A Pot Of Tea And A Spoonful Of Magic #Shankly100

Posted by royhendo on August 4, 2013, 10:20:44 AM

Your mum, she finishes your story and tucks you in, and she kisses you good night, and you ask her, "Mum, will Dad be home in time tonight?", but he's been working all day, and the greyhounds are on tonight, but maybe... (yawn), maybe he'll come in, and maybe talk about his work, and the dugs, and maybe talk about the football. Sometimes you get to stay up late, way past your bed time. And sometimes you'll talk about the football. About the team.

The new centre forward, maybe he knows about him. Mum, she knows about him.

You fidget in your jammies, the quilt itchy under your chin. You kick your toes out to the bottom of the bed, to the corners. Mum, she does the corners so tight you feel like your legs are roped to the bed. So you kick, and the quilt comes loose. Mostly it's freezing in Dunfermline, but it's summer this week.

And your thoughts turn to your heroes, to the Scottish Cup Final you were too young to know about, before Big Jock moved to the Celtic, and you sigh. And you think about those players you never saw, and the ones that play for Scotland, the ones down in England your Dad tells you about. And you think about how Big Jock could have won the European Cup with the Pars if he'd stayed. We were just as good as the Celtic.

And dreams come.

But then your Dad, he's tugging at the collar of your jammies. What time is it? He smells... of tea. And it's noisy downstairs. Are they having a party? What time is it? And your Dad, he says, "Wake up, Son. I've got a surprise for you."

And you're up, and in a dreamy haze, you tottle down the stairs behind your father, and there, sat at the kitchen table decanting another steaming pot of tea, sit Jock Stein and Bill Shankly. And your mother. And as if in a dream, all those people and players you've heard about in legend, all those men your father talks about in hushed, reverential tones, come home to you, sat at a kitchen table here in Dunfermline, in the Kingdom of Fife. Two Titans of the game, casting a spell with stories of McNeill and Johnstone, Yeats and St John, as if they too were sat at your table, within your grasp, as real as the sugar bowl in front of you.

Sometimes in life, your dreams reach out and touch you. You'll be sleepwalking along, shuffling from pillar to post, and the next thing you know, your heroes are in your midst, and you realise that they're human too. Real people you can talk to, and touch, and aspire to being in the playground, and in life.

This little boy we've just met, he's no Pinnochio. He's real. A decade or so ago, he worked the East Coast main line between London Kings Cross and Aberdeen, decanting tea of his own from the buffet car. Maybe he still does. I never caught his name. That weekend saw me sat next the window at a table a few yards from the buffet car, tin of Stella on the go, immersed in a dream of my own, half way through the joy that was Archie MacPherson's biography of Jock Stein. In a peculiar moment I wondered why, given a near empty train (there tends to be an exodus north of Edinburgh after 9pm), someone would want to park themselves right next to me. And then I turned round, and there was the fella from the buffet car. I'm thinking, 'Aye aye, what's going on here?'
 
And he says, "Great book that. I knew the big man you know."

He said he'd clocked the book around Newcastle and fought the urge to come over and speak for a good hour and a half. It turned out he'd been a lifelong Dunfermline fan, and that his mum worked at the club. Stein had enjoyed some nascent managerial success there, and they'd become firm friends. And as luck would have it, with his father and the great man sharing a love of the greyhounds, the family's friendship with Stein persisted beyond his move to Celtic, and for the rest of their days. And naturally, that friendship extended its reach further south, since Stein had something of a sporting soul mate in Merseyside at the time. Thus this became a regular occurrence  The late night boots up the motorway, the fresh brewed pots of steaming hot tea, and the marathon football and dugs-related chatter.

Still in short trousers at the time, he said it was the best moment of his life. It's magical, that. It's the essence of the game, crystallised into its purest form.

And it's something that never really leaves you. I met Chris Lawler a year or two back, and though he'd played a generation before I'd been to a game, the experience still left me star struck. A great man, with time to greet an ordinary thirty something man like me as if I were his equal. Isn't that something? A moment that'll stay with me for the rest of my days.

There's a reason the game is what it is. Over the generations, it's propelled ordinary men to God-like status, but for the most part, those men remained rooted in the community, while the community in turn retained the firmest faith in them (for the most part at least). Until recently, anyway. It's far too easy to forget all that. Take me, for example. I'm one of those who, while brought up in that parochial spirit, gets carried away with talk of high lines, and the need to compress space in midfield, and how we need to break opposing lines from the back. Blah blah blah. It's easy to forget that in amongst the stats, the duels won, and the pass completion rates, lies the reason the game is what it is to us all.
 
Inside we're all just like that little lad in the 1960s, fast asleep in his bed in Dunfermline, dreaming of his heroes.

We complain about players once having rode the bus to the ground, where now they sit behind tinted glass in executive supercars, all mirrored shades and moisturisers. We complain of how, with the loss of every Carragher, the ties that bind the game to the people become that little less secure.
 
We shake our fists in moral outrage at the divers, and the spitters, and lest we forget, the biters. And we point at the authorities, who long since forgot (if they ever truly knew) the why of the game, their whole house of cards riddled with rot and corruption from root to fruit. And it all gets a little bit jaded. You look at your own kids, and you wonder why they ought to waste the best part of their lives devoted to this shower of shite.
 
But then, even with all the money, and the ticket prices, and the marquee final shifts to TV friendly prime time slots, the odd moment pops along that touches you. You'll meet Brendan Rodgers on his holidays in Marbella. Or you'll meet Momo in the Asda. Or Luis Suarez will defy the laws of physics and round Tim Krul for the kind of equaliser that takes your breath away, and boggles the mind.
 
And for that fleeting moment, you'll feel like that kid again.

The game's about magic. And no matter how hard they try, they'll never kill that off. Not completely.

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