Here I sit in my living room, Tartan Special in hand, empty sharing size packet of peanuts discarded next to me. Grace Kelly is strutting her stuff on the box in one of her Alfred Hitchcock film appearances. As always, my big sook of a cat is sleeping on my lap. As nights go it could be a lot worse and I have absolutely had worse Saturdays. But something is niggling away at me. Just over a month ago I was researching things to do in Turin, I was excited to be heading over to Piedmont to take in the sites, the museums, the food, the wine, the Amaretto but most importantly the “Derby della Mole”. Or in simple terms, the Turin derby, Juventus v Torino. My annual Serie A trip with my pal. I should really be sitting in the Juventus Stadium with a Birra Morretti or Nastro Azzuro in hand taking in Ronaldo, Dybala and Chielini and co up against, Belotti, Zaza and De Silvestri et al just now. This was to be followed tomorrow with a trip to a ground I have sought to visit since the days of Peter Brackleys glorious commentary, James Richardson and his pink paper and of course “Gooooooooooooalazo”. That stadium is the Stadio Luigi Ferraris. Home to Sampdoria and Genoa. It was the former I was to see hosting SPAL. Unfortunately, and obviously once more in twenty-four hours time, I’ll be confined to my living room beer in hand, maybe a book, possibly another Hitchcock flick, more than likely a bag of peanuts being smashed and of course the puss.
I realise this may sound like someone pining for a missed holiday, but it is not I can assure you. That trip was just another in the long line of missed games due to the unfortunate bat induced position the world finds itself in. This is someone pining for fitba and nothing else. Two weeks I have now been home from my work and by now if I had followed my itinerary I had created, I would have had already added eight new grounds to my collection. Broxburn Athletic, Stoneywood-Parkvale, Bo’ness United, Easthouses Lily, Gala Fairydean Rovers, Dalkeith Thistle, Juventus and Sampdoria by the end of this weekend. I also had Jeanfield Swifts, Accrington Stanley, Glenafton Athletic and Hartlepool United still to come before I headed back to West Africa for another twenty-eight-day stint in the Atlantic. These itineraries i create are done over a month at work and give me something to look forward to when I get home. This plus seeing Wee Man is what gets me through every hitch. Instead of following the travel plan, it’s now fifty days ago since I walked out of the Gelredome in Arnhem, fifty days ago I was high as a kite after watching one of the best games of the season, fifty days ago since I visited one of the best grounds I have ever visited and fifty days ago since I last watched fitba. Fifty bloody days. That is an aeon to a ground botherer like me. There is huge spherical hole in my life just now.
Some may say “but it’s only a game” and I will have more than likely told them they can piss off. It is a hell of a lot more that. That’s no exaggeration. These people really don’t get it. Some fitba fans I know don’t get my life either I’ve heard/read plenty of folk talking about missing things such as going for a pint, being stuck in their house, being annoyed with their partners, missing eating out or whatever. Well I really fucking miss fitba, that’s my only beef with this whole episode. Stuck in the house is easy as I’m almost reclusive anyway. I am a whizz in the kitchen (that’s true too and not embellishing at all). I have an excellent array of world beers and I don’t have anyone to annoy me as I am a single parent with a five-year-old fitba daft son and a cat who are both sound dudes. The Wee Mans love of life and obliviousness to what is going on in the world is infectious which helps a lot. What I cannot generate though is a game of fitba. I have just hit the stage where I’d kill for even a nil nil just now. Life without fitba just isn’t any use.
The fitba has always played a huge part of my life. I played from six years old until I was twenty-eight. That equates to almost two thirds of the time I have found myself on the planet doing my best Franco Baresi impressions, but obviously with a bit more style. I loved every minute of it whether at Juvenile, Junior or Amateur it was what getting through a week was all about. School or work was just a hinderance that got in the way of the weekend. I astounded myself and was truly shocked at how much I didn’t miss it when I was forced to retire, one chapter closes and another opens was the mantra at the time. I have partaken in the viewing side of the game for most of my life. But it has come in different epochs. For example, I have been attending Pittodrie since 1991, season tickets have come and gone for various reasons. I had one with my old boy and brother in the early days, but these were vacated for me to play on a Saturday at u14s and up, leaving me to get games in dribs and drabs home and away usually with my cousin. But I did not stop going. I tried to get as many games as I could. Then when I hung up my Umbro Specialis for good I was back on the season ticket which was the post playing career chapter. Now as I write I am off it again due to fatherhood reasons. Intermingled in amongst these years I also have been a fan of non-league and had different stages of heading to games. It started with the best league there is, the Highland League. When I was young, and the Dons were on the road my cousin used to take me to the closer teams. Fraserburgh, Cove R*****s, Huntly, Deveronvale, Peterhead and Elgin City were visited. Two of whose grounds cease to exist these days. As I got older, I got the taste for Junior fitba as some of my mates were signed up by Cruden Bay (before they became one of the worst teams in Scotland) and Formartine United (before they went all big time Charlies). So, I spent a lot of time following them when my own fitba was off or they were playing midweek. More often Formartine and I got about the area doing so, from Stonehaven to Bishopmill United. Basically, I was always watching fitba since that day I first walked into the Merkland Road End to witness the Dons dismantle Dunfermline at a sun kissed Pittodrie in the 1991/92 season.
Since the playing days ended, the art of watching games became more and more prevalent. As mentioned above I got a season ticket back and I thought that was me. Dons until my demise. I didn’t factor in everything that was going to alter in life. The first new thing was I started heading over the border to get lads weekends away for games. Yes, it’s true I didn’t always hate the English mercenary jamboree like I do now. Cardiff City, Man United, Wigan, Fulham, Newcastle and Nottingham Forest were all visited and many a pint were sunk. Obviously, this got me on the move a bit further and it was refreshing. The next change was, and I would put this down as the greatest most important change. I took a huge liking to neutral football. (I will not cover old ground too much, but you can find out in the full blog site. Over sixty articles for your perusal). This was caused by a trip to Keith v Brora R*****s for a day on the lash. This quickly led to challenging myself to getting around the Highland League as soon as possible which in turn soon turned into setting other challenges. Heading to Ajax and Dortmund on a trip opened a can of worms and made me realise there was a lot to like out with the confines of the UK. Then came unemployment, a failed marriage and a son………….
This is where fitba upped its game and became more than just twenty-two guys chasing a ball about. In the past five years (approx.) fitba has taken on many guises. It became a crutch or coping mechanism when my chips were well and truly down. I had a wee baby kicking about which should have been the most fulfilling time of my life. Instead I was struck down with situational depression. Which is shite. No sleep, constant worrying. No eating. Too much booze. This was brought on by my marriage collapsing rapidly and being unemployed for ten months. A crap time I’m sure you could imagine. At the time I was mid “complete the Highland League challenge”. This was very important, the reason being, when I did sit down and speak to someone, they asked what I did in my spare time. I mentioned watching fitba and the HFL shenanigans. I was told to keep it up and set other challenges as they were a form of escapism. From then my intake of fitba skyrocketed. Pittodrie plus as many random games as I could fit in and I have never looked back. It really worked. Some might think that sounds like bull, but I can assure you its not. The excitement of where next then the ninety minutes itself, the meeting people from the towns I visited, the random pubs visited and the fun of watching fitba completely neutral. It was great. I also had Pittodrie on top of that. It gave me endless hours of fun and I forgot about the shite hanging over me. The end of the marriage came but so did a milestone. To get away from it all I decided to go to Switzerland for a tour. That was an eye opener and a half, visits to Aarau, Basel, Young Boys and Luzern sparked off all my future breaks being weekends away watching fitba in Europe. Some of the countries I have been lucky enough to visit include, Czech Republic, Norway, Holland, Austria and only Italy as one of the big leagues as Serie A is bloody brilliant. Then It happened Wee Man stated his intention of joining me on my fitba jaunts. Colony Park v Stonehaven happened, and he loved it. Since then he has been to fifty-one grounds in four countries. Therefore, it’s now not just my life that revolves around fitba, but our lives do. To be noted it is a Dons free life as “little games” are more appealing to Wee Man, and to be honest I cannot disagree. With numerous fantastic trips to teams like Shotts Bon Accord, Rothes, Largs Thistle, Sauchie, Albion Rovers and many more I loved every minute of it. This was never forced on him at any point which people probably will not believe. It is all he wants to do. Take his ball, get a picnic, go to a castle or whatever and get a game. Every morning he wakes he asks if we are going to fitba. Its fantastic in terms of seeing our awesome country but its irreplaceable bonding time. Especially with me being away for half the year. It goes beyond just watching games as well. I would average four out of every five books I read being football related, I read magazines, I scour the net for stories too. I have a room in a house dedicated to fitba which consists of scarves hanging(from all sixty-four foreign teams I have visited to date), Dons pictures, framed stuff from my sojourns, framed photos, pennants, stuff I have picked up when different places. I want it to end up like Teddy Scotts room at Pittodrie. I am going the right way about it too. I have also now taken to writing about it whether via this blog or via fanzines. I am attempting a book (but keep changing my mind on how the book will be structured). This I find is a extremely pleasing rewarding way to spend time. I just wish I started when I became a ground botherer.
The point of this bit is simple, football consumes a colossal chunk of my life. Before the enforced banishment, I had covered over twelve thousand miles taking in games this season. Some say I’m a geek and I suppose there is an element of truth to that. But at the end of the day. I am a fitba fan at all levels. I love it and it is my hobby and it is my social life. This surely this goes for a lot of other people too. I am lucky that Wee Man has decided to follow in his old boys footsteps. This makes me even luckier as I get to tie in my hobby with my son. Absolute result. But unfortunately, at the moment, like everyone we don’t have anything to do just now and we are both pining for game. The kick abouts in the garden are fun but it doesn’t quite hit the spot. The thrill of entering a new ground, the smell of the pie huts, the old mannies wanting a kick about with Wee Man, the emotion of the fans, the goals, the banter in social clubs and even the journeys around the countries are much much missed. With dark clouds on the horizon, dark clouds such as I am currently six thousand miles from work and not getting paid, the potential of losing my job, bad news involving someone close and everything else going on, I could really do with a ninety minutes get away for a break from reality . It is far from just a game and anyone who utters this rubbish clearly doesn’t understand. The lack of football leaves a serious gap in Wee Man and my lives.
Haste ye back fitba. The world is a bit shite without you