Football boots for Christmas (Revised Version) – Part Nine

THE ALBION COMMITTEE

“An we get Airth Castle Rovers in the next round,” sighed Isaac Turnbull, putting his empty pint measure back down on the Tally Ho lounge bar.

“So I hear”, said Sam Taggart,” shaking his head.

“Draw wis made on Tuesday,” added Monk, “an we’ve got to wait till the night to read it in that bloody Courier. See that bastert Findlay, widnae show ye a bird’s nest!’

The other three committeemen nodded in agreement, as they fingered the money in their pockets, figuring out if they should buy the next round or wait until they made the Albion Social, next door and round the back in the Lea-Rig Hall. Their wives would be up later and the present squad might well end up in different companies. Rationing was nothing new to the working class.

Sam had been first on the bell, but he was barman at the social and sure of getting a return on his investment before the night was out. This wee get-together was his idea anyway.

Isaac shouted up the next four pints and a screwtap for himself. “Was talking to Geordie Bertram of Brigend Rovers during the week’” said Isaac holding out the money for the barman as the pints were put down on the bar.

“Geordie who?”

“Bertram. Treasurer of the County Association. Was saying they want Bob for Association Secretary. Tam Valentine of the Dale, has put in his resignation at last.”

“An association secretary must be neutral, hasn’t he? interrupted Sam.

“That’s right, so if Bob took it on he’d have tae give up the Albion.”

“But why should he?”

“Might appeal tae him bein part-time wi the Courier.”

“Why should it appeal tae him?” asked Bert, ‘”All he’s interested in is the Albion.”

“As association secretary he’d know about everythin as it happens, regarding fitba throughoot the county, that he could then pass on tae the papers? Edinburgh News and The Dispatch, and that. Pay him for everythin they print.”

“Geordie reckons they’ll even give him a phone; a reporter’s dream, even a part-timer. He’d be minting it,” Isaac assured them.

“Still no be interested,” growled Sam.

“Been at him afore,” added Bert.”No give up the Albion.”

“No unless we manage tae vote him oot,” said Stevie

“An that’s a two thirds majority, this side of the AGM,” said Bert.

“If only we could get Wullie McLean on oor side, could swing it,” said Sam. “You no take it on, Isaac?”

“Now, now, hold on,” implored Isaac, holding his hand up. “Somethin needs dine, but no that drastic. Association want him cause they ken the work he pits in an he’s their minute secretary already. I just want mair of a say in the runnin of the club; same as the rest of you.”

“Well I was talkin to Tammy Stirlin,” said Sam. “Kens the game just as well as that Findlay bastert. Ay, an mair! Was a professional an he’s interested. Could get him in.”

“Don’t think so” butted in Bert. ”’Fish’ an me an a wheen more were all trained by Bob afore the war.”

“Ay, and Wullie Thornton as well,” added Stevie.

“That’s right,” agreed Bert. “Tammy widnae go against Bob Findlay. The only reason Wullie ‘ill be through here the night for the social, with his pal Woodburn, is cause Bob’s asked him. Don’t think Tammy wid ……”

He petered off, lost in thought; Ben Duffin looked after the money, Adam Crooks was the man with the magic sponge and wee Rab Turnbull was Bob’s ‘go-for’.The same Albion set-up as when Bert played with them himself. That was how Bob wanted it to stay – a village institution and for long and weary one of the best teams in Scotland at their grade.

Bob wasn’t for letting newcomers in other than to sell ‘Scout Double’ raffle tickets and the like, but that was all; as far as the football side went Bob wasn’t prepared to listen to anybody.

Every other week the Albion were the main item in the village news column and regularly got more space in the sports pages of the Edinburgh papers than the county’s bigger clubs in higher leagues – caused an awfy resentment, but Bob didn’t bother his arse about that. Some of the city readers must have wondered where Winchburgh was.

Bert was a year or two younger than Bob and well knew the score before joining the committee. That was why he was feeling guilty about being here tonight, but still keen to get involved. Having played himself and thankful at being given his chance, was prepared to cater for the next batch of young hopefuls, including his own laddie. Was looking forward to the day young Bert wore the same black and white hoops Wullie Thornton graced. The rest of the company were still looking at him, waiting on him finishing what he’d been saying.

“Eh. of.. no, don’t think so”, added Bert. “Wullie Thornton wouldn’t come through year after year to the social for onieb’dy else bar Bob Findlay”

“Dinnae agree wi that,” snapped Sam.

“Thinks the sun shines out Bob’s arse,” cautioned Isaac.

“Telt me that himsel, in as monie words!” said Bert who had been in the same school team as Wullie Thornton, as Bert’s son had long since wearied of hearing.

Football has always been most precious to those Scots who just about made the grade but not quite.’Maybe played in an organised league at juvenile or amateur level for a time, but never made the cut at the semi-professional or junior stage where the punters paid at turnstiles to watch.

Most would have played in so few significant games worthy of goal nets and a crowd, their minds were concentrated on mere scraps of precious memory of what would always remain their finest time on earth.

No working-class Scot will ever forget the day he first donned a pair of football boots.[ most probably Mansfield Hotspurs] Might even have been as far back as their schooldays. Every meaningful kick that glorious day, possibly forty years before, indelible impressed on their conscience.

Joy for them was somebody specifying that occasion in pub company, confirming the team and the final score, then flourishing the auld photo from the back of a wallet, or battle scars from under a rolled up trouser leg.

Every participant of that and every other such memorable encounter was forever hoping that somebody else would bring it up so giving them the chance to modestly confess, ‘Couldnae play masel, bit could stop them that could!’

“Whit aboot you Monk?”, asked Sam, at the same time glaring at Bert. ”Wht dae you think?”

“Hughie Paterson’s oot wi Broxburn Athletic the morn on Bob’s say so. I wisnae consulted,” said Monk, looking round the company. “Any of you?”

“Ay, an mind the last roun against Birkenshaw?”, added Sam. ”Agreed the team an then Bob postcairds wee Wattie durin the week, releasing him. No to come back, then puts Dancer on in his place; no a word to us!

“Ay, an Dancer played a binder. Bob knew whatt he wis at,” added Bert

“No the point bit, is it?”, fumed Monk. “I’m on the Albion committee yet ma wife has as much say on the runnin o Scottish Oils as I hae in pickin the Albion team!”

“Agreed it’s no right”, said Isaac, holding up his hand, “Of course it isnae, bit we cannae vote him oot.”

“Why no?” demanded Monk.

“Cause Wee Rab an Adam Crooks an Ben Duffin would’t stand fur it. An neither would Wullie McLean.”

“They’re bound tae get fed-up wit it tae!” said Sam.

“To be perfectly honest, it’s Bob’s bloody team!” Said Isaac.

“Aye, yer right,” said Bert. “Adam, Ben an wee Rab are quite happy in the reflected glory. Ay, an Wullie Mclean as well.”

“His team! Whit the Hell dae ye mean, his team!”, fumed Sam, ”An what are we like? Spare pricks at a whore’s weddin!”

“We’ve got a good team this season, right?”, reasoned Isaac. They all nodded. “I never brought one of them players to the club. How many did onie you?” They all looked sheepish as they downed their beer.

“We’ve a good team every year,” agreed Stevie.

“Cannae mind the last time we didnae make the fifth roun o the Scottish at least, bit the players jist appear at the start o the season frae naewhere,” said Issac. “As far as I’m concerned we cannae dae athout Bob!”

“Well I for one wouldn’t mind giving it a try”, said Stevie. “It’s a village team an I’ve always said we should just play local laddies, an as far as I see, there’s enough here for two teams!”

“So why no start another team then, if that’s what you want?” asked Bert. “Why no at under-eighteen level an join the Edinburgh league.”

“Bet Bob would be all for that. You think Tammy Stirlin would be interested in that Sam?”

“No dae athout Bob Findlay, ma fuckin arse!”, fumed Sam. “Every decent laddie we come up against me an Monk make a point ofg tappin after the gemme, first chance we get. That no right Monk?”

“Never mind that the now Sam’, interrupted Stevie. “You think Tammy Stirlin would take on secretary of an under-eighteen team?”

“Ay an we’ve been doin it for years”, agreed Monk, looking at Sam and ignoring Stevie. “Findlay doesn’t tap them. No, no him. He’s aye too busy sucking up to referees!”

Bert laughed. “Mind you, can’t mind the last dodgy decision a referee gave against us. Bob’s quite keen on puttin their names in the Courier, sayin how guid a game they had”.

Stevie nodded. “Noticed that. See efter the game they make a bee-line across to ask him how he thought they had dine. Power of the press, would you say?”

“Bloody effective I would say”, added Bert. “You an Monk tap laddies right enough Sam, but we’ve been the best team in the league since afore the war.”

“That right, Bert?” asked Stevie.

“If the laddies are no going up a grade it’s us, the Courier team, they all want to play fur!”

“Courier team! That gets right up my nose”, snarled Sam.

“That’s what the opposition cry us”, said Isaac. “Can do nothing about it!”

“That’s the reason we’re here, is it no?” asked Monk, looking round them, then staring at Sam.

Sam screwed up his eyes in an attempt to caution Monk. Things weren’t going the way he had planned. Monk ignored him.

“Courier team, my arse. It’s our fuckin team! If Bob isn’t prepared tae listen then I say we put it to the vote at the next meetin.”

“Let Bob an his clique run the Albion if that’s what they want, and it obviously is,” interjected Stevie.

“Sense in what Stevie says,” added Bert. “No reason why we couldn’t run an under-eighteen team. That’s what we should be putting to the vote at the next meetin.”

“An if Tammy Stirlin’s no prepared to come on as secretary would you be prepared to dae it Stevie?” asked Issac. “Or you Bert?”

Stevie and Bert screwed up their faces.

“No?” continued Isaac, “Didnae think so. There’s as many minor teams in Scotland as there are secretaries.

“No surprised,” said Bert. “A hellish tyin, time-consumin job. We can’t even get onieb’dy to go as county delegate an that’s only one meetin a month up at Bathgate.”

“Bert’s right. Bob has tae dae delegate himself. Otherwise there widnae be an Albion!”

“Even if Tammy was prepared tae come on as secretary and delegate”, added Bert, “’would he be prepared to listen any more tae us than Bob does now?”

“Under-eighteen team for local laddies”, sneered Sam. “You should away down to the BB’s Stevie an give Captain Scott a hand, or the Youth Fellowship badminton crowd”
.
“Under-eighteen, under-twenty one, what difference does it make, it’s still youth football!”, retorted Stevie, going red in the face.

“You got us up here the night Sam to try an figure out how we can get oursel more involved in the running of the club,” said Bert. “If youdo’t fancy startin the under-eighteens why no take on the association delegate job an then Bob would have to listen to you. Mibbe you an Monk there could do it atween ye?”

“It’s that bastert Findlay’s attitude thit sticks in ma craw”, thundered Sam. “We a’ ken he puts in a power of work for the club. The Lea-Rig as well, then looks at you like ye’ve crawled from under a stane when you spier him for tickets for his Burns Supper.”

“That tie against Birkenshaw was the last straw as far as I’m concerned,” added Monk, “when he took the team back into the pavilion just afore kick-aff. Mind? Ken what he telt the players, bastert that he is! They hadn’t tae pay any heed tae what the rest of us on the committee say. He’s calling the shots, naeb’dy else!”

“Seems sensible enough to me”, said Bert. “Was sayin the selfsame thing afore the war when I was playing. It’s a team gemme an they’ve all got to be singin aff the same hymn sheet. That’s whit tactics is about. The laddies have got to ken their role an us telling them different is just going to confuse some of the daft buggers even mair. Bob kens the game Sam, you can’t deny that!”

“An we don’t, I suppose”, interrupted Monk. “You seem Hellish content with the way Bob runs things Bert. Would you mind tellin us what the Hell your doing up here if your that happy?”

“Starting to wonder that mysel”, replied Bert. “Stevie’s idea aboot running an under-eighteen makes sense to me, bit personally I would go for the best players we can get, just like the Albion. The bottom line seems to be gettin a secretary that’s prepared to do all the clerical work, attend association meetins an the like, then on Saturdays be prepared to do just what we tell him!” Bert laughed and Stevie joined in. Sam and Monk looked anything but amused.

“I take your point Bert”, said Isaac, ”but ever juvenile team is run by committees. We’re no stupid all thegither. Bob’s the main man, bit at least he could listen to what we say. Mind you when you think about it, him havin to do association delegate as well as secretary is a nonsense. Ahm prepared to do that frae the next meetin!”

“Him listen to what you say! Bob Findlay?”, fumed Monk. “He’s a born listener. It’s takin us serious that’s the problem. Disnae even answer you back! Just glowers, then away an does whatever comes up his humph. Ken what I think, an Ahm serious when I say this, I think he’s feart we might just get to like him. I’m tellin ye, no kiddin! See at the games he’ll no even stand aside us. Onieb’dy goes near him an he walks away round the park. Almost as if he’s daring us tae stand up to him”.

“Feart we might get to like him? Nae need to worry aboot that on my part”, growled Sam. The rest of them laughed.

“It’s no that I dislike him as a man”, Sam added, “I just don’t fancy him as a gaffer, if ye know what I mean? It’s like bein at work gaun to an Albion game. See if he would just lighten up a bit, crack a joke now an again, that sort of thing. No laughed since he had the hives”.

“Ay, know whit ye mean Sam”, said Monk. “Seems to model himsel on that uncle of his, ‘John the Bastert’. It’s as if he’s tryin to be even more despised than he is”.

“His uncle?” Stevie was obviously confused, him being an incomer. “I thought John was his faither”.

“Naw Stevie, you’ve got it wrong”, said Bert, imbued with the confidence of a former player. “Bob’s faither wis killed in the Great War. His cousin George telt me. We played thegither for Kingscavil”.

“George is no his cousin”, Isaac said quietly. “He’s his half-brother.’Bible’ Bob, the Kirk elder frae Abercorn Place, is their faither. Don’t you be sayin anything to George, by the way Bert. Probably doesn’t know himself. The Findlays don’t like examining their roots”
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Bert looked frae face tae face, shakin his head in bewilderment. “Bob was standing aside us when George telt us they were cousins! Are you sure Isaac?”
George had been a Petty Officer during the last war and a friend of Bert’s for years. Wasn’t the type to open his mouth and let his belly rumble and Bob wasn’t the type to let him.

“Sure I’m bloody sure”, replied Isaac raising his voice in obvious irritation. “I mind George Findlay, Gutty’s youngest, him that your pal is cried efter Bert. Was only seventeen when he was killed in the Great War an Bob was six, same as mysel.”

That was when they brought Bob alang tae byde with auld Gutty in the Auld Raws, to take George’s place. Bob comes aff serious money you know. Raised in thon big stone villa in Threemiletoun. It’s common knowledge in the village.”

“Ay, yer right enough Isaac,” added Sam. “His granfaither Cairns was a contractor wi Ross Company at Philpstoun. Mibbe that’s who he takes his big boss ideas fom.”

Isaac remembered it well. The strange wee timorous laddie with the fancy clothes, that wouldn’t have looked out of place on the young Marquis’s back, in the corner of the playground getting cursed and spat on by the rest of the laddies, just for being a bastert, a Findlay bastert. Even yet he couldn’t look at Bob without thinking back and feeling the burning shame of it.

“Mind when we all left school Isaac”, said Monk, “during the 26 strike. None of us got jobs for months except Bob. They started him right off in a man’s job on full wages mind? Auld Gutty had kicked the bucket an they said Bob needed a full wage cause he was keepin the house an his auld granny. Minded the pumps did he no?”

“Ay, mind it fine”, sighed Isaac. “They reckoned that was John the Bastert’s doin. Saved him an his brothers frae lookin after their mother. Couldnae have done thon fur all the tea in China, no at fourteen I couldnae. Down the mine on your own for hours at a stretch, the roof slipping and grinding all around you ! No, no way. Thon would have set me doolally”. Bert and Stevie nodded in agreement.

“Mibbe did set him doolally”, said Monk. “Had some time of it, when you look back. Now, accordin to Bert here, the poor bastert doesn’ae even ken what one’s his faither!

“Hasn’t had much to laugh about in his private life, poor bugger,” said Stevie

“Any of you fancy goin through to Airth the morn tae size up Castle Rovers?” asked Isaac, who was slightly embarrassed at discussing Bob’s private affairs in a pub. The rest were more interested in draining the dregs from their pint jugs.

Bert and Stevie were last out the door. Bert tapped Stevie on the shoulder. “Bob will be at Airth the morn, sure as there shite in a goat!”