During lulls in the play at my neighbourhood football stadium, no longer able to watch chugging dredgers because the redeveloped East Stand blocks out the Firth of Forth, I might glance at the old-timers in their bunnets enjoying the communal feeling and a bloody good moan. “Good on you, guys,” I’ll say to myself. “But you’d never have survived Straiton.”
Straiton, for those who don’t know, and for those fans who’ve successfully erased it from the memory-banks, is where Hibernian might have ended up. It’s about the same distance – as the crow flies, as the head-down, straight-line winger Arthur Duncan used to fly – as Pittodrie is from Aberdeen’s proposed new home.
But what am I talking about? Never mind the OAPs, I wouldn’t have survived Straiton either. If Hibs had flitted there from Easter Road, and started playing their games in a new breeze-block colosseum in the most un-Leith-like location imaginable, nestling in the Pentland Hills with a branch of Ikea for company, then I think I would soon have given up as well.
The perils of uprooting from a century-old address must be on the minds of Stewart Milne and the rest of the Aberdeen board, no matter what they say about Pittodrie being no longer fit for purpose and the lack of a state-of-the-art training centre. Kingsford, seven miles to the west of Pittodrie, would be a one-stop shop providing both. Out-of-town training facilities are fashionable in football. Clubs prefer locations down leafy lanes with zero signage to keep the nutters – that’s all of us – at bay. But a new ground in a new location is a trickier proposition.
The club say they cannot site the training complex they need next to Pittodrie. Fair enough: grounds, when they were built all those years ago, were situated right in the heart of Scotland’s communities for a very good reason. No-one thought it would be a good idea to locate them next to available land, just in case 4G and the multi-gym were to be invented. But some supporters will be wondering why Aberdeen can’t separate the projects. Put the training centre at Kingsford by all means, but keep the team playing down by the beach, where they’ve always been. These fans will look at Tynecastle which is far more hemmed in by, and hugger-mugger with, tenemental Gorgie life and yet, bit by bit, Hearts have been able to rip down and rebuild while staying put. Therefore, why can’t the Dons?
Possibly that’s too simplistic a view, but then we football fans are simple folk who like to have a drink before the match in the same pub where we’ve always met the same like-minded enthusiasts and sufferers; who like to see the same floodlight pylon or corner of a stand roof hove into view as we turn the last corner on the walk to the ground; who like to sit – or if we’re lucky – stand in the same spot where fathers introduced us to the game, all those years ago.
When Hearts were in danger of going under, fans would gather at Tynecastle anxious for news. The stadium fulfilled the same function as a town hall during war-time. It was where it had always been, where the faithful wanted it to remain, solid and imperishable. Jambos will tell you that even if the club had relocated to some peripheral site, they would have mobilised themselves and saved the club. Perhaps, but with “It’s down at Ingliston they bide” not quite having the same ring, there must have been a risk the fan-power would have diluted. The part played by Tynie, still determinedly EH11, in the re-birth of Hearts cannot be overstated.
Pittodrie is invariably cold. It’s invariably corrugated, or at least the two older stands continue to give that impression. And I’ve rarely seen my team win there, even though the dread prospect of a Joe Harper hat-trick has receded somewhat. But what’s not to like? I’m already getting nostalgic about the place and I’m not even a sheep. This nostalgia is wholly based round Archie Macpherson’s sermons from atop his scaffolding eyrie at the conclusion of Aberdeen games in the 1980s. The place was deserted apart from a commentator in sheep’s clothing – his trusty winter coat – and a flock of seagulls. The psychotic gulls dived like Stukas but Archie, pictured, didn’t run like the singer in A Flock of Seagulls, whose big hit was I Ran, and he didn’t run like Tippi Hedren in The Birds. He stayed despite his nose turning blue in the sub-zero and icicles forming on his aphorisms because the Dons had just been brilliant again, had just destroyed the Old Firm again, or a bunch of continentals dripping cologne and reputation, and it had happened right there on the pitch below.
If I’m nostalgic for all of that then what are the Beach End regulars thinking? These are fans who could, with their eyes shut tighter than their wallets, climb over the perimeter wall and walk straight over to the location of a Doug Rougvie block-tackle of granite obduracy, then recreate the entire passage of play which followed, resulting in a crucial goal which Steve Archibald couldn’t have been more nonchalant about. If they’re not doing this already, they’ll want to tell their children about the goal, the game, that glorious era. The best place to do this, indeed the only place, is Pittodrie.
Dons supporters will probably hate this: fans of other clubs telling them what to think and do. But we’re deeply envious. We have far-off history for which we weren’t present and are maintaining it for dead fathers. Aberdeen’s heritage is as recent as the fashion for wee ginger wingers to have their bouffants blow-dried (by themselves and their raging managers). All the main participants, with the exception of Teddy Scott, are still alive.
Plus, we’re reminded of how close we came to residing on a green hill far away, without a city wall, every time we’re dragged to the Swedish flatpack furniture emporium, there to be ambushed by displays of soft furnishings we didn’t know we needed. When you were tackled by Rougvie you stayed tackled. When you’re confronted by Ikea cushions you stay confronted.
But football is not like shopping. Aberdonians have been lured away from Union Street by the blinginess of the new mall next to the train station, which boasted an Apple Store before Edinburgh got one. Tradition is cast off easily in that world. It needn’t be in our game and it shouldn’t be.