Whatever attracted me to football? I was never a player! And yet, some of my fondest memories are of watching Albion Rovers with my dad in the 60s or going to see Airdrieonians at Broomfield in the 70s.
I can remember my first ever trip to Celtic Park, one special Wednesday night, sometime around 1967. I was seven and a half! My dad took me via the “Black Bull” bus to see Celtic play Kilmarnock. I still remember feeling sorry for the few pedestrians I saw walking under the street lights as I looked out of the bus window on the way to the game – through Airdrie, Coatdyke and Coatbridge – because they weren’t going to the match!
Over the turnstiles, up the stairs to the Rangers end and there it was: Paradise in floodlights and Celtic in their resplendent ‘away’ strip (as was the custom at the time) of all green! And, to this day, I am still proud to say that I saw Jimmy Johnstone.
I now understand that my love of football has three major influences:
The earliest of these is an historical influence which is based on stories; comic stories like ‘Billy’s Boots’, and more importantly, stories of legends such as Tom Finney at Preston North End and Stanley Matthews at Blackpool. My mum would always tell me of my uncle’s love for Charlie Tully, while my dad would tell me about Gordon Smith of Hibernian’s ‘Famous Five’ and Di Stefano of Real Madrid. And, of course, there were tales of Puskas and the great Hungarians of ’53 and ’54.
Next, there are my own earliest memories of great sides. There was the great Celtic team of the late 60s and early 70s which included Johnstone, Murdoch and Lennox; Manchester United with Best, Charlton and Law; the superb Ajax side of the early seventies with Cruyff and Neeskens and, of course, ‘my’ great international sides: Pele’s Brazil (1970) and Cruyff’s Holland (1974).
Finally, there are the modern influences which, for me, will always mean the great AC Milan of ’89 with the Dutch trio of Van Basten, Gullit and Rijkaard not to mention Italy’s Paolo Maldini. Who will ever forget the European Cup semi-final, second leg when they thumped Real Madrid (once, arguably, the greatest club side of all) 5-0? And of course any reference to “the beautiful game” must acknowledge the current Barcelona side with Messi, Iniesta and Xavi – breathtaking!