He's football crazy, he's football mad

Chris Arnot meets one Sassenach who won't be heading to Wembley for the Cup Final - he's a Scottish club fan
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
We can see the floodlights across the fast-flowing river that gushes through the centre of Dumfries. As we cross the bridge, Michael Pye shifts around in the driving seat and flexes his shoulders. "This sets my heart racing," he beams. "To me this could be Wembley Way." To anyone else it looks like an estate of modest semis surrounding Palmerston Park, home of Queen of the South. We have just driven from Mr Pye's home in Birmingham to watch "the Queens" play Stenhousemuir in the Scottish Second Division.

Wembley is not his kind of football ground at all. When Manchester United take on Everton tomorrow, he'll be watching from his armchair. "But frankly I'd rather be on a wet terrace watching Albion Rovers play Caledonian Thistle." Even Celtic vs Airdrie in the Scottish Cup Final at Hampden Park would be too grand an occasion. The only time he went to Hampden was to watch a Queen's Park home match on Boxing Day, 1989. The crowd was 625 and he was almost certainly the only Englishman.

During the past 10 years he has travelled more than 22,000 miles to watch Scottish football. He has been to every ground in the country and spent well over pounds 2,000 on petrol. At Arbroath he stood on a terrace with just six men and a dog. The crowd was outroared by the sea. He once got up at 5am and drove 480 miles to watch Ross County FC in Dingwall, a small grey town somewhere north of Inverness. Then he drove back again, arriving home too late for Match of the Day.

He trekked all the way to the aptly-named Boghead Park, home of Dumbarton, only to discover that the game had been called off at 11am because of a waterlogged pitch. "It meant I had to go and watch Partick Thistle play Hamilton Academicals," he recalls.

Michael Pye is 37 and apparently sane. He has a degree in industrial technology from Bradford University and a middle management job at Cadbury Schweppes. He lives just around the corner from the chocolate factory with an understanding girlfriend called Diane, who likes shopping and showjumping.

Sometimes she will go with him to some godforsaken ground where the biting Scottish wind whipping across the terraces could freeze a mutton pie in seconds. More often than not, he will travel alone. After the match he will climb into his company Rover, shed several layers of clothing and tune into Sports Report for news of his beloved Preston North End.

Like generations of football fans, he was weaned on the resonant yet mellifluous tones of James Alexander-Gordon reading the results. "East Fife 5, Forfar 4 ..." Where were they, these faraway places with strange- sounding names? Where were Alloa and Airdrie, Cowdenbeath and Kilmarnock?

His curiosity intensified every Sunday morning when he studied the sports pages and noted that Stirling Albion and Brechin would appear in the same typeface as Manchester United and Liverpool. Yet one match might attract more than 40,000 paying spectators and the other 666. He liked the idea of a crowd being so small that most of them knew each other personally. Tired of the sleaze and ill-temper that has tarnished the English game, he went to seek the true spirit of the football north of the border.

The warmth of the welcome he received has more than made up for the outside temperature. Queen of the South is no exception. But then it's not every day that a guy with an English accent rings up to say he wants to pay pounds 50 to have his name on a seat in the main stand. And while he's at it, he'll part with another pounds 20 to sponsor a floodlight. "It's one way of getting your name up in lights," says Michael.

He squeezes his Rover down a narrow drive at the side of Tesco and leaves it in the football club directors' car park. They know he's coming to see his seat. We're ushered into the boardroom by the club's dapper chairman, Norman Blount, who owns three pharmacies and half a golf course in Canada.

Visitors from England, he says, are rare but not unheard of. "Only the other week we had two merchant bankers up from London looking for corporate hospitality. We did our best and they gave us a cheque for pounds 200 towards the youth team."

Today's visitors, Stenhousemuir, win a scrappy match 2-1. The majority of the 1,100 spectators are wedged into the main stand, including a small but voluble contingent of away supporters. Only opposing directors are separated. Seagulls wheel overhead. Gentle hills are clearly visible in the middle distance. Wembley and Hampden belong to a different football universe.

The following week, Michael is planning a return visit to Stenhousemuir's Ochilview stadium. He will hand over a cheque for more than pounds 300 towards the new stand. Workmates at Cadbury have contributed pounds 1 each in return for a certificate. "You'd be surprised how many people in Birmingham are beginning to take an interest in the Scottish Second Division," he says as he edges back past Tesco and turns on Sports Report. Preston have won and Michael Pye is a happy man. Only 240 miles to go.

Comments