Snapshot by Daniel Gray and Alan McCredie

Scenes and stories from the heartlands of Scottish football, Nutmeg, 2020, 208 p.

The introduction claims this book to be “a love letter to the charms of football …. a portal into a different kind of Scotland.” Well, maybe; but it’s a portal through which many people have travelled.

As an aside I notice on the cover photo (of a pitch on Eriskay) there are flags marking the halfway line. I thought those had been done away with years ago.

For each “chapter” we have a page or three of narrative. These describe in turn the unsung background people, the beating heart of every club, “ensuring our Saturdays have purpose, comfort and melancholy;” the return to normality and focus of a new season’s start; the contrasting fortunes of the two “wee” Rangers, of Berwick and of Cove; the bright promise of a ground you’ve never been to before; the “gentle pleasures” of football in the Borders (notwithstanding the brutalist concrete splendour of Gala Fairydean’s main stand;) the rigours and dangers of blaes pitches; the magic of a floodlit game, forever enchanting; the glory and misery of away trips; the local team as the heart of a community, embodied in its social club especially in Junior football; the joys of park football; the content the writer senses in the Highland League.

The match day experience of attending a midweek floodlit game in a minor league is highlighted by a photograph of a neglected bottle of orange juice and a mug with the word “Twat” printed on it sitting on top of a dugout.

Football’s past is given its due with photos of an iron fence and gate before where the main stand stood at The Gymnasium; trees striding down the terraces of Cathkin Park; a single Art Deco style wall still bearing the name Shawfield; the sole survivor of Brockville, a turnstile acting as a memorial in the car park of the town’s Morrisons; the overgrown terraces of Tinto Park, Benburb; Meadowbank stadium’s “oddly alluring air of otherness …. a little pocket of Leningrad tucked behind Arthur’s Seat.”

An even more melancholy note is struck by the mention of two Hibs supporters, one photographed on an away trip, who succumbed to Covid-19, with the final paragraphs devoted to the loss the average fan has experienced as a result of the pandemic’s suspension of the Saturday ritual.

Pedant’s corner:- “a 1,000” (either ‘a thousand’ or ‘1,000’. 1,000 does not stand for ‘thousand’, it is specifically ‘one thousand’; no one ever says, ‘a one thousand’,) “their 54 years of league football had ceased” (Berwick Rangers joined the Scottish League proper in 1955; 64 years, then; 68 if you count the Division C years,) Berwick fans in August “singing ‘Back to school tomorrow’ to visiting young fans of Scottish clubs” (unless it was a midweek game more likely ‘Back to school on Monday’,) Rangers’ (Rangers’s,) Rovers’ (Rovers’s,) “the club … are familiar” (the club … is familiar,) “the first senior league game at Cove’s Balmoral Stadium.” (Okay, the writer used a lower case ‘s’, but…. Cove have been Senior ever since they joined the Highland League, so, ‘their first game in a nationwide league,’) “Galashiels Fairydean Rovers FC” (the club’s name is Gala Fairydean Rovers FC.)

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  1. Martin McCallion

    the rigours and dangers of blaes pitches

    Fascinating: I had no idea that was how you spelt that. I’d have thought of blaze, and then maybe tried something like blaise or blaize. But I’ve never seen it written down before, despite the fact that my dad was a civil engineer who used to specialise in playing fields and such.

  2. jackdeighton

    Martin,
    It is an unusual spelling. I can’t remember when I first saw it written down but it was before I left Dumbarton.
    It’s a fairly niche word, though, apparently derived from blae, a Scottish word meaning slate coloured or bluish grey. Yet blaes pitches were/are pinky-brown!

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