Scottish Football: The Home Front Stoics

  13 Nov '20   |  Posted by: Birlinn
Photo by Alan McCredie

Scottish football is in the limelight, with the national team going all the way to Euro 2020, against all the odds. After so many years of waiting, it seems appropriate to wait just a little longer, until 2021, for the tournament’s play-off stage. Scotland’s grass-roots game, however, doesn’t wait at all. It has a constant tick and a rock-solid foundation. This, not the soaring but ephemeral heights of international glory, is what Snapshot captures in its pages. It’s a series of photo essays from the heartlands of Scottish football, from the team behind Nutmeg magazine, Daniel Gray, Alan McCredie, and Ally Palmer. Here’s what it’s all about:

 She walked how you imagine the largest Russian Doll in a set would walk. Rolling, almost. There was a tender sway to her movements, tilting smoothly from side to side. From each tree-bark hand hung a tea urn. Scottish football runs on tea. Tea in the Referee’s Room, tea for the half-time player. Tea in foam cups, tea when you drop into a ground on a weekday afternoon. Tea to warm the winter, tea to show mistrust of fleeting summer and flighty warmth.

The Russian Doll heaved her urns up onto a table covered with a thick plastic tablecloth, its floral pattern wattle and daubed with empty sugar sachets and spilt milk. She wore a blue tabard with redundant pockets and sported a gently wise smile. There you are, boys. That’ll warm ye up before the second half. Take a biscuit too.” She waddled away with that satisfied look women of her generation often display after they’ve fed and watered everyone else in the room and an “Och, I’ll get something for myself later.”

I see them at almost every ground I visit in Scotland, this quiet battalion. They are making and issuing tea as did the Russian Doll. They are rolling the pitch with feudal-era equipment and Sisyphean determination. They are shuffling tidy a pile of matchday programmes like a television newsreader as the lights fade. They are straightening their tie clips in the board room and removing cellophane from foil platter trays of tiny white sandwiches stuffed with grated luminous cheese.

I see them from border to island, from Junior to Highland. The amateur photographer with more camera gear than Latvian state TV, filing his pictures to be captioned with elaborations in a local newspaper. The PA announcer, folded sheet with names of sponsors and names of forwards in one hand, the intermittent and spluttering remote microphone in the other. The club historian ready to share the obscure, the every-game-fan with his nods from the players and the lotto seller jangling and cajoling. They are the home front stoics that make every club.

These hardy thousands make football tick in Scotland, their hearts and their heads and their hands gone and given to the game. Every home match, they are there. Through the week, some keep the club ticking over, nightwatchmen and women, ensuring that our Saturdays have purpose, comfort and melancholy. No penny is frittered, no paper plate discarded unused. The football they nurture and prune is played in all sorts of homes: scraggy but loveable grounds with one grandstand; regal and bustling stadiums of noble vintage; characterful nook-and-cranny habitats with pillars blocking the view. Such places possess an altogether different kind of beauty, like disused rural limestone railway stations or fleetingly revealed ghost signs above mid-renovation shops.

This book is a celebration of all such people and places. It is a love letter to the charms of football obscured behind tabloid screeching. It is a mirror of we, the supporters. It is a portal into a different kind of Scotland. It is a documentary in print. Come with us, from Cowdenbeath to Eriskay, and from Gretna to Nairn. And bring a flask.

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