Wednesday, 13 May 2015

The meteoric rise and damoclesian fall of my fitba career at Liff Road School, Lochee, Dundee

In another blog I briefly mentioned my fitba playing career but I want to take the opportunity here to give a short, sweet, bitter (no, not bitter sweet) account of my rise and fall as a footballer,  and recall my greatest performance in a fitba match when in 1956, I made my debut for Liff Road Primary School against a team that was one of the high flyers in primary school football in Dundee in the mid-1950s, St. Mary's School, Lochee.

One Monday morning in October our heidie, Mr Dalgeish (no relation to Kenny whose Dalglish does not have an 'e') summoned me to his office. The only other time I'd been called into his presence like this was to get the belt from him for some misdemeanour I'd committed.  I was very scared and confused because I didn't know what I'd done wrong. My fears were short-lived and it was with relief but also some puzzlement that his first words to me were "Charlie do you have a pair of football boots?"  It turned out he was dealing with me in his other capacities: those of chairman of the board, manager, trainer and selector of the Liff Road School football team.

"No, Mr Dalgleish, I don't have any football boots."

"Ah ! well son, that is a pity. I've been watching you playing football in the playground and I thought  if  y'd had football boots I would have picked you to play for the team against St.Mary's, Lochee on Wednesday."

This was both the best and worst thing I'd heard in my whole life - picked for the team, but no boots -  and I remember thinking that I had to play in the match.

"Oh don't worry Mr Dalgleish, my Mummy and Daddy will get me boots in time for the match."

"Well you ask them the night son and tell me about it tomorrow."

You'll note I called my parents Mummy and Daddy. This was because I hadn't reached the stage of social development that allowed most of my classmates to call their parents Ma or Da or indeed Mum or Dad.

When I told my Mummy and Daddy about being picked for the team they agreed to buy me football boots. My Mummy was alarmed at the expense but she didn't want anyone thinking they couldn't afford football boots for me.

After school next afternoon I was taken doon the toon to a shoe shop in the Murraygate and boots were bought for me. These were the last days of the old football boots which were actually boots and not the shoes they are nowadays. The ones bought for me were of light brown leather with a sole studded with what looked like corks but were actually thin discs of leather placed together and nailed into the sole of the boot. My parents told me that after playing in them I had to clean them down and daub them all over with dubbin, a dirty yellowish kind of wax paste that came in what looked like a shoe polish tin. The dubbin was meant to keep the leather soft and the boots waterproof. I dubbined mine only once because I was never a meticulously clean sort of boy and because I didn't in the end wear the boots very much.

My boots were like this

One boy in the team had a pair of the new 'continentals' which were coming into fashion. These were made in black leather with white trim and had rubbers studs moulded into the soles. They were half way between boots and shoes and were much more like the modern football shoe.

On the afternoon of the match we changed into our football strip, (maroon shirt and white shorts) at the school, put our ordinary clothes over it and walked the mile up to Lochee Park where we were to play the game.  Just before kick off Mr Dalgleish called us all together for a team talk and told me I would be playing on the wing, at outside right as they called it in those days. He said I had to mark their left winger, a player called Sandeman, who was one of their star players and who had been recently selected to represent the Dundee Schools side. I also have an idea that he grew up to be a professional football player.

It was usual in those days for the right full back to mark the opposition's outside left, and my position of outside right was normally an attacking one, but I was so proud of having been selected for the school team that I didn't care that the role handed out to me was a purely defensive one. Mr Dalgleish told me I had not to leave Sandeman's side and I had to tackle him every single time he got the ball. I followed Mr Dalgleish's instructions to the letter and didn't let Sandeman get more than six inches from me. I even stayed with him at half time when their trainer, who, I seem to remember, was a priest, got the St Mary's side together at the interval for his half time rant. It is tempting to relate that I didn't leave Sandeman's side until, as I stood with Sandeman at his front door, his mother, Mrs Sandeman  informed me I hadnae been invited tae their hoose fir ma tea. (Anyone wha comes fae Dundee would ken that would be a ridiculous story because if I had turned up there, I would've been invited in fir ma tea).
From a contemporary illustration : Sandeman, with me stuck to him and in the background you can clearly see Sandy Davie in goal.

Returning to the match, St. Mary's weren't thrashing us in the way they usually did. We'd gone ahead early on when there was a melee in their goalmouth and the ball seemed to be bundled over the line. I'd like to write "over the line and into the net" but the goalposts at Lochee Park didn't have nets in those days. The score remained one nothing(1-0) in our favour until half-time. In the second half St Mary's equalised but it wasn't my fault. They had a big boy at centre forward and he kicked the ball towards our goal and our goalie (Sandy Davie, who would one day play for Dundee United, Southampton and Luton as well as for the Scotland under 23 side) seemed to be about to catch the ball but before he could, it hit one of our defenders and was deflected into the goal.  So it was ones up (1-1) and that's how the match ended.

After the match Mr. Dalgleish was still pleased for although we'd only drawn the match, it was the first time in living memory that they hadn't beaten us.  A measure of his delight was that next day before lessons he called a special school assembly to announce the result, and he called out my name and the name of some others in the team as meriting particular mention for our heroic play.

I was selected for the next match against St. Mary's Forebank and we lost 2-0. Mr Dalgleish told the school assembly the next day that we had played well and had been unlucky to lose but he didn't single out any person for special praise.  The following week I was in the team again to play Ancrum Road School who as I remember it, played in a blue strip. They beat us 5 nothing (5-0). There was no special assembly the next day about this match and Mr Dalgleish never picked me for the team again. My meteor had crashed to terra firma. 

A few months later when I moved to my secondary school, Harris Academy, I opted out o' fitba. That meant for the next 20 years though I wore  boots, they were rugby boots.  I would never graduate to the continentals.

"The Continentals"
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