KILLIE HIPPO AN UNOFFICIAL KILLIE FANZINE COVID SPECIAL 2
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SHOOTING FROM THE HIPPO Welcome to the second “covid issue” of the fanzine and as always the most important thing is that you and your families are well during these unique times. We are all part of history in the making but it’s such a sad time for numerous families losing loved ones and not being able to attend their funerals in many cases. Without fear of contradiction the singular worst part of doing the Hippo is including obituaries as we lose members of the Killie family. Many of you will have known Paddy Lennon if you follow Killie home and away especially if you travelled with the Irvine Valley lads and lassies. Tragically Paddy passed away on 3rd June following a serious car accident and his passing has had a huge impact on his family, the Galston community and all his Killie chums. Over the years it seems that we have lost far too many Killie fans at a relatively young age and Paddy was only in his early 40’s……they do say the good die young. With the assistance of the club fans laid strips, scarves and Killie memorabilia at the main entrance of the main stand with so many folk wanting to pay tribute to a guy who did as much as anyone to get the East stand rocking at every home game. Rest in Peace Paddy and I know your Irvine Valley chums will make sure you are never forgotten….thanks to them for their touching tribute later in this issue. In footballing terms we are now in the close season although in reality it really started in the middle of March. Only in Scotland could there be so much controversy flying about the place even though no football is taking place Ever since the decision was made to award Celtic the title and relegate Hearts there has been a never ending stream of ideas being put up (mainly by Ann Budge). They are willing to do almost anything, even if it means totally restructuring the whole football landscape, to ensure they do not go down. My opinion is that we maybe could have tried a bit harder to ensure the season was completed once football is back however Hearts have been honking and Ann budge is at fault as she was the one who stuck with Levein even though the whole country could see he was destroying the club. It was not a hugely satisfactory way to end the season however someone was going to be unhappy whatever was decided so lets just accept the final decision and concentrate in ensuring all our clubs survive this mess. Covid has impacted on the whole country and even the fanzine industry haven’t escaped. With no fans to buy hard copies we have to accept that online issues are the future for as long fans can’t hit the pie huts. We’re delighted to be able to provide free online issues and that’s the plan for the new season unless there is a minor miracle. Whilst you read this issue can I ask that you pour yourself a wee bevvy and raise a glass to Paddy….cheers Sandy
HERE’S WHAT THE FANS CAN DO It’s been a bit of a nightmare doing articles for this issue simply because the issues surrounding Scottish football, mainly reconstruction and finance, are changing on a constant basis. I was going to do a bit on reconstruction but just as I started writing the latest Budge proposal was getting dumped (rightly so). Hot on the heels of that Sevco have thrown in their suggestion and it includes the thorny issue of colt teams. My gut reaction is that we shouldn’t be looking at knee jerk reconstruction in these mad times so I suspect nothing will change for now. It’s also the case that most of it has been driven by Hearts who are clearly doing whatever they can to cling on to their Premiership status. I fully understand their “salt and sauce” noses are out of joint with the way in which relegation was decided but would there have been the same hoohaa (made up word) if Hamilton, St Mirren or indeed Killie had been bottom…..I think not. It’s been a far from ideal conclusion to the season however Hearts have been honking for a few years due to mismanagement and a desire to hold on to Levein when he was clearly damaging the whole club…..so take your methadone sorry medicine and enjoy your trip to the Costa Del Arbroath in the middle of January. It’s a popular and traditional view that fanzines are a bit “anti establishment” and when parasites like Johnston are in charge then we are happy to play our part in doing what is best for the club. My best times as a Killie fan were during the Fleeting/Burns years when directors/management/players/fans were pulling in the same direction and that is exactly what is needed in the current climate. Covid has brought a sharp perspective to all our lives and the general feeling now is we will never take things for granted again……including our beloved football club.
The time is now for fans to do whatever we can firstly to help the club survive by providing and generating as much income as possible. This will allow the club to budget for the future, bring in new faces and help us be competitive in the league where we have taken up residence since 1993….a proud and truly fantastic achievement. There may be an announcement in the press tomorrow that will make us look dumb (no snide comments please) but here are how things stand as far as we can see. Premiership teams are hoping their first team squads will return to training although having listened to Professor Jason Leitch on radio yesterday that is by no means guaranteed. There is nothing definite for the other leagues although a few seem to think they may get something going around October time. As far as starting games the Premiership is talking about August 1st but please don’t take that as a definite as things can change very quickly especially if a second wave of the virus rears its ugly head. All the teams need to get their testing regimes sorted out, I think only Ross County and Celtic have invested in the necessary equipment at present. This will be far more of an issue to teams in the lower leagues however it’s going to cost thousands for every club and is another reason why fans need to dig deep if they possibly can. We’ll do an article in the next issue regarding our squad because as things stand it’s all up in the air….as it is for all clubs. We know Kiltie, McKenzie and Millen have signed on again but we need a good few more especially in the defensive areas where we are down to the bare bones. It’s very difficult for clubs to budget for the season when they are so unsure about the amount of income that will be coming in. The whole point of this article is to highlight the importance of financially supporting the club during these mad times. It goes without saying that many people are badly affected by this crisis and their whole focus will be looking after their family and trying to provide the basics. We totally understand, we are not judging anyone however many folk will still have disposable income and if you do here’s how you can help the club.
TRUST IN KILLIE The Killie Trust has been doing an amazing job during the Covid period both by supporting the club (thanks to the fans) and by working their backsides off to bring interviews, quizzes and lots of Killie related stuff to keep us all occupied. Their TIK initiative has been an outstanding success and normally they will look at projects e.g. safe standing, to help the club. Once this crisis kicked in the decision was taken to simply hand over the cash to the club each month and I believe the current monthly figure is around £7000. I normally contribute £25 a month however I’m in the fortunate position of being a key worker and so working all the way through and not losing any monthly cash. I’ve decided to increase my monthly donation by £50 which roughly covers two home games. This means I’m no worse off than I’d normally be in terms of cash…..I just don’t get to go to the actual game but that will eventually change. I’d ask all Killie fans, who are in a position to do so, to sign up to the Trust and donate via Trust in Killie……it helps the fans have a say and every penny goes to the club. VIRTUAL SEASON TICKETS It looks like there will be in the next week or so and the Hippo moles have been out in force to gather as much info as possible. My understanding is that the tickets will be priced roughly the same as a normal ST. This will give you access to watch all our home games plus it will include an agreed number of games that you can attend once crowds are allowed back in. It goes without saying that if you can afford it please buy a ticket as you normally would. This will give the club their usual upfront cash and will allow players to be brought in. Our moles at Hampden also assure us there will be an option to watch our away games by purchasing on a game by game basis e.g. if we are away at Aberdeen we will pay £?? To get access to ATV and see the game. This may well be am issue for our trophy-free local rivals however if they manage to install electricity in the coming months the problem will be averted.
MERCHANDISE If you have a quick swatcheroonie at the back page you will see the new strip and it looks like a belter. We are back to stripes with a new manufacturer with Killie daft John Gall putting in a huge amount of wonga to get Brownings on the front…..welcome back John. I used to buy the strip every year but I was getting to the age and weight where it looked a bit ropey if I wore a strip. It just reminded me of being in Spain and seeing fat obnoxious cockneys bouncing around the boozers wearing Spurs tops and just generally being fuds. However needs must this time around so I’ll be buying the strip this time and I’d ask every single Killie fan to do the same as the club now have the shop to themselves and will get all the profits. If you happen to see me in Tenerife in November stating about pubs and annoying folk feel free to crack me one on the hooter!! SHARES One other way to help the club on a one off basis is to buy shares in the club. This will allow you to get along to the club AGM every year and hear what is going on….sometimes. I believe they are still sold in blocks of 50 at £1 a share therefore minimum spend would be £50. If you want to help n this way contact the club direct and they will tell you how to complete your application. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> So there is how the fans can help and your financial assistance has never been more needed. There are no panic bells ringing at RP however every single club is affected to varying degrees and if we want the club to survive and be competitive then we have to play our part. Now is the time to step up and I hope many of you will buy your ST’s and also help via Trust in Killie. I’ll repeat that I fully understand that many good Killie folk will simply not be in a position to help. I hope you guys get through this historical period and you’re able to get back to the Theatre of Pies once normality returns…….cheers folks.
One Paddy Lennon ‘The King o Gawstin’ On the 3rd June we lost one of the nicest guys you could ever meet Paddy Lennon. Everyone who knew paddy whether it was through Killie games, Galston Youth FC, work etc. Would all say the same thing about Paddy he’s a one in a million and a “loveable rouge”. The wee man was well known for being a lifelong fan and going to the killie games, although he may not have been a big tall guy his voice could be heard through out the ground (sometimes even outside) he was always proud to go and cheer on the Killie. It’s no hidden fact that Paddy along with the rest of the IVSC and his partner in Crime Ali Calder liked a wee ‘sweet sherry’ before games to lubricate the vocal chords and get the party atmosphere started on the bus on the way to the ground and inside the ground. There are a million and one stories about Paddy that were honestly all comedy gold the wee man just loved to Bam folk up and get a wee laugh with everyone and would almost always end up on first name terms with everyone in the pub and in a round with them. We have really lost one of life’s great guys and he made so many people laugh and feel welcome and part of everything. Paddy will be sorely missed by everyone and Rugby Park will be that bit less energetic with the wee mans intoxicating personality and vocal support. Here’s to you Paddy boy you will be loved and missed from us all We will raise a wee “A bud bud bud bud bud bud.............wiiiiissssseeeeerrrrr” to ye >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Hippo says – The worst part of doing the fanzine is the inclusion of obituaries in tribute to one of the Killie family. We seem to have lost too many fans over the years and many of them far too young. In the case of Paddy he was still in his early 40’s and leaves behind wife Louise and kids Chloe and Kyle. Our heartfelt sympathies go out to them at this very sad time however I hope they are comforted by the many great times and memories they shared with the wee man….R.I.P. Paddy
It’s Football Jim But Not As We Know It Well no one expected the football season 19/20 to end like this. COVID19 took its toll on the UK with things coming to a head in March. We saw the last top flight league game in Scotland take place on Wednesday 11th March as St Mirren defeated Hearts 1-0 at St Mirren Park or as it’s supposedly known as, The Simple Digital Arena (calling it an arena is quite a reach). I can’t say I’ve been a regular at Rugby Park over the past few years (check out Killie Hippo No 195 - It’s a Fatherson Thing for the back story). I have spent the last year working with my “proper local team”, Kilwinning Rangers, as part of the club committee doing various things around media and marketing. I am also involved in a lower league football podcast called The Official Catch Up, which covers The Highland/Lowland League at Tier 5 and the South, East and newly formed West of Scotland Football League which sits at Tier 6/7 of Scottish Football. So I’ve been paying close attention to the discussions on things like league reconstruction, football when it returns and even football in the future, as hope our much loved game returns. (DISCLAIMER - These views are my own and in no way represent the views of Kilwinning Rangers or The Official Catch Up Podcast) League reconstruction is something that I think many fans have wanted to see for some time. From a fans point of view, we’d all agree that the currently 12-10-10-10 structure doesn’t give much in the way of excitement and it’s getting a bit stale. Killie will always be a flip-flop club which will flip between top 6 European places pushes and relegation dog fights playing against the same 10/11 clubs year on year with the occasional new club getting promoted to add a new away day to the calendar every so often. The 12-10-10-10 suits the agenda of having 4 Rangers vs Celtic games each year (for reference, The Old Firm derby died in 2012) and also Club 42 this season (Brechin City) who only have to play a playoff against the winner of the ‘pyramid playoff’ between the Highland and Lowland Champions (Brora Rangers and Kelty Hearts).
Leagues around the world have been going with a fixture of crowning champions on Points Per Game (PPG) or Null and Void with the top leagues in Europe looking to re-commence league matches to appease broadcasters and sponsors that provide the ££££ that keeps their game going and the eye watering transfers fees and wage demands that we now see in European Football. Crowning champions is all well and good and great for those clubs who are handed titles. There is absolutely a case for giving titles to teams who are out in a front; giving league wins to teams on a marginal basis, I am not so keen on. However, by crowning a champion, it should have repercussions with teams who are due to be relegated. It’s my view if you are deciding to crown a champion you have to be ok with deciding a team gets relegated. This is a bitter pill to swallow for any team who gets relegated with games left to play or similarly denied promotion to a higher division. Unfortunate for the likes of ICT, Dundee and our neighbours at The Piggery. They lose their chance at a playoff against Club 11 in the SPFL Premiership. Discussions about ending the season started and self interest and preservation becomes the order of the day. We had the Dundee voting debacle to kick things off, the Rangers Dossier (show us The Deeds!) to name a few sagas and that’s only involving the clubs in the Premiership/Championship. Reconstruction quickly comes to the table in order to save the likes of Hearts and Partick Thistle, who were due to be relegated and gives some of the teams fighting for playoffs a chance move up. Personally, the most important thing here is to make sure all clubs can come out the other side but instead, self interest takes over as I say and it became a mess and not surprisingly an embarrassment and not a ball has been kicked since March. What would I like to see? As a football fan I would love a radical 16-16-10 or maybe even something as bold that sees essentially the Premiership and Championship amalgamated into one 20 team Super league with a 38 game season 1 home and 1 away game, a couple of relegation spots and maybe even a playoff for Europe and a third relegation spot. Loads of new away grounds to visit, new teams coming to Rugby Park and potentially 6 teams promoted from the Tier 5 into either a Tier 3 or 4. Too bold and doesn’t suit the TV people and the need for 4 Rangers and Celtic games.
Realistically if reconstruction does come off it will likely be a 14-14-14, operating for 1-2 seasons in order to save Hearts. It’s no surprise they are pushing hard for this. As a fan, 14-14-14 doesn’t really have any big excitement. Dundee United and ICT would come up but it’s not going to get the juices flowing for us Killie fans. A 16 top tier would for sure, as Ayr being team 16. The potential for 2 guaranteed Ayrshire derbies a year would wet the appetite of any Killie fan, surely? We can live in hope but at the end of the day the ££££ will be chased and whatever works best financially will win the day. I’m all about looking after the many, not the few but we all know how the SPFL works; the rich will get richer and nothing will change. The same teams will challenge for titles and the same teams will be involved in relegation battles with the odd hope for a cup run or a euro spot for the majority in the top flight. Hopefully the SPFL see the light and allow Brora and Kelty their chance to get promoted. As it stands, all playoffs are cancelled and both teams look like they will be staying in Tier 5 for another season. Disappointing as sporting integrity and fairness are phrases that get banded around quite a bit right now and denying them their crack at the promotion is completely unfair. Looking ahead, normal football as we know it will be a long way away. Social Distancing measures will be required even if football does restart and I’m not sure how well this will actually translate. The talk of closed door matches I don’t think will work and definitely not at the lower end of Scottish Football. Clubs need to keep money coming in, in order to survive and a key part of that is season tickets and match day tickets. Many clubs, even in the top flight, are heavily reliant on this and social distancing will need to continue. This will affect the numbers of fans able to attend matches. Top flight clubs may well be able to adapt but at what cost? For example, they will need to upgrade or bring in Live streaming for home games. As it stands, UEFA rules dictate that streaming isn’t an option to your home fans. This will have to change in my opinion but how many clubs will be able to sustain a good Live Streaming service?
It will need a number of staff to be involved in an area which is currently carried out by a lot of clubs by volunteers with 1 or 2 people on the pay roll encompassing this type of work in a general media type role. Infrastructure will need to be put in place too with hi spec cameras and production software available in order to be able to make it appeal to those who would want to pay the money to watch their team via a Live Streaming service. Poor quality streaming will lead to refunds and lesser uptake and could cost clubs money. They will be able to look at ad revenue as a way of covering those costs for sure but it will be difficult to implement at lower leagues. You have some progressive clubs down the leagues who already embrace online content and they will be able to take it in their stride but for many it will be a new area; they will need to pick up fast or get left behind. Hospitality numbers will also be affected and Half time or 50/50 type draws. You might see an up turn in online shop purchases as the club has a potential to hit new audiences. Going back to Live Streaming and Killie, we are lucky to have a great media department, Scott, Chris and Gav have done a fantastic job with Killie TV and online content and I’m sure if we have to go down the route of Live Streaming, those guys will be able to scale up and be a shining example for other clubs around the league. I guess the next question is When? Will football be able to re-start in August? Potentially. However, teams will have to cut their cloth accordingly and squads will no doubt need to be thinner than ever. Will fans want to come back to football matches? Probably. One thing that Lockdown has highlighted is how important football is to people. It has a real community spirit and there will be a desire for some sort of football but big crowds on a Saturday might be something we will all think twice about. I wouldn’t fancy sitting in a 60k capacity Ibrox Stadium with a face mask on, that’s for sure. At the end of the day, it’s important to look out for one and other and Stay Safe. Football will be back when the country is ready. Armageddon was supposed to come before and we survived that. The Killie Boys all be back in town one day that I am sure of! Check out @OfficialCatchup Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Youtube and all other podcast streaming sites to hear more chat about league reconstruction and chat on the Highland and Lowland Leagues plus the West, East and South Football Leagues. Follow on twitter @OfficialCatchUp Ben a.k.a Killieboy (@MrBenGrant on Twitter)
Artificial Field Of Dreamers (writes David F. Ross) I’ve reached the age where I can now visualise a life beyond work. A time when I don’t have to drag my ageing arse back and forth along the M77 during congested, extended, soul-sapping rush hours. When I’m not at the beck and call of impatient clients or demanding deadlines. I can imagine all of this clearly. But I can’t conceive of the day when I’m not able to play football for an hour a week. There will be little that’s truly unique about the contents of this piece, beyond perhaps, my personal relationship to it. So many of us share this strange passion; this participation in weekly five-a-side games - or in our case, sevens - with other players we often know little or nothing about. Disparate groups of middle-aged men (or women, but rarely mixed) wearing the washed-out, tightly stretched jerseys of their heroes, or worse, their youth. Acting out dreams that originated in childhood. Scoring in a Cup Final, or perhaps more likely, a lucky last-minute toe-poke that wins an otherwise turgid match. There are opportunities here for all imaginations. And there’s nothing quite like it. Our experiences will be similar, but let’s test that theory, early doors: How many of us complain about an early start, despite kick-off having been that time for years? Our joints aching and creaking like the scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz before Dorothy rushes in with the oil-can. Out in all weathers, thanks to surfaces that get rethatched more often than Kris Boyd’s scalp. With a hat, gloves ... extra t-shirt layer, perhaps. All rich with the putrefied stench of sweat and Ralgex. Thankfully, the fashion for Under Armour tights was as brief as Brian Clough’s time at Leeds. Our car heaters are on full blast, offering an Alexei Mikhailichenko approach to the warm-ups.
The teams may change subtly, week to week, not dramatically. Steady Eddie is spotted in the shops at Silverburn with his wife when he’d complained of a debilitating cough. He’s dropped for a week. Bald Bobby, the bampot barber, gets the nod, after the man with the wee black book popped in for a #2 buzzcut the previous week. But he’s a bit too fond of the slide tackle, is Bobby. Eddie is quickly forgiven, and the natural order restores. Perceived abilities get matched in the prioritised order of the basic skills: moaning, running, passing, scoring. Everyone takes their turn as keeper, and tactics are often adjusted if the man between the posts is known to wear the gloves merely to keep his hands warm. A close game is applauded by everybody, but woe betide that week’s selectors if there’s any more than five goals in it. Sound familiar? I’m part of a squad of guys who play every Saturday morning in Kilmarnock. There are teachers, accountants, builders and a doctor; always a reassuring sight if middle-aged men get purple-faced with over exertion. There are some who work overseas and miss a week in every three. There are Killie fans, Ayr fans, a few fans of the Old Firm, and – judging by the replica strips – a Newcastle fan. And a couple who profess to prefer rugby. As the decades have passed, I’ve come to know more about them all although I still manage to get the first names mixed up on occasion. We’re all much better in our heads than we are on the pitch. Very few of our number played competitive football in their twenties. Their knees are in better shape than real footballers. Most of the guys who play regularly have passed the peak work strain of long hours in their 40’s. And for some, these were the years of over-eating and underexercising. With a bit more time on their hands they can now exercise more, and the standard, if not the quality, of Saturday morning football has remained enjoyably combative as a consequence. We are creatures of habit. Consistency is the thing; of date, of time, of pitch. Vary any of these and the equilibrium can be unsettled. One week, the pitch markings had been repainted. The curved goal area we had been accustomed to for years had gone, replaced by a rectangular box.
It took weeks to adjust to this minor change, such was the programmed mindset of those faced with it. It had a similar effect to Graeme Souness narrowing the Ibrox pitch in 1987 although in our case, both teams ended up equally confused and disadvantaged. That line, curved or rectangular, is the main bone of contention in sevens or fives. “Ye were over the line!” “Yer arse, ah was!” “Ye were a bloody mile inside the box!” Contrary statements yelled as regularly as the call and response at Ayr Gaiety during Panto season. All the glorious ridiculousness of football is here; present and correct in our partisan and one-sided view of the talking points from each game. Despite this, I could count the number of penalties I’ve seen accepted by both teams on the fingers of one hand. Maybe all football should be played without referees. It may yet become the only VAR-free football environment around in the seasons to come. And yet, this is the real spirit of football; the one that still prompts determinedly myopic pub arguments about controversial goals and missed sitters years after the incidents happened. Preferring to avoid even more argument, we ignore the head-height rule and play the game as it was intended. Consequently, headed goals are often the only ones outwardly celebrated, given their hen’s teeth rarity. There are few things in life funnier than observing a middle-aged man in ill-fitting shorts fall over with no-one near him, face planted in the turf, then rising with hundreds of tiny black rubber pellets studded into his dimpled forehead. This is a man who, in the footballing sense, has essentially fouled himself. We’ve all done it, and it happens far more regularly than we’d want our families to know.
Another painfully regular occurrence that draws widespread laughter - along with grudging admiration - is blocking a certain goal in the most painful way possible. Taking a dull one to the nuts is a footballing rite of passage. It’s just as well that for most of us, the creative usefulness of the lads is more limited than was perhaps once the case. Some opt for the light touch regarding tackle protection, or the protection of their tackle. Others pad and shinny-up like Robocop being sent in to quell a prison riot. There’s a place here for all of us. All shapes and sizes. The complex where we currently congregate is located behind a retail park on the edge of town. There are eight pitches of differing sizes. On Saturday mornings, they usually lie empty. Ours is often the only one being used. A few years ago there was a lively buzz. A full car-park and the repetitive sound of balls rattling off the boards. Young Killie, a fantastic organisation providing enthusiastic coaching and short-sided matches to energetic kids of all ages, was based here until Kilmarnock FC’s erstwhile chairman Michael Johnson trademarked the name ‘Killie’. The youngsters suffered as much as the creators of the town’s world-famous pies. Thankfully, a different ownership – for the football club, and the Soccer World complex – has prompted a tentative recovery for both organisations. The pitches are named after the legends of the game. Ours is the ‘Zidane’. Intended as an identity to inspire, the Frenchman’s achievements are pinned to the seven-metre high fenced surround that week-on-week fails lamentably to contain our shooting exuberance. Every regular fives/sevens game has an unsung hero; the one to whom the weekly responsibility of organisation falls. For us, that person is Gordon Kerr. “We started playing fives in 1992 at the Galleon Centre in Kilmarnock as a group of young unfit thirty-somethings. It began as a challenge thrown down over a few Stellas with a mate’s younger brother who played regularly. We played with them for a few Sunday evenings but the time, the venue and the opposition weren’t ideal.
A local impresario had recently built an outdoor AstroTurf fives complex in Townholm and we decided to give it a try. Andy Taylor brought in some teachers (you know … the guys with lots of time on their hands but organise nothing and complain about everything!) that he played with after school and we got a time for a Saturday morning.” “We played at Townholm for a few more years but the place was falling apart,” says Gordon. “Nails protruding from the side panels, torn surfaces, lack of sand and freezing cold showers with little water pressure. Our Saturday was in danger of imploding. The nearest suitable complex was Johnny Hubbard’s place in Whitletts, Ayr, some ten miles away. The moaning started. It’s too far away, my wife needs the car, I’m scared to go to Whitletts because of all the Alsatian dugs etc. Some jumped ship and some replacements (including the author of this piece…) were roped in from interested friends, acquaintances and tenuous connections.” A small core of the originals remain but, inevitably, age and injury take their toll. New players come in. Some stay for a while; a few fade from memory more rapidly. It’s a rich seam for a writer, and especially one soon to be releasing a novel set in the febrile world of mid-90s lower league Ayrshire football. There have been some fantastic characters over the years. Gordon Kerr remembers them all. “One of the new men was known as Malcolm X. He was not a teacher but was the husband of a teacher who was put in touch with us by a teacher. We formed car pools to go to Whitletts and I had the mixed fortune to be in the same car as MX. He was not the chattiest of men, in fact I can’t ever recall a single word he uttered. We travelled with MX for around five years but knew absolutely nothing about him. I was certain that MX was a spy. He didn’t turn up one week. His house was empty, and he had flown the country, cover blown. Our suspicions were confirmed when shortly after MX left, our email group started getting correspondence from Russian girls who were desperate to meet us.”
If a game is to take root and become established for the longer term, it needs a consistency of time and home venue. A nomadic existence is often the only excuse needed for those lacking the necessary staying power; the right stuff. “Whitletts was a holding operation,” Gordon admits. “It kept the fives going until something more suitable came along, nearer to home. Around 2006, PowerLeague opened in Kilmarnock. It probably saved our group which was in danger of falling apart. A few five-a-sides pitches and one sevens pitch with 3G AstroTurf. Great excitement as the stuff we were used to playing on must have been original first generation.” We switched to seven-a-sides on the larger park. This was controversial with some. It wasn’t universally popular, but I much preferred it. Most of us were now in our late forties. The fives consisted of short bursts of movements, whereas the sevens involved more running. Fives always seemed more like basketball to me. The space offered by the bigger pitch made the games feel more natural. I ask Gordon what it means to him, this parallel life as an organiser of the short game: “Ever since I was a six-year-old boy, all I ever wanted to do was play football. Killie v Leeds United in May 1967, the semi-final of the European Fairs Cup at a full Rugby Park blew my mind and ever since, football has been the love of my life. It was my footballing Woodstock. Accountancy was just a means to an end, just a way of financing my lifestyle and not something that I really wanted to do. The reality that I had no football ability was immaterial. Football got me through the week, focused on a Saturday. When the opportunity came along to play fives in the morning before going to the Killie game, I jumped at it. Sometimes I played golf in the club medal at 7am before going to the fives and then the pub and then the Killie game. I definitely had no trouble sleeping on those nights.”
“Some five years into this venture came my personal highlight, The 1997 Scottish Cup Final. Killie v Falkirk. I was too young to be at Tynecastle in 1965. I had never seen my team win anything in thirty years as a fan and, based upon those three decades, I feared that I never would. I barely slept in the week before the Final. The fives were rescheduled for 9.30am, and despite the nervous exhaustion, it was better and more memorable than normal. Most of us left afterwards on the supporter’s bus which I organised. We had a table for a celebratory dinner at the top of the one-way system giving us the perfect view of the open-topped team bus with the cup and those incredible scenes on John Finnie Street. It was the perfect day and the realisation of my boyhood (and adulthood) dream.” But the responsibility of organising can have its frustrations on and off the pitch too, as Gordon explains: ‘Ah, the bugbears of running the game. Late call-offs. Friday call-offs. Even worse, Friday night phone calls when I am in the pub and have had a few beers and don’t have my specs with me,” he says. “Most of us get irritated by the dribblers … the guy who thinks that he is Ronaldo or Messi and would rather lose a testicle than pass the ball to anyone. For us, footballing ability is secondary to enthusiasm and the love of playing. I once asked someone if scoring at the fives as a sixty-year-old was better than sex? It’s certainly better than sex with me, he replied.” And woman players? “Can’t see that happening. We have enough fannies already!” Why does it mean so much to so many of us? It’s FIFA 20 for those too slow even for the ‘beginner’ level, and with fingers too arthritic for the controllers. Or, as James Brown put it in his exemplary book, Above Head Height, five-a-sides is sporting Karaoke – a time and place to live out our dreams.
“The secret is inclusiveness,” says Gordon Kerr. “Guys of differing abilities combining because of their love of football. Winning the game is secondary to having a laugh. As soon as you start to introduce ringers, better players, the whole thing would fall apart. If you introduce real competitiveness, heavy tackles will creep in, resulting in breakages.” There’s a palpable sense of continuity to our activities. That those of us who have been part of this compelling addiction for nearly thirty years are merely the current custodians of the bibs. None of us want to be amongst those holding the jerseys when the floodlights finally go out. It’s a comforting thought that others - sons, maybe - will keep the game going when we’re gone. Of course, it’ll be their game then, but our DNA will still be traceable. An aspect of this functions as a necessary escape from reality. An hour-long opportunity to forget our mortality. A parallel life where we’d all play on forever, scoring remarkable goals from beyond the halfway line or making defence-splitting passes that belie our abilities. And where our team-mates could return from serious illness or heart attacks after a few weeks out, like they were merely inconvenient niggles or minor muscle pulls. But life isn’t like that. The anonymity of the early days as a player doesn’t last. We’ve all made valuable and lasting connections that go beyond the initial brief surface acknowledgements. Those previously known only by a first name become fully-fleshed individuals with backgrounds; jobs, families. Shared interests. Friends who are badly missed when they can no longer play. This piece is dedicated to our friend and team-mate Gordon Sinclair, who passed away on Christmas Day. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Hippo says – Massive thanks to Davie for this excellent piece, it gives me the fear that someone who writes for a living is being edited by a thick Bellfield lad who scraped a “C” in his English O-level!! If you haven’t read Davie’s books already then please do so……they are all thoroughly recommended.
MEMORIES OF 1988 (Writes David Craig) 1988 will be remembered for many things. Eddie the eagle Edwards, that Marco Van Basten volley and Scott marrying Charlene in Neighbour’s. For me (as big Boydy would say) 1988 was memorable for another thing. Becoming a Killie fan. Being 9 years old and with the summer holidays just finished my life had consisted of two a-side knock out during the day and chappie at night. A simple life interrupted only by the shouts of my mother two streets away when it was ‘time to come in’. My dad wasn’t native to the town and most of my pals seemed to support Rangers but I wasn’t bothered about a team. I thought I might be a Dundee United fan as I’d enjoyed being allowed to ‘stay up’ and watch their UEFA cup run the year before. Luckily that passed. I’d went round to my pal Martin’s house to see if he was ‘comin oot’. His Mum answered the door – “he’s going to the football with Steven” she said. I remember my brain scrambling, trying to process this. Who’s Steven? What does she mean ‘going to the football’? Have I been bumped fae heeders and volleys? It turned out Steven was his mum’s boyfriend. Relatively new and trying to make a good impression he invited me along too. I didn’t realise at the time but this was a tactical masterstroke from Steven. I’d be the company for Martin while he could have a drink. Couple of quid each to keep us happy. Textbook stuff. So we set off to Rugby Park after a quick check it was ok with my Dad. First stop was Telfer’s shop for some swedgers. I liked this Steven guy. Munching our way along the road we headed down past the Riccarton church and over the bridge and before I knew it we were outside the Burns pub. “Right boys” said Steven. “Youse two wait here, I’ll no be too long”. Not a problem we thought. Still had sweets and the shop next to the pub had a wall that was ideal for a game of kitesy.
This day had turned out decent. Must have been an hour that had passed when Steven burst out the pub door with a rabble of pals. “Moan” was his instruction as he cheerily waved us in his direction. Me and Martin tagged on at the end of the group. I was entranced watching these men, half cut, slagging each other, laughing, swearing and obviously enjoying themselves. I felt kinda cool behind them. Martin was oblivious, sooking on his last astrobelt sweet and counting the money he’d taken from me at kitesy. As we approached the cross at Dundonald Road the town seemed really busy, people everywhere and all in a rush. Some heading our way and others brushing past us in the opposite direction. We took a sharp left. KILMARNOCK FOOTBALL CLUB - a sign emblazoned on the large brick wall guarding the entrance to the ground. By this point I wasn’t sure what was happening. One of Steven’s pals had pushed me in front of him and was guiding me, hands on my shoulders towards a queue. Couple of shuffles forward, then a few more and then suddenly without warning I’d been lifted off the ground and legs first put over the turnstile. “There ye go pal” said the guy who’d just man handled me as he ruffled my hair and walked away. As I turned to face the turnstile I’d just went over Martin came into view, avidly listening to the instructions from Steven on where to find him at the end of the game. Quick flick of the thumb to make sure the deal was understood and Steven was off. We walked with the rest of the crowd just following their lead, up some thick concrete stairs and as we reached the top, there it was. In all it’s old glory. Rugby Park. It looked massive. At first the goals seemed so far away. An enormous ‘Johnnie Walker’ logo on the far away stand roof dominated the view straight on. The stand to the left, the one we would head towards, looked busy. People singing and banging on the boards that surrounded the pitch. The other stand off to the right had people on and around the edge of the pitch. There seemed to be better dressed people in the seats behind. That must’ve been the posh bit I thought. Following our own path we wandered down towards the half way line and managed to squeeze in between the other kids at the front and joined in with the board banging. Then the roar and the applause. I looked up as the two teams came out from the tunnel straight across from us.
I clapped along. It made me feel kind of grown up. I don’t think I’d ever clapped for anything before that I hadn’t been told to. Then the chant - ‘Kiiiiillie, Kiiiiillie, Kiiiiillie - being dragged out to make it sound longer than it was. This was different. This was cool. I liked this. The noise flowed down with the fag smoke towards us and onto the pitch. The players applauding back as they skipped around the pitch doing last minute stretches. Then some order. Positions taken, a whistle from the ref and another cheer. ‘C’mon the Killie’ shouted the wee guy next to me. I’ll say that next time I told myself. DAVID CRAIG
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