Thursday, March 09, 2006

Scottish Beer, Legendary Madmen and FOOTBALL

Recently, Decatur CD's good friend Ali made a trip to Scotland. He sent us a lengthy and amusing story of the trip, which you can read below, complete with photos. Enjoy:
Some of you who visited Decatur CD between March and August last year may have noticed a guy with a funny accent and a Clash/Rezillos/Stiff Little Fingers etc t-shirt expounding on the virtues of British punk rock from 1976-1978 behind the counter. That was me. Warren was kind enough to allow an exiled Scottish music fiend to live out a dream by allowing me to spend a bit of time working in a super-cool-and-groovy independent music store for a while. In return for that, I promised him some words for the Decatur CD website. Which now, I’ve finally got round to.

Warren asked me for two things – a little bit about my recent visit back to the auld country, and a piece about soccer. Which we pronounce FOOTBALL. Which is a game you play with your feet. Unlike the aberration that you Americans seem to be so fond of, where the use of feet seems to be restricted to little celebration dances when an egg shaped thing is thrown (that’ll be by hand then) across a line and caught (that’ll be the hands again) by a team mate. Anyway I’m ranting. Sorry.

So, on 22nd February, I, along with an American friend who had never set foot outside this continent flew up to Newark airport, and then on across the Atlantic, where, six and a quarter hours later, we touched down in my home city of Edinburgh. The weather was as I expected. Dreadful. The contemporary Scottish poet Kenneth White once started a poem about that fair city with this line: “the wind was blowing Edinburghly hard”. Anyone who has ever visited the city between the months of October and March (and often including April – September) will know exactly what that means. The wind that whips through the city comes directly of the River forth, which flows into the North Sea, which is the Arctic Ocean with a less ominous name. Although the temperature was pretty much the same as the temperature I’d left behind in Atlanta the day before (around 39-40 degrees Fahrenheit), the wind chill factor did exactly same as the humidity here does in the summer – made it unbearable.

The purpose of my visit, apart from seeing friends and family, eating fish suppers and decent Indian curries, drinking Scottish beer etc was to see my football (actually the correct Scottish pronunciation is fitbaw) team Hibernian play a quarter-final tie in the Scottish Cup, and to see the godlike genius that is one of my all-time musical heroes, Julian Cope play. Both these events occurred in one long, wonderful day. I’ll start at the beginning.

Firstly, I have to go back to the night before, or more correctly, the afternoon before, when I met some friends in one of Edinburgh’s most famous drinking establishments, The Café Royal. This is, without doubt my favourite pub in the city. It is beautiful to look at and I have so many happy memories of wonderful times spent in there over the last 20 odd years. Above all, it was the place where my lovely wife (the reason I live in this country) and I shared our first kiss. Anyway, much fun was had reminiscing and drinking. After that, we toddled down to my home town proper, Musselburgh, just outside the city, to my favourite pub in the world, Staggs Bar for an evening with my best friend and a few others. I’ve been going to Staggs since before I hit the legal drinking age (which in my country is 18) and I love the place. It’s a wee community rather than a bar, and it was really nice to see some familiar faces. Eventually, we ended up at my pal’s house listening to Tom Waits wonderful Nighthawks at the Diner and having a few more beers. I finally crawled into bed at my parents’ house at 3.45am.

So, at 8.30am, I received a phone call from the friend I was going to the football game and the concert with, Sean, who somewhat sheepishly said “oh, by the way, did I mention that the bus we’re on to go to the game leaves at 10am?” The game was in a town called Falkirk, and 30 miles from Edinburgh and about 20 minutes drive from the city. The game kicked off at 3pm. It was going to be a long day…..

Anyway, I should give you a little information about my team. Hibernian, or Hibs as they are affectionately known have been, for most of my life pretty awful. When I was very young, they were a great team and had a couple of little spells where they were moderately successful but these have been like little islands of delight in an ocean of otherwise drab mediocrity. Still, they’re my local team, and once you’ve picked a team, you have to stick with them through thick and thin. However, since I departed for pastures new, they have become revitalised, with a very young team that show no fear and go out and attack, playing attractive fast-flowing football and score goals that are things of beauty. They are a joy to watch, and I’ve had some very pleasant Saturday mornings in the bar at Fado in Buckhead this season watching them. However, the chance to actually catch them in the flesh was a mouth-watering prospect.

There are three main domestic football competitions in Scotland. The most important is the League Championship, especially the Scottish Premier League, which has 12 teams – at the moment they are Hibernian, Rangers, Celtic, Aberdeen, Dundee United, Dunfermline Athletic, Kilmarnock, Motherwell, Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Livingston, Falkirk and, our local city rivals, Heart of Midlothian. Hibs and Hearts have been fierce rivals since our inception. In fact the first game Hibs ever played was against Hearts on Christmas day 1875. Unfortunately, they won. I’ll explain more about the league set-up and the teams in the next piece! The other two are knockout competitions, the less important League Cup, which Hibs last won in 1991 (one of those little islands of delight!) and the far more important and prestigious Scottish Cup. The Scottish Cup is for Hibs the ultimate example of the ocean of drab mediocrity. The last time we won it, Queen Victoria had only been dead for a year. The Boer War had just finished, and Buffalo Bill had just famously brought his Wild West Show to London. 104 years ago. 1902. Since then, we’ve come close on several occasion, but more often than not, blown it in the early rounds against opposition that didn’t deserve to be on the same field as us. What, me? Bitter? Damn right!

Anyway, the game I was going to was in the Scottish Cup, and this year represents the best chance we’ve had in a long time of actually winning the damn thing. The two strongest teams in Scotland, Rangers and Celtic had both been knocked out already, Rangers by us, by a 3-0 scoreline in the previous round. If we could dispose of our opponents, Falkirk, the only thing that really stood between us and glory was – our nemesis – Hearts.

And so to the game. It was a strange affair. Not only were we playing opposition from our division, away from home, in dreadful conditions, but we somehow failed to get out of 2nd gear for most of the game. We went 1-0 up due to a dreadful goalkeeping error, but never seemed to take control of the match. By half time, we were still 1-0 up, but I was foreseeing yet another exit from the cup, yet another wasted opportunity, yet more disappointment.

We won 5-1. In the second half, they finally got their act together and swept a spirited resistance from Falkirk aside. It was in very high spirits that we left the stadium to head through to Glasgow for the gig! The only nagging doubt at the back of our minds – who would we get in the semi-finals? The only other teams left were Hearts, Gretna (a team from the lowly second division, two divisions below us) and Dundee and Hamilton, who fought out a draw, and will have to replay the game. At the time of writing, this has not yet happened. Anyway, both of them are from the division below us. Realistically, either Hibs or Hearts should win the cup this year. Would we get the first all-Edinburgh Scottish Cup final since the 1890s??? And if we did, would my heart be able to stand it????

And so to the gig. Julian was fantastic as ever. It was the first time I’d seen him perform with a band since 1996. Every other occasion since the has been just him and a guitar (and occasionally a mellotron), and, while they’ve been great gigs, I was particularly looking forward to seeing him play with other musicians. It was just him on bass and vocals, a guitarist and a drummer. It sounded a bit like a cross between Julian Cope, the Stooges and the MC5 and was fabulous. Not only is he a hero, but he is also the latest in a long line of rock musicians who has the distinction of being barking mad. It’s like Syd Barrett, Roky Erikson and a whole host of other legendary madmen rolled into one.

So, the rest of the visit went off really well. My American friend loved my city. He was bowled over by the friendship offered unquestioningly by everyone he met, and by the hospitality and generosity offered to him by my family and friends. I’m always very proud of where I come from, but this made me exceptionally proud. So, on Wednesday 1st March, I flew back across the Atlantic to my home from home, to the love of my life that I’d missed so much while I was back in Scotland, and to markedly better weather than I’d left behind. On my last night in Scotland, I stood at a bus stop waiting for the last bus home, a little the worse for wear, in temperatures that had dipped to 14 degrees Fahrenheit. Now, that’s something I don’t miss about Scotland.

So, you’ll (hopefully) have noticed that I haven’t mentioned who we were drawn against in the Scottish Cup semi-final. Well, it’s Hearts. The entire support of both teams will be having many sleepless nights leading up to the game, which is to be played on Sunday 2nd April. I’m hoping it’ll be on in Fado, even though it will mean getting to the pub for 7.15am in time for an early kick-off. I’m still hopeful that we can do it. After all, isn’t that what supporting a sports team is all about? The triumph of hope over adversity?

Well, dear patrons of Decatur CD, I hope you enjoyed this. Next time, I’ll be doing Ali’s introduction to the World Cup, which takes place in Germany in June. The biggest and best national football teams in the world will be represented. And England. Unfortunately, Scotland did not qualify, but that’s another story…


At 4:47 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

The only international football game I've seen was a match between Nigeria and East Germany at the Munich Olympics in 1972. In those days of the Wall, it was fascinating to watch a mostly (West)German crowd cheer lustily for the African team.

At 2:04 PM, Blogger KCM said...

Ah yes, I well remember the filthy weather in Edinburgh. I went there on a futile mission involving a young lass of that city, who proved to be far too much trouble. But that's another story. I did get to see Genesis there(this was early 1977) who hadn't yet turned into a popular monsterous hit machine and were still making very interesting music. Heck, Phil Collins still had hair! Did not see any "fitbaw" but did enjoy numerous fine pubs and the company of their regulars. A great city...

At 10:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your report makes me think of a song set to a trad tune by Scottish singer-songwriter Jim Malcolm. Here is the first verse:

You will find on the road
From the castle down to Holyrood
A funny little stone set in the cobbles of St Giles
If you stand for a while you will surely see a local
Passing by and spitting at it in a practised style.
If he wears the maroon he is showing his allegiance
To the Heart of Midlothian, a loyal Proddy man,
If he's wearing the green he is spitting disobedience
As a duty-bound supporter of Hibernian.

You can read the rest at:

At 3:34 PM, Blogger Wee Katy said...

That chicken would look good in a wee kilt.

At 3:35 PM, Blogger Wee Katy said...

That chicken would look great in a wee kilt.

At 11:55 PM, Blogger The Security Chicken said...

I don't do kilts without a bribe of cash and/or free, high gravity beverages. Just sayin'...


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