IT WAS late at night when the tweet was posted so it’s a pretty safe bet that drink had been taken. Nevertheless the football fan didn’t boast; he simply described the world as it looked to him: “2900 fans. The bus. Ball stays on the ground. Top of the league. ’Mon the Accies!”
What the quietly delirious supporter meant was only 2900 fans and yet Hamilton Accies were leading the SPFL. Top of the pile despite the double-decker bizarrely parked at one end of New Douglas Park. Okay, this probably won’t last – the No 1 position, I mean, the bus doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere – but what a brilliant story.
With Celtic reluctant to obliterate the field, with Motherwell toppling from their best-of-the-rest spot, with Aberdeen slow to take over that spot, with Rangers, Hearts and Hibs otherwise engaged and with some of the division’s bonniest young talent (Stevie May, Ryan Gauld, Andrew Robertson) exiting Scotland, some sort of other story was needed. Who’d have thought it would be the Accies?
They shouldn’t be in the top-flight, people said. The league couldn’t afford another big name dropping out. Their sudden elevation summed up the improverished state of the Scottish game. For goodness sake, look at their ground and look at that bus. They were heading straight back down and no mistake.
Well, I think we can say already that they’re not. I think we can say that they have enough about them to finish above Ross County and St Mirren and maybe a few more as well.
It’s a pity in a way that Jimmy Greaves no longer patronises Scottish football because the Saint & Greavesie show he fronted with Ian St John might have paid Hamilton a visit. Even though we’d have to put up with his wheezing wisecracks about “chilly jocko land”, a featurette with the cackling fools could not be be sniffed at. Our game is almost at the stage where any publicity is good publicity.
Hamilton Academical, despite possessing the third most romantic name in Scottish football after Heart of Midlothian and Queen of the South, have sometimes struggled for credibility. The first time I heard the name, in boyhood, my response was one of gobsmacked wonder. Celtic 10, Accies 0. This happened in the League Cup in September 1968 and I had no idea teams could be beaten by double-figure scorelines.
Of course I knew about Arbroath’s 36-0 thrashing of Bon Accord but that was ancient history when parts of the globe had yet to be discovered and sabre-toothed tigers were still at large. This was a sophisticated era in which we’d already had six brilliant years of the Beatles. But, no, Hamilton conceded ten – five each for Bobby Lennox and Stevie Chalmers.
Looking through the Lanarkshire prism, Hamilton lacked the glamour of Motherwell and Airdrie. Motherwell, of course, had their “Smoking Kills” stand, while the sexiest strike partnership ever assembled by Airdrie were the Two Drews – the baldy professor Jarvie and the grumpy gunslinger Busby. You weren’t supposed to lose to the Accies although, in the 1987 Scottish Cup, Rangers did. But did Hamilton get enough credit or was the story not all about how Graeme Souness’ expensively-assembled side had cocked up? Following that, seven years of ground-sharing after flogging the original Douglas Park didn’t do much for the Accies profile.
And then there was Fergie. Ian Russell, to give him his real name, was a loyal Hamilton supporter, all right, but he also made a huge contribution to the idea of the Accies as something of a joke team. Fergie gained his notoriety for being hard-to-please although that’s putting it mildly. On an away trip to Forfar, he missed the supporters’ bus travelling back home, so the team, taking pity, let him on their coach. “He was warned about his behaviour but we were only a few miles down the road when he started effing and blinding at manager John Lambie’s wife,” recalled club secretary Scott Struthers.
“Then a director’s wife got the Fergie treatment, then the players. He was thrown off the bus outside a chip shop in Arbroath.”
We’re left with a thousand incredible stories and every one of them is true,” said Struthers when Fergie died in 2009. He was ejected from the 1991 B&Q Cup final for hurling a pie at a policeman when Ayr United scored. Shouting from the street at Lambie in his office, the boss thought he’d appease Fergie by flinging him some match tickets, only for the reply to come back: “Thanks John but you’re still a w****r.” “Fergie was Hamilton through and through,” added Struthers, “but he struggled to keep his emotions in check.” It’s a shame he didn’t live to see his team looking down on the rest of Scottish football but he might well have told us this day was always coming. He could have pointed to James McCarthy and James McArthur and asked who the hell else was developing players for the English Premier. And he could have told the world: “Those rumours you’re hearing about the Accies’ neat and bold passing game – they’re bloody true.”
At the climax to last season when Morton were beaten by the kind of scoreline – 10-2 – which leaves small boys gasping with shock and awe, Hamilton were still being doubted. Championship promotion rivals Dundee were deeply suspicious. But Accies went on to stun Hibs in the second leg of the play-offs with clever play you don’t usually see in tension-packed situations. Hibs could only boot the ball high into the clouds, bringing rain and ultimately relegation.
Don’t be fooled by manager Alex Neil’s skinhead. He’s got the red-and-white hoops playing with zip and sparkle. ’Mon the Accies, as they say, but please, can they get rid of that bus? Cliff Richard is a bit preoccupied and I don’t think he’s going to be back to collect it for that remake of Summer Holiday.