It was late 1988 and my relationship with, well for legal reasons let’s call her ‘C’, was not going well. Petty arguments were run of the mill, usually because she believed I thought more of football than I did of her. Did I? Well yes, just a bit!
As the winter drew in I informed her of yet another football trip, this time to Scotland. I stood back and waited for the inevitable double-barrelled blast. The silence was deafening, but then she came out with the line any man in my position dreaded, “OK, I’ll come too, lets make a holiday of it.”
I was totally unprepared for her double buff of an answer – she wanted in and she wanted to organise and I couldn’t do anything about it.
A few days later she told me that she’d booked our apartment for the week, surely a romantic hotel in the Highlands next to a picturesque golf course! Well, not quite.
Our five-star accommodation for the week was to be Wonderwest World in Ayr. It was like a run down version of Maplins, the spoof holiday camp used in the 80s TV comedy Hi de Hi. The exception being it was well into the winter and we were just about the only people staying there.
Now I’ve nothing against Ayr or the townsfolk but I certainly didn’t want to stay in a freezing holiday camp with nothing to do. We hadn’t left Essex and already the trip was a disaster. Only football could save me!
Day 1- AYR UNITED
The day of reckoning came and we set off by overnight train for Scotland arriving early on Monday morning. On arrival at the camp nothing was open and the room was damp. C was planning a night in. I needed an escape. What was to follow was a soccer version of the Great Escape. My Tom, Dick and Harry escape tunnels to football were dug and she didn’t suspect a thing!
My Monday night salvation came from the back pages of the local newspaper that was sitting waiting for us in our room. Today’s fixtures, Reserve League West, AYR UNITED Reserves v STIRLING ALBION Reserves, bingo!
But how was I going to coax her from just about the most unromantic night in, to a freezing, empty Scottish football ground for a reserves match? Well in fairness Somerset Park had to be considerably warmer than this room!
My plan was in place and was executed to perfection. I talked her into a trip to town, albeit close to the stadium, but how would I get her through the turnstiles? As kick-off time drew near I pointed out to C that the floodlights at Ayr United were on, perhaps they’d have a nice clubhouse inside the ground and maybe we should pop along and find out. Obviously pleased that she’d already managed to plan my week, C agreed. Some 90 cold minutes later Ayr United Reserves had won 1-0, and I’d got my football fix, it had all been too easy.
Day 2 KILMARNOCK
Tuesday had been another cold dreary day, until I picked up a copy of the Daily Record. I cheekily checked today’s football fixtures and there it was, Reserve League West, KILMARNOCK Reserves v AIRDRIE Reserves. Surely I couldn’t work the same trick twice? “How do you fancy a taxi ride to Kilmarnock?” I asked. “It’s a very historic place with a few nice pubs” I added. C agreed, totally unaware that our historical field trip was going to lead her to Rugby Park. Then the same routine, floodlights, clubhouse etc…we were in.
Killie 0 Airdrie 3. I sensed she was slightly unhappy with the groundhog day turn of events, but with a trip to Celtic Park planned for Wednesday I was comfortable in the knowledge I would only have to spend Thursday evening in our squalid accommodation before we returned home.
Day 3 GLASGOW
With Celtic v Honved (Hungary) starting in the evening I agreed to a day of shopping around the City, the least I could do. After all, three matches in three days was beyond my wildest dreams! I told C that there was a nice park in Glasgow, and suggested perhaps we could take it in as part of the day. She agreed – little did she realise I meant Cathkin Park, the former home of the legendary Third Lanark Football Club!
Cathkin and shopping later it was off to Celtic Park. The Hoops won 4-0 against their Hungarian opponents but the highlight of the night was the appearance of Scottish legend Alan Rough of ‘Ally’s Army’ fame between the posts for Celtic.
DAY 4 STRANRAER (YES, STRANRAER!)
Back in the Sixties, Third Lanark had a player by the name of Ally McLeod. Now our Ally was a Thirds Legend but was destined for much bigger things. In 1978 he took the Scottish national team to the World Cup finals in Argentina. Super Ally boldly told the good people of Scotland that he and the boys would bring the Cup back home for them.
Perhaps it was under the knowledge that Ally’s mother used to stand on the Cathkin Park terraces and would use her handbag to batter any bystander brave enough to criticise her lad, but in the biggest show of blind faith in football history, all of Scotland believed him.
After reading the Daily Record on Thursday morning I could see it was going to take a whopper of Ally McLeod proportions to get C along to today’s fixture. Reserve League West, STRANRAER Reserves v CELTIC Reserves.
First of all I had to get us to Stranraer, a good couple of hours from Ayr by train. I suggested a day out in Larne, Northern Ireland – this would mean travelling to Stranraer for a ferry. Unbeknown to C I was already aware that no ferries were crossing due to rough seas, but hey, what she didn’t know couldn’t hurt her!
On arrival at Ayr railway station I noticed some graffiti on a wall “GLASGOW RANGERS HATED BUT RATED”. I cursed to myself, I could have visited Ibrox yesterday if I’d thought about it!
We arrived at Stranraer mid afternoon; the train stops right at the ferry port so it wasn’t long before C realised her day in Larne wasn’t going to happen. I suggested a pub would ease her disappointment and a few drinks later I thought the time was right to exercise my cunning plan. I suggested a stroll, which strangely led us up to Stair Park, home of Stranraer Football Club.
Outside the small ground a man was putting up a poster, STRANRAER v CELTIC 7-30pm Kick-Off. By now C had sussed the plan. “No, no way!” she said. The plan seemed to be dead in the water, but then a stroke of genius, a small white lie, and the kind of lie of which Super Ally would have been proud.
C had a soft spot for pin-up footballers, one of which was former Celtic and Arsenal superstar Charlie Nicholas. She knew ‘Champaign Charlie’ was still a legendary figure North of the Border, but what about his younger ‘look-a-like’ brother?
As we walked away from the ground I hit her with the killer line, “Shame we can’t see the game, Charlie Nicholas’ brother plays for Celtic Reserves…” Her eyes lit up. “Really?” she asked. “Yes, looks a bit like Charlie too,” I added innocently. Victory was mine, she agreed to come along to the game; but the truth of the matter was I didn’t know if Charlie even has a brother and to this day I still don’t!
We made our way back to Stairs Park. The elderly man operating the turnstiles asked us where we were from and seemed suitably impressed that we had travelled from the other end of Britain for a reserve team fixture, so impressed in fact that he invited us to watch the match from the directors’ area, and invited us in at half-time for tea and biscuits!
A big crowd (for Stranraer) had turned up in the hope of seeing some of Scotland’s future stars. As it turned out they were treated to a classic. At the end of ninety minutes the Celtic youngsters emerged winners by five goals to four. Everyone seemed pleased with the evening’s entertainment, particularly us as we were invited back into the boardroom for drinks.
One of the Stranraer directors took the time out to talk to us and presented me with a history book of the club. He turned to C and asked, “Why did you come along to this match my dear?” You could have heard a pin drop after she answered, “I was watching Charlie Nicholas’ brother!”
At this point C realised she’d been hoodwinked. The journey back to Ayr and indeed to England was a silent one and not long after we went our separate ways.
It’s been some twenty years since the infamous Scottish adventure. I’m pleased to report that lessons have been learned. Today I’m happily married to Victoria and our holiday time is very precious to us. It’s a time for relaxing, recharging the batteries and generally spending time together as a family.
Therefore trips to Carlisle v Southend, Worcester City v Southport and Penryn Athletic v St Austell are purely circumstantial evidence!