Man. Folk go on and on about milestone birthdays. 40 is the new 30 and all that nonsense. I was OK with 30. I was even OK with 40. Heck, I got a trip to New York out of it, so who was complaining? For me, it was turning 27 that hit me hard. It wasn’t the thankful realisation that I’d managed to outlive a handful of over-indulgent rock stars and dodge membership of the 27 Club, it was the sudden, sobering dawning that I’d never get to play for Scotland.
When I was a wee boy I collected football cards. My hero was Kenny Dalglish and this card below was my favourite.
It shows a proud Kenny, arms aloft as he celebrates scoring in the dark blue of his country, possibly after he’s beaten Ray Clemence in the England goal at Wembley in 1977, when Scotland won 2-1 and a large handful of over-enthusiastic supporters returned up the road with half the Wembley pitch stuffed into their sporrans. The Wembley turf was originally taken from the Bogside flats, a good 5 iron from where I’m typing, so in effect, they were bringing the grass back to its, eh, roots.
Kenny Dalglish, Forward, it reads. And on the back it continued; Kenny Dalglish: Age 27, Clubs: Celtic and Liverpool. Scotland Caps 35 (or so, I can’t remember the actual number.) I wonder what I’ll be doing when I’m 27? I pondered as an 8 year old. I wonder if I’ll have as many caps for Scotland as Kenny does? I needn’t have worried. When I was 27 I was working in the best job I might ever have, behind the counter of Our Price, as likely to play for Scotland as I was to get the call from Oasis who were needing a replacement for Bonehead. I did genuinely feel disappointed, that my life was somehow unfulfilled.
Fast forward to a few years ago. Steven Naismith was playing for Everton at the time. An ex-pupil of the school I taught in, he was the local hero; the young guy who’d made it in football, from learning his trade in the local team, to signing for Kilmarnock as a school boy before moving on for a record fee to Rangers (no!) before moving on to Everton. Community-minded, Naismith regularly handed in football tops and memorabilia to the school for auctioning off at school fairs and fetes to help top-up school funds. Cornering him one time about the fact the school football team wore the very same strip he had played in the best part of 20 years previously, Steven organised for a whole new set of strips for the team. But that’s not what I want to focus on here.
One time, he brought in a Scotland top – an actual, match-worn, embroidered badge and grass-stained number 10 shirt. It hung in the office for a week or so, waiting on the Christmas Fayre when it would be raffled off. I was in the office late one night after school, photocopying some stuff, when his Scotland shirt started winking at me. Before I knew what I was doing, I’d popped it over my head – the silky material didn’t half crackle at the unexpected size of my barrel chest and, just as I’d popped through my first arm, the depute head teacher appeared in the room.
“What’re you doing?” she asked rhetorically, with a look on her face that can only be pulled by experienced teachers who’ve caught out mischievous wee boys.
“I’m, eh, trying the strip on,” I wagered.
“I won’t tell anyone if you won’t,” she said conspiratorially.
With an alarming burst of crackling static and complaining stitching, I pulled the jersey back off, turning it inside out in the process, righted it and hung it back on the hanger. The rest of my colleagues were none the wiser, but I’d finally succeeded in pulling on the dark blue of Scotland. It felt good, if a little tight.
Today I turned 50. I wasn’t looking forward to it, but so far it’s been OK. I know I’ll never play for Scotland. Or windmill through a solo on the Barrowland’s stage. But I’m OK with that. I’ve lost two pals who never made it to half a century and last week’s daily medicine dose looks like the sort of lucky bag of goodies that would’ve constituted a decent night out for Bobby Gillespie in 1990, but I have a loving family to nurse me through my shonky health and for that I am grateful.
D’you know why they call 50 a round number? It’s because as the inescapable big number creeps ever-closer, you realise that that wee overhang that sometimes gets in the road of you fixing your belt has suddenly become a hideous hulking blobby mess that stops you from even seeing your belt. Yes, 50 is a round number because (unless you’re very lucky) you’re one round number yourself by the time you reach it. Before you know it, you find yourself spending your free time on a treadmill – not a metaphorical treadmill of life with all its mundanities or anything like that, but an actual moving treadmill, with running and panting and wheezing and sweating and everything. Previously when I wrote about this I’d managed to fast-track myself from 7 whole minutes on the thing before collapsing in a heap, to a whole half hour’s worth of running before collapsing in a heap. Nowadays I’m up to 40 minutes and counting. I’m almost enjoying it too. Slow and steady, nothing that would trouble even your most part-time park runner, but heading in the right direction. Nearly at 50, as it happens, although it’ll be a wee while before I match my age in running time.
Rocket From the Crypt – Born In ’69
Woo! Yeah! Guaranteed to blow the grey straight off yer hair, they say. Stax sax blasts! Scorching electric guitar! Moon-esque drums! A st-st-stuttering breakdown and a sudden, abrupt ending. Just like my career in a Scotland shirt.