FORCED to turn round on the M8 and head home yesterday, I could hear my father’s voice from up on the celestial terracing: “Morton’s too far.” Forty-five years ago, against his better judgment, we set off for a game at Cappielow. “Don’t worry, Dad,” I said, “we’ve got the Scottish Football Routemaster sponsored by Texaco – what can possibly go wrong?” The game started but very quickly stopped when a localised tsunami rendered even that great hot-shot Joe McBride impotent. “Never again,” said Dad, and I was able to adhere to his rule until my own son’s pestering got too much.
Nothing against Cappielow: it’s a proper, old-school, take-us-as-you-find-us, timewarped football ground where they still allow you to stand, although most likely you will be rained on. The most dazzling front cover on any football book, anywhere, is the one on Stramash, Daniel Gray’s stadium odyssey, featuring a huddle of Morton fans queueing in a downpour to get even more drookit watching their team. The lad in facepaint has forgone a coat, possibly because the garment would have spoiled his warrior look with his blue and white woad, only the paint is streaming down his face.
Rain or no rain, Cappielow is dripping with history. I like to half-shut my eyes at such grounds and imagine what they were like on their most glamorous occasions. Maybe in Morton’s case that would have been the night Chelsea swanked into town. This was the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, 1968, and I think it was raining that night as well, because the match programme I acquired on eBay has a rusty staple. It was certainly raining goals on the King’s Road sophisticates for a while; Morton got to three and had them worried but Peter Osgood and Co prevailed. The front cover, by the way – stevedores heaving on ropes as thick as Andy Ritchie’s thighs to dock the Queen Elizabeth, see above, – is the most dazzling on any programme, anywhere.
Talking of Chelsea, they’ve just unveiled plans for a new stadium designed by the architects responsible for Beijing’s Bird Nest and Munich’s Allianz Arena and is supposed to take inspiration from Westminster Abbey, though that’s not immediately obvious from the artist’s impression, which has drawn comparison with an egg-slicer and a Slinky. The cost? An incredible £500 million. Ground redevelopment almost did for Chelsea before, causing a financial crisis which resulted in them slinking down to the old Second Division. They’re obviously placing huge faith in Roman Abramovich not getting bored with his blue-liveried train set. Well, hell mend them – and give me Cappielow any day.