The Strange World of the Football Terrace
For those of us that enjoy the noble art of people watching, the old standing terraces of football grounds used to provide an environment of very rich pickings. Some of these characters undoubtedly still inhabit the seats in our modernised stadia though are palpably not as easily spotted..
I’m a football fan of long-standing over the decades, one who has had the good fortune to watch the great game portrayed in a few famous arenas and a few less so. This includes grounds in Scotland, England and mainland Europe, from Easter Road to Nottingham Forest and Notts County more regularly, via impressive arenas such as the Olympic Stadium, Amsterdam, the San Paulo, Napoli, Anfield, the home of Liverpool FC, and even from the North Bank at Highbury. One thing I can state quite clearly is that all of those football stadiums had something very much in common – they were a psychologist’s dream.
Some of the maddest fans, in the nicest sense of the word, I have ever seen were on the slightly crumbling terraces of Notts County’s Meadow Lane. Here, during the 1970s it was a veritable hotbed of stranglings, I’ll never forget any of them. One of the strangest – and I’m really not sure how he was let out on a Saturday afternoon amongst the public – was a gent probablyaged in his mid-thirties who would attend each home game in a biker jacket adorned with chains and a German Stormtrooper’s helmet complete with Nazi Swastika. He never actually said very much but once or twice a game would emit a deep-throated yet resounding sounding Come on you piiiieeeeessssss… (a reference to the team’s ‘Magpies’ nickname) I wonder where he is now and if the electric shock treatment was successful?
British people do standing jokes quite well don’t they. Well how about the same joke every other Saturday afternoon for practically ten months of the year? Like the sound of that? In those days a trio of gents who looked like they were probably closely related (what to and how large the gene pool was I confess I do not know) used to take position at the very same crush barrier every week in the County Road Stand at Meadow Lane. Whether this had any relevance is not clear. At half-time every home game the Golden Goal competition winner would be read out over the tannoy system to which the trio would all leap in the air as one with a gleeful shout of yeeesssss!!!!! as their torn up unsuccessful entry tickets were thrown in the air and reigned down on us as confetti does. We laughed the first time and I suppose that was our biggest mistake.
It’s 1973 (yes really) and I’m in among that crowd with my mate, Graham as the fans invade the pitch to remonstrate with the Notts’ club chairman’s decision to ban German soldiers helmets from the ground. Actually it’s the last day of the 1972/3 season when Notts beat 4-1 Tranmere to gain promotion to the old Second Division.
Another oddball roamed ‘The Cowshed’ as it was known at my team, Hibernian’s Easter Road Stadium some years ago. The Cowshed was not the place where I was usually to be found at Easter Road, preferring instead the ‘glamour’ of the old North Stand and the Hibees!! stomp, stomp, stomp chant that would echo around the old wooden construction. This day however, I found myself under the sparse covering of The Cowshed and for some reason was continually distracted by the wanderings of an old gadgie around the back of the little stand.
The ‘Cowshed’, Easter Road
Purple-faced – it was either an anger-management, high blood pressure or Tennants Extra Strong lager problem – I know which I’m plumping for – all three of course. A small man with a large bunnet on his napper and a green and white Hibs scarf wrapped generously around his neck four or five times, he appeared to be getting, shall we say, a little more ‘upset’ as the proceedings unfurled when the boys in green and white went a goal down to Glasgow Rangers.
With Hibs losing out in a crucial moment of open play, let’s a say, being second placed at a throw-in or some such other calamity, our friend could take no more…
HIBS!! YOU’RE A BUNCH OF ****ING CATHOLIC B******S!!!!!!
Staggering really, like he’d just discovered, after going to watch his team four probably aroundfour decades, that the club was actually formed by Irish Catholic immigrants in Edinburgh. Something or some perceived slight perhaps had clearly been lodged at the back of his mind for some years and now was the time to vent it.
There have been so many more of these people on the terraces during my ‘career’ on the hallowed terrace steps – too many to tell, in truth. My concern is that I’m actually one of them…