A bounce game

By Daniel Gray

This article first appeared in Issue 8 which was published in June 2018.

It is nearly three o’clock in the afternoon. In two rooms sit two groups of people. A bell rings and each person rises to leave. They march outdoors in lines led by an officious group of three. The waiting crowd feels a surge of love and devotion. Some line members dart towards them, clapping or waving. Some leap in the air. Some walk – pensive, focussed.

Many of the boys sidle off to play football. Their playground pitch is concrete. Goal frames and posts are imagined. Lines are marked in a dirty satsuma colour. They are an approximation of real markings and compressed at that. There is very little space between centre-circle and penalty area ‘D’. It is as if, appropriately, the pitch has been drawn by a child. In one corner, an outhouse containing hula-hoops and trundle wheels encroaches onto the pitch, rendering the position of right-back obsolete.

My daughter asks if she and a pal can join in. For a few minutes, I enjoy the spectacle from afar. The two play for neither team. Both are renegades, saboteurs kicking at shins, and when the ball comes near them they delight in booting it away. They annoy goalies and irk goal-hangers.

As they become uninterested and perform handstands where a corner flag would be, I go closer. It is all there, everything that first transfixed me in a playground 30 years ago: the ball skedaddling across the ground; accusations and proclamations aimed at boys that won’t pass; no one wanting to go in goal; the joy when a superior opponent has to go home, and suddenly you are good.

A Mum calls and one lad has to do just that. Head down he slinks off, though is distracted by a passing ball and stops to control it. “There’ll be nae jeely piece if you dinnae hurry up,” Mum warns. He jogs away, jacket over one shoulder and ragged bag over the other. Then he looks back and barks: “14-7. FOURTEEN. SEVEN. We PUMPED youse.”

Fifteen years ago, that would have meant nothing to me. I would have found it odd. Disturbing, even. Living here, though, has left me fluent in the language of Scottish football. I am beguiled by this industrial patois.

I like that Scotland players are ‘internationalists’ rather than ‘internationals’. The ‘ist’ adds an air of artisanship and qualification. It seems almost continental, a nod to old ties perhaps like the way a deputy here can be a depute. I like that some friendly matches are ‘bounce games’, especially because that phrase evokes playground football. Tickets being called ‘briefs’ still amuses me. Where a throw-in is a ‘shy’, there is fairground allure.

Sometimes this native vernacular of Pittodrie, Cappielow, East End Park and all the rest filters into public discourse; there are stramashes in Holyrood. And, I hear words or phrases in everyday use that I presume have been lifted from the fitba’ dictionary – workers getting their jotters as managers do, a wee man getting pelters as a winger near the touchline does. Accurate or not, the fact that this outsider can make such a presumption speaks of a country dripping in football. Pumped 14-7 indeed.

This article first appeared in Issue 8 which was published in June 2018.

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