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You had me at Berwick


This article first appeared in Issue 7 which was published in March 2018.

When I turned 15, my Dad bought me a ticket for Hibernian versus Dundee United. I still have it now, stuffed into a wad with a hundred others from grounds across the land.
Its slate pixels announce the fixture, and our place in the South Stand Upper. A corner note asks that we be in position 15 minutes before kick-off. I see now that elsewhere, this instruction is usually 30 minutes and sometimes 45. Perhaps
Hibs were taking into consideration the savage cold, one of my foremost memories of the day.
Everything else I can recall is nothing but fond. I see the piquant colours of the home and away kits – never had I watched green or orange shirts in England. I see a tight and charming main stand, and a benched gallery opposite sprayed with baying Hibees. I see a sharper, shorter type of football than I am used to, and a contest more enjoyable because I have never heard of any player. Beyond the pitch, I see the tenements and layered glories of Edinburgh, its shades so very different from my native back-to-back and limestone terrain. At half-time, the announcer reads ‘the scores from down south’ – to me, down south is bloody London; here, it includes Newcastle.
It was my first visit to Scotland and even the rozzers were friendly – each time I pass the corner of Leith Walk and London Road now, I remember the policeman who not only directed us to Easter Road, but walked along some of the way to see us right. Or perhaps he thought me and Dad were a hooligan crew.
On the train up, Dad told me about great Scots. In his West Yorkshire youth, Bremner, Gray and Lorimer were not just names. They were evocations of something more, something artistic and transcendental. He would pronounce each surname as if it were a Beatles lyric. There would flow descriptions of each – gallant Bremner leading the charge, luxurious Gray the magician, stylish Lorimer whose shot could snap oak trees. Thus was my Dad’s image of Scotland shaped by three poets in white.
That has been the case for so many of us English, only with our own versions. For some Liverpudlians or Mancunians, Scotland is not tartan and glen, it is Dalglish or Law. In Derby, they look at a map and see not Edinburgh, but the hometown of Dave MacKay. Before that birthday trip, the Scotland in my mind was florid team names like Heart of Midlothian, St Mirren and Queen of the South, vast Old Firm and Hampden crowds in magazine photographs, and Cowdenbeath’s incredible losing run.
We English were doe-eyed about Scottish football. Sometimes I wonder if we romanticised it more than Scots did. I’m unsure if the same is now true; in both countries, love of the game and all its graces is often obscured behind shouting, resignation calls and outrage.
All I know for sure, Scottish football, is this: you had me at Berwick.

This article first appeared in Issue 7 which was published in March 2018.

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