Nine is a difficult age to be.
Every Saturday, I went to Brockville Park with my grandfather, who must have been about 76 at that time, and was a stickler for routine. Same steam train. Same visits to aged aunt. Same pre-match pie and Bovril. Same mystic conversations and strange handshakes with friends and acquaintances. Same embarrassment as we crossed busy roads. Same close of play routine – but more of that later.
He had his own peculiar version of Road Safety which would be best summarised as “Don’t worry, son, they’ll stop for you” as he launched out into the middle of swerving cars and lorries. I will admit that at times I began to think of going to games on my own with my pals, most of whom had shaken off the need for adult supervision.
It was season 1956/57 and it was turning into the Season From Hell. Even I started to realise that Falkirk weren’t very good. Many of my pals followed more successful teams and used to poke fun at the few of us who supported our local team.
February 9, 1957 was the day it all happened. It was the day I saw the light and it was to change my football life forever. We had followed our Saturday afternoon ritual and were hopeful that a new manager called Reggie Smith might be able to make changes. The Gods seemed to be against us. After only one minute, we were 1-0 down. By half-time Falkirk had recovered and actually led 2-1 through two goals by George Merchant. East Fife pulled a goal back through a very soft penalty and I heard words that afternoon whose meaning escaped me.
I could sense that my grandfather was growing restless and his final routine was triggered off. He always insisted we leave early “to avoid the rush”, although he never realised that there were people on the train with us who had actually seen the whole game. Anyway, we returned home and, as always, my doting grandmother had the traditional Saturday tea ready. When asked how we had got on, my grandfather said rather disappointedly that we had only managed to draw 2-2 and that wasn’t any good in a relegation battle.
As we tucked away the bacon, sausage and egg tea, the familiar strains of Sports Report came over the crackly old radio. The announcer read the results in an impeccable Oxford English accent. “Scottish League, Division One….
“We waited and waited and then it came to our result. Falkirk 4 ….voice drops an octave…. East Fife 3. Seven goals! And we had only seen four of them. That was it! Never again! I want my independence!
From that day onwards, I stayed to the end, often the bitter end – and occasionally the bitter, bitter end. I have never ever deserted the cause. I have seen us ship six, seven, eight and even nine goals and I have never given in.
In hindsight, I know I owe my allegiance to Falkirk to the influence of that old man. Without him and his wonderfully strange ways, I would probably have given up long before now. Now the roles are reversed and I have grandchildren of my own. I wonder if they will ever ask to come to the football with Pappy and I wonder if they too will feel that they want to carry on a tradition?
I bet they’ll stay to the end with me.