Sunday, 27 July 2014

Greenock Morton: My role in their survival.

As many of you will know, I am a great partisan of, as the song has it, “Saint Mirren from Pais-a-lee”.

About fifteen, indeed on reflection more like twenty, years ago, our great rivals, Greenock  Morton, were threatened with going out of business. Some cowboy, whose details now have faded in my memory, had gained a significant shareholding in the Greenock Club and was threatening to put them down so that he could sell off Crappielow (as we in Paisley know it) for redevelopment.

Anyway, this was an eventuality we Saints could not contemplate. So a “friendly” St Mirren against Morton match was arranged at the self same stadium to raise funds for those  trying to save the Greenock side.

I went with one of my nephews who was just reaching the age that he was not prepared to do something without at least some rationale being given. So as we drove down the M8 I was subject to some interrogation.

“Why are we going to this?”

“To try to help save the Morton”

“But we hate the Morton, don’t we?”

“Of course we do, but we wouldn’t want to see them going out of business.”


“Because then we’d have nobody to hate”

“Couldn’t we just hate somebody else.....I don’t know, Kilmarnock or somebody?”

“It wouldn’t be the same. Anyway, it is Ayr United who hate Kilmarnock. St Mirren hate Morton. That is the natural order of things.”


“Look, stop asking silly questions. It just is.”

As history now records, Morton were saved and, as a result, still, on the darkest of February Saturdays, as Saints fans  troop out of New Greenhill Road even after the most miserable of defeats, our fans will fall silent as one particular result  from the lower leagues is announced over the Tannoy. And if Morton have lost as well we will muster a ragged cheer and console ourselves that the day could have been worse.

Sporting rivalries are in the very nature of Team sports. And in their pursuit much heat can be generated. In the real world, nobody from Paisley thinks the “soapdodgers” from Greenock have a problem with their personal hygiene, any more than those from the Arse of the Bank truly believe the entire population of my own home town are addicted to Heroin.  Mind you, these are surely mild insults compared to the revelation, as Tim parks reported in his book about Italian football followers,  that the supporters of Hellas Verona refer to their rivals from Vicenza as mangi gatti  (cat eaters) in memory of a Sixteenth Century siege during which the residents of that latter city were indeed reduced to that sad condition.

But it is a mistake to assume that sporting rivalry has a wider resonance.  I readily confess to being in the “anybody but England” camp when it comes to team sports. Earlier today, while watching the Rugby Sevens,  I discovered, alongside many other Scots I suspect,  a previously unrecognised enthusiasm for Samoa.  So what? That is hardly the basis for a system of Government. And anybody who does surely needs to have a long think about themselves.

And anyway, team sports are quite different from individual events. Whoever a great athlete competes for in an individual contest, I am happy to give them my support. I might choose a favourite and I readily recognise that one reason for greater favouritism might be greater familiarity with one competitor over another .  But the idea that i would be hostile to any competitor because of their nationality seems to me to be bizarre.  And for what it is worth I believe that is a sentiment shared by the great mass of the population, whether dedicated sports watchers or otherwise.

Yet in their belief that the Commonwealth Games might represent a change in their fortunes the Nationalists seem to have ignored this relatively obvious observation.

To support Scotland and Scottish competitors comes naturally to all of us who live here because we are, or at least become, familiar with them.  Even if they are from Greenock.

I am as surprised and pleased as anybody to learn that we appear to be some sort of Commonwealth superpower when it comes to Judo. I say that even while being less than clear while watching it who is winning and why. But it has surely nothing to do with Scottish Independence to be enthusiastic about Scotland, or Scottish competitors, in a sporting context. As with so much else, it is also necessary to be antipathetic to England.  And to believe anyway that what happens in the sporting field,  particularly in the “Friendly Games”,  is capable of having any political significance.

I have no idea what the Nats expected here. That Greg Rutherford or Laura Trott or Nicola Adams would found themselves booed as bearing the hated colours of our oppressors?  Really?

Well, if they did they are as deluded as they appear to be about everything else.

Indeed, I suspect that if the Games have any impact at all on the Referendum it will be the exact opposite of Nationalist  hopes. The Games have brought an awful  lot of English people to Scotland. And contrary to Nationalist stereotype they have not spent their time here treating the local population with little concealed disdain while talking loudly in upmarket hotels about their indifference to the poor. Rather they have proved to be remarkably

Except perhaps that when it came to the Rugby sevens they did not share our enthusiasm for Samoa.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

A change of air

So, I’m back.

I am not the greatest fan of Bernard Ponsonby but just over a month back he observed that those who believed that the Independence Referendum would  dominate the public discourse in Scotland between now and 18th September did nor appreciate the impact of the World Cup.

He was right.

By virtue of the Summer break I saw the World Cup in three different Countries. Or, if you prefer one view of Scotland’s status, four different countries.

Having left my own Country/Countries after the group stage, I saw the round of 16 and most of the quarter finals while with Andi’s family in Hungary. I then saw both the semis and the final itself in Italy.

The final I saw on a big screen in a square in Rome in the company of the citizens of many nations but most prominently, and understandably, of those of Germany and Argentina.

Sportingly, there was no love lost. Afterwards the Germans drank (even) more publicly in celebration while the Argentinians drank (even more still I suspect) privately in grief.  But during the event there was a strange kind of love. Love of “il calcio” certainly but also love of an event that could bring so many nations together in a moment of mutual interest in ninety or, as it transpired, one hundred and twenty minutes.

For the World Cup probably sums up more than any other event that the world is shrinking. That German fans would be as well informed of the constant diligence of Mascherano or the faltering form of Messi as the Argentinians were of the fortuitous absence of Khedeira or the potential danger of underestimating the German’s one extra rest day if the game went to extra time.

And when Klose was taken off for the last time in a World Cup, it wasn't just everyone in the stadium who applauded his final departure from the field, it was everyone in that square in Rome. And I suspect everyone in hundreds, thousands, of similar locations across the world.

The next day I was home.

To a country where, in the aftermath of the world coming together, some still seemed anachronistically determined to see reasons for putting us all once again apart.

Except that for all Bernard claimed that nothing would change during the World Cup something seemed subtly to have changed. The Nationalists had realised they were going to get beat. And that this was all the fault of the electorate.

I could cite any number of such pieces from the press or the blogosphere but they all share common themes. A bitterness towards the people of Scotland. Somehow we are not worthy of all the poems written and faces painted in the cause of “freedom”.  Surely any true patriot would be unconcerned with the economic technicalities? That they would if necessary be prepared to starve for their flag? Self determination is a wonderful thing but only if it is exercised in a particular way. Class politics must, at least for the moment, step aside in the interests of “the nation”. Most bizarrely of all, that after 18th September, the SNP will enjoy a benefit from losing while the Labour Party will pay a price for winning.

For prominent examples over the last few days you need only look to Joyce McMillan in Friday’s Scotsman, Neil Ascherson in today’s New York Times or Stehen Maxwell in the New Syatesman. Perhaps at its most grande guignol, this piece by Peter Arnott  in Bella Caledonia.


There are two iron rules of democracy. The first is that when the voters have spoken, the voters have spoken. And the second? That the voters are always right.

I have written before about the parallels between Yes Scotland and the Labour Party of the early eighties. Then, even  more fully packed and self satisfied rooms of the same people on different, sometimes every, night of the week wore different hats and titles as the occasion demanded. The platform on a Tuesday, the audience on a Wednesday, the Committee on a Thursday.  Convincing themselves of their own certainty while the wider public looked on askance. Initially with disinterest and then, as that public inreasingly found themselves accused of lacking appropriate sympathetic zeal, with ever more certainty that those so fanatically engaged with politics were not quite "like them".

Yet, as the prospect of inevitable defeat sinks in it seems to me that the Nationalists have learned nothing from that earlier political period. Post 1983 there was a brief fashion for badges bearing the message “Don’t blame me, I voted Labour”. It certainly allowed us (and I readily concede I was one of “us”) a degree of comfort but as to persuading those who had not voted Labour? That accusing them of stupidity or, worse still, personal responsibility for what then followed was unlikely to win them over? That lesson took a longer time to learn. Arguably a full further fourteen years.

That wiser heads in the SNP have not always had an eye to at least the possibility of defeat is almost inconceivable but whether they will learn from it what they might need to survive; an acceptance of the result and an avowed determination to get on with the proper governance of Scotland for the next eighteen months? That is more difficult to call.

For the victors it will certainly be amusing to watch.