Alloa station had never seen such a throng. Men and boys dominated but there was enough feminine colour to complement the black and gold favours worn by almost everyone. The time was just after noon, Saturday 4th March 1939, and the folk, in happy holiday mood, awaited the first of the three special trains to whisk them to Waverley Station in Edinburgh. Not only trains were being filled; service buses were triplicated and special buses were hired; private cars were filled and on the move.
Alloa Official Commemorative
You sigh and your shoulders droop. Never again. That Never is declared once more behind a chalky cloud fired by your own breath against the bitter and black air. You repeatedly shake your head, as if being interrogated by some unseen ghoul. All that money spent. All the miles crossed by train, car or bus. All of those other things you could have been doing, and instead you were watching a capitulation in Greenock, a rout in Dundee, a hiding in Dingwall, a trouncing in Stranraer. Could even the worst cinema trip, 3D glasses, price and all, feel half as bad as conceding an injury-time winner? Could even a doleful traipse around a retail park have foisted upon you quite the same gloom as a 3-0 defeat and one shot on goal? When you are there, an away defeat somehow feels thicker, more profound, more scarring, more alienating than its homemade equivalent. It jars. Losing at your place, there is comfort in numbers and routine, in dwelling and wallowing among people and bricks you know well.
Something probably goes awry on the way home; flat tyre, cancelled train, shut pub. The away day festers on Monday and still rankles on Wednesday. Then, on Thursday a whisper niggles: perhaps Peterhead away next week will be a cracker, perhaps you’ll put things right at Queen of the South, perhaps you’ll get something at East End Park, you usually do, or so it feels in the blinkered logic of grief. Saturday morning bends your ear with talk of places on the coach and a ticket going spare; Saturday afternoon twists your arm with a home victory. You’re going. Away again, like nothing could possibly go wrong.
The Kaiser has always been famous for the quality of the language he uses when in his high falutin moods, but the floe of ‘flowery’ composition which was heard in the vicinity of Tam’s Brig on Saturday about one o’clock surpasses anything the deposed Hun head was ever father of. The cause of the fiery outburst was the non-materialisation of a certain means of transport to Kilmarnock, which had been promised to a coterie of rabid football enthusiasts.
Ayrshire Post, 1918
We have always gone away. If it wasn’t a steam train coach full of your brethren, it was the merry charabanc. The wild boys of the Brake Clubs even used horse-drawn wagonettes. Flat-capped cyclists travelled too, clunking past ragged-trousered walkers. Folk of the same town and the same team, banded together, representatives, diplomats in knitwear.
From the Brake lads smashing up shops and stoning goalkeepers, to those in a casual state of mind, some have not always had a glorious record. Most have, though. Most of us know – and have always known – that an away day is to be treasured and not wrecked. The plans and the early start, the meeting up and the setting off, the travelling and the arriving. Modern life has all but robbed others of such big days out, such jollies with their rituals, endless refreshments, collections for the driver and 5p poker hands.
The day is peppered with moments and sightings that provoke fleeting solidarity: the scarf draped from the car window, the minibus carrying 15 of ‘yours’, the nods at motorway services, the snatched prediction chats beneath Departures boards at junction railway stations, singing songs of your club outside someone else’s. To enter the ground – and how you are envied if it is your first time here – hop those steps and see hundreds, thousands of your people transposed to another place hastens the pulse and stings the throat. Perhaps nothing will go wrong.
The good people of Peebles must have thought their ancient town invaded as they saw the force, three hundred strong, making its way under a banner, which, by its torn appearance, might have done duty at Flodden, up the station road and across the bridge over the Tweed into the town.
Ayr Observer, 1909
Today the Hibees go south-west, and to Ayr, port-side to seaside. No Brake Club this: the pies are homemade, the chocolate truffles too. Truffles. Green and white seems to give a feeling of strength in unity, a shield. A bowling club welcomes the hoards, this jovial army. There is pleasure at thirsts met. On the bus, after all, Scotland’s finest allow not even moderation. At seductive Somerset Park they arrive among thousands of their singsong own. Everything goes right.