In the build-up to Scotland’s historic win over Spain the other night, I caught myself watching old YouTube clips of the same fixture from 1984. Grainy but preserved digitally forever, they opened a portal to a phase when, as history has proven, the Scottish team was in the middle of a golden phase in football. Leighton, Miller, McLeish, Davie Cooper, Souness and, of course, Kenny Dalglish were all in that match’s starting line-up. As too was the contentious Maurice Johnston. Watching the first of his two mullet-powered headers cross the line, a full-length diving effort from around the six yard box, I was immediately back at the game.
Fourteen years old, my feet never once touched Hampden’s West Stand asphalt and my dad kept a tight grip of my elbow right from kick-off as the packed crowd swelled and swirled up and down and across the terracing. Thrilling and terrifying all at once, when that first goal went in at our end, right in front of us, I was lifted into orbit, metaphorically and literally. The only thing stopping me taking off properly was my dad pulling on my jacket, anchoring me to him and he to me.
Near half time, Jim Bett broke free of the Spanish defence down the right hand side, and even before he had crossed the ball I felt my dad’s arm grab me tightly around the waist. He had just about pulled me in to him when Maurice Johnston leapt high above the static defence and connected his golden mullet to the ball once again, aiming the ball past the goalie and into the corner of the net. Two-nil. Scenes. The crowd pulled us apart. I was five, six, maybe seven rows below where I had stood seconds before. In the split instant before the swell of the crowd once again changed direction, whisky-breathed men kissed me on the head and lifted me further up. “Yaaas, wee man!” I’ve no idea where my dad was, yet somehow as the Spanish spotted the ball and kicked off again, the settle of the crowd brought us back together. We were a good few yards to the right of where we’d been and a stanchion kindly appeared for us to lean on and catch our breath and one another.
“‘scuse me,” says my dad to a group of men. “You’re standing on my boy’s flag.” I hadn’t brought a flag, but by half time I was the owner of a dirty yellow Lion Rampant covered in bootprints and beer. Too big to hold and minus the pole to wave it with, I put it on like a wrap-around skirt for the remainder of the game. I had it for years after. Not sure where it ended up.
The best was yet to come though. Spain pulled a goal back in the second half but riotous and free-flowing Scotland simply moved up a gear. Spain might’ve been thrown a cheap lifeline, but there was no way this Scottish team would let them back in. In the 71st minute, Glasgow’s wintery night sky was again punctuated by the Hampden roar as Kenny Dalglish put the game to bed with what will always be my favourite Scotland goal.
A throw in near the corner flag on the right-hand side finds Davie Cooper deep inside the box and, tightly marked, he lays it off to Dalglish who twists and turns his way past one, two, three defenders and takes one, two, three steps before letting fly with his left foot. Even as I type, I don’t need YouTube to see the delicious arc of the ball as it bends outwards and upwards and downwards into the top corner and, through a tangled forest of West Stand bottles and beards and limbs and Glengarries, Kenny Dalglish, arms aloft and turning towards Jock Stein on the touchline to celebrate. I’ve seen plenty of great goals, many of them scored by a Scotland player, but no goal was ever sweeter than that.
A funny thing happened as I watched those highlights. Despite the Spanish commentary and the near-40 intervening years, I found myself crying. Big, proper, from out of nowhere tears. My dad is no longer with us and somehow, suddenly, the emotion of seeing that Kenny goal again was a trigger for all sorts of happy memories. I couldn’t stop, but I’m not sure I really wanted to. There’s something comforting about a good cry now and again. I had just about pulled myself together by the time my wife and daughter returned home.
“What’s wrong with you?” asked my wife. “You look like you’re in a bad mood.”
“Not at all,” I said. And promptly burst into tears once more as I told her what had happened. Football, bloody hell, as the quote goes.
The next morning.
I was running myself and daughter to our respective places of work. Lauren Laverne’s BBC 6 music show, as always, was playing. Deee-Lite‘s Groove Is In The Heart comes on and immediately – immediately – my mind is flooded with a memory of dear Derek Reid, with his stupid grin and dimples and stubble, and he’s dancing his finger pointy dance to the song in the Attic. We’re on the cramped dancefloor and he’s in double denim, but that’s OK because we all were, and his hair, long by this point, is over the shoulder of his jacket, giving him the appearance of some hipster Francis Rossi and he’s doing the ‘ah-ah-ah-ah‘ bit – ‘Groove is in the hea-art, ah-ah-ah-ah!‘ and flicking his hair and we’re laughing and living and off our heads with the thrill of being carefree and young and alive. And once again it sets me off.
Deee-lite – Groove Is In The Heart
“I’m in the Attic and it’s 1990,” I say to my daughter as my voice cracks. I can’t look at her. “Derek Reid’s dancing. I can see him right now.” And then I can say no more. I drive through thickly glazed eyes. The chills that you spill up my back, keep me filled. Sad. Happy. Emotional. Pondering on what the future holds.
Bloody music and its bloody triggers. It wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last. Thank God Lauren didn’t follow it up by playing True Faith. I’ve told that story before though.