Nothing compares to the raw and rugged brilliance of Scottish football

In 1992, when I was a thrusting young(ish) reporter on the Scotsman, my then girlfriend (and now wife) and I went on holiday to the west coast of the United States. We were walking down the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, California, when we came across an international newspaper stand – a relic of the pre-internet age that offered ye olde worlde travellers a link back to the homeland, albeit with the immediacy we would all associate with Kris Commons doing 40-yard sprints in training.

We shelled out $11 for a copy of a four-day-old Guardian. It carried all sorts of interesting news on politics and international affairs. I remember a column written by Roy Hattersley – very handy in case of toilet paper emergencies. However, there were no Scottish football results. Money wasted. Day. Fucking. Ruined. Celtic may (or may not) have beaten Aberdeen sometime within the week and I had no clue.

Fast forward to this week. We are driving south down Highway 101 towards Santa Cruz. The sun is blazing, the sky is the colour of peace. It is a beautiful day and Harry Brady of the Celtic Underground is yapping through the car radio. I love Harry. He talks utter mince at least 27.4% of the time but I love him anyway, largely because of the confident way he talks nonsense about football.

Imagine going to a restaurant and the waiter comes out with your main course. He is wearing a green bow tie, a crisp, white-linen jacket and white gloves. The plate is hidden underneath one of those small silver domes. You are invited to watch the big reveal. There’s Harry with his big cheesy grin, which only gets wider as he lifts the dome to let you see what is underneath. And, blow me, if it’s not a plate of chips. Crap chips, too. Not the dry, crispy kind but those wet and greasy, slug-like chips you’d only eat after six pints on a Friday night. That’s Harry on the podcast. But I love it.

My wife and son have had it up to here with the CU podcast. They claim the sound quality is rubbish and don’t know what anyone is talking about. I love my wife and my son beyond words but they can get tae. This is Celtic we are talking about and, barring some Trump-inspired nuclear holocaust, we are listening to the very end of this podcast.

All good things come to an end and so, eventually, Harry bids us all farewell. My son cheers from the back seat and asks for the phone to play the latest Imagine Dragons album. It is time for some fatherly truths. I tell him three things:

1. Imagine Dragons, nein danke.
2. When he has enough money to buy a car with a Bluetooth facility that allows you to stream audio from your phone, then he gets to pick the toons.
3. I have another Celtic podcast to listen to so he had better buckle up his ears and listen, unless he wants to walk.

The truth is I have another 57 Scottish football podcasts to listen to. They are lining up on my phone like a Saturday night crowd at the Sub Club in 1986. Not just Celtic podcasts, of which I count five. There’s also The Terrace, BytheMin Aberdeen, Fitba Hacks, Nutmeg podcast, MFC Podcast and, for those occasions when my blood pressure is trending dangerously normal, Superscoreboard and BBC Sportsound. I’ve even recently subscribed to Heart and Hand on Patreon – $4 a month for a Rangers podcast. A Rangers podcast, for fuck’s sake.

Now I live in California I have never been more tuned into Scottish football. God bless the internet and those who invented it. Never mind, a four-day-old copy of the Guardian – if something related to Scottish football has happened four seconds ago, I probably know it. I find myself on the phone to Scotland, telling a pal stuff about Ross County he doesn’t know and doesn’t want to know. Motherwell’s latest transfer targets? I’m your man. The “tactical genius” of Brendan Rodgers unpicked? Do you have five spare hours?

I am typing this in our house in a small California town called Mill Valley. Look it up. It’s like Walt Disney’s hipster brother built a themepark for smug, wealthy white people. Mountain biking was invented on the hill outside our front door. The beach is 15 minutes away. The surfing is great (though there are sharks out there). Some of the best skiing in the world is a two-hour drive north. But here’s the thing: if there is a Celtic game on – or any Scottish game – I am doing none of these things. I am watching the game. I love Celtic and Scottish football in ways I never loved it when I lived in Scotland.

Being a thoughtful kind of person (not really), I occasionally wonder why this is so. The swanky, pseudo-psychologist explanation is that I am 5,000 miles from home and desperately clinging on. Maybe, but if it was really about maintaining my Scottishness, why do I stay away from all the expat stuff. There is a very famous Scottish pub in San Francisco called the Edinburgh Castle. A great pub, by all accounts. I haven’t been in it once.

What if this obsession had nothing to do with being a Scotsman torn from his roots? What if it was to do with the raw and rugged brilliance of Scottish football itself? This is a very unfashionable view in 2018, especially among the cognoscenti, who seldom mention Scottish football except when they want to road test a new form of contempt.

The standard of play is crap so why bother? Fair enough, I suppose, although I could make a case for Rodgers’ team being a very decent outfit on their best days. But having watched PSG score 12 goals past Celtic this season, I will leave that to one side and ask another question: what is football all about? What should it be about? What was it about when it was at its best? The answer to none of these questions is PSG. Or the tourist-filled stands at Barcelona. Or the English Premier League.

The answer is Celtic (insert your own Scottish team here). It is about roots. Not national roots, but football roots. It is about something real, something that connects us to our past and, we hope, our future. Sure, the football isn’t perfect, but the problem with perfection is that there is nowhere else to go except down. There is beauty and hope in imperfection.

It’s nothing to do with clinging on to Scotland. It is about clinging on to football. I listen to people dismissing Scottish football and I imagine them in 15 years time, puzzling over how it is the World Soccer Super League isn’t all it was cracked up to be. They’ll be like those muppets who threw out their 7-inch punk singles and rushed out to buy CDs, trying to recapture a past they were far too quick to abandon. Well, not me. No way.

Follow Lawrence Donegan and Nutmeg on Twitter
This is an article from Issue 7 of Nutmeg

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