Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Jumpers for goalposts?

My childhood memories of playing football in Glasgow. Better then or better now?

The Sunday newspapers last weekend contained an excerpt from a new book "And the Sun Shines Now" by Adrian Tempany which reflects on the state of football and the UK and where it could go now. The subtitle of the book is "How Hillsborough and the Premier League Changed Britain".

It sounds interesting and the excerpt in The Observer newspaper is nostalgic for a time when children would daily run home from school kicking a ball along the street, where it seemed a normal part of everyday life. The local team was part of the local community in which it had grown. The argument he makes is that the marketing of football now cuts out younger fans and the sanitised atmosphere, enforced sitting at stadiums and escalating prices are excluding more and more people.

He reflects back upon his earliest memories of playing and watching football. However the bit that sent me off into my own nostalgic bubble was when he recalled a cheap football from the 1978 World Cup which he had been lucky enough to get.
"I'd got my hands on a real beauty, a plastic World Cup ball, panelled in black and silver hexagons bearing the names of Peru, Iran, Holland, Scotland, Argentina, Brazil, Italy..."
I hadn't thought about that ball for years but I know exactly which cheap, fly-away football he is talking about as I had that same ball. It eventually died when I let it rest on a discarded (but still glowing) cigarette butt which burnt a large hole in it. If the plastic of the ball had been thicker, like on an orange "Captain's Ball", a knife heated at the ring on the cooker could have gently guided the pliant plastic over the hole. Alas, it was beyond repair. This led me to thinking back to a succession of old footballs which I had owned, and to how at primary school or afterwards I'd probably have been kicking a ball about most days for almost a decade.

Let me get one thing clear. I have never been any good at football, but like to think that my enthusiasm in some way compensated for my lack of skill. When choosing teams at PE, I was never one of the first choices, but safely in the middle. After reading the piece I went out for a jog and in a dwam ended up running through Maryhill Park. Here I remembered the patch of ground where we came for our annual school sports day from Maryhill Primary School. What I remembered as a vast, lush hillside turned out to be a rather neglected, small, muddy corner of a Glasgow city park. I know that I won the "potato and spoon" race here and we then headed to the bottom of the slope after eating our packed lunches for a kickabout. Were the goalposts only 4 foot high back then in 1979 too?

Goalposts in Maryhill Park, with Dumgoyne off in the background
The hills in the distance make it all very scenic, but if these goals were still in regular use by the local kids shouldn't there be a big, bald patch of grass in front of the goal? Looking down the pitch towards the other goal it may be that the thick, uncut, tufty grass is too off-putting to today's more skillful footballing children. Or perhaps the fact that there is a gradient of several feet across the pitch from right to left is now deemed not good enough.

Less than perfect playing surface of Maryhill Park

As this was a place I only came to play football on special occasions, I thought that I would try to swing by some of my more regular early pitches. One of my sons plays football regularly, occasionally for his primary school, but only ever trains or has matches on nice, flat astroturf. At lunchtimes he plays on a muddy, red blaes pitch with his pals and has knackered more school shoes this way than I ever did, so I won't make any false argument that kids today don't play as often as we did. It just all seems a bit more organised and planned nowadays, paying membership to football teams, arranging pick ups with other parents. Was it always this way, but I just didn't notice? Schools and councils continue to sell off playing fields for short term gain, and the imminent Commonwealth Games in Glasgow means that there will be a lot of focus on the "legacy" of the games. So what other glorious playing fields did children of the 70s and 80s use?

Until I was 6 years old we lived in Whiteinch and I will make no false claim to playing football in our tenement back court. You couldn't have, it was just a true midden. At Whiteinch Primary School we ran backwards and forwards in a year long game of British bulldogs as far as I remember. The newly built council house we moved to in Maryhill (council houses, remember them?) had big empty car parks and lots of wee squares which looked specifically designed for football (despite the "No Ball Games" signs). So that's what we used them for.

Goalposts painted on a wall beside Maryhill Road
The goals painted on the wall in the picture above are just as I remember them 35 years ago. I also remember that a mis-placed shot would necessitate scurrying down the grass to Maryhill Road. "Wallie" and "Long kicks" were the order of the day on this pitch. When just two people were playing various elaborate games allowing only two touches each were played in the wee nook below, from where it was harder to lose a ball, although looking at it now I think it's a while since anything has rolled smoothly across here.

Another  Maryhill footballing arena
Bigger games required going up to the pitch behind the church hall on Sandbank Street, where the BB team played. This was surrounded by a chain link fence and I am sure was red blaes but is now a plateau in a grassy slope. Virtually no trace of it remains today except for an old painted goal on a wall at one end.

In Maryhill Primary School we kicked a ball about on every break, sometimes more akin to the ancient village games of 100 people kicking a pigs bladder up and down town. That school is now closed and the playground on which I played is a row of new flats now, trampling all over my memories.

The old Maryhill Primary School building at
the top and playground in the foreground
My first game for the school team came in primary 6, against St Mary's School, the local catholic school at the bottom of the hill. They had their own pitch in the school grounds (and still do) and I got my first pair of football boots bought for playing in that game. I was in goal for the first half and in defence for the second, but despite my new boots I think we lost about 21-0. This pitch hasn't changed one bit in the 30 years since I was stood in goals here.

Football pitch at St Mary's Primary School, Maryhill
It was at this time that I started going along with my parents and my brother to support the local Maryhill team, Partick Thistle, and I am going along there every second Saturday still. We moved to Knightswood and again the primary school playground was a pitch three times a day (now it's the garden of the nursing home which the school has become). I swung past my old secondary school in Knightswood and their red blaes pitches are also completely unchanged in the intervening decades. PE largely meant football for the boys, hockey for the girls (what else can you safely do on these pitches?)

My secondary school pitches - we didn't play rugby at our school

All through the summer I'd play "three and in" with my brother and pal Alan from the flat upstairs in Knightswood Park, but the monkey bars which made a perfect goal are no longer there. We regularly had to climb onto the roof of the changing rooms for the 5 or 6 red blaes pitches in Knightswood Park, squeezing under the barbed wire to retrieve a ball from an errant shot. The changing rooms have gone the way of the monkey bars. Also the pitches look as if they are no longer being maintained and various news articles report that Glasgow city council has been implementing plans to move to grass or astroturf sports pitches in it's public parks.

"The ba's burst". Red blaes pitches in Knightswood Park have seen better days
(the ball was just lying there, I didn't add it as a prop)
Knightswood Park, and many others do now have astroturf pitches (below) with basketball hoops, etc but the days I remember of there being dozens of 11-aside games on of a weekend in Knightswood Park appear to be in the past. There are decent astroturf pitches at nearby Scotstoun now or up at "Goals" at Drumchapel, but again it involves booking and fees and planning.

Knightswood Park, Glasgow
For me what altered in the early 1980s was that due to changes the Thatcher government were trying to bring in, school teachers were involved in a long running industrial dispute. Football teams and other extra-curricular, voluntary activities by the staff were the first thing to be boycotted. The goodwill element was lost as pay and conditions of staff worsened and organised schools football in my part of Scotland at that time died.

The old goals still stand, with the hooks for nets.
Did everybody hear about someone who knew someone who
got their wedding ring caught on one when jumping up
to affix a net and ripped their finger off?
My only parting thought on this would be that the conditions we played on in the 70s and 80s weren't great. We didn't have lush playing fields which have now all been turned into houses. However we played football more regularly, more informally, more parents and teachers ran teams in their spare time than appears to be the case nowadays. I would therefore like to make a point of praising some of the new developments at the club I follow, Partick Thistle. This year they have created the Thistle Weir Youth Academy. The aim is to help 11 to 17 year olds from the local community progress in football. There is also the Partick Thistle Community Trust which is particularly focused on working within the local community and employs nine coaches and numerous volunteers. Don't forget that the free entry to Partick Thistle home league matches for under 16 year olds still continues.

With these initiatives I hope that, unlike the situation which Adrian Tempany was bemoaning, my local team remains an integral part of the community which it grew out of.

Partick Thistle Community Trust teams do a lap of honour at Firhill,
at half time in the game vs Hibs

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

The Beat and The English Beat. But Which Is Better?

The Beat - Live gig review. The Arches Glasgow. Feb 2014

The English Beat - Live gig review. ABC O2, Glasgow. Mar 2014

Despite being just too young to catch the 2-Tone bands in their prime I've always had a love of their music. My parents, I suppose, introduced me to The Specials but every child of the 1970s fell for Bad Manners and Madness on Top of the Pops. Once you got into it you would find The Selecter, The Bodysnatchers and start drifting towards the original Jamaican ska and reggae that these musicians were often covering, particularly Prince Buster. So I was old enough to see them on telly and to buy their music but by the time I was old enough to go to their gigs they had largely chucked it. They emerged at a time of skinheads and Margaret Thatcher and came across as a bunch of people from ordinary backgrounds just getting along and having fun (the reality was often a bit different). There are few live gigs better than a full blooded ska band, two hours of skanking should become the next fitness craze. Excellent Glasgow ska bands Esperanza or The Amphetameanies could maybe lead the way by creating a fitness DVD.

When The Specials and The Beat called it a day, some of them weren't ready to pack it in yet and when I was at Glasgow Uni they played the QMU as The Special Beat, with Ranking Roger, Horace Panter and Neville Staple amongst others. I had also seen Madness in the days before they dis-banded first time around, but the gig at Ingleston in 1992 has to go down as one of the worst concerts I've ever been to. First up were support acts 808-State and The Farm. Then, before Madness came on stage a battle broke out between various gangs that were in attendance: skinheads, ICF and Hibs Casuals. This involved scaffolding poles, chains and broken bottles. It seemed to take forever for order to be restored, whilst we all ran left and right, trapped inside the main Ingleston hall. Eventually once Madness came on, the hall lights were kept on throughout, they battered through a quick set and went off. The more successful ska gigs I went to were in smaller venues in Glasgow. In the more intimate setting of King Tuts I've seen a lively Neville Staples solo set whilst in contrast Terry Hall hid behind an amp for half the show as he sang his melodic solo stuff. The Selecter have played on and off over the years and I've seen them a few times put on a great show. With frontwoman Pauline Black (whose recent autobiography is a great read) they recently played in Oran Mor, a mixture of old and new material. Bad Manners have been touring since 1976 and always put on a barnstorming show and I even went to the recent Specials re-union at the SECC. Now they've got a taste for it they are back at the Barrowlands doing two nights later this year. Jerry Dammers is the one performer that I've never seen doing his ska/ 2-Tone numbers. I saw him perform as ringmaster in the concert to welcome Nelson Mandela upon his prison release in Wembley, London. The other time I have seen him live was fronting an 24 piece band in tribute to the Sun Ra Arkestra, as Jerry Dammers' Spatial A.K.A. Orchestra at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh. It was a great night, if slightly bonkers. 

It was the political edge that Jerry Dammers brought to 2-Tone that appealed to me too. This was evident in the "2-Tone" name, the multi-racial make up of the bands and the many international influences in the music. The songs were often political too, in the sense that they were often about real things affecting people: teenage pregnancy, inner city violence, "too much fighting on the dancefloor", "Stand Down Margaret", Rhoda Dakar's anguished "The Boiler". This of course reached its zenith when Jerry Dammers penned "Nelson Mandela".

The Beat formed in 1978 in Birmingham. The original line up was Ranking Roger and Dave Wakeling on vocals, with Andy Cox and David Steele on guitar and bass (both later to be found cavorting behind Roland Gift in Fine Young Cannibals), Everett Morton on drums and Saxa (who'd played with Prince Buster, Laurel Aitken and Desmond Dekker) on saxaphone. Their first single was a cover of Smokey Robinson's "Tears of a Clown" and gave them their first top 10 hit. They also found success in the USA (as The English Beat as there was already a band called The Beat there) and Australia (as The British Beat).
The Beat is now made up by Ranking Roger singing alongside his son Murphy 'Ranking' Jnr, Everett Morton, and sometimes Mickey Billingham on keyboards (once of Dexy's Midnight Runners). Former frontman Dave Wakeling moved to America and now tours as The English Beat. Whether by chance or by design both versions of the band ended up playing Glasgow within a couple of weeks of each other which gave me the chance to decide, The Beat or The English Beat, which is better? There was only one way to find out.

First up were The Beat playing the Arches. They were supported by Esperanza, an excellent (usually) 8-piece ska band from Glasgow. Many people had clearly come early to hear them, as the Arches was already filled for their support slot at 7.15pm. They were on stage recently at the Clutha pub on the night that the police helicopter fell onto it, killing and injuring several people, many of them friends of the band. Their sound was as energetic and tight as any time I've heard them before.

Ranking Roger and The Beat

Next up, Ranking Rodger brought The Beat on stage. Despite it being 20 years since I've seen him live he appears not to have aged, although he has grown spectacular dreadlocks. If any ska bands are considering bringing out a Ska-Fit DVD, he's your man to front it. Like a thoroughbred racehorse without a pick on him he spent the next 90 minutes sprinting left to right on stage, with his son Murphy Ranking Jnr (who has previously featured on the Ordinary Boys song "Boys Will Be Boys") as fellow front man, trying to keep up.
Starting with Whine and Grind/Stand Down Margaret (although he suggested it should now be Lie Down Margaret) they worked through all the old hits and a decent ska cover of The Clash song Rock The Casbah. The band were slick, apparently not following a setlist but whatever Ranking Roger decided should be next up, the drumming and beats excellent and there was a laid back chemistry between father and son up front. It was impossible not to dance and I had a smile on my face all night.

Next up were The English Beat, four weeks later in the ABC O2 on Sauchiehall Street. They were supported by...Esperanza, which lead to the worrying thought that I might be about to experience a very familiar night. However right from the off it felt very different. The crowd seemed smaller and more of a mixture of ages than were at The Beat (which had attracted more of the old timers). Esperanza were first up and well received. Whilst I enjoyed a chicken and chick pea curry from the catering stall, on stage next were Capone and the Bullets, stalwarts of the Glasgow ska scene in the 90s who have recently reformed. I remember seeing them playing in The Halt bar a couple of times and the fabulous trumpet playing always stuck in my mind.

Dave Wakeling and The English Beat
Finally Dave Wakeling and The English Beat came on stage. This was very much the Dave Wakeling show, as he was front of stage on lead vocals and guitar. Accompanied by a competent, if not the most rousing band. I found the drumming really just keeping time and the saxaphone a bit apologetic, whereas it appealed more to my brother's tastes. They are set up as the band originally were, with a stand in for the Ranking Roger role too, but it had less energy than the performance I'd seen a few weeks earlier, more stretching out songs with long solos. That was until Roddy Radiation joined them on stage. The lead guitarist and song writer from The Specials left them last month to "concentrate on solo projects". The direction some of these projects are taking was evident in the versions of three Specials songs he then blasted out, with a rockabilly edge: Concrete Jungle, Hey Little Rich Girl and Rat Race. He then went off stage to return for the final song "Mirror In The Bathroom".

Roddy Radiation steals the show
So both versions of The Beat were entertaining, but Ranking Roger was the most fun.

It was great to see Esperanza performing again after their recent traumas, and Roddy Radiation had all the best tunes.