Originally Written For Turnstiles Magazine #4, March 2022
Friday April 6th, 2018, just a random date to most, however it was life altering for me. This is because Jake my three and a bit year old son unexpectedly got up during the night and came down to the living room where I was perched beer in hand watching Hannover against Werder Bremen. With the home team in red his first question was “Daddy is that Aberdeen?”. I let him watch for a bit and the innocent typical youngster comments followed “wow, that’s a massive kick”, “he hurt his knee”, “look at the fire” (flares). He was clearly taking an interest in what he was watching. Then he uttered the words “Daddy, can I come to the football with you?”. I had been waiting for this day since he came into this world in 2014. After my excitement died down and I got him back to his bed I tried to work out where we could get a game the following day. Aberdeen were away to Hearts so that was a no go. I then thought about Inverurie Locos as they are the most local team to our house, but they were away. Cove Rangers on the other hand who were still living their gypsy existence were at “home” to Clachnacuddin at the Loco’s Harlaw Park. But to add to things, it turned out that Colony Park were hosting Stonehaven in the North Region Super League at their eponymous ground meters from Harlaw Park. Due to the earlier kick off I planned on most of the Juniors then a Highland League fix after. In the end the latter never materialised as Jake enjoyed the Juniors so much, and why not, six goals (all Stonehaven), a sending off for an outrageous elbow, a kick about at half time and juice and a sweetie. Although the journey home was short, he was clearly excited and kept talking about the game. It was a great introduction to live football for the boy and going by how much he spoke about it, it seemed a can of worms had well and truly been open. At this point though I could never have imagined how big of a can.
Just under four years later we walked through our 100th different turnstile together. From Tain furthest north to Dundalk south, Dungannon west to Sunderland in the east our journeys have taken us 23990 miles. This is almost the equivalent of circumnavigating the globe on its polar axis. There have been revisits locally but on first visits, we have viewed 51 different tournaments in 4 countries. 416 times we have witnessed the net rustle which suggests we are getting plenty value for money at over 4 goals a game on average. 46 home wins, 39 away wins and 11 draws, 3 neutral finals have been witnessed. With an abandonment thrown in too, which was his first ever Aberdeen game v Cove Rangers, this being a story itself. The biggest score has been Lochee Harp 0 v 15 Carnoustie Panmure and we have 3 blank scores which are obviously the lowest. Colony Park were the first club visited and for the hundredth we headed south from our Aberdeenshire abode to Glasgow’s southside to visit nonleague giants Pollok at their wonderful Newlandsfield Park. Pollok’s home is like a trip back in time and truly is a wonderful experience and I was as excited as him even though I had previously visited. The trip was made even better by the club giving us access all areas pre-game, a wee write up on Jake in the programme and plenty of photo opportunities to mark his special day. We also got to knock Jake’s ball about the pitch before the game. A better club and ground combo we could not have visited. What made this more special was it was chosen by the wee man himself. This filling me with a sense of pride as it shows his footballing education has got his brain into a way of thinking that the “lesser” games are the better choice and I wholeheartedly agree with his stance.
Going back to the start, Jake’s first ground was quickly followed with another couple of local Junior venues. Next up was Culter v Stonehaven in the North Regional Cup semi final at Crombie Park. Again, his goal difference was boosted with a 0-5 result sending the Hive into the final. Third up was the final itself against Aberdeen giants Banks o’ Dee at a sun-drenched Ian Mair Park, home of Dyce Juniors. A tight encounter saw The Dee get the engraving on the trophy and Jake being a lucky omen for Stonehaven ending. It was during this match I realised that Jake was now really into the live game malarkey as, long as he got his sweetie and a kick about with his ball he was in his element. From this day he asked if we were going to football pretty much every time he woke up. It was turning into our thing, this leading me to try him further afield to test if the travelling bothered him. Dundee Violet, Buckie Thistle and Camelon were visited and again he was clearly excited by this. It was more than obvious he loved watching games, he could travel, now there was only one thing left to try. Pittodrie! How would he take to the Dons and the bigger crowds? Motherwell were the visitors, the sun was shining, it was his birthday. and his excitement levels were visibly high. Meeting Angus the Bull was his highlight, and a win came via an early rare James Wilson goal. His Aberdeen viewing was off to a flier. Was this it? Was the season ticket incoming? Were we away to start travelling the length of the country watching the men in red? No, putting it simply. Home matches v St Mirren and Hearts followed with an away day at Kilmarnock thrown in too and he informed me he did not want to attend the “big games” anymore. This in simple terms was Aberdeen was a no go and lower and non-leagues were where he wanted to be and he had to be able to get his faithful yellow ball in with him. I had nobody to blame for this but myself, it was my own fault as our visits and kickabouts at Tayport, Whitburn, Lochee United and such like were more appealing to him, and it was me who took him to such clubs. However, incredibly, I would have thought his rejection of Aberdeen would have been like a dagger to the heart. Although not being totally free of disappointment I was in fact excited at the potential of a new chapter in life. I gave up on my beloved Dons and spending every other Saturday at Pittodrie to do what he wanted to do.
Once my Pittodrie hiatus was fully confirmed we watched football in Aberdeenshire, Dundee, Angus, Perth and Kinross, North Lanarkshire, and Falkirk by the time the remainder of the season played out. Then in the pre-season his first foreign journey happened with a trip just over the border to Blyth Spartans’ tidy Croft Park for a friendly v Stranraer. Here we had a kick about on the terrace with some jovial locals and the Wee Man’s trusty well-travelled yellow ball. This filling him with obvious glee. He added an extra couple of countries to his tally when we went on a break to Belfast. Here we nipped into the Republic for a day and finished off with Dundalk v Finn Harps and followed up the next day back in Northern Ireland at Dungannon Swifts v Glentoran. Closer to home Beith, Islavale, Kelty Hearts, Bathgate Thistle and more were visited in the early part of the season, the first without Aberdeen in my life for the guts of thirty years and in all honesty, I did not miss it at all or even think about it. I knew I had found my calling. We were having the time of our lives and he was mad for it. But it was about more than just the football.
Watching football takes you to places you are unlikely to visit for any other reason than football. Will we ever set foot in Airdrie or Bo’ness again? I will bet my house we won’t. This meaning we embrace the places we visit. A typical Saturday at the football is a local point of interest such as a castle, museum, bird of prey centre, stone circle, country park or whatever is in the area. Walks about the towns are also common and we have even found ourselves simply just throwing stones into the sea for a couple of hours in Stranraer. This is followed by lunch which is either a picnic if the weather suits or a local café then on to the game. It really is a fantastic way to see our beautiful country we live in and sometimes others, but it is also about creating memories, having a laugh but most importantly it is father/son bonding for us, and I wouldn’t change that for anything. Having to give up Aberdeen was an insignificant price to pay for this ongoing period of my life.
Our travels have seen many highlights. When asked his favourite ground Jake’s usual reply is Sunderland’s Stadium of Light. This was a great last-minute trip. Tidy ground, a random chat with Tranmere Rovers manger Micky Mellon in a hotel lift who was a brilliant fellow, friendly locals, five goals and a happy wee loon. The day started with a visit to Lindesfarne on the way down then more history came by following Hadrian’s wall over the next day leading us to St Cuthbert Wanderers in Kirkcudbright. A highly enjoyable couple of days. Staying on the England theme, during the pandemic we crossed the border five times in a three-week period to watch the Northern League which was the only football we could get due to the enforced shut-down. Carlisle City, Tow Law Town, Consett, Ryton and Crawcrook Albion and Esh Winning all welcomed us in and we became aware of this great old league just a hop skip and a jump away from us. It’s like the Highland League in many ways which will always be up my street as I think the HFL is the greatest league on earth. The people we met at all clubs were brilliant and it was just a pleasurable experience. Something we need to do again soon.
The story of Jakes 50th ground is a good one too. Sauchie Juniors in Clackmananshire. A warm welcome awaited from a club who really are a credit to Scottish non-league football. But to mark it I bought my usual half time draw tickets. 50/50 as its known at Beechwood Park and I scooped it. This meaning on Jakes 50th, I won £50 of the 50/50 draw. You couldn’t have written a better story. A trip to Forfar was the ultimate highlight in football terms. Forfar West End v Tayport in the East of Scotland Consolation Cup. The greatest game of football in the history of the sport. 4 v 4. Tough tackles flying in from all angles, the greatest save I have seen in the flesh which I would never do justice describing it. Let me just say if this was in the World Cup you would never see the end of it. The game was 3 v 2 Tayport at ninety minutes and finished with a rapid fire three goal flurry. I seriously doubt we will ever see a see a better game. Superlative generating action. To be noted we went to see West End a week later at Blairgowrie and they did not disappoint with a 4 v 3 win. Another highlight of this is stumbling across clubs that you are treated brilliantly at and really looked upon as more than just a customer. There have been some wonderful clubs out there, Cumnock Juniors, Lochore Welfare, Sauchie Juniors, Albion Rovers, Arbroath Victoria, Rothie Rovers, Easthouses Lily and the Northern League lot spring mentioned above to mind and make up my good guy list. I find a connection with the lower and non-leagues that’s for sure. Maybe it stems from my own playing days. I realise the effort put in to keep these clubs running, it’s not just about an XI on the pitch. From kit washers to MCs on a match day to the person selling the pies or whoever, they are all invaluable to clubs who rely on volunteers. But if I was to pick a highlight of all of this it is listening to Jake and deciding to hit the road searching for football bliss something I can safely say I have found. If I didn’t listen, I would never have experienced what we have together and for that I will always be grateful to him for changing my life from in a footballing sense.
From Colony Park to Pollok. From a timid wary three-year-old to a seven-year-old bona fide football daft loon and perfect wing man, who’s love for what we do has never waned. At Colony Park he clearly didn’t know what to think and asked innocent childish questions, got frights when players and punters raised their voice in his vicinity and ran away from the match ball when it was near him. Come Pollok he was studying league tables, asking nicknames, retrieving the ball for the players, making score predictions, and eating pies. A lot has changed with age but something that has not is the love we have of doing this together. Some people don’t get how you can just give up on your lifelong team. In simple, it is not about what we are doing, it is about doing it together and it just so happens that thing is football. If you told me a few years ago that I would have a life without watching Aberdeen, I would have laughed at you. Here I am, three years since I have visited Pittodrie with a football loving kid on 100 grounds, happier than I have ever been watching football at any point. Watching it with my best pal and his ball and loving every single minute of it. I hope our adventures never change. He may stop taking his yellow ball when he is older though, but for now the miles will continue to clock up. Here is to chasing 200 and many more kickabouts all across the land.