It felt like a curious kind of courtship. Instead of flowers and chocolates and a romantic dinner, I offered a pie, a match programme and a freezing cold Saturday afternoon. I had been trying to convince my son for a couple of years before he finally agreed to come to watch the football with me on a regular basis. I attempted to act like it did not matter but, deep down, I was hurt every time he rejected my offers.
But, when he finally said yes, it was definitely one of those skip-down-the-street-when-you-think-nobody-is-looking moments. If I had been in an old Hollywood movie, I would have put my hat on at a jaunty angle, maybe pulled up the collar on my coat and probably given a knowing nod skywards in appreciation. La La Land meets the lower leagues of Scottish football.
There was only ever one team we could make our own, you understand. We tried a trip to Annan, but the magic just wasn’t there. However, in the old character-filled wooden stand at Palmerston Park we were instantly at home together. I could never have scripted what our first season would hold.
My own journey to supporting Queen of the South had been a pretty straightforward one. I was born and brought up in Dumfries and, as they allegedly say, yer hame team’s yer ain team. The only other option might have been Celtic – the team my father followed as a boy – but he never passed that particular passion on to me. He was born in Glasgow and felt a closer connection to the Parkhead side than I ever did. He never showed any inclination to take me on a trip up the M74 and, in truth, I never asked him to do so. Instead, he brought me up on a diet of Allan Ball, Jimmy Robertson, Ian McChesney and other Doonhamer heroes of the late 1970s and early 1980s. It brought me a lot more disappointment than delight but I never for a minute considered changing my allegiances.
I wasn’t a diehard, though. I went through spells of falling in and out of love with the team and life took me away from the town for long periods. I always watched out for the results, of course, and like to think the lifeblood of my support was kept alive. When I had a son of my own, it all bubbled back up to the surface.
The path to Palmerston for us was not without its hitches. Nagging away at the back of my mind was a niggling little doubt – what if he didn’t actually like football? I would have moved on, of course, but the bond with my own father has been so much based around the game that I would have found it hard to contemplate setting the sport to one side for my son. Thankfully, slowly but surely, a fellow fanatic started to emerge.
It was just the tonic I needed after a miserable season watching the boys from Dumfries get relegated from the old First Division. I had enjoyed some good times prior to that over a 10-year spell in which we had won promotion to Scottish football’s second tier, took the Challenge Cup and reached the Scottish Cup final. But the 2011-12 campaign had been an uninspiring one under Gus MacPherson with so many 0-0 draws and 1-0 wins or defeats that some wags suggested our results looked like they were written in binary. I’ll be honest, it often seemed more like a chore to go to games than any kind of pleasure. Every football fan of any small club will know the feeling well.
But an amazing transformation was just around the corner. New boss Allan Johnston promised a more expansive brand of football and my boy picked up his first ever Junior Blue season ticket. For just £1 a game, I thought, even if he missed a fair few fixtures I would still be getting pretty good value. In the end, we got a ridiculous amount of entertainment for our money.
The story begins with what would become a familiar foe – Alloa Athletic – in the League Cup. We took the lead and lost it, then took the lead and lost it again. It looked like we risked elimination but three late goals suddenly delivered a thumping 5-2 victory. It would set the tone for a campaign where I would keep having to tell my then six-year-old that it was rather unusual for Queens to do quite so well.
We knocked Hibs out of the League Cup, Rangers out of the Challenge Cup, we beat Arbroath 6-0 in the league and we travelled up to Somerset Park to meet my then Millport-resident father-in-law and watch Ayr United thumped 4-2. We travelled to Edinburgh City on Scottish Cup duty and missed one of the game’s goals due to a trip for half-time sustenance that the boy insisted on. Chips at home games, pies at away matches – a motto he still lives by. Over the years, I have missed a fair few goals while standing in the queue for food or taking him for an urgent trip to the loo. It has never seemed like a hardship.
The upshot was that promotion was won with ease, we scored more than 100 goals in the process and made it to the Challenge Cup final in Livingston. There, with my father-in-law, brother-in-law and various other family members and friends we edged out Partick Thistle in a far-from-classic encounter on penalties. The football was not amazing but it was never anything short of gripping for a Queen of the South fan.
Watching the trophy being presented, I confess, there were the makings of a few tears in my eyes. I might have felt exactly the same if my son had not been there every step of the way, I am quite a sentimental soul after all, but it did provoke some pretty special emotions. Like the day he thought he had lost his season ticket, I was in danger of being overwhelmed.
Over time, of course, the results have settled down from that glorious high but we have still been blessed with some incredible matches. I can remember times when I watched the Doonhamers play in front of crowds of just a few hundred with no prospects, no hopes and little chance of victory. The old ground seemed more like some antechamber to a crematorium for dreams and the future was as bleak as any grey sky sweeping in over Terregles Street. A lot of supporters forget the miserable times they have come through and come to expect success very quickly. I can still recall most vividly how low the Queen of the South once stood – so nowadays still feels like fine-dining to me.
And it has been a learning process too, not always in the direction I had expected. I thought that I would be the one passing on pearls of wisdom to my son but it has sometimes been the boy who has given me pause for thought. In the early days, I would answer his questions about offside and fouls and why some matches were decided on penalties with great pleasure. It was nice to help pass on my lifelong obsession.
But, over time, he has also made me look at the game in a different way. Sometimes, seen through the eyes of a child, you start to question the things which you take for granted about football. Or, at least, start to ask yourself why you react in a certain way. Try explaining the issue of the sectarian divide in the Scottish game to an eight-year-old and you will get an inkling of what I mean. I defy you not to think how daft it all sounds in the process.
My behaviour, too, has been modified by the fact of being a father at the football. I’m a little less free with my torrents of abuse (only a little) and also a bit embarrassed at having to explain who the “wanker” in the chant from the opposition fans is this week. It hasn’t diluted my passion, just made me a little more circumspect in starting a foul-mouthed tirade without thinking about why I am doing it first. I want to at least try to be some kind of a role model even if my own father usually proceeds to undo all my good work by cursing and swearing in both Italian and Scots with equal alacrity.
I have also been affected, too, by my son’s own first forays into playing football which have pretty much coincided with his supporting life. He was nervous about starting to play as well and baulked at a few coaching sessions – too noisy, too disorganised – before finding one where he felt at home. Thanks to a great group of coaches (and his mother’s patience and coaxing and cajoling) he now trains at least once a week and has games most weekends. I have been on trips right around Dumfries and Galloway with him but also beyond to the likes of Ayr, Motherwell, Falkirk and Hamilton. I have watched him develop from Fun Fives on the pitch at Palmerston to his first full 11-a-side match recently and found myself having to adjust how I act as a supporter when he is on the pitch.
That’s what the football fan version of me has learned most from the footballing parent version of me. All the players out on the pitch, no matter how well paid, all started out as little boys just playing the game for fun and the love of it. It has made me stop and think when I am about to shout an insult at someone or another for not trying on a Saturday afternoon. They’re all somebody’s son, after all, and I’d be raging if anyone gave mine grief when he was only trying to do his best. It’s surprising how differently you view a game after you’ve watched a team of 10-year-olds give their all against the odds earlier in the day.
Of course, there will be less than perfect individuals out on the field of play when your team takes to the pitch. That’s only to be expected in an imperfect world. But I feel less confident now about berating my own players or even those among the opposition ranks. They were all once playing seven-a-sides or whatever in the pouring rain of a Scottish Sunday morning because they loved the sport. It might not change your view, but it is worth thinking about at least.
And it’s also great when you get to meet a player via your autograph-hunting or selfie-seeking son and they turn out to be a decent guy. In my own short history of such attempts, this is much more often the case than not. At the start of this season, for example, Airdrie took on Queen of the South at Palmerston, bringing former Doonhamer Iain Russell back to Dumfries. It was a chance for my son to get a football card signed by the player himself so we waited patiently at pitchside. As a player, he was often the subject of some less than generous comments from both home and away support but he could not have been more accommodating. He took time out to sign the card, talk to my son and even spotted he was in a Fiorentina strip and asked him a few questions about that. It was only when they shouted him back that he returned to the pre-match warm-up. It’s a little thing, but it’s the kind of memory that will stay with my son for a while.
These meetings with players have made me feel closer to the club in what has been a special time. Recent seasons have brought a string of encounters with Scotland’s biggest sides and seen many of them humbled. Rangers, Hibs, St Mirren, Dundee and the likes have all been taken on and beaten. We’ve managed draws with Hearts and Dundee United. The only thing missing from our CV has been a clash with Celtic which we recently managed to miss out on when we failed to beat Albion Rovers in the Scottish Cup. Nonetheless, this has been a great era to be a Queen of the South fan and a great time for me.
What has made it all the more enjoyable has been to have my boy beside me for the last four-and-a-bit seasons or so. There are times when I’m sitting watching a game with my dad, son, father-in-law, uncle, cousin, brother-in-laws, niece and various other friends and acquaintances and it feels like some strange sort of alchemy has taken place. Here, in the humble surroundings of Palmerston Park, a kind of emotional gold has been forged out of the most unpromising of ingredients.
I look forward to going to a game all week, my weekend revolves around it and I hate it when we can’t go for some reason or another. There aren’t really many places left where we can feel community and a sense of belonging any more but an old football ground is surely one of them. When the ball finds the net and my family and friends leap up into the air as one there is no more precious sensation. In a world where it is easy to lose sight of what makes you happy, it is something worth holding onto. Thank you Queen of the South, thank you my little gang of fellow supporters but, most of all, thank you son.
This article was sourced from http://orangeparkacresnews.com