WHAT kind of football do we want? That’s a good question and every week, it seems, a more pressing one.
But today this column doesn’t shirk from an even more urgent inquiry, striking at the heart, the very pokey, of who we are. What kind of Partick Thistle do we want?
Do we want the Thistle we know and love, always around and never going anywhere, sometimes enjoying a day of delirium (1971 League Cup final) but afterwards in dire need of a wee lie down, usually lasting eight or nine seasons. A club for the romantics, the dreamers and the students who can’t always be relied upon to be up and about by 3pm on a Saturday but, no matter, because a lot of them can see Firhill from their skanky beds?
Or do we want a bold and questing Thistle who won’t settle for being everyone’s favourite other team but instead shoot for the moon? “I can make Jags third force,” ran the backpage headline in one of our more excitable journals. The bravado belongs to Phil Brown, former manager of Hull City, where he was fond of turning up the half-time hairdryer out on the pitch in front of the fans and of “treating” the crowd to a karaoke warble. It’s a safe bet Fly Me to the Moon figures in his repertoire.
Why are such proclamations not simply a matter for the Firhill season-ticket holders, why do they have wider significance? Because Thistle are a special club. And, yes, I know, there’s no way of saying that without sounding patronising, like so many of us have been about the Maryhill Magyars down the seasons. Whoops, there I go again.
The Maryhill Magyars! The Harry Wraggs! The Chewin’ the Fat comedy duo had a very funny routine involving a couple of extremely camp fellows who’d recite these nicknames and others they’d made up while rhapsodising about all things “Glesgay”. I took this to be a dig at the BBC Scotland personnel, then based near Firhill, and all the other trendy West Endies who couldn’t come out as Old Firm fans and so feigned a Jags allegiance – or worse, didn’t really like football, but swung their rubber satchels along Maryhill Road, thinking the club “alternative” and “cool”. Surely genuine Thistle fans couldn’t stand that lot.
But is it possible, from a distance, to have real affection for the club? I’m going to try to claim moral superiority and say it is.
My father told me about the “Firhill for thrills” sign five years before I saw it. In my young head, therefore, it quickly became as iconic as the one proclaiming “Hollywood”.
Then I heard my first live second-half radio commentary from Firhill – 1969 Scottish Cup first round, Thistle coming back from the dead to draw 3-3 with Celtic, and the closest I remember David Francey coming to spontaneously combusting.
Then came my first glimpse of Denis McQuade, the quixotic wingman (I got a nice letter from him last year thanking me for describing him as “esoteric”).
I’ll never forget the gasps of astonishment in ’71 when the half-times came through at Easter Road, the numbers “4” and “0” seeming to indicate Thistle were hammering the Celts at Hampden, with my dad convinced: “The scoreboard-man’s drunk!”
And, yes, later that season when I finally got to inspect the sign, of course it was smaller than I’d hoped and slightly disappointing. But, after all that, so what?
All that is history and maybe history is bunk for some Jags fans. Maybe they’ve grown tired of everyone waxing lyrical about their club and trapping them inside an idealised past where the jaunty Firhill commissionaire is always on parade.
Perhaps they’d like an opportunistic go-getter, someone who you’d never call “quirky” or “eccentric” – and certainly not “quixotic” or “esoteric”. Perhaps they’d really like Phil Brown.
Up here not much is known about him, save for the crooning and the exhibitionism. Maybe, if he’s trying to rid himself of the tag of funster manager, then Thistle, who are just as fed up of being the joke club, are a good fit.
I’m still to be convinced and am only really sure of this – the team must continue to run out to Sylvia by Focus.
If Brown really knows his music, he’ll recognise two and a half-minutes of prog-rock loveliness when he hears it.