12 July 2014

When were hamstrings invented? When I watch television football there’s always some player in full cry who suddenly lets out a yell, clutches his leg and rolls around on the turf as if he’s about to meet his maker.  A squad of doctors, nurses, almoners and WRVS staff respond to the referee’s invitation to trespass and soon the unfortunate one is on his way to the dressing room.
Let me state categorically: we didn’t have hamstrings.  Nor did we warm up before matches.  As for warming down, I’ll treat that with the contempt it deserves.  After ninety minutes exposed to a cyclone on the football pitches of Arbroath - paired with Antarctica - warming up was what you did in the train going home.
Today there’s concern about the new ball which can alter course in mid air and deceive the goalkeeper.  That was never a problem with us.  Not even a Scud missile could alter the direction of a leather football which had absorbed the rainfall on a day when cats and dogs were sheltering indoors.  Heading it  involved strength comparable only to that of Samson when he brought the house down, and concussion was a frequent consequence.
I’m not criticising modern day footballers.  It must be hard training and growing ironic moustaches in November plus compulsory visits to the tattoo parlour.  Have you seen how much skin the average footballer covers with ink?  It’s more than the Waverley Novels but not so exciting.
Loved ones and even wives are immortalised in print with strange heraldic devices. I can’t recall seeing the name of the actual football team but perhaps this is frowned on by the players’ agents as an obstacle to a lucrative transfer when the window opens.  In our day a window opening meant it was tea-time. Perhaps a transfer rather than a genuine tattoo would solve some problems.
How many of the present breed take their kit home to wash?  Or line the pitch using a ploughlike contraption with a reservoir of lime and whitewash?  Or the even older method of dispensing erratically from a huge bag of sawdust?
No wonder we didn’t win anything; we were too tired to compete against other nations used to the sun on their backs. There were no goal nets at HMS Condor so on windy days losing a goal meant running for a couple of miles to catch up with the ball. At Tayport a ball kicked into the sea would be retrieved next morning from an inaccessible cove by a local boatman and, I kid you not, there was a pre-season friendly against a team from Broughty Ferry who rowed across the Firth of Tay.
So, next time you see Ronaldo hit the deck with a severely dislocated quiff or the latest teen sensation suffer eyeliner damage, have a wee, wry smile and think of John Lambie.  He was manager of Partick Thistle when one of his players went down with a head knock.  On being told by the club doctor that the player didn’t know who he was, the caring manager allegedly replied: 'Tell him he’s Pele and get him back on the pitch'.
Long live The Beautiful Game.

Alan Brown


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