Football. It used to be wonderful, the only game in town when I was a boy. The alternatives were skipping ropes or peever, but they were strictly for girls only.

It’s no exaggeration that we played the beautiful game from dawn to dusk. There were pitches all around and within our deprived West End community.

When the Ashy, the Sawny, the Monny and the Coos parks were already occupied and there was a dug’s chance and nane of getting on to the park cock or a hen, we took to the streets and braved the danger of the buses which came along like clockwork  every ten minutes in those days.

It was a case then of haud the jaikets or make use of them as goalposts, and the footwear was sannies or even wellies, but never as exotic as the yellow ones Billy Connolly wore on his big banana feet.

Sir Billy Connolly – no, he didn’t play for East Fyfe – would have been quite at home with us, even if he did have two left feet.

Football for us was a serious business. It was important to win no matter where you were playing and against whom you were playing.

There may have been an edge to the school team matches between the Academy and Castlehill, but it did not filter back to the streets of Brucehill, where there was then little or no sectarianism.

Drunks on both sides of the divide sang their sectarian songs on a Friday night and left them on the last bus. Or out on the street with blind John Haggerty, who played the accordion for the boozers, but never for that sort of stuff.

Any violence there was usually involved two twenty something men from the same side of the fence who had become familiar with the polis and the interior of the jail overnight in the Municipal Buildings, the sheriff court in Church Street and Barlinnie Prison, left,  in Glasgow, where the usual sentence was 30 or 60 days handed down by Sheriff J. Martin Mackay

Of course, there was excitement on the ten past nine bus the next morning taking the women down to the shops or to their work cleaning schools and council offices.

Who got the jail last night?  Who was it was it got lifted and thrown in the back of the Black Maria? Did he get a kicking?

However, I always felt it was football that had the top place on the agenda of the shipyard and factory workers who lived in the scheme and took the workers’ bus to their employment in Denny’s shipyard.

The bus was packed with men in bunnets, boiler suits, moleskin trousers, waistcoats and oil-stained jackets with red polka dot hankies stuck in the top pocket.

At that time Dumbarton FC, the Sons of the Rock, were more talked about here than Celtic or Rangers.

Probably that was because few people could afford to travel to Parkhead or Ibrox and chose instead to pack the terracing at fatal Boghead on a Saturday afternoon, rain, hail or shine.

Old Firm fans were deeply committed – many of them for all the wrong reasons, which each and every one of them will deny to this day.

It was a great day for the community when local boys were chosen to play for Dumbarton – men such as Tim Whalen, Hughie Gallacher and John Heaney, who played for the Sons in the ‘Fifties.

And John McGhee, Alan Black and Dougie Robertson, who wore the black and gold jersey with pride in the Sixties. In Robertson’s case it was a yellow goalie’s top.

The table cloths were waved out the windows when Vale of Leven Juniors won the Scottish Cup against Annbank United in 1953, and Dumbarton won the Quaich, which was second only to the Coronation Cup.

It was the fact that the supporters knew personally many of the players and their families that attracted them to the stadiums in their tens of thousands to watch them play.

Players like Evan Williams from Castlehill who played in goal for Celtic in the late Sixties and Seventies and was cheered on as “Nellie’s boy” by supporters who knew his mother, an excellent swimmer who taught many of them to swim at the Brock Baths.

Then there was Archie McHard, Davie Thomson and  Danny Currie, all of whom played for Clyde and Davie Currie, who was signed for Hamilton Accies, along with Jackie Stewart from the Vale.

Joe Davin played for Hibernian and Peter Goldie, Bernie McCready and Johnny Divers were recruited by Celtic.

Professionals Joe Davin (Hibs), Evan Williams (Celtic) and John O’Hare (Scotland and Sunderland). Picture by Bill Heaney

John Solly O’Hare from Renton played with distinction for teams managed by Brian Clough, Derby County and Leeds United. O’Hare also played for Scotland.

Stevie Murray from Bellsmyre captained Aberdeen, Dundee and Celtic. Nicky Sharkey from Helensburgh played for Sunderland. David Gethin from Milton played for St Mirren.

Valeman Drew Busby of Hearts and Airdrie, and  the late Columb McKinley, who was Drew’s team mate with Airdrie at Broomfield, made the grade. Another good Airdrie player was goalkeeper Roddy MacKenzie from Castlehill.

If you want a full list of local men and who they played for and when they pulled on the strips look no further than the now retired Dumbarton barber John McCann, whose knowledge of the game and the people in it is encyclopaedic. John’s father, Peter, was a soccer scout who recommended some fine players to the biggest clubs.

Is it any wonder then that the fans turned out in droves to watch these boys who had fast become legends in their own lunchtime and played football at the highest level?

Vale of Leven bring home the Scottish Cup to Alexandria in 1953.

Me? I wasn’t great at football but I once scored a hat-trick for St Michael’s Boys’ Guild against St Patrick’s in a cup final at St James’s Park. It was a proud moment for me since my cousins Pat Ward, who played for Hibs and Leicester City,  and Dumbarton winger John Heaney, were in the crowd watching us.

That was the thing about football back in those halcyon days. Everyone knew everyone else. They desperately wanted to go and see them play and there was a great sense of pride whenever a piece of silverware won by a local team came back home from Hampden.

Football has become distant in recent times however. Football is spending £ millions on Marketing in an attempt to get the crowds back. But they’ve dropped the ball; they have lost the common touch. They talk about family but it’s now very much them and us, the suits and the bunnets. Watching matches on TV is like watching paint dry. No crowds no atmosphere. The pandemic is a poor excuse for this.

Football is a community matter. It’s a family thing. I am no racist, but someone should tell Celtic there are no Bollongolis from Brucehill and Rangers that Banisics are thin on the ground in Bearsden. We need more Scottish players encouraged to play the game from an early age.

The football authorities have now come up with the Super League. Shylock will soon be listed at centre-half on the team sheets. It’s all about finance.

Memories are made of this – Rangers and Celtic and Dumbarton in the Sixties and Celtic’s European Cup winning team in 1967.

Newspaper columnist Gerry Hassan, a Dundee United supporter, tells us this was a reactionary, regressive and self-interested move – “But this has been the way of football in recent decades – with the establishment of the English Premier League in 1992 driven by the backing of Sky and Murdoch, and the European Champions League the same year, the vast injection of TV and commercial monies, and the desire of those at the top to get their hands on even more money.

“All the English clubs which were involved have withdrawn – showing little contrition – which means it will not happen for now, but the ideas and forces behind this project will not go away and will return.

“The proposal violates everything about what makes football special and captivating. But it makes complete sense if we see the bigger picture. This embodies the age of hyper-capitalism that we live in, driven by a brutal neo-feudalism whereby the ultra-rich and powerful feel they have the right to protect their status, position and wealth and to deny the right of others to be successful.

“The Super League is about a different idea of the football club from what has gone before: one historically rooted in a community with traditions, memories and generational connection through families of supporters.”

And so say all of us who live here in what was once known as The Cradle of Scottish Football.

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