Continuing our series of Memorable Matches,FOOL TIME WHISTLE shares some poignant memories of his parents,as well as the reminder the the national team was once something to be proud of.
My parents died too young. My Dad was 60 when an aggressive strain of cancer quickly consumed his insides, while two years earlier my Mum died after had an accident: she was 50. When I passed my 60th birthday I indulged myself to celebrate – I bought myself (another) guitar, I bought my elder son & his wife a big new Samsung flat-screen television for their new home & took my wife on one of those nice holidays that you always promised yourselves someday. Mostly I just thought how lucky I was and now nearly eight birthdays later, I still feel lucky.
My Dad didn’t play football and didn’t seem to like watching it either. He never bought me a ball, nor played with me when I got one as a gift from another relative. It just wasn’t his thing & I accepted that from a very young age. As can sometimes happen in the generations within a family – he & I were ostensibly very different.
Three years before my Mum died & 5 years before my Dad passed away I decided to treat them & me on Dad’s birthday – September 26, 1973. I no longer lived at home with them so I arranged to meet them late that afternoon & take them out for a meal: it would have been cheap, even then I had perennial cash flow problems.
My parents had never before in their lives been to a football match and I, in my youthful enthusiasm or naivety, chose that night to expose them to what they’d been missing. I took them to Hampden to watch Scotland play Czechoslovakia in a crucial World Cup qualifier. Victory that night against the group favourites would seal Scotland’s place in the World Cup Finals in West Germany.
And so, I found myself standing with my parents in the vast enclosure of the old Hampden’s North Stand; part of the 100,000 crowd hoping that Scotland could reach the World Cup Finals for the first time in 16 years. They were out of their comfort zone & showed it, while I over-compensated by talking too much about everything going on around us. I just wanted two things that night – a Scotland victory & to see my parents’ smiles of enjoyment. Achieving both felt like hard work.
The game too was a tense affair and Scotland appeared to be doing their usual, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, when Nehoda scored for Czechoslovakia midway through the first half. But before halftime, former Celtic youth trainee Jim Holton equalized with a thundering header direct from a corner.
The Scotland team that day was Hunter, Jardine, McGrain, Bremner, Holton, Connelly, Hay, Law, Morgan, Dalglish & Hutchison but the game seemed to be heading for stalemate until Joe Jordan came on for Kenny Dalglish. Ten minutes later Willie Morgan, with the outside of his right foot, floated the ball into the opposition box where Jordan launched himself to head it into the corner of the net.
Bedlam ensued all around the ground but, half way up that North Stand enclosure, my mother’s open mouthed expression was not at the goal at all, but at the antics of her only son now leaping about like a dervish, screaming like a madman & hugging and dancing with perfect strangers. Our generations, hers & mine, never really spent time together voluntarily – unless it was a family event, so she had never seen me in my natural habitat. Her expression worsened when she saw me drinking champagne out of the jeraboam that was being handed round by someone. I saw her looking at me & in the moment mistakenly thought she wanted to join in, so I offered it to her for a swig. I got that look that mothers specialize in: one registering her refusal & displeasure & disappointment all in one. Undeterred, I took another swig and handed on to someone else.
I continued to celebrate with my new friends, nervously clockwatched & still forced awkward conversations with both of my parents as this wild mayhem warmed up a chilly September night.
The game duly ended and we’d done it. Scotland had qualified for the World Cup & my parents and I successfully completed our only ever joint event together. It seems to me that a second or subsequent child, rarely has personal time with their parents, just their time alone with the two people that matter most to them at that time. Parents devote themselves completely to first born, but have to share their time around any subsequent children. This was the only time in my life that I ever got to share with just my Mum & my Dad & me, alone – in a crowd 100,000 other folk. I’m sure therapists or analysts could write a book about that dynamic. It was just the way it was – nothing more, but as you get older it’s seems so much clearer than it was back then.
Four Celts played for Scotland that night, Danny McGrain, George Connelly, Kenny Dalglish & David Hay but Jimmy Johnstone was also in the squad. In May during the annual Home Internationals and to help prepare for the World Cup, the Scotland team were based in Largs. It seems like a harmless enough place, but things didn’t go quite as the SFA planned.
During their Largs seclusion, the Scotland manager Willie Ormond, allowed the squad some licence to relax off campus, then & still a euphemism for a drinking session but notionally to help generate good team spirit. Individually & collectively this relaxation concept was embraced by the whole squad, but in the wee small hours it all unraveled. They were merry & as they sang their way along the Largs promenade on their way back to base camp, they came upon a small rowing boat tied up at a jetty. Jimmy, who was leading the singing, stepped onto the boat without missing a note, at which point Sandy Jardine pushed the boat out with his foot.
The rest of them all howled & doubled up with laughter as Jimmy continued singing loudly (probably Dirty Old Town) and the boat kept moving away- further and further and further away from the wee jetty. Eventually the singing faded away & stopped altogether as it dawned on those on shore what was unfolding before their very eyes.
And so the legend of the Johnstone and the Largs rowing boat was born. Someone ran and called the Coastguard who launched a boat and rescued James Connelly Johnstone, so that he didn’t enter the wrong record books – as the only football player ever to be lost at sea while on official Scotland international duty. Some wag has suggested that the whole current Scotland set-up is lost at sea.
The World Cup campaign continued in West Germany but for this Celtic fan, that game against the now defunct Czechoslovakia will remain so close to my beating heart forever – for so many reasons.
When Scotland play I always think of my parents and that one special event I shared just with them; I think like that even when Scotland manage to lose heavily to Kazakhstan.
These videos form an excellent documentary about that team.
A first-class read,FTW. And our grateful thanks for sharing those memories with us. If anyone else out there in Timternet would like to share their observations and have The Daily Article on Sentinel Celts,mail it to us at
PS-I have no idea why the second link didn’t embed in the same way as the others. Hopefully it will still work anyway-BMCUWP.