Following the beautiful game has taken me around quite a bit and I have watched some memorable games. There have been occasions however when the journey to and from the venue produced more memories than the game itself. Stationed In Austria in 1946-47 I was posted to the H.Q. of the 38th Irish Brigade when my battalion the 8th Argylls broke up following the end of World War II. The Argylls plus three Irish regiments had formed the 38th Brigade, a potent mixture. The Brigade football eleven which oddly enough didn’t include any Irishmen were pretty good and myself and a few others followed them around when they played other teams in the area. As befitting their Irish connections they sported the green and white hoops. Winning the B.T.A. (British Troops in Austria) Championship led to a challenge match being arranged against the C.M.F. (Central Mediterranean Forces) champions, an RAMC team based at 154 British Military Hospital at Mestre, near Venice. The match was to be played at the St Helena Stadium in Venice. This was an opportunity not to be missed and one or two of us who were regular fans were included in the party. We had an overnight stop at Udine where the lads drew 1-1 with an R.A.F. eleven and then proceeded to Mestre where our accommodation turned out to be a ward in the hospital. Due to overindulgence by the troops only beer was available in Austria but this did not apply in Italy. As a result our night out on the eve of the match turned out to be a tactical error as temptation took over and the team members played their part. On a hot afternoon on an iron hard pitch with barely a blade of grass the match ended in a 5-1 rout. Still we enjoyed seeing the sights of Venice.
In 1950 Scotland arranged to play France in a friendly match at the Combes Stadium in Paris. There was some talk of running a special train to the match from Glasgow which whetted my interest. In the end I booked a few days in Paris based on a coach-air trip from London. Departing from the Victoria Air terminal the coach took us to an airfield in Kent where we boarded a flight to Beauvais. A coach then took us into Paris passing along the Boulevard Macdonald (named after one of Napoleon’s Generals who was the son of a Scottish Presbyterian schoolmaster). It made me feel quite at home. My arrival coincided with a state visit from Queen Juliana and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands. As a result my taxi to my hotel could not cross the Champs Elysees due to the official procession The obliging taxi driver slid back the roof of his cab and we stood on the seats to enjoy a grandstand view of the parade. What a welcome to Paris! For the record Scotland won by a solitary goal scored by Lawrie Reilly. Sightseeing and the night life made it a trip to remember. Various trips to Wembley met with mixed results but I did see Scotland win and draw and thankfully missed the 7-2 and 9-3 defeats. The one that sticks in my mind however is more about the lead up to the game. A group of us planned to go but one of the lads who had a wife and young daughter pulled out of the trip, due we suspected to pressure from his better half. He agreed however to stick to a pre-arranged plan to gather at his house for a few drinks before we caught the train to London. During the evening he remarked rather wistfully that he wished he had a ticket. That was my cue to announce that I had a spare ticket. The look on his wife’s face said it all. If looks could kill there might have been two spare tickets. That was in 1953 but I can’t remember the score. (2-2 Ed).
My first trip to Cardiff to see Scotland play Wales at Ninian Park, the former home of Cardiff City was also quite eventful. My plan to travel overnight by train tfrom Glasgow was changed when I was approached by a fellow as I made my way to the booking office. He explained that there were one or two spare seats on a Rangers Supporters Club bus. The price was reasonable and with another chap by the name of Bob Armstrong who claimed to have been on the books of Aberdeen F.C. prior to the war we boarded the coach. Refreshments were freely available on the journey South, so much so that one or two who had over-indulged had to utilise an open window. This necessitated a stop at a filling station so that he driver could hose down the outside of the coach before we entered the Welsh capital. The game ended in a win for Scotland - again I can’t recall the exact score- and after an overnight stay we set out on a more sedate return trip to Glasgow arriving after midnight too late to catch a train to Perth. My new friend Bob came to my rescue. He obviously knew his way around and we ended up in what turned out to be an all night gambling club. Food was available and we feasted on a mixed grill accompanied by refreshments and whiled away the hours until I caught the early train to Perth, Some months later I bumped in to him working for a bookmaker at Perth Races.
My travels also took me to Windsor Park, Belfast where I witnessed a couple of victories over Northern Ireland. On the first trip I was wait-listed for a berth on the ferry from the Broomielaw. On checking at the Purser's office I found that I had been lucky. My cabin-mate turned out to be ex-Dundee F.C. footballer Tommy Gallagher who was to be covering the match for the Courier. We spent half the night talking football. On the return trip I was prepared to rough it. That was until I ran into Geordie Miller from Luncarty who was part of the official S.F.A. party in his capacity as President of the S.J.F.A. He had a twin cabin for sole use and kindly offered me the use of the spare bunk. Prior to the game a couple of years later Danny Blanchflower, the Irish skipper, on T.V. had revealed their master plan for the game. Tongue in cheek he explained that they planned to equalise before Scotland had scored. In the event Scotland won 4-1. Passing the entrance to the Royal Avenue Hotel in the evening after the match we observed Danny standing at the reception desk. We dared Ted Sime, one of our party, to ask him what had become of the master plan. Ted was up to the challenge and promptly marched in and posed the question. To Danny’s credit he took it in good part.
Journey to venues in Scotland were not without incident but they can be saved for a later issue.
Nowadays the extent of my travels to see a game is the short trip to the spare room to switch on the T.V.