments later. Quite literally moments after kick off. It was amazing. The electrifying atmosphere had returned as now our stand descended into complete mayhem. Friends jumping over other friends, scarves waving, people screaming. I’ve been on this earth for 36 years now and there are only a few things in my life that have topped that equaliser nose-in from Gordon Dalziel. The fans went wild. We went wild. I bet the whole of Kirkcaldy went wild.
We chanted at the top of our voices. Chanted “Cheerio” at the officials going back in to strip the cup of green and white. It was now anyone’s game. We were on top form that day I tell you.
The match was taken into thirty minutes of utterly breathtaking extra time. You could cut the atmosphere with a knife. I can remember shaking. Shaking with the cold and the nervousness for my team. And the nervousness of losing this when we had come so far. We played Dunfermline Athletic at home the week before in a league match. They had beaten us 4-2 that day and chanted “You’re going to get beat in the final” constantly from the beginning of the second half. We would have if we played like that. We played rubbish that day. Albeit we didn’t have a full squad. This, though, this was something entirely different. This was electrifying and amazing and awesome. I was 14 years old at the time. I was beyond happy.
We progressed to a penalty shoot out. My Uncle wanted that. He told me that Celtic was too strong a team for us to beat them on our own. I was unsure. I didn’t want penalties. But it was anyone’s game.
I couldn’t remember much. I can only remember Gordon marshall getting closer and closer to that damn ball with every penalty that was taken. I remember praying into my scarf. Wishing that somehow someone up there would hear me. The tension was unbearable. You would have thought I was in full spasm the way I was feeling. The nerves were wracking and the excitement was unbearable. I remember Paul McStay stepping up to take his penalty. If he missed this it would be all over for Celtic. I didn’t think he’d miss it. He was a seasoned Celtic player. Another one of my heroes. An amazing footballer. He’d never miss it. He stepped up, ran at the ball and smacked it low and hard and to the left.
I heard a thud. But it wasn’t the thud of the ball hitting the net it was the thud of the ball bouncing off Scott Thompson. He had saved it. Raith Rovers had won the Cup. I sat there in momentary paralysis. I couldn’t believe my eyes. And then. Bam. We went mental. We cheered, we hugged, we jumped, we cried, we stood on the chairs and went crazy. It was amazing. I had just witnessed my little league team take on the almighty Celtic and win. What a game. What a win. The players, well. They were running around the pitch in drugged euphoria. THEY had just beaten the almighty Celtic. It was a day to remember. A day they went down in history and a day that will never be forgotten.
We stayed to watch our team pick up the cup. We watched Celtic as they sheepishly took their runners-up medals and made a beeline for the exit. We watched their fans get up and go home. Some stayed, though. Some stayed to watch their players pick up their medals. And they watched ours too. They cheered ours for the great performance they gave. And a couple of Celtic supporters stopped us on the way back to our bus. They told us what a great wee team we had. That we played a great game. I’ve always liked Celtic, and their supporters. They always commend a great game. Or the one’s I’ve met anyway.
The bus journey home was amazing. We made sure that we passed Dunfermline, and again, waved our flags and jeered at everyone we passed. But the town was empty. No-one to be seen. Or if anyone was out I doubt they liked football. We shouted out the window. It was a good laugh. Time to go home. Time to start school tomorrow.
The following day was amazing too. The few that went to our school that were Raith Rovers supporters had their fill. It was surprising really. Most people in the School came from around the area yet most were Celtic or Rangers fans. I can’t make any sense of that. It had been a tradition for many years to support your local team. But when winning became fashionable and football was more about money than football, teams began to gain wider support. Especially the first league teams. They could sell their merchandise far and wide. Of course, they want you to support them. Yet even after a near treble win that year, I doubt Raith gained much more support. Not when Rangers and Celtic still controlled the market. The big dogs as we called them called the shots. But we took them to town that day. Took them to the cleaners.
It was the day that we were dancing in the streets of Raith.