It was a Scottish Cup replay at Tannadice in 1994. We had drawn 0-0 through at Airdrie and afterwards, glimpsed through the supporters’ bus window, that Lanarkshire town had abandoned it’s usual charm to stage epic scenes of hand-to-hand combat. Every street corner offered a new kerfuffle, while a supermarket car park was dominated by dedicated rough-housing.
It added an edge to the evening replay, but United pulled ahead in extra time. I was a programme seller at Tannadice so had to slip off early and collect my wages (5p a programme, best patch was outside Radio Tay). I left the Shed and walked down Tannadice Street to the main stand, then up the stairs to the office. I got my brown envelope, walked back down the stairs and out into the very middle of a riot.
All around me fists and threats were thrown with panache, this was clearly the unofficial replay and those involved were showing admirable commitment. I was in the eye of the storm, standing in the middle of a violent merry-go-round that swirled around me. A gap opened up and off I went.
It is without any doubt the greatest regret of my life that no suitable official was on hand to time my sprint along Tannadice Street that evening. I can speak with the utmost confidence when I say this – the Dundee district schoolboys’ record would have been obliterated, the national trial times would have been surpassed and I would have worried the fringes of the world record. More specifically, I would have qualified with some ease for the British team for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
Going to represent Britain in the Olympics would have been a great honour and made a huge difference to my life. Being a professional athlete would have forced me into a clean-living existence that today would see me reap the benefits, rather than be someone who can surprise strangers by announcing his age (and not in a good way).
Crucially, I would also have been respected. Liz McColgan (née Lynch) took the 10,000m silver at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and still draws gasps in the Wellgate Centre today. With apologies to McColgan, the sprint is a far more popular event than the 10,000m and I also feel that I would have given a more dramatic post-race interview than the famously taciturn McColgan.
Furthermore, I would have looked magnificent, strolling down the Murraygate in my Olympic Team shellsuit, stopping to ruffle the hair of local children and slap the backs of jocular daytime boozers. “Keep Running!” I think would have been my sign off on autographs, and the female success I would have enjoyed in the Mardi Gras nightclub would have made Elvis blush.
And yet this is all but a distant dream. Because when I took off down Tannadice Street like a rocket, no-one thought to time me.