WHEN LAST I worked in a real newspaper office, into which I commuted daily, to interact, face-to-face with real people, and indulge in office politics, I shared what was known as “the back bench” with another Baby Boomer – Big Brian, one of the finest crime reporters in the history of the genre.
Some of the younger kids in the office dubbed us: “Statler and Waldorf”, after those two old geezers in the Muppets. Like them, Brian and I had seen it all, done most of it and had the tee-shirts and the DVDs. We – well me anyway – seldom got the respect our great abilities and common sense deserved, but, we just got on with the job.
I hope they still miss us.
The late Harry Calderhead
Respect for one's elders doesn't often show, until that elder is gone, as witness the tributes being paid this week to Harry Calderhead, the Grand Old Man of Firhill, who passed away, aged 98.
Every club has at least one Harry, although not too-many reach the grand old vintage Harry managed. He's the guy who can recall the good days - mean, Harry actually could tell those around him just how good Johnny Mackenzie - “The Firhill Flyer”, who himself passed on in his tenth decade earlier this year – actually was, and that was very good indeed.
Harry could have told younger Jags fans, Chic Charnley and Alan Rough were not the first Maryhill Magyrs who were wired wrongly. The Harry Wraggs have always had players whose determination to play with a smile on their face was at odds with the dour, stern, this is serious demeanour of a certain club from south of the River.
There is almost, but not quite, a preservation order on Queen's Park, no matter how badly it slips, the team which is the font of Scottish football must, seemingly, be allowed to soldier-on in the senior game. I pray the day never comes when the Spiders risk demotion to the Lowland League – that would be the end of fitba as we know it.
I could almost mount a campaign to have Partick Thistle preserved, as the home of fitba's daft boays – a sanctuary for the harum-scarum, the no-wired-right and the awkward squad.
Off the top of my head, I can think of several who really should have played for Thistle – Paul Gascoigne, Hughie Sproat, Jinky, Slim Jim, my own Junior Football hero, Jim “Stinker” Dick, and “Faddy”.
Ally MacLeod would have been a great Firhill manager, but, when he was round the great John Lambie was there and he was another man who seemed diminished with other clubs.
I never met Harry, but, when I used to be rostered regularly to Firhill, the Thistle fans who sat, every week, in front of the press box in the Jackie Husband Stand were great craic. Alan McMillan, John Traynor – the one in that family who could really write – “wee” Kenny MacDonald, Gary Ralston, Bill Marwick and I, we had a great time interacting with them.
It was the same, perhaps going by train to a Queen of the South game, to be in a compartment with a posse of Thistle fans, the journey always seemed to pass quicker.
“Handy” Andy Kerr was my first football hero. A centre-half with Lugar Boswell Thistle, he was converted, at Firhill, into a good enough full-back to represent Scotland, then to switch to centre forward and be picked for Scotland again in that position; although, injury meant he never added to his full-back caps.
Andy scored goals for fun for Kilmarnock and I still remember how, one afternoon, against Thistle at Rugby Park, with Killie four goals up and coasting, Andy set off down the left wing, to be faced with his old team-mate Jimmy Davidson, a former Scotland centre-half.
Thistle and Kilmarnock great Andy Kerr
If Andy beat Jimmy once, he beat him seven times, repeatedly turning back to beat him again, often by nutmegging him. Both were laughing outrageously until, finally, they fell over and lay there laughing.
I doubt if Willie Waddell was impressed; Walter McCrae certainly would not have been, but, the fans loved it. That was the Thistle approach taken to extremes.
The great “Dan” Archer's father may have been a top civil servant, and Dan may have been educated at Rugby School, but, his heart and his father's were at Firhill – he wrote about football from a Firhill angle, as did his contemporary Malky Munro. There was a smile in every word. While some of Dan's tales of covering Thistle from the terraces, for the added atmosphere, were the stuff of legend.
Richard, my oldest friend, is a Thistle fan. Mind you, his many years of service to the Crown, as he flew around the world on his way to a senior rank in the Royal Air Force and an OBE, meant he has not seen many Thistle games of late, but, it's still the first result he looks for there at Dunflyin', his upmarket Home Counties retirement haven.
Then there was the journalist, a Thistle fan, who was despatched to Elland Road, to cover the first leg of the “Battle of Britain” European Cup semi-final between Leeds United and Celtic in Leeds in 1971. On the afternoon of the game, he became bewitched by the charms of a Yorkshire lass, a divorcee of a certain age until, faced with the choice between a seat in the Elland Road press box for the most-anticipated game of the season, or, a romp with a lady who was definitely up for it – he did what any red-blooded Thistle fans would have done and body-swerved the game.
He would have got away with it too, except, his Editor was at the game as a guest of a major Celtic sponsor and his absence was noted.
So you see, Thistle fans, with or without typewriters, have always had a mind of their own, and a different viewpoint on the game. I am sure old Harry had his share of bad afternoons at the office over his lifetime of following Thistle, but, while the 1971 League Cup Final will surely be the game he remembered most, he certainly saw enough to keep encouraging him to watch the team, and, he certainly got entertained.
Rest in Peace Harry, and what a great innings.