My life in footy

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“Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I don’t like that attitude. I can assure them it is much more serious than that.”

Football has always been in my life. I have never been very good playing it but that never stopped me as passion overcame inability. I followed my dad in supporting Rangers as a lad then randomly followed Blackburn when I lived in England.

The playing side of things involved the usual street kick-abouts, some games at school and the Boys Brigade teams as a lad. As an adult, there were occasional stand in and charity games of 11 a side but the most regular games were 5 a side. Sadly I’m now at an age when excuses not to play at all are too easy to find. The valid ones are games that have fallen apart because people left the fold or were moved to places too difficult for me to get to. The invalid reasons revolve around laziness and less interest than I used to have.

The watching side of things has had 4 main stages. Stage 1 was, as mentioned, following my dad in supporting Rangers. This became part of the sadly predictable sectarian football divide in Glasgow and around. One of my personal reasons for arguing against religious faith based state funded schools is that they allowed me and others to too easily see the other side of this divide as being “the other” as they were largely at different schools with no day to day interaction between us. When I got to university this changed and my anti bigotry approach then developed. Rangers were part of the fallout and I effectively stopped supporting them as I had them firmly in the sectarianism cesspit that I was then trying to escape. It is only in recent years that I have accepted that they are and, for good or bad, always will be, my Scottish team.

This was part of stage 2 of my footy support which was coupled with the arrival of my kids. This stage therefore meant no active involvement in watching the game.

Stage 3 came as my son was old enough to show a strong interest in watching games and he became my excuse to get back to it. We were in Warrington at the time and I randomly took him in with the Blackburn fans at a game at Everton. Good football (at the time!), a new stadium and a very family friendly approach then led us all as a family to Ewood Park. My daughter has understandably never forgiven me. Rovers are therefore my English team despite having lived nearer Liverpool and Manchester, being introduced to Man City (pre the arab dollars) by Kevin Wilson who brought me to north west England and, more recently, being able to walk from home to either Man City or United’s grounds.

The current stage 4 in my story of support was brought about by falling out of love with so called top level football. Rangers going bust, Rovers being mis-sold to foreign owners and the well documented effects of tv and foreign money plus football authority corruption in the game led me to this position. More positively, it has led me to going to many lower and non league games where the community aspects are still believable and even, sometimes, real.

This current approach still involves a few Rovers away games each season. This came full circle in a sense recently as Rovers had a pre season friendly at Ibrox. It had to be done despite some logistical juggling. The game itself was a shocker but this was never the point. There were multiple points:

  1. seeing my recently arrived grandson before the game.
  2. going back to Ibrox for probably only the second time since falling out with their sectarian element. It’s not as bad as it was in my day but as my mate Michael discovered visiting the Lauden Tavern bar next to the ground afterwards, it’s sadly still alive and spreading hate.
  3. going to the game with my son, his mates and my uncle. Bill had been to Ibrox in the past with my dad so it was nice to reflect on this connection.

The key thing for me was family and friends. Community if you like. The football doesn’t really matter to me that much anymore. It will always be my sport and I will never fully escape it but there are more important things in life. Despite what Bill Shankly said.

My friend Kevin

I wrote this just after Kevin’s untimely death in 2015.

My friend Kevin Wilson was one of the good guys. He was a man that I owe a lot to. Unfortunately I will not be able to repay him as he has died suddenly at a tragically young age. 

Kevin brought me to the city of Manchester that I’m proud to now call home. He recruited me to work with him on a new corporate finance venture there. The job and the location would change my life. I thanked him by leaving for a new job a few years later. He never held it against me. As I’ve just changed jobs again, I won’t now be passing the Clarence House building we shared an office in as I walk to work. However, every time I do walk past it, Kevin’s “head related” comments in the office will pop into my head – “I’m off to squeeze my head” and “I had my head painted again at the weekend” probably need no explanation. His impersonation of the BeeGees will also never be forgotten.

Kevin always looked for a sneaky bargain but was generous to those around him. He would find a way of spending less if it made sense but would be the biggest spender if it helped his family or friends. The former led him to introduce me to “rice & 3” curries in Manchester while we worked for the London based merchant bank, County NatWest. He also took great delight in using the subsidised NatWest canteen around the corner from our office. Cheap deals tickled him despite the up market world he lived in. You can take the poor boy out of Gorton…. 

His generosity extended to working with The Big Issue in the North as a non executive director where I’m told he added a huge amount to this excellent charity. Kevin had done really well for himself given his background but never forgot how fortunate he was. One reason he did well was because of his search for “the next big idea”. As an example, he developed a Chinese based prediction methodology which always sounded like tosh to me. However he launched a book, smartphone app, internet site and computer game using it. He had an entrepreneurial spirit despite what I or anyone else thought of the content. 

I benefited from Kevin’s generosity in many ways but I’ll mention two here. 

Firstly, he and his wife Rosemary were generous enough to take a group of family and friends to Their beloved Yvoire on lake Geneva to celebrate their wedding. And this was after having us at their wedding and reception in Bath. This was a truly beautiful trip that was all the more poignant for me as Kevin had previously taken me to Geneva to help run a week long finance course for 10 years. To revisit it as he celebrated his marriage to his true love was unforgettable. I was just pleased we didn’t revisit the Nelson bar for a bottle of Satan beer – an 11% proof headache inducing introduction to Geneva I’d had with Kevin on my first Geneva trip with him.  

I remember Kevin finding Rosemary again after they had been together at Bradford University many years before. Soulmates reunited and a beautiful happening that changed Kevin’s life to the good. It was lovely to see them celebrate their 100th birthday (50 each obviously) together at Bath Racecourse as an early indication of their bond. The night always pops into my head whenever anyone mentions the time England thrashed Germany 5-1 as that was on that very Saturday night. 

The second time I benefited in a major way from Kevin’s generosity was when I needed to borrow a substantial amount of money for a few days. He and Rose stepped in to help in a trusting, unquestioning way that others would not have. The purchase it facilitated will always remind Serpil and I of Kevin and Rose’s kindness. More importantly, the people it benefited will always remember Kevin and Rose even though they’ve never met. 

Kevin was unique amongst my friends as the only one that knew all of my 3 wives. In fact he was my best man for one marriage. In the same way that I saw him struggle with separation and divorce and then find his true love, he saw me do the same and kindly told me that I was doing the right thing when I had my doubts. We even spent some time in Toronto when we were both trying to make sense of personal relationships. The blind leading the bewildered some would say. I’ll always regret not going to meet him for a pint when he’d finally left his first wife and wanted a chat. My family commitments were my reason but I regret it nevertheless. 

I saw his relationship with his son Doug flourish despite the trials and tribulations of divorce. Kevin’s pride in his son was obvious and great to see given the difficulties he had in bringing him into this world. Kevin also used the opportunities he had to show his stepsons, Ben and Nick, that he loved them both too. 

Kevin was also the reason I will always favour the sky blue football side of Manchester, but was also the reason I didn’t support them. His love for Man City meant he would occasionally take me to Maine Road. The best City experience I had with Kevin though was watching the Gillingham play off final on TV in his house. As I celebrated the astonishing turnaround in the match, Kevin was totally dumbstruck. His disbelief at the unfolding events made the game even more astonishing than it already was. 

The negativity of actual visits to Maine Road with Kevin however meant that I ended up taking my son, Fraser, to watch Blackburn instead. Little did I know that Kevin would get the last laugh as supporting Indian owned Rovers would became a much more negative experience than an Arabic bank-rolled City. It seemed right that the day after Kevin died City were battered 4-1. He would have laughed at the throwback to the City performances he knew for so many years. 

Kevin was one of those people who would make little or no contact with friends for long periods of time (maybe just me and he was trying to tell me something!). Eventually he would suddenly turn up as if we’d been together just the day before. It’s so sad he cannot now do this to me again. 

Two things I’ve learned from the shockingly sad news of Kevin’s death:

1. I don’t remember telling Kevin I loved him. I hope I did. Tell people you love them before they, or you, are not there. In fact Kevin and I discovered a video of “More than Words” by the band Extreme in a bar in Geneva. It contains the words 
“Then you wouldn’t
Have to say
That you love me
Cause I’d already know”
I hope it’s true. 

2. When the good people die too young we should be reminded of the short time we have on this earth. JFDI. 

Kevin was a true friend. I will always cherish my memories of him and will really miss him. 

RIP my funny, kind, intelligent friend Kevin Wilson, 1951 – 2015. 

RIP great uncle Hugh.

Hugh Burden was killed at the age of 20 around 11am on June 28 1915. His death was unpleasant in both the way and why it happened. Despite this I had the privilege of visiting the site of his death at Gallipoli almost exactly 100 years after the event.

I had always been told that Hugh was “killed in the first world war in Germany”. The unlikelieness of this was lost on me (soldiers didn’t generally get to Germany itself) until someone doing some research on Hugh’s father’s Ragged School in Falkirk recently told me that he had been killed at Gallipoli. Hugh’s father (John) had 6 children with his mother, Margaret, including my maternal gran. He then married again (to a woman also with 6 kids) and left for the US where they had a daughter. When John returned to Falkirk he was sentenced to prison for bigamy – one of a few family secrets that were never talked about.  In fact, my gran never told my gran-pa about it.

Hugh was a volunteer in the 8th Cameronians Battalion, 156th (Scottish Rifles) Brigade (part of the 52nd (Lowland) Division. They did some basic training in Grangemouth, travelled to Liverpool and then set sail from there to Egypt via Devonport (Plymouth) to join the Mediterranean Expedition Force.

On 10 June 1915 he wrote his last letter home to his mum whilst on the SS Ballarat ship either travelling from Egypt to Gallipoli or moored there. Luckily my mum still has it. He tells his mum not to believe all the media reports of death and destruction – little did he know what awaited him and his fellow Cameronians. He also asks her repeatedly to send fags and cigarette papers!

They landed on Y or W beaches in Gallipoli on 14 June on loan to the 29th Division having had very little training and being inadequately equipped with poor information and planning available. Unfortunately they then became part of a campaign that was fundamentally flawed in origin (per Winston Churchill at the Admiralty) and execution in Gully Ravine (per senior officers Hamilton, Hunter-Weston, Simpson-Baikie and Beauvior de Lisle).

On Monday 28 June the Cameronians were part of an attack around Gully Ravine (“Sigindere“ to the Turks). They were on the right-most flank on Fir Tree Spur east of the Ravine. There was virtually no artillery cover from either land or sea for the part of the Ottoman lines they were attacking so Hugh and 472 of his 8th Cameronians colleagues were casualties (with over 300 dead) in 5 minutes in one of 3 ways:

– bombed in the trench before the attack

– machine gunned as they went over the top towards Turkish trenches at 11am totally unaffected by artillery fire

– left injured in no man’s land where the scrub eventually caught fire under Turkish bombing and so were burned to death.

This was a war where military personnel were the really serious causalities, unlike the second world war where civilians were major casualties (through bombing raids of cities and the holocaust). It was a time when people were treated as weapons to be used and were killed and injured in massive numbers with no regard to the inhumanity of this. As an example Hunter-Weston said that he “cared nothing for casualties” and commented that the massacre at gully Ravine had “blooded the pups” when the shocking casualties became known including Hugh. Such abuse caused the commander, Granville-Egerton, of the Cameronians when he arrived at Gallipoli to protest so much that he was eventually disciplined.

Almost exactly 100 years after this catastrophe, my wife and I visited Gallipoli to see the locations related to Hugh and the Cameronians. It was an extremely poignant occasion even more so because of the beauty of the peninsular these days and the fact that Hugh’s great nephew was visiting as the first family member since his death and with a Turkish born wife. In addition, nature has reclaimed the area as if to say “I’ll take over again now you ridiculous humans have stopped killing each other and destroying my work”.

We visited the Helles monument where Hugh’s name appears as his body was never found or was unidentified. Through the excellent work of Stephen Chambers in his Gully Ravine book and Battlefield Guide Andy Crooks (who produces http://www.gullyravine.org.uk) we were also able to find the area where the trenches had been that Hugh died in or near. It is cultivated fields now and the sight of sunflower, melon, tomato and berry crops in an area where such carnage took place in 1915 just shows how insignificant we really are. Some trenches west of where Hugh died still exist and we were able to sit in them. There seemed to be only one appropriate way to commemorate Hugh’s short life – we read his last letter home to his mum and smoked a big cigar on his behalf. A delivery of nicotine 100 years too late that he couldn’t enjoy himself but the sentiment seemed right.

It was an extremely poignant trip to commemorate Hugh’s life and early death amongst a Gallpoli casualty list of 36,000 Commonwealth, 10,000 French and 86,000 Ottoman troops.

  1. Update when we reached 100 year anniversary of armistice day.
    Rightly people are remembering all who lost their lives in war zones. Righly this tends to focus on those lucky enough to be remembered as individuals by their colleagues or families or the media.
    Sadly this tends to focus on officers and those awarded medals etc.
    People like Hugh are largely forgotten. This was brought home to me by 3 discoveries this week:
    1. No family member apart from those I’ve bored with it know his story.
    2. The Falkirk war memorial in Dollar Park only lists the names of those it commemorates online. No names are on the actual monument.
    3. His 2 brothers who luckily returned from WW1 are listed on a memorial at their old Laurieston Primary school. The poor lad who died presumably didn’t go there so isn’t mentioned.
    Lads like Hugh were thrown to the slaughter and we are kidding ourselves if we think they are properly remembered for the individuals they were and could have been.
  2. And another 2 things. Firstly, we have photos of some from his era but none at all of Hugh. Sums up level to which he is forgotten.
    Secondly, I discovered he was tested as he tried to get a cleaning job as a teenager. The manager of a shop put a half crown on the display cabinet he was asked to clean as a test of both his honesty and cleaning. He passed both.

Our inflexible friend the visa system

The Promise by Tracy Chapman was the prompt for this blog that appeared in the Guardian a number of years ago. Still resonates strongly with me.

“It would feel so good to be / In your arms / Where all my journeys end / If you can make a promise / If it’s one that you can keep/ I vow to come for you / If you wait for me and say you’ll hold / A place for me in your heart”

Serpil and I watched Tracy Chapman at the Manchester Apollo just weeks before she had to return to Turkey to try to sort out her visa. We had no idea if we could be together as the outcome of the visa application was far from certain. The words of this song were therefore so poignant for us, especially as I was hearing it for the first time.

We travelled to Turkey together in April and I came home a few weeks later. Serpil was left to battle with the difficulties of the UK visa system coupled with Turkish bureaucracy. This included three trips to a documentation registration centre 20 miles away, an appointment at the British consulate ending in tears after rejection, plus calls to try to allow resubmission of documents they had on file but wanted sent again.

“If you wait for me then I’ll come for you / Although I’ve travelled far / I always hold a place for you in my heart / If you think of me / If you miss me once in a while / Then I’ll return to you / I’ll return and fill that space in your heart”

The lyrics were particularly relevant at two points in this painful process. First, when I left Serpil at Istanbul airport and travelled back home – a place that felt empty without her. We had no idea what the circumstances would be, or, when – if? – we would next meet. Second, a few months later, as I sat waiting for the train to take me to the airport from Manchester city centre to bring her home after the first-stage visa process had been dealt with.

The system led us to a stark choice between ending our relationship, or marriage. The latter was the right decision (and we would probably have done it anyway some point in the future as I’m always married but not to the same person), but it was unfortunate that we were “pushed” into it by the visa system. Our beautiful wedding, months later, on a glorious sunny day in Manchester, surrounded by our friends, compensated for the trials and tribulations we’d been through.

More importantly, our happy times together in the years since have meant that the memories of the problems we faced have faded. I wonder if they even made us stronger?

“Remembering / Your touch / Your kiss / Your warm embrace/ I’ll find my way back to you / Please say you’ll be waiting”

My life in music – part 2

Watching live music comes naturally to most of us if we listen to it (as covered here regarding me – https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/stevenlindsay.home.blog/31).

As I remember it, my gig going days started with my mate Steven and I going to see a celtic rock band he liked called Horslips at the Glasgow Apollo. Along with other mates like Fraser and Eddie in those years, the Apollo was the scene of outstanding gigs by Queen, Thin Lizzy, The Police and Status Quo. I can remember snatches of those times like running for the last bus back to Cumbernauld and catching the Pretenders’ drummer’s sweat infused towel at Tiffanys. I wish that smelly item was still with me but it fell victim to a clear out along life’s journey.

Wife number 1 was into music so we attended some gigs before the pesky kids got in the way. This included sadly neat book-ends involving my first music love, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. The first time I saw them (at Edinburgh Playhouse) was at the relatively calm start of our relationship whereas the last time we saw them together (at Birmingham NEC) was as things were falling apart. I blame Petty.

There was little gig going with wife 2 as she wasn’t really interested, but Serpil and I then made up for lost time. I started keeping a list (I love a list) of gigs I went to as I realised I couldn’t remember who I’d seen live in earlier years. It’s now a very long list. I have dragged poor Serpil to so many (including some she has really hated and left early) it’s a surprise she is still wife 3.

Most of the gigs I attend are in small venues with relatively unknown artists playing. This has allowed me to get to know a number of artists and move to putting gigs on (am I a curator now?) for charity. This wee series of Acoustic Amnesty gigs has been a wonderful thing to put together and given me some friends who are just too talented for their own good.

In addition, promoting these gigs has got me into some local radio studios where the likes of the music man Mog has allowed me to promote them. My mate Mike and I have even run a few radio shows in his absence. In fact, Mog’s unexpected absence for one show led to me and the talented singer James Holt putting a whole show together on the hoof. Great fun.

If I’m honest, there are a number of gigs I attend where I wonder if I should have bothered going (sometimes because of the talking and/or phone waving idiots sadly around me), and there are a number of gigs in my diary that I don’t bother going to if tickets have not already been bagged. But without doubt watching live music has been a positive experience in my life from the smaller ones mentioned through to the festival mud monster that is Glastonbury on 3 occasions.

Attending venues has also allowed me to see some angles to exploit. Blagging onto the guest list as a supposed contact of the recent decorators of the Manchester Apollo was cheeky enough but Elbow at the Bridgewater Hall was the highlight of my blagging. Their Manchester International Festival gigs with the Halle orchestra were sold out and then some. However my frequent visits to the venue meant I knew that the only checks for tickets were as you went into the actual hall itself rather than the building entrances. This has now changed perhaps because of the likes of me – sorry. Anyway, after my mate Alex’s pre wedding dinner I happened to be wandering near the Bridgewater Hall and the blag formed in my sneaky mind. In I went at the interval such that the ushers assumed I’d already been in, found a seat that had been empty in the first half, and thoroughly enjoyed the second half of a wondrous show. Trouble was that I’d obviously missed the first half so blagging stage 2 was put into operation the following night. Same procedure but with an obviously higher danger as the rightful owner of the seat could just be a little late and turn up. The stress was certainly not helped by my mate Michael (did I say mate?) seeing me sneak to a seat as the lights went down and greeting me with the shout “Oi jocko, are you scamming a seat again tonight?”. Anyway, I chose lucky and even the arrival of a latecomer for the empty seat next to me didn’t mean I was evicted.

The only problem was that my lovely wife Serpil hadn’t seen this wonderful gig. So stage 3 blagging was put into play. Unlike me, Serpil is rightly not a blagger, so took some persuading to come along at the interval to join me. We used a few empty seats I’d spotted in the first half (amazing how there’s always empty seats even when the tickets are as scarce as rocking horse poo) and both loved the show. Great nights. I considered myself redeemed when a few months later I bumped into Guy Garvey (Elbow’s singer) and told him this tale of blagging. He laughed and seemed impressed so I therefore consider it to have been permissible.

Watching live music has been a joy and I hope to keep doing it until I’m barred from the venues – whether for being a blagger or too old!

My life in music – part 1

Unlike football, my involvement in music has only involved listening and watching (covered in part 2) as I have no ability whatsoever. I still obviously harbour the surely mistaken believe that my latent talent would spring forth given half a chance. My performances have been charity X factor type singing events. The Proclaimers are apparently consulting their lawyers about the next such outing in September (https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/charity-web/charity/displayCharityCampaignPage.action?charityCampaignUrl=steven-andy-y-factor).

I had no exposure to music as a kid. My parents were never that interested and there was no older sibling to guide me. Unless you count the drink fuelled parties on my dad’s side of the family that always led to some singing. This even included my wee brother performing “Long haired lover from Liverpool”. And he wasn’t even pished. The interest therefore was driven by friends and the usual teenage interest in the charts at that time. Borrowing records to tape was a key part of this, as was listening to Anne Nightingale, Kid Jenson and, of course, John Peel. I still to this day have tapes I made of most of Peel’s festive 50 from 1978. The combination of classic rock with recent punk was belting.

My listening was improved when my mate (and at the time colleague but sadly now departed) Kevin Wilson got me a deal on a reasonable hifi system. The speakers are still in use. This was at the time of the CD, a medium that never truly did it for me. Most of my vinyl records survived long enough for MP3s and streaming to make CDs rightly irrelevant. There were a few exceptions including the example described here – https://stevenlindsay.home.blog/2019/08/15/learning-to-understand/.

My excuse for discarding some albums can only be that the too frequent house moves meant the heavy, bulky loveliness of vinyl actually got too much. Silly sod.

Record Store Day 2013 was the catalyst for revisiting my vinyl as the first 2 Tom Petty albums were released on coloured vinyl. Although they are on the wall rather than on a turntable (where the originals occasionally appear), a visit to the excellent Piccadilly Records and Richer Sounds got me back into the fold.

As well as a slowly increasing vinyl collection, my listening is now via the ubiquitous streaming, the wonderful BBC Radio6 and the occasional MP3. Thanks to my son, I even have a speaker I can shout at to play music for us.

Despite all the changes and the ups and downs involved, my love of listening to music is as strong as it ever was.

Learning to understand

A version of this was published in the Guardian many years ago.

I write this as I listen to an album 40 years after Aunt Betty gave it to me. I was only eight when she brought Wild Life for me and Beaucoups of Blues by Ringo Starr for my younger brother, when she came to visit – she lived abroad at the time. These were strange presents to give me and my brother, and our faces must have shown our disappointment that the pressies weren’t sweets or toys that would have lasted 10 minutes before being eaten or discarded. I am sorry for that. I recently revisited my vinyl collection and that got me thinking about Betty and these inappropriate gifts.

She was my dad’s sister but they never got on. This should have warmed me to Betty because, unfortunately, I never particularly got on with my dad either. But just as she had no idea what to buy for eight- and six-year-old boys back then, I had no idea what she was really like. I believe she was an alcoholic and suffered at the hands of an abusive husband back then. Luckily, she found an escape and her next husband was a kind and gentle type who could look after her.

I tried to connect with Betty when we, coincidentally, lived near each other for a few years but she wasn’t comfortable with family contact. I would imagine she didn’t have any real friends either. The personality traits on that side of my family are strange to me, and I struggled with Betty’s lack of interest in being in touch with my family at that time. Maybe if she was still alive she would be as sorry about that as I am for my ingratitude towards her gift in 1971.

Betty’s later gifts to us were of money enclosed in greetings cards; perhaps she decided that was less likely to cause disappointment to ungrateful boys.

If I had been able to get to know her better, would it have helped me to better understand my dad? Probably not, but you never know. What would she have told me? Maybe only that time generally sorts things out, at least to some extent, that I would never be as close as I would like to either her or him, but that ageing would calm everything down so that we could at least pass the time of day without an argument or worse.

Thanks for the record, Betty – a replacement of it (after I stupidly threw it out) is still playing today, even though you are not. I think of you and the faults of family relationships when I do.

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