Johnson has over-Churchilled his tumultuous tenure as PM which for some has probably diluted the power of the great war leader’s oratory. Not for me, though, as I’ve never forgotten how an old speech by the British Bulldog was rousingly revived over a crackly Tannoy in a bid to help save the Gable Endies from oblivion.
May 16, 2015 - the Pyramid Playoff. Montrose, then the bottomest of the bottom in our senior football, had lost the first leg to ambitious, cocky Brora Rangers from the Highland League and unless they could turn things around on their own patch, they were doomed. By this cruel method, East Stirlingshire plunged through the trapdoor before them and Berwick Rangers after; neither look like they’ll be returning any time soon.
But, step forward Ross Thompson, a schoolteacher in the Angus town.
“Welcome to the home of the mighty Montrose,” he began, completely without irony or any attempt to raise a titter. And then he spoke the words Churchill used to rally America after the bombing of Pearl Harbor: “Sure as I am this day we are the masters of our fate; that the task which has been set is not above our strength; that its pangs and toils are not beyond our endurance.”
What followed was one of the most exciting, endearing, daft, cliff-hanging and joyous of days ever spent at the football. Playoffs were supposed to be horrible, with the team who’d lost their way into them crippled by fear - not Montrose. Not even when still behind with only 14 minutes left. Then the much-travelled, deeply-religious Marvin Andrews rose heavenwards for a thundering header. A minute later Garry Wood blootered a shot from 30 yards which has since become enshrined in Links Park legend, though I’m pretty sure the distance increases annually.
Montrose had been brave. They’d maintained focus when the snell wind kept sending balls into back gardens where I’m absolutely convinced the pampas grass did not denote that swingers resided there. Their fans had shown unbelievable fortitude when the Tannoy announced not the last of the balls but the end of the pies. And for all of that and more besides, not least the opportunity to hoist Andrews closer to his God amid the delirium of the pitch invasion, the Gable Endies would have been immediately accorded the status of my second team if they weren’t that already.
They almost became my first team. Right through the 1970s every family holiday was spent in the fishing village of Johnshaven ten miles north and there was a plan to make the switch permanent. I always look out for Montrose’s results, of which there’s been none for some time, but on Saturday they resume away to Falkirk.
We should all pause to express gratitude that the lower leagues are to get a kick at the ball again, and to admire their pluck for hanging in there during Covid. It’s very easy, when you support one of the big teams, to get wrapped up in the brouhaha and bathos of the top flight and assume that everyone in the country either overtly or secretly supports either Celtic or Rangers and is obsessed with Allan McGregor’s wonder save and Scott Brown maybe becoming a Don. They don’t and they’re not. In England meanwhile there’s the presumption that Liverpool’s losing streak is UK-relevant news. Who cares?
In the top two divisions there have been games to follow on TV or club channels if not actually attend while Montrose and the rest have had diddly. Fans of the wee teams have tried as best they can to keep the faith and spirits up. In this, Twitter has been invaluable, a lifeline. Not all football fans use it to call each other c***s.
Look at the faces of the Gable Endies faithful on the club feed in shots taken from Zoomed-in prize draws and Q&As with manager Stewart Petrie. These are people who can’t wait to have their team back playing. Look at the humour: a seated Bernie Sanders in his much-memed inauguration muffler and mittens transposed from Washington to outside the Links Park turnstiles with the caption: “Waiting for the football to return.”
And look at the love. There’s a beautiful little film which has been bouncing around the Twittersphere called “Delay in Play” where a fan takes his cameraphone round the redstone avenues leading to the recently deserted colosseum to lament how being in his usual spot beats watching Liverpool-Man U on the telly and how “if there’s one thing learned from the pandemic it’s that I’ll never take watching my team for granted ever again”.
The great Gordon McQueen would go on to perform in such showpiece English fixtures but in 1971 he was at St Mirren and I watched from my occasional terrace step as neither he nor Ally McLeod, who the following season would stun Ibrox with four goals, could cope with Montrose and their ever-dependable hitman, Les Barr.
In 1975 at Links Park I saw Eddie Turnbull’s Hibs, rather fancying they could make it three League Cup finals in four seasons, being blown out of the tournament with help from a howling gale, but I couldn’t be too disappointed about that outcome.
Now, at last, there can be more games and more adventures for my second team. The “pangs and toils” of Covid are almost over. Feel free, Bernie Sanders and the ghost of Winston Churchill, to join in: “Mon the Mo”!