Billy Connolly lights up the Scottish Cup draw

Billy Connolly gets his hands on the Scottish Cup. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Billy Connolly gets his hands on the Scottish Cup. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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THE Scottish Cup revealed its enduring capacity for surprise yesterday when a septuagenarian with long flowing white hair shuffled into view in his Doc Martens, “Good” and “Evil” painted on each toe, and proceeded to tell funny stories about ballet, snot, the perils of having a personality, alcoholism and sexually transmitted diseases.

It could only be Billy Connolly, back on stage at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall a few hours after a sold-out show to make the third-round draw. To be fair to him, the jokes came after the names had been pulled from the metaphorical hat. During the process the Big Yin was a study in concentration, seemingly oblivious to the comic potential of all that ball-shoogling, and respectful of the tradition.

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“Doing the draw was on my bucket list,” Connolly revealed later. “I got asked once before and something else cropped up. But I did think: ‘I’d like to do that, what a lovely thing.’ I wasn’t thinking about jokes. The cup draw may not be the most exciting event in the world but you have to take it seriously. If you’re a Cowdenbeath supporter you take these things very seriously. You cannae let the side doon.”

Last week, on the TV genealogy show Who Do You Think You Are? the 71-year-old funnyman discovered he had Indian roots, his great-great-grandmother on his mother’s side having been born in Bangalore.

This was him getting re-acquainted with Scottish small-town life, and surely the draw’s solemn roll-call of Montrose, Ayr, Nairn and the rest must have chimed with him, recalling tours with his banjo before the big breakthrough on Parkinson with that gag about a handy spot to park your bicycle.

“I’m an Indian – a 16th Indian,” he chortled. “That [programme] was brilliant, lovely, what surprises. I learned that my great-great-grandfather had syphilis and at the same time he was an alcoholic. I’m a chip off the old block!”

Yesterday also allowed Connolly to get re-acquainted with the Scottish Cup, a trophy he last held 56 years ago. “Clyde had just won the cup [1955] and Harry Haddock brought it along to our school, St Gerard’s in Govan. That was a lovely day. The other win I remember was St Mirren’s [1959] because of the big stooshie with [Paisley’s] Gilmour Street packed with people and folk hanging off buses.”

With Scotland in action this week, Connolly recalled his time as a cheerleader for the national team. “That was just before the 1974 World Cup,” he said. “The players had got a rotten deal commercially. They’d ended up with the loan of a Volkswagen for a fortnight or something so I went down to Largs to try and entertain them. That was the year wee Jimmy Johnstone took off in a rowing boat and I had a great laugh with Billy Bremner, Denis Law and these guys. What a team that was. Every time I opened my eyes there was a superstar staring back at me. And then I was invited to the finals as a guest of wee Willie Ormond. I was very fond of him.”

Connolly has been impressed by Scotland under wee Gordon Strachan. “I think he’s brilliant and I wish he was back at Celtic. Ach, I shouldnae have said that!” Strachan can be a bit of comedian sometimes…did the master like his style? “I think humour benefits him but sometimes people take him too seriously. That’s you guys’ fault,” he added, squinting at the hack-pack. “You say, ‘It’s high time we had a Scotland manager with personality’, and then when one shows up you hammer him to death!”

So if Scotland manage to qualify for another tournament, would he be their cheerleader again? “No, I’m too shaky now,” he said. Last September Connolly experienced what he called “my funny week” when he was prescribed a hearing aid and pills for heartburn and told on the same day he had Parkinson’s and prostate cancer. Surgery on his prostate was successful and he said of his health: “It’s okay. It kind of careers along. The best you can expect is to get better drugs.

“But these shows I’ve been doing have been lovely. I’ve never had such a good reception. I don’t move about so much on stage anymore, but every night I move a wee bit more and the show gets a wee bit longer – Sunday’s was two and a half hours – which is great.”

As a Celtic fan Connolly was inevitably asked about their struggles under Ronny Deila. He quipped that the Norwegian who is so fastidious about diet seemed to have banned goals as well as chips but added: “The guy deserves a break.” Was he shocked by the Hamilton Accies defeat? “No, I just laughed. I’m not shocked by anything. You see, I was at the Ross County game [Celtic’s 2010 Scottish Cup semi-final defeat]. That’s football. It disnae respond to logic at all.” And he loves when the wee teams triumph. “Good luck to the Linlithgow Roses this season,” he said. “I hope they career through the rounds.”

Did he think it mattered what footballers ate for their pre-match meal? Not if they were of the class of Jinky Johnstone or Georgie Best, he said. “Surely all a manager could say to them was: ‘Please yourself. Just show up on Saturday’.” In the old days he said every team had a player who was “kind of fat” and Celtic’s was John McPhail. “But do you know what I saw him do once? He went up his sleeve and pulled out a hankie to blow him nose. That’s a lot more polite than players now, wheeching all over the place.”

Connolly remains fitba daft but was unaware Scotland were about to renew their rivalry with the Auld Enemy. “Oh I couldn’t be more for that,” he said. “Scotland v England used to be brilliant. I was at Wembley the year the Tartan Army stripped the place. I know you’re supposed to say that was an act of vandalism but I thought it was stunning. I wasn’t on the pitch – I was in no fit state. When the goals started moving, coming together in the middle, I thought: ‘Christ, I’m drunker than I thought’. The great swarming mass was uprooting everything in its path.”

So that’s the cup draw knocked off. What’s next? “Ballet,” he said, to more guffaws. “I’ve done most things in life. Now I’d like to do it all again.”

East Fife v Berwick Rangers

Forfar v Cowdenbeath

Edinburgh City v Brora Rangers

Stenhousemuir v Brechin City

Hurlford United v Stirling Albion

Arbroath or Montrose v Nairn County

Elgin City or Forres Mechanics v Bo’ness United

Annan Athletic v Livingston

East Stirlingshire v Dunfermline Athletic

Linlithgow Rose v Raith Rovers

Dumbarton v Rangers

Queen’s Park v Albion Rovers

Morton v Airdrieonians

Ayr United v Alloa Athletic

Spartans or East Kilbride v Clyde

Peterhead v Stranraer

• Ties to be played Sat, 1 Nov