So the fixtures are out. With unseemly haste – even more haste than that demonstrated by Harry Kane when he darted up the Hampden pitch and dashed our dreams – we were poring over the just-released dates.
Opening games, derby games, festive games, games on or closest to birthdays – and not forgetting those trips to Ross County. Then we checked on the great rivals, in the hope they were bound for Dingwall in the deep mid-winter. And in no time at all we were asking friends: “Go on, test me – bet I can list them right the way through to the end of October.”
Me, I went straight for 19 August, not even sure if it was going to be a match day, but it is, which is great, because this will be the big one, the big five-oh. 19 August back in 1967 was my first game.
Scottish football and me are soon to celebrate our golden wedding anniversary. How did that happen? Where did all the time go? It only seems like yesterday that I was climbing the dimly-lit and creaky wooden staircase, arriving at the top, gazing down at the lush green rectangle, ready for anything and everything it was about to offer.
More or less. My American Civil War bubblegum cards were in my pocket as a contingency against possible boredom. I’ve never forgotten this because I lost one of the cards that day: the image of Union horses being impaled on Confederate spikes – soldiers hurled to the ground, blood spurting everywhere – which used to hold my gruesome attention for hours. But it’s definitely true that all summer long 50 years ago – the Summer of Love, no less – I reminded my father of his promise that we would go to a match together, fantasised about what that would be like, counted the sleeps.
In common with many of my generation, football exploded into my life with all the force of a sherbet fountain or a crate in a comic strip marked “TNT” when Celtic became European champs and Rangers almost repeated the trick six days later.
These were tricks far more audacious than Tony Curtis as Harry Houdini escaping from his chains upside-down in a water tank – no matter that in the movie HH didn’t make it or that this wasn’t how he died anyway. Scottish teams, good enough to rampage across the continent? This I had to see.
I’m pretty sure there was no wavering in this desire during the wait for 19 August but possibly as a memory-jogger for how football was played my father let me stay up late the weekend before our game to watch highlights on TV of Manchester United playing Tottenham Hotspur for the Charity Shield.
Did I expect, seven days later, six goals? Left-foot thundercracks a la Bobby Charlton? One of the thundercracks to round off a flashing team move, begun at left-back by Denis Law, showboating like Meadowlark Lemon?
Did I expect a goal direct from a keeper’s kick-out, like the one from Pat Jennings which travelled the length of the park and bounced once off the sun-baked pitch, sailing over Alex Stepney’s head? And did I expect a trophy to be awarded to the winners, just as big as that claimed by Celtic?
On 19 August, 2017 in their respective divisions Hibernian host Hamilton Academical and Clyde make the long trip to Elgin City but on 19 August half a century ago the Hibees took on the Bully Wee at Easter Road in the League Cup when the competition opened the domestic season with sections. Was I underwhelmed? Not a bit. The game didn’t need sherbet or escapology or comedy goals or goals with long vapour-trails straight out of Roy of the Rovers. It was my first match and that was enough, although Clyde’s Sam Hastings had a stab at impersonating Charlton from 20 yards out and found the net.
But I cannot pretend that my enjoyment wasn’t greatly enhanced by the injury which befell John Madsen of Hibs. The Danish centre-half took a blow on the head causing an eruption of blood. Madsen, left, had a blond buzzcut hairstyle like that of an American GI so I had no difficulty seeing the red stuff spurt. This was absolutely tremendous drama.
A bandage was wrapped round Madsen’s head but this soon turned into a wonky turban and the geyser was unstoppable. Goodness knows where this fascination with blood came from. You’d think Raquel Welch running in a fur bikini would have been every boy’s favourite bit of One Million Years BC. On balance I think I preferred the scene when that poor sap was gored by a triceratops.
You never forget your first time – first kiss, first time you’re belted at school, first anything – and I can still recite all of the Hibs team and most of the Clyde one including Harry Hood. The players are starting to die off. Tommy McCulloch and Harry Glasgow – Shawfield stalwarts who’d helped their club to third place the previous season – passed away last year along with Hibs’ Joe Davis, scorer of a penalty in the game. His team-mate Eric Stevenson died last month.
Digging out the match report in the old “Pink” sports paper, I was disappointed to find Madsen’s injury dismissed in a single line. Rest assured this is not the way I would have written it up but I hope the old stopper, now 80, is still getting a kick at the ball.
The scorer of Hibs’ last goal in their 3-1 win was Colin Grant. I didn’t know what became of him after he drifted out of the team but a few years ago he turned up in the Ellon Times. “Mr Football calls it a day,” the paper announced after he retired from scouting duties with Aberdeen.
He’d been brought to Easter Road by Jock Stein after scoring a hat-trick for Linlithgow Rose in the 1965 Junior Cup final. The Big Man wasn’t the only one impressed by his marksmanship. Said Alex Salmond: “My father thought Colin was the best centre-forward he’d ever seen.”
Grant and Madsen might not be in any hall of fame but they will always be important characters in my life. Grant toured America with Hibs and returned with a highly coveted item – a pre-release copy of The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper.
Yes, that album was a notable event in 1967 but I know of a bigger one.