Forfar better or worse

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The Independent Online
I freely admit it. I fell instantly for Forfar Athletic that late summer evening in August 1963 when the farmer up the road took me to my first match at the age of 11.

I was a glen boy, knowing little of the ways of cities (or of Uniteds, Albions or Rovers or even Rangers and Celtic). As I climbed the railway sleeper terracing at Station Park, I was totally unprepared for the shocking sight that awaited me: grown men in shorts. I'd never seen the like. I don't know who I thought played this game but not men with knees.

But in that split second I was an addict. A Loon for life. Since that moment football for me is a blend of perfumes: liniment mixed with the fragrance of ordure from the cattle market over the wall, the scent of new cut grass and harvest time in the air. Pretty special.

The shadowy figures that career around my brain are Tommy Mackle, famous for being wee and ex-Celtic; Hamish Watt, whose home-made orthodontics blazed the style later made famous by Joe Jordan; and Jake Young, the player-manager who broke his back in a goalmouth mle. I can still hear the crack.

I saw the teenage Archie Knox make his scoring debut. My pal Smithy and I marked early his management potential. Archie shared his views on interpretation of the laws with referees so fiercely and so often we started calling him Mr 60 Minutes as he made each early exit. Mind you we nearly did the same when the Wee Prime Minister, the Airdrie manager Ian Macmillan, called the match policeman (the only one) to invite us to leave or restrain our outrageously (we thought) funny match commentary.

Addict I undoubtedly have been for 30 years, glossing my indulgence with a veneer of reasonableness, as junkies do. In 1977 I drove all day from London to Innerleithen to watch my boys turfed out of the Scottish Cup by non-league Vale of Leithen. So I got back into the van and drove back again, 18 hours driving broken only by 90 minutes humiliation.

I persuaded two chums from Oxfam to take a day return from Oxford to Glasgow with me to see Forfar take on Rangers in the semi-final of the Scottish Cup at Hampden in 1982. I wasn't able to get to the replay (0- 0 and a penalty claim denied seven minutes from time) as I had to leave for El Salvador the next day. What with the Argentinians invading the Falklands that week you've no idea how difficult it was to get the replay result in San Salvador until the nice man from NBC got on the satellite to New York for me.

So it's all gone to make me the rounded character I am today. But I admit to being tested now. My seven year old, Robbie, has caught a serious dose of football. Obsessed? It's like looking in a mirror.

Naturally I took him to see Forfar. We've travelled to Hampden and fabled Firs Park. He was mascot at Forfar v Arbroath and he says he's "fond" of Forfar. But he does ask awkward questions like: "Why do we support a team that isn't very good?"

"Well, that's what supporting is all about," I say in character-forming tones. "Being loyal when they lose as well as when they win, because they're your local team. Anybody can support Rangers or Manchester United. Where's the fun in that?"

A week later he'd thought about it and came back with: "But they're in Forfar and we live in Edinburgh."

His world view of football already takes in Bergkamp, Baggio and Muller. At his age I regarded anyone south of Perth as suspect. He supports Scotland but, good grief, doesn't mind England. The ageless Scottish dilemma - Scotland are beating Brazil 5-0 and England are losing 1-0 to Mexico in adjacent grounds so which match do you watch? - means nothing to him.

We did set out for Recreation Park, Alloa, the other week for a top of the Third Division clash but were turned back by the weather. Instead, we went to Easter Road and froze as the sleet sheeted horizontally into the family enclosure. Aberdeen succumbed to a 4-2 defeat as we succumbed to hypothermia. "Dad can I have a woolly Hibs hat?" "Only to keep you warm mind" I instructed. But he's been asking to wear it since. What am I to do?

Worried parent. Edinburgh.