WALKING ALONE

I lost my Dad last week. The man who was the inspiration behind everything I did and who instilled in me the socialist, working class values I have tried to live by to this day. As I’ve said, he was born and raised in ‘the Garngad’ which explains his, and my affiliation to supporting Celtic. It was a predominantly Catholic area and still is to this day; even more than that though, he was a football man. Like you and I, football and family were his life and many a weekend was planned around how we could get to and from wherever Celtic were playing. In those days he didn’t drive and very often he’d be working weekends and it would be buses, trains and Shanks’ Pony to make sure he got a morning shift in, made the 3pm kick off and got back again in time for Sportscene. The years in the late ’70’s and early ’80’s spent bunging the bouncers on the door of The Wellie Boot pub in Aberdeen a couple of bob, so I could be sneaked in to stand in the corner to allow him and my Uncle John a well earned pint before yet another thrashing from a great Aberdeen side at Pittodrie. He was also the hardest man I ever met.

Honour

Supporters used to think that I was quite tough on the pitch, but that was something I created to allow me to make the grade, to cover up my inefficiencies if you like, but my Dad WAS hard. He was only 5ft 6in but what he lacked in stature he made up for in heart and presence. He ran with the Shamrock and, as a teenager, he would be involved in many scrapes. He’d have taken on anyone in one-to-one combat and try and manoeuvre situations to give himself the upper hand. As a player, I took a lot of those attributes into matches as I played against many, many players who were better than me, but I’d do everything possible to make sure they didn’t GET the better of me, and that was him all over. I’d be stepping on toes, tugging at jerseys and winding players up by whispering in their ear that the next time they took more than two seconds with the ball, I’d be there, ready to make sure they didn’t do it again. Growing up in Royston, my Dad had to use all those tricks and more, to keep on top of HIS hard man reputation. Their main rivals were from Blackhill (and not as was to become the norm in MY teenage years, The Monks) and this time the leader of the Blackhill gang had challenged him to a ‘square go,’ a Glasgow term for a fist fight, no weapons, one-on-one. This also meant meeting on common ground, in an open space so you could see that your rival didn’t have anyone else with him as back up when he was getting a pasting.

The honourable way to do things was the only way my father would have been capable of as anything other than him turning up with just his Stetson for company would have been an affront to his status. Their top man wouldn’t come to the Garngad, so my Dad, being the man he was, went to Blackhill. He stiffened as he approached the spare ground and went hammer and tongs. My old man started to get the better of him as they rolled onto the spare ground and his enemy took blow after blow before my old man noticed, through a gap in the spread-eagled combatant’s legs, that this Blackhill hard man wasn’t quite the honourable foe he had envisaged.

The bastard had arranged for his cohorts to finish what he couldn’t, as he could see a crowd of the Blackhill team gathering like buzzards around a carcass. My Dad got one last punch in before rolling over and curling up to allow the bold boy a few sly digs at his now sprawling rival. My old man, lying motionless, had feigned taking a beating from one, rather than a hammering from six. They stood over him pointing and screaming “piss off and don’t come back to Blackhill” and as the cowards came walking over they embraced, taking their plaudits and fawning each other in equal portions.
As they were now about 10 yards away, my Dad squinted, opened an eye and seized the opportunity to get one last dig at his apparent conquerors. He jumped up and, as the Blackhill mob turned to have one last gloat, they witnessed the miracle of Lazarus proportions as he arose unscathed, other than some dusty marks on his clothes, and with outstretched arms ‘Broonie style’ proclaiming, “SHAMROCK!!!” He told me at that point he had no fear of being caught as, unlike my stealthy athletic prowess, he was very quick on his feet. He turned and ran, but made sure he was only just quick enough to keep them a few yards away whilst turning and taunting them with profanities and hand signals all the way to Germiston, the border between the Garngad and Blackhill that represented safe ground for the Shamrock and with that, the Blackhill mob turned and beat a hasty, broken retreat after both a physical AND mental beating.

Their leader wasn’t to be so lucky the next time he ‘bumped’ into my Dad though, as unfortunately for him, there was no set-up and no baying mob hiding round the corner to save him. I’d have loved to have seen that one…

Lesson

His principles were unrivalled; he would drum into us how to look after people, that you were to be honest and to treat people the right way. He didn’t have to tell us the difference between good and bad, or right and wrong, we just had to look at him, or listen to him, as an example. I remember sitting in the living room one night watching the highlights of a Celtic game on Sportscene. It wasn’t long after I had signed for Hibs and as a new professional I had started to pick up some of the little things from the older pro’s, the tricks of the trade. The sneaky, ugly, dishonest side of the game that we only ever pay lip service to. I could intimidate and manipulate situations with the best of them, but I wasn’t a cheat, although I was about to show, from my reaction to an incident on TV, that my principles would be tested to the limit in the professional game – but not if my Dad could help it.

Paul McStay took a pass and strode elegantly past the first defender and, as the next one came across to challenge, Paul managed to nick it from his dangling, outstretched leg. It was as clear a penalty as you’d ever see, proven and enhanced by one, single replay (as was the case back then) or at least it would have been had Paul gone over the centre half’s leg and made sure there was contact. But McStay being the man he was, skipped over it and in doing so, lost his balance just long enough for him to lose control and the ball ran harmlessly into the goalkeeper’s arms.

“What’s he doing?” I said.

He sat up, startled and a bit miffed at the same time because you didn’t interrupt my Dad in the middle of the football, least of all a Celtic game.

“He should have gone over his leg, made sure he got clattered and got the penalty.”

“What?” he said.

His tone and manner led me to believe he wasn’t happy, but I ventured further, hoping he hadn’t understood the technicalities of my assertion. I explained further…

“He should have bought the penalty, the defender left his leg there and gave him the chance….”

My explanation was brought to an abrupt end;

“Don’t ever let me hear you saying anything like that again…BOUGHT the penalty!!!”

I was severely chastised, in fact he slaughtered me. He was immensely proud of the fact I was a professional footballer, but would only continue to be if I done things the right way. At that moment, my mind drifted back to his ‘square go’ in Blackhill. You didn’t fake death unless you feared for your life, and diving or ‘buying’ a penalty certainly didn’t constitute that. It was a lesson learned in morality and integrity, attributes that are all too often lost in the clamour to succeed, particularly in football. I was as driven as anyone to be a professional footballer, but I wouldn’t sacrifice my principles to get there. James Patrick Farrell wouldn’t have let me.

Finally… Looking back on my predictions from one of my earliest blogs, I tipped Celtic, Rangers, Morton and East Fife to win their respective Championships. Two winners and two in the play-offs wouldn’t constitute the worst results ever tipped by anyone’s standards, but for those still in the mix, promotion is still a long way off. In the Championship in particular, the prospect of another SIX games will not be something an already tired looking Rangers will be looking forward to and for me, the team coming down from SPFL would have to be favourites on that alone. If Hibs can beat Rangers in the second play-off, momentum could well be enough to give them a real chance of promotion, but for either, it will be very tough to overcome the slightly better quality of the team from the league above. In East Fife’s case, I think they have the experience to negotiate their way through after maintaining a good end of season run to get there. It remains to be seen of course, and come 31st of May, when the dust has settled, we’ll quickly be thinking about doing it all again next season. And that’s why we love it.

My first book – JOURNEYMAN: FOOTBALL FROM THE INSIDE is now available to pre-order from http://www.tecklebooks.co.uk All pre-orders before November release date will receive a signed copy and free delivery.

All material in this feature is the Intellectual Property of the author and as such may not be reproduced in print or for commercial gain without the prior permission of David Farrell

6 thoughts on “WALKING ALONE

  1. Jimmy was a good golfer too,long drives but never sorted that short game,his dedication to kidney research was wonderful any black bag for charity among my family was met with the words “that`s for Jimmy” even though most had not met him!!,Victoria G.C.have lost a great member.

    Like

    • Thank you for the kind words. Everyone’s messages and support have been a huge comfort to the family. He loved meeting up with you guys for his weekly ritual of mental golfing torture! It was great to see such a presence from the club at his funeral too. It was very much appreciated. Thanks again

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s