My longest and best pal died on Monday.
He was a day short of his 46th birthday.
It’s hit me hard. Sledgehammer hard. Far harder than I ever could have imagined. I’ve had grand parents die when I was 9, 10, something like that. But never a friend of the same age. I am in pieces.
The fact that he died abroad on holiday makes it extra difficult. For a man from the West of Scotland, he had been in reasonably decent health. There were no clues. He complained of feeling unwell at dinner time on Sunday, went to his bed and didn’t wake up. Just like that.
His poor kids were at home with their grandparents. His poor wife has had to fly home alone, the authorities not yet giving permission for his body to be repatriated. It could be another week, they say. Tragic.
We’d been friends since age 4. Gone through primary and secondary school together. Bought records, played sport, fashioned our hair into popstars together – he favoured the Bono mullet whilst I teased my hair into a James Grant quiff. We had our first pints together. Did daft, drunk, teenage boy stuff together; Clambered legless out of lofts. Played heady tennis with an unopened can of Tennents until Lager Lovely Sheena was buried 4 inches underneath the Bono do. Unsuccessfully chased a pair of beautiful-looking German girls around Ibiza for a week. Occasionally we’d fall out. One time there was a bloody nose (mine, not his) outside a kebab shop at 2 in the morning. But we remained friends. Best of friends.
I saw him more regularly than I see my own brother and sister.
For the past umpteen years we’ve shared a car and taken our sons to Kilmarnock games near and far, the odd trip to Hampden being the icing on a lopsided and inconsistent cake. Since the club redeveloped Rugby Park in 1995, we’ve sat together in the East Stand in the same seats for almost 20 years. Not always season ticket holders, but always the same seats. When our boys started going, his first, mine a few years later, we budged along a bit, proud that they were adopting the noble tradition of their fathers by supporting their local team and not one of the ugly sisters from the city just up the M77.
This Saturday we’d have had a quick phone call – “I don’t know if I can stand any more of this,” he’d always say. “We’ll do well to get any kind of draw today.” And then I’d pick him up at the same time and drive to the game, talking the same rubbish as the last time, listening to Richard Gordon give out the team news on Sportsound and park in the same space near Rugby Park before walking to the ground, buying my boy’s programme from the same seller and following our familiar pre-match ritual of a pre-match pee before going up and into our seats.
This weekend he won’t be there. “Where’s your brother the day?” the man next to me will ask. For years, he’s always thought we were brothers. “Is the big yin no’ coming?” the woman behind us will say. Her and her husband have a laugh every week at his expense when he shouts out badly-pronounced versions of the names of the players on show. English was never his strong point at school. And I’ll have to tell them that he’s not coming today. Or next week. Or ever again.
At 3 o’clock on Saturday afternoon his seat will remain empty.
Here’s True Faith, his favourite record.
We both bought the 12″ of this on holiday on the Isle of Man. He bought the more straightforward (and better) version, whilst I bought the remix version; the one in the white sleeve with lots of falling leaves on the cover.
When we got home from our holiday, we played the records non-stop. In his room we put all the versions of True Faith onto one side of a C45. I still have it somewhere. The next time I’m in my loft I’m gonna have to try and dig it out.