Kenny Hodgart, South China Morning Post
IT is often said the memory plays tricks. By way of illustration, I was pretty sure I saw Scotland losing to West Germany at the Mexico World Cup in 1986 as it happened.
Thinking back, though, it’s unlikely my dad would have let my brother and I stay up to watch it, what with the time lag. Boys being susceptible to make-believe, he may well have pacified us with the promise of a later bedtime when Scotland made it to the semi-finals.
Nevertheless, the image of wee Gordon Strachan rifling in a shot then almost snagging his sweetbreads on an advertisement board as he celebrated his goal is seared in my mind. I’ve adored him ever since. And Mexico 86 having been the first World Cup I was conscious of, it sort of feels like I was there.
Unfortunately, we can’t deceive ourselves about everything in life. As a footballer, I never quite made the leap from being completely brilliant in my head to being any significant degree better than average in reality.
Hence the memories of personal glory are somewhat outweighed by the ones we tend to share: jumpers for goalposts, the smell of pipe smoke and deep heat in freezing concrete pavilions, the disappointment of a game being called off, Subbutteo, Saint and Greavsie, wearing your new kit on Christmas Day.
Many of them also involve my dad. If we didn’t have a game he’d drive us out to Irvine Moor for extra drills. He took us to international matches at the crumbling old Hampden Park. And every few weeks or so we’d go and watch his beloved Kilmarnock.
This had its advantages, not the least of which was seeing Tommy Burns, in the twilight of his playing career, boss all and sundry First Division opponents. But the die had already been cast: with dad’s blessing my brother and I supported Aberdeen, who were, to put it mildly, a bit more successful in those days. Living in Ayrshire, 180 miles from Pittodrie, meant visits north were infrequent, but there were always away games closer to home.
One such occasion left its mark more than any other, but for curious reasons. It was against St Mirren at Love Street, probably in about 1988. Bearing in mind I was five-years-old when Aberdeen last won the Scottish league title, in 1985, and that they wouldn’t come close again until 1991, I came a bit late to the club’s most successful spell to really savour it.
Alex Ferguson had gone off to Old Trafford in 1986 and been replaced in the dugout by the hapless Ian Portferfield. Fergie had also taken the mercurial Strachan with him, but there was still a good team there and the redoubtable Willie Miller still captained it.
And what I remember most vividly from that afternoon in Paisley is his reaction to some rather slack defending from one of the newer recruits, a young full-back whose name need not trouble us here.
Love Street was one of those old-style grounds where if you stood down at the front of the enclosure you were effectively yards from the fray. And we were positioned about level with the Aberdeen penalty box, all the better to witness Miller grab his stripling team-mate (whose dithering had just resulted in the concession of a corner kick) by the scruff of the neck and ferociously assail him with what is only ever referred to in football as a “bollocking”.
I’ve never been able to fathom quite why that bollocking left such an impression. Miller’s God-like status was beyond question in our minds and it certainly didn’t diminish him to learn that he could scare the wits out of people who gave away corners.
On the contrary, it served to confirm our view that football was a very serious matter indeed. And now, more than two decades of slips twixt cup and lip later it’s tempting to conclude that what we were witnessing that day was the man who had hoisted so many trophies over his head for the club in a monumental rage against the onset of a great slump.
The score that day? I can’t remember.