Monday, 17 March 2014


By Bryan Cooney

THE ascent to Area 410, Row N, Seat 12 of Celtic Park’s North stand Upper might have been acceptable to a man possessing not only the lung power of a Chris Bonnington but his mountaineering pedigree.

This old guy, without having the benefit of either, was consequently looking for an oxygen tent only a couple of minutes into the climb. The compensatory factor was reaching the summit and finding himself besieged by a red and white bedlam.

Two important points were proved. Firstly, 43,000 Aberdeen fans, 150 miles from home, were demonstrating that if Scottish football is close to self immolation, then the North-east obituarists have yet to be notified.

And secondly, joy of joy, those roistering, raucous, rambunctious fans seemed intent on ridiculing the indictment that they suffer badly from inhibition and indeed are dedicated rustlers of sweetie papers.

Hey, legendary producer Phil Spector once nurtured what was described as the Wall of Sound, an impenetrable, multi-layered onslaught of orchestra-inspired music that monopolised the senses and the pop charts in the early 60s.

He should have been in the East End of Glasgow on Sunday afternoon to record something that came very close to his concept of noise. This was one that steamrollered the senses; one that you could almost touch; one that made you inordinately proud to be an Aberdonian.

Now, I have pursued the fortunes of this wildly idiosyncratic team for 65 years. I have never heard anything like this before - even on a night of Pittodrie mayhem which I shall come to in due course.

Suddenly, all supporter sacrifice made sense. The myriad tears, disappointments and disaffections were forgiven and forgotten. And this, you should note, was before the League Cup Final between the Dons and Inverness CT had even begun.

My youngest son had kindly bought the tickets for this match and wouldn’t accept payment. The largesse extended to a pie and a soft drink. Was this his way of repaying me for introducing him to Aberdeen FC at a fairly early age?

But let’s go back to those 65 years: if this promised to be an occasion for nostalgia, I determined to indulge myself. I remembered the 1949 day my dad took me to Pittodrie for the first time.

Soon, he was wishing he hadn’t troubled himself. How do you constrict the conduct of a venturesome four-year-old who was fascinated by everything aside from the football?

I heard Dad complaining about someone fiddling. I began looking around, perhaps expecting to see a string quartet of string violinists in the immediate vicinity.

My father became agitated, possibly because of the home team’s shortcomings, most probably because of my finite attention span, and soon he’d had enough. He grabbed my hand and marched me down the stairs of the main stand. As far as I know, he never called in at Pittodrie again.

But sometimes it takes only one visit to be infected with the football virus. And so, when age permitted, I became a Pittodrie regular. I began to identify heroes and there was not a fiddler among them.

Their names adorned my autograph book: Jackie Hather, of the double shuffle, Paddy Buckley, Harry Yorston and ultimately Graham Leggat. They won the First Division championship in 1954-55 with a manager called Dave Halliday. They added a League Cup victory a year later with a new man at the tiller: Davie Shaw.

In spite of this success, we were destined for the football boondocks. This didn’t deter a few young men from Aberdeen Academy. Guys like Ivor Finnie, Gordon Donald, John Dingwall and I decided we would join the official supporters’ club, which comprised a handful of men from another generation and a couple of highly emancipated women.

The chairman, a lovely yet intensely garrulous guy, had a serious speech impediment and if you were in the front row at a meeting, you had to duck, bob and weave, like a professional boxer, to avoid taking direct hits from his saliva.

You required dedication to be in our small gang. Our red army didn’t even constitute a platoon as it made its way all over Scotland kitted out in red and white caps and scarves. We even bought ourselves blazers and badges at a later, more sophisticated, date.

Campbells, of Bon Accord Square, provided our transport and, normally, one bus was sufficient for our needs. Our travels were not without incident, however: we left Ibrox one year with a hail of stones bouncing off the framework of the bus; we retreated from Kirkcaldy severely depleted of our numbers. 

A Cup defeat proved unpalatable; the local police unforgiving.
On another Cup adventure, this time under the managerial stewardship of Eddie Turnbull, we took a respectable following to Easter Road, and only a last-minute equaliser secured us a replay at Pittodrie.

By now, I was working in the Press & Journal editorial but was granted a night off. I squeezed myself into the Merkland Road end as 44,000 rolled up that Wednesday evening.

The crowd groaned collectively as it was announced that the pugnacious Ernie Winchester would be playing. They changed their minds when he scored twice.

Winchester, who died only last year, was an inspiration, but not as far as Hibs centre half John Madsen was concerned. He later informed anyone who would listen: “Tonight I met a madman!”

But pay attention, if you will, to that figure of 44,000 on a hysterical night in March of 1967. It brings me back to the hysteria of Sunday and the pretty surreal fact that 43,000 of my ain folk had converged on Glasgow to ostensibly take over the city.

The football game began, but to call it a game is taking a liberty with the English language. Thankfully, as far as this person was concerned, it was over fairly quickly, not of course before nails had been gnawed to the bone and penalties had been missed (by Inverness) and converted (by my heroes).

But as we prepared to leave Celtic Park, my eyes were drawn to the seats immediately in front of us and a little boy clad, like his father, in red. He was bright-eyed and pumped full of mischief, sticking his tongue out at anyone who looked his way.

It was pretty obvious that he hadn’t been paying a blind bit of notice to what was going on down on the pitch. What a good judge he had been!

He can be forgiven. Perhaps this was his first football match. His initiation. Play was so puerile that perhaps he was looking for a fiddler in the roof the stand, just to take the edge off the boredom.

There again, maybe, just maybe, he’d caught the virus that makes professional football so compulsory - the one that infected me 65 years ago. I wondered whether he’d still be supporting his team in the year 2079.

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