Over 100 days and more without a game have been bestowed on me for the the second occasion in recent times(first time led to just over 200 in the end). It creates a hole in life when your social life has two things in it and one is taken away entirely. That one is more than just the solitary activity its self. That activity is live fitba, it branches into more than just the watching as you will see below. With the draconian restrictions on life being lifted somewhat and a wee glimmer of hope of normality returning(unless you are in Glasgow which have surely had everything ruined by the knuckle dragging troglodytes “celebrating” a league win by kicking the fuck out of each other), is there light at the end of the tunnel for fitba? The pessimist in me says no way in terms of decent crowds for a while yet. When you properly have a gander at the way out of this nightmare and listen to Jason fucking Leitch and the roadmap it does not appear to be good for even next season. As I write 600 fans are just been removed from any Scottish Cup final plans. But we will wait and see what next season brings. Lower leagues on the other hand…….in just over a weeks time, the North Caledonian League restarts and whether the government cronies say aye or no, I will be there, hopefully with my trusty sidekick. The trip to the picturesque Scourie ground for a match v Loch Ness wont bring back all of the below, but it will definitely be a step in the right direction. Baby steps and all that.
Here are the ten things above and beyond the 90 minutes that I miss with nae fitba.
1 – Seeing the Sights/Taking in Culture
A day at the fitba is more than the 90 minutes these days. I have mentioned this in previous blogs before, whether it was Lindesfarne, Five Sisters Zoo, Linlithgow Palace or Deep Sea World or wherever, a day at the fitba with Wee Man is a full day out. Point of interest , lunch then the game. Over the three years since he started we have pumped a good amount of money into the countries economy through visits and eating. My Old Boy has said he would love to do what we do as it is a great way to see our fantastic country(and Northern England). He is not wrong. But it is not just on home shores. Contrary to common belief , I do not just get pished up and watch fitba when on my solo European sojourns, I am all about the sights and culture. For example I once lost track of time in Sigmund Freud’s house in Vienna prior to a Rapid v Mattersburg game and made kick off with two minutes to spare after hastily finding a taxi. I crossed the bridge from “A Bridge Too Far” prior to Go Ahead Eagles v Almere City. I was in the Grolsch Brewery before Twente v Cambuur, I ate a Bolognese before Bologna v Juventus. Oslo gave me a stunning three hours of its beautiful scenery prior to Valarenga v Lillestrom and continuing on the walking theme, I covered 24 miles around Rome the day before the Eternal derby. There is so much more and I could really write a travelogue on my trips so far given all I have seen. On top of the places of interest and traipsing around, I try to only eat local food and drink local grog too as Bologna shows. Snails in Amiens, bachalou in Lisbon, sausage and sauerkraut in Dortmund I have made a good attempt at it. It’s all about embracing where you are. Something I definitely miss
2 – Folk
People make fitba. There is the banter, the aggression, the passion, the territorial bravado, the hatred and the emotion. But there is also the friendliness, the generosity and the welcoming nature you find in the lower grades of the Scottish game. Abroad is the same too but across all levels. The chats with complete strangers, Wee Mans kick abouts with his trusty yellow ball and anyone that will join him, the gifts(I don’t ask for them), the pints, the gentle ribbing about being Aberdonian, its all missed . Without folk, fitba is nothing. Everyone from punters , committees , bar staff ,pie sellers, players or whoever .
3 – Pies
Yes, I ensure I taste the offerings of clubs. It is part of the fitba experience (with a coffee and a twix thrown into the mix). Steak pies at Forres Mechanics. A gift from the heavens that will never be beaten. But I will continue my quest to top them until the day I drop dead.
4 – The Netherlands
Without doubt my favourite place on earth out with the confines of my own brilliant country. 18 grounds been conquered to date over four divisions and many more on the list(Heracles, NAC, Sparta, Roda JC, Telstar, Groningen and others). I have been over numerous times and met so many great people, visited great cities and developed a soft spot for a team in Go Ahead Eagles and their fantastic city Deventer. I go at least once a season and incidentally my last foreign trip before the world fell apart culminated in a Vitesse v Heerenveen game. The people are great, the cities and towns are great, the games are usually highly enjoyable(except Fortuna Sittard v Emmen which is maybe the worst I have seen anywhere) and the beers are great and underrated(there is a very high standard craft beer culture). I have been treated to nights out by locals all across the country and taken under locals wings at numerous clubs and again you are made to feel really welcome. Fifteen months and counting since I was there but when it is possible I will be taking Wee Man over to De Adelaarshorst for an Eagles game and take in another somewhere else.
5 – The Excitement
I have been told I am a bit of a geek for this but since I jacked my Dons season ticket two summers ago(as I was far from excited about the chore Pittodrie had become under Derek McInnes) I genuinely get excited about the next club I am visiting. I spend my time looking or fitba I can connect with as that feeling has died when it comes to the Scottish Premier. I was lucky that my flame for the pro game was dying at the same time as Wee Man decided to tag along and preferred the “little games”. It all went hand in hand and the search for fitba bliss commenced. Who knew a trip to Shotts, Cumnock or Sauchie or further afield in Tow Law or Esh Winning could put a spring in my step as compared to trudging to and from Pittodrie. It was totally unexpected but more than welcome. I definitely found a new lease of life with the new approach to live fitba(aided by Wee Man). After five years of “groundhopping”(shite term), three and a half really when you factor in Corona. Then again its less than two when you consider my work, I am more than happy with where my life is and I will continue to search for football bliss despite being pretty sure I have found it.
6 – Stumbling on Great Clubs
Sometimes you turn up at a club and are treated like old friends, the locals take you on and everything just seems to click. It has happened a few times over the past few years. You are made to feel like more than a number as you would at the upper ends of fitba. A few spring to mind immediately, Cumnock, Carlisle City, Dungannon Swifts, Go Ahead Eagles, Annan Athletic, Rothes, Consett. Clubs want your money and nothing else, you are a customer. Some other clubs make you feel welcome and want you there at their club. From the committees and fans giving you a warm welcome, free entries, wee gestures from a free pin badge or programme, pints with the locals and just being given the time of day. It’s refreshing to be just more than a number. A similar theme to “Folk” but it goes a bit further. Especially when you find yourself checking the results and watching games once you have visited.
7 – Social Clubs/Fan Bars
Whether its an old reeking of stale smoke of yesteryear Scottish junior social club in desperate need of a lick of paint or a Dutch fan bar with the usual obligatory brain rattling dance music booming I cant get enough of these places. I also love a beer which helps. I have met many a great person in these establishments. Auchinleck Talbot, Go Ahead Eagles, Cambuur, Dundalk, Linlithgow Rose, Utrecht, Ryton and Crawcrook Albion, Turriff United, Dumbarton and so many more have seen pints bought and local friendliness directed toward to this outsider. A good way to suss out how your day is going to go pre match, well that is what I tend to find anyway. Also the heartbeat of many clubs.
8 – Italy
What started off as a one off with a pal to the Rome derby turned into an annual event. After Roma v Lazio came AC Milan v Napoli, Atalanta v Inter and Brescia v Carpi, then came Fiorentina v Inter, Bologna v Juventus and Perugia v Cosenza. Corona hit and Juventus v Torino bit the dust along with Sampdoria v SPAL but it hasn’t dampened my spirit towards the game( I was admiring from afar long before I headed over to Rome anyway). Hesgoal is working overtime just now in my house for the Serie A and Serie B games. But that will never compensate for being in Italy and being in amongst the phenomenal atmospheres, megaphones and fire crackers. Roll on being allowed back, Juventus can piss off though, super league wannabe arseholes.
9 – The Newmachar Chipper
The best chipper (not chippy) around. Frequented when we have been to a game “doon the road”. The fish is huge and fresh, the batter is golden and crispy, the king ribs are sublime and the usual pie(chaser) is always stappit full of steak. Then the chips never fail to hit the spot. To add to its excellence, it is close enough to the house that I can drive home, and the food is still hot. We haven’t visited since our Northern Football League glut in October time. As the North Caledonian League is the only league open for business now the absence will grow as it’s the wrong side of home for Highland trips
10- It is Our Thing
By this I mean its our biggest source of father son bonding. He loves it, I love it, hopefully it carries on until I’m old and decrepit and that he never gets too cool to go to a game with his old boy. When he is older he can drive and I will take advantage of the social clubs a bit more. I don’t need to say much more than that.
With a week to go until Scourie v Loch Ness I would be lying if I said I wasn’t getting a bit excited. ‘MON THE FITBA. Normality no, but its a start