Written For Nutmeg Number 25
Surrounded by nothing but peace and tranquillity as we strolled along the River Spey in the vicinity of Aberlour. With the frequent stopping to throw sticks and stones into arguably the worlds most exported river and the smile that uncomplicated pursuit brought to a certain young boy’s face, a feeling of bliss had enveloped me. As the water unhurriedly rolled past us and the mirror like surface was intermittently broken as numerous projectiles were chucked in its direction, I could not help but feel over the moon with events of the night. Not even the blood thirsty midges could put a damper on proceedings. Forty-three miles from home, in Charlestown of Aberlour, on a Tuesday night, were we there for the whisky? No. What about the shortbread? Not that either. We had journeyed to watch a Moray and District league match between Aberlour Villa and Cullen at the truly enchanting Villa Park. Just being where we were summed up how my life had changed in recent times.
A week after our trip to the Moray town I was met with the words, “Daddy, you don’t need to go to work, I will give you the money in my piggy bank”. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. These were the words of my seven-year-old son Jake before I left for my latest trip for work in Indonesia. As time has passed, leaving him in Aberdeenshire for weeks at a time has become harder and harder and comments such as this certainly don’t ease anything. Throughout his short life Jake has not only been my son but well and truly my best mate on earth. Kids will always change your life, that is a given, they help you grow up and mature, which again comes with the territory. However, this little dude altered my existence in many other ways away from the obvious and for the better too. The latter unfolding when we became football sidekicks and when I leave it is a bitter blow for the pair of us.
In my own thirty-eight years I have been a lifelong Aberdeen fan who has lived in the surrounds of the Aberdeenshire countryside for the guts of that time. This barring a brief intermission of city life under the bright lights of Aberdeen itself. I have supported my local team for as long as I can recall. Supporting the Dons for me has come in phases due to kicking a ball about myself at juvenile, junior and amateur levels in the Northeast. There were the early days where my own Dad, brother and I had season tickets in the Merkland Road end cheering on the Dons to, well more lows than highs. This then changed into dribs and drabs when my own football switched from Sunday to Saturday. Sixteen years later I was back on the terraces of Pittodrie in possession of a season ticket after succumbing to an ankle injury. This meaning I reluctantly gave up the game I loved playing to revert into punter mode once again. Section Y of the South Stand is where I believed I was to spend the rest of my days. Life was made immeasurably superior four years later when I became a dad. I chucked the away games but continued down Merkland Road East following the men in red every other Saturday. But in the 2017/18 season something remarkable happened. At three years old Jake decided he wanted to attend football with me. My football viewing habits took a drastic change one Friday in the April when unexpectedly Jake woke during the night. He came down to the living room where I was perched, libation in hand watching Hannover v Werder Bremen game on the box. With the home team in red his first question was, “is that Aberdeen?” His followed up with, “Daddy, can I come to football with you?”. From then I don’t think I processed the remaining minutes of Hannover’s 2 v 1 victory. I was too engrossed in the working out an itinerary for the following day. With Aberdeen on the road at Tynecastle, Pittodrie was out the window. But the decision to take him to local side Colony Park Juniors who were entertaining Stonehaven, unbeknown at the time was a death nail hammered in my Pittodrie season ticket.
Aberlour Villa was Jake’s one hundred and twelfth ground visited and one hundred and third in Scotland. With fifteen revisits added into the equation and a further nine grounds on foreign soil he has been to one hundred and twenty-seven games with me to date. Sticking to the subject of our great nation, we have covered a wide range of levels on home soil with games in every level of the pyramid and more recently dipping into Amateur and Welfare. All in all, this has seen us view fifty-two separate tournaments being challenged for in each other’s company. The Highland League is the most prominent on eleven viewings which comes as no surprise as I find it to be the best league in the World and the league, I enjoy watching the most. Our Scottish travels have seen us cover an incredible 19558 miles together. How is this possible while supporting Aberdeen? Easy, I stopped physically following them in a cold turkey fashion, as simple as that. My previous thoughts of a Pittodrie season ticket until the day I bid the world adieu were tossed on the scrap heap. The malaise surrounding the club under Derek McInnes, the acceptance of mediocrity around me in the stand, with the “remember Patterson and McGhee” type mentality out en masse was a big gripe which I never hid, but it was not enough to take me out of section Y on its own. However, after the wee man broke his Pittodrie duck with a 1 v 0 win over Motherwell. This coming after James Wilson scored a very rare goal in a red shirt. He followed up with a 2 v 1 win down at Rugby Park courtesy of a last-minute Lewis Ferguson goal. Two more games at home were chalked up, Hearts, 2 v 0 and St Mirren, 2 v 2. Then came what I would have expected to be a bombshell. I was informed he did not want to go to Pittodrie anymore. He explained the “little games” were better. Little games as in the games he had been that were not Aberdeen related in the past. The matches with less people kicking about, like Colony Park, Buckie Thistle, Tayport, Whitburn, Albion Rovers, the types of places he had become accustomed to when not watching Aberdeen. But most importantly, the matches he could get his yellow ball in for a kick about at half time. Shortly after his Pittodrie aversion admission, I very quickly followed suit and within a month, I chucked it too. A meek defeat to Hamilton at home midweek which was ludicrously defended by some quarters followed by a draw against Rangers in the Scottish Cup. This infuriatingly celebrated on Merkland Road after the game like a victory made me realise the “little games” with Jake were indeed better and never attended through habit which Pittodrie had become rather than for enjoyment. Jake despite his dearth of years was entirely correct and his wisdom had won me over. I was all set to take him to his sought after destinations. A bombshell it was not but a blessing in disguise.
Since that Scottish Cup tie, I have not been back, I did not even finish that campaign, I let the season ticket gather dust then without any thought. I just didn’t bother renewing. Three and a half years have elapsed since then. Do I miss it? Surprisingly, not at all. I would never have considered those words could be uttered by my own mouth, but I have come to expect the unexpected in life. People may think it is sacrilege or I am not a true fan. In all honesty I couldn’t give a toss as being a dad trumps it all. A dad who gets to travel the country with his football daft loon seeing the sights and visiting places never thought to call in on in the past while meeting some terrific charachters along the way. This is exactly how I want to spend time with him and for as long as he wants to reciprocate it’s what we will do.
From St Duthus furthest north, Peterhead in the East, Stranraer to the West and St Cuthbert Wanderers making up the furthest South berth so far, we have got about that’s for sure. In a ground sense we have been to some of the best Scotland has to offer. Beechwood Park of Sauchie Juniors, The Canniepairt in Tayport, the hidden gem that is Moorside Park in Cardenden, home of Dundonald Bluebell. Lesmahagow’s craggy Craigend Park is to be visited to be believed. The hill behind the goal is an exceptional quirk. In our rarer ventures into the League tiers, the wonderful relics of Cappielow, Palmerston and Borough Briggs were lapped up by us. The Highland League also gave Jake his first tastes of the aesthetically breath-taking Bellslea and Kynoch Parks architecture wise and MacKessack and Princess Royal Park when it comes to the visuals of the ground settings. It is a lot more than just the football though. More importantly in the process of chasing football bliss we have both fallen in love with our magnificent country and what it has to offer away from the game. My love was rekindled, this because I had seriously taken Scotland for granted somewhat for a long period of time. I didn’t go out my way to dig deep and visit new places and points of interest. I criminally chose further afield most of the time. Something in all honesty I have now come to regret.
Since Jake started accompanying me to the football, we have used Saturday games as full days out. With a point of interest first prior to lunch. If the weather is good its always a picnic but if not, it is a local café or pub. Always a local establishment though, and never a chain of sorts. Then the game in the afternoon followed by a couple of episodes of the Simpsons or Bob’s Burgers once home before before bed. For example, the first trip after our Pittodrie exiles were officially put in place was Airdrieonians v Montrose. Pregame shenanigans took us to World of Wings next to Cumbernauld this followed by a picnic. The sight of Eagles, Owls, Falcons, and great big bloody Condor which at the time was taller than Jake were appreciated by the bucket load by the wee man, leaving the enormous black vulture as the main talking point at Excelsior. For the following couple of weeks Jake was continually doing his own mock-up of how a Condor walks much to my amusement. But the trips did not start pre sans Pittodrie, we made days out of our Saturdays prior, with visits to the Discovery (Dundee Violet), Antonine Wall (Camelon), The Kelpies and Falkirk Wheel (Whitburn) and The Summerlee Museum of Industrial Life prior to Albion Rovers as examples. Obviously, the areas visited increased when more time was made available. Off the top of my head, points of interest to be visited have been inclusive of the very Alan Partridgesque Scottish Owl Centre at Polkemmet Country Park prior to perching ourselves on the terrace at Shotts Bon Accord. More animal related locations include Deep-Sea World before crossing the Forth heading in the direction of Blackburn, Five Sisters Zoo before Bathgate Thistle getting scudded by local rivals Armadale Thistle and the Fife Zoo. This where Jake was transfixed on Armadillos for a large chunk of the visit. The latter coming before finding ourselves on the banks of the Tay at the wonderful East Shore Park home of Newburgh Juniors. Away from wildlife there were history lessons at Linlithgow Palace, pre-Rose. Arbroath (Vics) and Elgin (New) gave us the chance to visit cathedrals of old. The Unicorn in Dundee complete with affable rogue puss Diego was boarded prior to taking on Midland League new boys St James. The Wallace Monument was scaled not once but three times en route to Denny to watch Dunipace. This so Jake could make sure he had counted the steps correctly. It was worth it for the views despite the sweaty oxters I had on in the aftermath. There was also the grisly story of the fantastically positioned Auchindoun Castle not far down the road from Keith before a Highland League game in whisky country. There is something enrapturing about ruined castles to me, and I prefer them ones still intact. Auchindoun being one of many castles we have had a nosey about over time. We have also visited many cultural landmarks like the memorial of legendary AC/DC frontman Bon Scott in Kirriemuir before watch the eponymous Thistle. Lochore Meadows and the Mary Pit Head next door to Lochore Welfare was visited under the scorching Fife sun in summer 2021. Another favourite of ours was the superb Moray Motor Museum breaking up a journey up the A96 to Forres Thistle. Brilliant visually with an equally great curator in Brian. More recently the Riverside Museum on the banks of the Clyde welcomed us before St Mirren defeated Kelty Hearts in the Scottish Cup. This being current Dons boss Jim Goodwin’s final game under his previous employers before being lured north. Another important cultural achievement in Jake’s eyes, a Largs Thistle visit could not be complete without a Nardini’s Ice Cream for junior, this despite sub-zero temperatures which had wiped out the vast majority of the non-league card on the day. The cold snap taking out our original plan for the day at Arthurlie’s Dunterlie Park, which to this day still eludes us. One of our favourite stop offs was Cathkin Park en route to Queen of the South. Armed with his yellow ball as always, we had a kick about on the pitch at the old ground followed by a picnic in the terraces. It was a brilliant experience one that we both cherished, and Jake still speaks fondly of it to this day. This was then followed by having a look at the other three Hampdens and explaining the significance to my wee shadow. Unfortunately, the museum was closed that day, but we did get there in future on the way to Benburb a few months later. Sometimes our trips can be straightforward, and we just go for a walk, Cullen Beach, Barr Loch, Callendar Park, Crovie, Cromarty Firth (looking at the oil rig graveyard) prior to matches at Buckie Thistle, Beith, Camelon(again) Deveronvale and St Duthus. The walks can even just be simply around the town we are visiting which has happened in Forres, Dumfries, Rothes, Cumnock and Stranraer where we threw stones into the Loch Ryan for over an hour carefree. What we do doesn’t need to be complicated. This taking me back to Aberlour once again. Here summed Jake and I’s football voyages up perfectly. Simplicity in what we were doing pregame, seeing another part of the country, having fun and taking in our surroundings with a fantastic wee ground thrown into the mix with the trusty yellow ball in tow for the predestined half time knock around. These sorts of trips I will always be thankful to him for. He may be lacking in years in this world but his decision to stop Pittodrie turned into one of the most excellent things to happen to me. Instead of another trip to Tannadice, Easter Road, Fir Park or Pittodrie we are off somewhere new together, father son bonding, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It is something that most likely would not have happened if Jake didn’t make that decision and lay the foundations for me kicking Pittodrie into touch. Life would have been a lot different for sure.
People think football is just a game, this is more than just about the football. Most importantly it is about hanging out with my greatest pal. It is also about the bonding, the laughs, the memories and the kickabouts. It’s about seeing other parts of our stunning country, the embracing of what other places have to offer. Its about loving where we are from and Scottish pride which I have recovered with abundance. We may not have conquered the entire country yet, but we have given it a bloody good go so far with visits to twenty-two different lieutenancy areas. Anyway, there is ample time to continue our roaming and attempt to conquer the entire nation. Meanwhile, look out Halkirk, Dalmellington, Thornton, Carloway, Prestonpans, Scone and anywhere that will welcome us in the superb country that we are lucky to call home. There is a father/son combo coming soon enough to visit your club, see your sights and get fed in your eateries. But most importantly have a kick about with the faithful yellow fitba in your town.