Whilst a world record attendance for a fourth-tier football match - Rangers vs East Stirlingshire - was being set at Ibrox on a sweltering afternoon in August last year, the KSG were Ruislip-bound for Wealdstone vs Met Police. On the tube train from Ealing Common, plans were formulated to visit Scotland twice in the first half of 2013: Inverness in early May (for Elgin City vs the Shire) and, before that, Glasgow at the beginning of March (for the repeat of the aforementioned Rangers fixture). The trips were fully booked (flights, hotels, trains etc.) before 2012 was out.
Anyone bemused, at this point, about our apparent affection for the Shire should read Jeff Connor's 'Pointless' and/ or this previous blog post ... or simply enjoy/ endure (delete as appropriate ... but if it is the latter, then you probably shouldn't be reading this blog!) the following video:
Furthermore, anyone who has a decidedly dismissive stance on the desirability of Glasgow as a 'city break' destination should think again. Although the film was set in Edinburgh, the scene in Trainspotting that shows Begbie nonchalantly throwing a glass over his head to kick-off a bar room brawl - much to his mates' 'here-we-go-again' dismay - was apparently filmed in a pub, close to Partick Thistle's ground, in the Maryhill area of Glasgow. Apt, bearing in mind it was that particular scene which perhaps best encapsulated my (slight) apprehension ahead of our visit. What rubbish! As my wife, friends, and colleagues are now likely sick of hearing, I love Glasgow. It was far better than I expected and preferable, IMO, to Birmingham, Cardiff, Dublin, Liverpool, and all other major British (and Irish) cities that I have visited in recent (and not-so-recent) years.
Although, like anywhere, Scotland's largest settlement clearly has it's undesirables (places, as well as people), it is also home to a bustling financial district, numerous top-notch watering holes (both of the 'traditional pub' and 'trendy wine bar' variety), swanky restaurants, 'yer actual culture innit' art galleries and museums, historic architecture and, perhaps most significantly, friendly locals. I've seen Braveheart (or parts of it, at least) and have my fair share of SNP-supporting Scottish pals, but I personally think it would be a real shame if our north-of-the-border cousins were to vote for independence on 18th September 2014.
Anyway, that's (more than) enough politics. Let's concentrate on the
^^^ Macleod (M) and I enjoyed our first pints shortly after 7AM on the Friday morning, ahead of our Easyjet flight from Luton to Glasgow International; Macleod (C) would be meeting us in the city centre, after flying to Prestwick from Dublin. There was a scare, in the days leading up to the weekend, when we belatedly discovered that the match was all-ticket and we needed to purchase ours - for the away end - directly from East Stirlingshire FC! I was busy checking train times from Glasgow to Falkirk, ahead of a possible visit to the Shire Shop in Bainsford, before Macleod (M) called the telephone number on the Shire website and was able to secure three £17.00 tickets after a pleasant conversation and simple debit card transaction ... with none other than their Chairman! (He's originally from Brighton and a thoroughly nice bloke, by all accounts.)
^^^ This was my first visit to Luton airport since my mate Alex's stag do in 2010 ... when he was able to walk through a body scanner without being asked to remove his Kevin Keegan - we were en route to Hamburg - wig! The airport has deteriorated noticeably in the intervening years and, IMO, is now looking rather shabby. Every other flight seemed to be to/ from Poland or Romania. Indeed, the very first public information sign we encountered - concerning, I think, items allowed in your hand luggage - had instructions in Polish ... and that was it!
^^^ Typically, our flight was delayed; by about an hour. Macleod (M)'s expression, above, sums things up rather nicely. We spent the unwelcome wait supping tasteless, overpriced alcohol while digesting the breaking news of Alex Wall's transfer to - rather aptly - Luton Town.
^^^ After a flight lasting less than an hour, and then a short bus ride into the city, we met with Macleod (C) close to Glasgow Central train station. We would begin the walk to our hotel by crossing a dirty-looking River Clyde. Glasgow's South Side was as I expected it to be; preconceptions based largely on repeated viewings of Rab C. Nesbitt. During our meandering, twenty-minute stroll - with balmy sunshine throughout - we would 'tick off' the following ...
^^^ Several 'interesting' looking pubs (this one was called the Sou'wester)
^^^ More than one dumped mattress
^^^ Some bizarre - and/ or bizarrely-named - shops
^^^ Bingo hall
^^^ And, finally, the Ibis Budget ... in all of it's 'few floors atop a multi-storey car-park' glory!
^^^ Our room was, as you might have already surmised, rather cheap and (not particularly) cheerful. Still, while there may not have been room to swing a cat, there was (just about) enough space to hang the MUFC saltire.
^^^ After dropping our bags and heading straight out we spent an age walking around the locality - initially - and then the financial district, trying to find somewhere still serving a fry-up (it was, admittedly, early afternoon by now but we didn't think that Scotland would be bereft of establishments selling heart attack-inducing grub). Eventually Macleod (M) pointed out a small sandwich shop/ café which Macleod (C) and I, walking ahead, had missed (we were moving away from hunger, at this point, and onto thirst). Thankfully, the food was as good as the service; the black pudding alone worth the trek.
^^^ There was some debate, post-food, as what to do next. Macleod (M) eventually - and perhaps sensibly - persuaded Macleod (C) and I that spending the entire afternoon in a pub would be a mistake. As such, we headed back to Glasgow Central and got the train to the suburb of Mount Florida - home, once upon a time, to Creation Records' Alan McGee and Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie ... and, presently, the Hampden stadium(s).
^^^ Lesser Hampden
^^^ As Macleod (C) and I enjoyed the sunshine, Macleod (M) disappeared inside the (main) stadium building. He'd gone to ask after his cousin, Macleod (K), Commercial Director at the Scottish FA ... and, it transpired, just about to finish a meeting. The latter - a neatly-bearded, younger, slightly-thinner, more trendily-attired version of the former - would
drag very kindly invite us into the Scottish Football Museum. While the cousins caught up with family news, Macleod (C) and I browsed the various exhibits ...
^^^ Macleod (C) making sure to wind-up his Celtic-loving colleagues in Dublin. Good man!
^^^ Badges belonging to Alex James (the legendary Arsenal one, not the cheese-making Fat Les one)
^^^ The Shire!
^^^ The Thistle!
^^^ Cartoon homage to the Tartan Army
^^^ To borrow a subsequent quip from Craig on Facebook: "Sadly, of this group, Macleod (C) has the most chance of playing for Scotland in the future"
^^^ After bidding a fond farewell to Macleod (K), we crossed firmly into ground-hopper territory: visiting - with the aid of GPS and following a short walk - Cathkin Park (now a municipal park but once home to Third Lanark, winners of the Scottish Football League in 1903/04)
^^^ The derelict terraces, surrounded by woodland, reminded me of the Adolf-Jäger-Kampfbahn in Altona, Hamburg
^^^ You could smell the history of the place (or was that the sweat coming from the school rugby team, training nearby?!). Tiredness - thanks to busy working weeks and the early start - began to kick-in as we waited for the return train to the city centre. Headaches were worsened by pints in the stuffy Toby Jug pub on Hope Street. We promptly relocated to the nearby Horseshoe Bar, equally packed but infinitely better. Here the drink and conversation flowed, as Wolves drew with Watford on TV. Batteries re-charged - at least to an extent - we then caught a taxi to Ashton Lane, as recommended by Macleod (K). After enjoying - to varying degrees - the bars on this cobbled street, we tried and failed to find a club on the otherwise busy Byres Road. Instead we would catch another taxi, this time back into the city centre. The driver was instructed to take us to an unpretentious nightspot. Cue an unnecessarily-large quantity of a stupid-coloured drink called K2 (a poor man's VK, basically) - and some decidedly dodgy dance moves from yours truly - in the best-avoided Jumpin' Jacks on Sauchiehall Street ...
^^^ The blue one was banana flavoured, believe it or not, and tasted as bad as you would think (not that it stopped me)
^^^ "That's him!"
^^^ Who doesn't like a 'commercial chart, pop and RnB mash-up' on a Friday night?! Me, seemingly ...
^^^ Saturday morning. Breakfast pies ahead of the thirty-minute walk, along Paisley Road West, for the midday kick-off at Ibrox Stadium.
^^^ This stall, immediately outside Ibrox library, was one of many en route selling flags, pin badges and other paraphernalia. We bought a - deliberately hideous - scarf for the Anchor mural, later handed to Landlord Joe with strict instructions that it be hung right next to the Celtic one. I wonder how long it will last ... :-)
^^^ The Big House
^^^ Impressive brickwork. Stand design by Archibald Leitch.
^^^ As is now typical of a KSG away day, those in fluorescent yellow jackets were never far from the scene
^^^ More pies, this time Scotch pies, in a far-from-packed away end. My response, to Macleod (M)'s insistence that I try one, was "It's just a meat pie, isn't it? Surely it can't be that special," and I now fully appreciate the extent of my foolishness! No beer sold, incidentally - even in areas without sight of the pitch - as this is apparently forbidden at football league grounds in Scotland.
^^^ Sprinklers watered the surface - good news for the Shire, famed for their sexy brand of football ;-) As expected, Rangers dominated possession from the off. They spurned a couple of easy chances to get an early goal, however, and the Shire soon settled down (their two centre halves - one of whom resembled Leigh Henry ... after a lifetime spent eating Scotch pies - and Willie Turner-esque keeper all, thankfully, improving after decidedly shaky starts). Remarkably, as half-time approached, it was the Shire who opened the scoring ...
^^^ Cue appropriately delirious celebrations from the small but raucous travelling support, particularly the hardcore to our immediate left ...
^^^ Smiles all round for the KSG ...
^^^ And an open-mouthed Macleod (M), as the Shire lead at the interval!
^^^ Rangers were loudly booed off at half-time but three goals in a ten-minute or so spell, around the hour mark, meant that sections of the the home crowd could once again concentrate on attempting to incite the Shire fans, and chant at pre-planned points throughout the game to celebrate past players (Sandy Jardine - on pitch, pre-match, after apparently making progress fighting various cancers) and past glories (54 league titles, 9 in a row etc., etc.). The Shire players certainly deserved their applause, though, at the end.
^^^ Legendary cheerleader Mad Bill - previously referred to by us as Dave McSweeney and 'as featured' in Daniel Gray's Stramash - was, I'm sure, 'prood' of both the players and the fans. The latter were - as at Berwick - good-natured, passionate, self-deprecating and vocal. As well as the more familiar bursts of 'Shire Pirey' and 'Let's get naked for the Shire', there were also renditions of other, lengthier ditties - a la 'Soggy Sombrero' - two of which were particularly memorable. One - to the tune of 'Summer Holiday' - contained the line "We're all going on a magic mushroom trip ... to sunny Coatbridge" while the other featured the bellowed refrain "EASE UP SHIRE!" Overall, a mightily impressive repertoire.
At the final whistle Macleod (M) chatted, briefly, with a couple of the hardcore group and - after mentioning that we would be attending the game at Elgin in May - we were invited to join them for a post-match drink. Unfortunately, we were then separated from them while navigating the thronged masses outside Ibrox subway station and - not knowing where they were headed - instead decided to return to the hotel, drop off the flag (and the newly-purchased scarf), and freshen up ahead of another night on the tiles.
^^^ Back into the city centre; we passed through a rarefied area of decent mobile phone reception, enabling me to observe the above tweet. After a visit to the bookies, to place our 'goal rush' predictions, we settled down in a dingy Irish boozer - on St Vincent Street - called Fáilte (crucially, the first pub that we had come across showing Soccer Saturday). As Bristol Rovers comfortably defeated third-placed Burton Albion - my accumulator was ruined by Torquay's goal-less draw at Accrington Stanley - and MUFC conspired to lose - by the odd goal in five - to an injury-time Welling winner, we wiled away a couple of hours. I thoroughly enjoyed myself in here, although I'm sure this had much to do with the company and the Guinness, as opposed to the rather bleak surroundings.
Next up was the small but busy Max's Bar on Queen Street. Exotic lager on tap - including Caesar Augustus, St Mungo, and Fürstenberg - scrumptious-looking burgers (which, unlike the lagers, we didn't try), and beautiful people. Good choice then! Here we would meet with sometime Maidenhead United fan and full-time Partick Thistle fan Paddy - and friend - fresh from the Jags 4-0 win at Dunfermline. We would also be joined by Ali, a Hearts fan living in Glasgow who had seen the Jambos lose 2-1 at home to Motherwell that afternoon and has, in the past, also been to the odd Maidenhead game. After an hour or so we would split into two groups: Macleod (M), Paddy and friend heading off to see The Stranglers at the local O2 Academy; Macleod (C), Ali and me walking around the corner to the lively Auctioneers.
^^^ As per above - and to be expected - I was suitably refreshed when Macleod (M) re-joined us after the gig. Ali headed for home ... albeit only after kindly pointing us in the direction of Reflex 80s Bar. Macleod (C) and I had our hearts set ...
^^^ Uh, oh, we're in trouble ...
^^^ Cue the usual tomfoolery ...
^^^ And more dancefloor-clearing shapes
^^^ The morning after the night before!
Our hotel room had two entry cards. Macleod (M) had one. Macleod (C) had the other. Macleod (M) left Reflex earlier than us and got a taxi back. Macleod (C) and I left the nightclub together, but got separated after I wondered off - not for the first time - in search of a kebab shop. I'm somewhat surprised, in all honesty, that I found the hotel. The major problem, though, was that I didn't have an entry card ... nor did I know our room number! (Again, not for the first time.)
I had arrived back at the Ibis Budget with a large, mixed-sex group of Glaswegian twenty-somethings ... who then proceeded to instigate a wild, multi-room party on one of the floors of the hotel! It was reminiscent of a scene from a Wild West movie or, more pertinently, an episode of Kavos Uncovered. When the night receptionist turned up ,he took one look at the carnage and threw me - a (relatively) innocent bystander, caught in the crossfire - out!
Members of the group, smoking outside the hotel, would help me re-gain entry ... only for the same night receptionist to catch up with me again. This time he marched me to the front desk and asked my name before pressing a button which, I'm told, turned on the lights AND the TV in our room and woke up the - unsurprisingly bewildered - Macleods. I spoke on the phone to Macleod (C), at this point, but I was rather exasperated and incoherent. As such, it wasn't until 9AM that I made it to bed and the above photo was taken. #notbignotclever
^^^ Despite only a couple of hours sleep, though, I was perfectly fine and dandy the next morning as we frequented another Irish pub: the labyrinthine Waxy O'Connors ...
^^^ Yeah, right!
Birmingham 2008, Truro 2011, Glasgow 2013.
The rest of the day was a struggle (not helped by the discovery that Arsenal had, during our flight back to Luton, lost the North London derby ... thanks largely to sloppy defending that would've put Maidenhead United to shame). The next day - which, thankfully, I had off - wasn't much better either (not helped by the discovery that my BT Vision box had failed to record - fully - the live ESPN coverage of the match that we'd attended). Still, at least we had the memory of this moment:
The Shire are havin' a party ... and Stenny have gone to bed!
(Or are, at least, 'resting' on a park bench.)
Bring on Elgin.