By Vincent Brownlow and Paul Boyle
1985 was a tough year for the vast majority of residents in the United Kingdom. Margaret Thatcher had a stranglehold on the UK, Band Aid had confused do-gooders sending Christmas Trees to Ethiopia, the release of the Sinclair C5 demonstrated truly shite automotive invention and a new Soap Opera going by the name of Eastenders started on BBC1 and which, much like Thatcher, would subject the working class to years of despair and misery.
None of this mattered though to 5-year-old Kenny Hamilton. He had bigger, more important, issues on his mind: attending his first ever live football game.
Kenny’s dad announced that Saturday would be his first taste of ‘real football’ watching Firfield Town play Cumbernauld United. A clash of two ‘new towns’ from the West of Scotland.
“I’ll take you to the game on Saturday,” his Dad said over dinner. “And it’ll no be like any of that shite on the telly. No overpaid prima donnas.” he added with disdain whilst nodding at the television.
“This’ll be Real Fitbaw!”
Wee Kenny wondered what made football on the television unreal, but had come to the conclusion that this could only be better.
“Real Football?” quizzed Kenny.
“Aye, son. Real fitbaw. Played by real men. Hard workers. Grafters, like Billy Friars,” he answered as he tapped his finger hard against the table. “Not like these bloody yuppies on telly with their Shin Guards and all that pish. I mean, Shin Guards?” his dad questioned with incredulity while shaking his head in disbelief.
If Kenny’s dad said real then it was a definite, no mistaking it. Welding was a real job, Kes was a real film and Freddie Mercury was a real man’s man. Even that night as Kenny mounted the stairs to go to his bed he heard his dad, tuned to the news, state that Margaret Thatcher was a “real fuckin’ cow”.
Kenny’s mind started to race. This was surely going to be something special. He had never thought that Danny McGrain, Kenny Dalglish or Iain Rush weren’t actually real men.
Saturday came. Kenny slipped into his snorkel parka and they set off, picking up his dad’s friend Geoff on the way. Kenny liked Geoff. He was a rotund, ruddy-faced character who was always full of jokes. He always knew how to make Kenny laugh and with his belly jiggling and his rosy red cheeks, he reminded Kenny of Santa Claus. Unbeknown to Kenny this jovial appearance alluded more to underlying health issues due to Geoff’s penchant for a ‘Scottish only’ diet.
As Geoff squeezed in to the car like an Elephant Circus Act he noticed Kenny sitting in the back.
“Ye never told me we had a special guest today,” Geoff said turning to Kenny in the back seat.
“Aye, first game today Geoff boy. First game, eh son?” Kenny’s asked as they drove on.
“That’s the gem,” said Geoff loudly before adding: “You’ll love it today wee man.” before reaching over to try to ruffle Kenny’s hair, but the extra seven or eight stone in weight and a tight seatbelt made it impossible until he saved face with a stretched high-five.
When they got to the ground Kenny was beside himself with excitement. He had always seen the stadium from afar, but he was so close now he could smell it. Literally. Geoff and his dad grabbed a pint as Kenny waited outside with the other kids, but the wait was worth it when they walked out with an extra body.
“Here he is son, the superstar of the team, Billy Friars.” proclaimed Kenny’s dad.
Kenny froze on the spot. He’d heard so much about Billy Friars and here he was in the flesh.
Kenny quickly surveyed the menacing looking man in front of him and noticed that he was not as athletic looking as the footballers in his posters. Black hair; short at the sides and long at the back with a thin moustache.
Swallow tattoo on his hand. Stonewashed jeans and Adidas Sambas. De rigeur for the 80’s man. The poster boy for Post Office robberies.
“How are you anyway, Billy?” asked Kenny’s dad.
“Rough as arseholes, Jim,” answered the gravelly voiced Billy and Kenny thought he smelled as bad too.
Young Kenny couldn’t believe his dad actually knew a footballer and also that the footballer knew his dads name.
“Just popped in for a quick curer, but don’t tell the gaffer. I’m shattered anaw,” Billy added before taking a quick draw on his cigarette: “Wiz riding aw night!”
All the adults laughed, but Kenny’s dad quickly remembered who was there and explaining: “Billy rides horses, son.”
“Aye, well she wisnae the best I suppose.” added Billy.
As all the adults laughed again Kenny thought that being around horses so much obviously explained why he smelled of arseholes.
Innocently, Kenny asked: “Can you take me riding some time?”
“Maybe when you’re 18 wee man,” stated Billy with a smile before swiftly changing the subject. “First game, Kenny, eh?” asked Billy who had squatted down in front of him and was now at eye level with little Kenny, making the smell almost unbearable. As Billy spoke, Kenny recognised the smell. It was just like that of his Uncle Terry who he wasn’t allowed to see much anymore.
‘Maybe this is what real footballers smell like, maybe uncle Terry was a real footballer’,he thought to himself.
“Yeah.” said Kenny with an enthusiastic big nod.
“Well I’ll try to score a goal for ye wee man.” he said as he rose to his full height again before scratching and rearranging his crotch at Kenny’s eye level. As Billy Friars left, Kenny, his dad and Geoff made their way into the stadium.
Kenny took in his surroundings as they waited for kick-off. The stadium, although a lot smaller than on TV, felt like a cauldron albeit a small, shite, empty one.
“When does everyone else get here Dad?” asked Kenny.
“This is everyone, son.” his Dad explained
With the teams running out to ripples of applause, Kenny quickly noticed how many of the players seemed to be actually squeezed into their strip with plenty of overspilling flesh on display and Firfield looked to be fielding a keeper who looked like the only thing he was capable of catching was Type 2 Diabetes.
“Real men son, real men.” his dad said proudly as if he was watching his own sibling pick up a Nobel Peace Prize.
The match kicked off and it was only 30 seconds before the first bit of action occurred. The notorious Michael Riley, Firfield’s main enforcer in the middle, crashed his studs into the shin of the opposition player leaving him screaming him in agony.
“YAAAAAAASSS!” shouted Geoff as droplets of saliva flew from his mouth. “SMASH HIS FUCKIN’ EYES IN MICKY!” he screamed again as the referee allowed play to continue.
“THAT’S IT MICKY, SON, LET HIM KNOW YOU’RE THERE!” shouted Kenny’s dad. Kenny couldn’t see how it was possible for him not to know he was there as he lay gripping his buckled leg.
Kenny quickly noticed how the usually Jolly Geoff had turned into a bloodthirsty berserker pumped full of bile, hatred, bad language and with an obvious thirst for ultraviolence.
“Dad, Geoff said a bad word.” said a concerned Kenny who grabbed his dad’s hand.
“It’s the fitbaw son,” said his dad defensively. “You’re allowed to say bad words at the fitbaw. Just don’t tell yer Mum ah said that.”
“But that player really hurt him.” added Kenny while pointing at O’Reilly.
“Ach, he’ll be awright son,” quipped his dad dismissively. It was quite clear that he simply didn’t care a jot for the welfare of the injured player who had now slowly gotten to his feet with blood visibly running down his leg and through his sock.
Kenny tugged at his dads hand. pointed at the player and said: “Dad look!”
“Real men, son. He’ll stamp it aff and be fine.” answered Kenny’s dad, as they watched the player thrust his studs into the soft grass a few times before gingerly running off.
As the match continued it took the usual format of a Firfield Town home game. To an outsider it was a bloodbath. To followers of Firfield Town it was just another Saturday afternoon. Kenny had no idea that he was watching the most violent team in the Strathclyde Amateur League. A team gifted in intimidation and G.B.H rather than attacking flair. This was mainly due to the presence of Michael Riley. The Riley’s were a crazy local family who were ever-present at home games and who would intimidate and threaten referees and opponents long before the match had started with unsophisticated shouts of, “Number 7. Number 7! You’re gettin’ stabbed ya fuckin’ Wank!” This wasn’t a stadium. This was the Colosseum.
As the game developed it all started to become clear to Kenny. With every tooth smashed, every leg-breaking challenge, every eye gouged and every finger dislocated he was starting to understand. Real football was played by men possessing the ability to dish out and withstand extreme violence without complaint. They simply got up, ran it off and got on with it.
On the drive home, Kenny was happy to welcome back big, bubbly, happy, friendly Geoff. He was also happy that his Dad had stopped swearing for a while.
“That Billy’s some player eh?” said Geoff to Kenny’s Dad.
“Aye, he’s somethin’ else.”
“See the way he smashed that keeper’s jaw? Brilliant!” exclaimed Geoff before turning to Kenny and asking: “So did you enjoy that wee man?”
“Yeah.” said Kenny with a big nod to show how grateful he was to his dad for taking him. And he did enjoy it. It was a day of many firsts. It was the first time he had ever met a footballer, although he was left confused when he then saw him drive away in an electrician’s van after the game. It was the first time he had been lifted over a turnstyle by his dad. It was the first time he had eaten a half-time pie with meat so questionable it was unknown whether or not it had ever even seen a farm, never mind came from one, and it was also the first time he heard someone say “I’ll snap your fuckin’ back”.
He also absolutely loved some of it as well. He loved being in a football ground. Loved being with his dad and Geoff. Loved the fact that Billy Friars said he would score a goal for him and then did with a lovely placed shot into the corner just moments after smashing the jaw of a defender in an aerial challenge. He also loved that he had his first footballers autograph written on the back of the match pamphlet.
“TO KENNY FROM BILLY FRAIRS… TOLD YOU I WOULD SCORE”
Billy’s bloodied finger prints had been left on the program as he wrote it. Was it his blood? Probably not. As he sat in the back of the car he realised that maybe Real Football wasn’t for him. Sure he was entertained, who wouldn’t be? But at times he was also absolutely terrified. He had made his decision. Young Kenny would stick with Dalglish McGrain, Rush and Aitken. Plain, old fashioned Football.
Stay tuned for Episode Two in two weeks’ time. You can follow Vinnie on Twitter @vincentbrownlow and Paul @PabloEscoboyle. Let themm know what you think below.