Approach Edinburgh from the West and you will typically take one of two routes. Pass the airport and keep going and you will breeze into town through Corstorphine. It will all look lovely, nice houses, a zoo, it doesn’t even smell of hops any more. The other route, along the A71, is a little less salubrious but you should make it to Haymarket relatively unscathed. Unless, of course, you take a wrong turn. Turn right, head for the green idyll of the Pentlands and you might discover you’re not in Kansas any more. You might well be in Wester Hailes.
Fear not, there is a cinema, some shops, a canal with swans, on a sunny day you can even find pretty bits, after all, this isn’t the 70’s any more. Then again, neither was the story I am about to relay. It was the very early 80’s which was still sufficiently brown and smelling of fags to count as the 70’s really.
After you take your mistaken right turn, one of the first things you’ll pass is an unassuming, single storey building on your left. I don’t really know what it is any more. It started life as a school, specifically Westburn Primary School, where I spent 5 of my earliest years trying to make sense of existence. As you pass the unassuming building you may catch of glimpse of a similarly unremarkable piece of grass in front of it. This, such as it is, is the theatre for our little play, the canvas on which I will draw this memory. Where the riot, that no one could have predicted, began.
At school, I played football. That could easily be expanded to, in life, I played football. After all, there wasn’t much else to do. Channel 4 hadn’t even started. No topless darts either. And there certainly wasn’t a cinema and the canal disappeared into a tunnel underground to stop us enjoying it – or drowning in it. So I played football. I even ended up Captain of the school team, such as we were. Dreadful pretty much sums it up, messy not Messi. As well as the school team we had the yearly joy of a five-a-side tournament that was played during lunch breaks. I was lucky enough to sneak into a decent P7 team when I was in P6 and won it so, I entered P7 as a very rare defending champion.
The competition in my P7 year had two main differences from my triumphant P6 performance. Firstly, in a very advanced inclusive move for the times, your team had to include two girls in the 5. Secondly, at some time since the previous year, the goals had been stolen. So, the ‘goals’ – such as they were – comprised of two skittles. This is an important fact. Not least because of the prescient nature of the name ‘skittles’. They were odd things that you only ever saw in the school gym and they seemed to have no other purpose than to be avoided. Also an important fact.
So to the competition. To say much of the detail has been lost in the mist of time would be understatement equivalent to stating that we know little of the Dark Ages. I can offer these key facts. My team made it to the final – of course – you knew that would happen as soon as you clicked ‘Play’ on the film. The final happened on a sunny lunchtime near the end of school year. The school Janitor was the referee. Everyone in the school was assembled round the edge of the ‘pitch’ to watch. The ‘goals’ were made of two sets of two skittles. At the end of the allotted time the score was 1-1.
A brief diversion by way of tension building. The Headmistress of the school was a formidable Irish woman by the name of Mrs Tocknell. A terrifying woman with terrifying hair which for ease of description could be seen as Thatcher with a red rinse. The likeness to Thatcher doesn’t end there. I suspect she would have sailed to the Falklands herself and dragged some Argentinians into her office. Somewhere you never wanted to go.
Despite her authoritarian predelictions, on this day, and much to the delight of the whole school, she allowed the lunch break to be extended to allow for extra time. Which, again with a remarkably progressive slant for the times, would ultimately be settled by a Golden Goal – long before FIFA came up with it. It’s not like “Next Goal The Winner” or “I Need to Go My Mum Just Shouted Me For My Tea” or “Oh No, The Police” weren’t already well established ways to bring a game to conclusion.
So, we played on, the small patch of grass on which ten small children and four skittles were surrounded by an entire school. The next bit I remember like it was yesterday.
Our goalkeeper had the ball. There was only one thing to do. I was the Captain of the school team. It was time to take responsibility. They gave me the ball and I started to stride forward. For the football fans, think Hansen, Beckenbauer or, for the real football fans, Gaetano Scirea – who not long after these events – would win the World Cup with Italy, long before Franco Baresi made the whole ‘libero’ thing popular. Although, thinking again of the 1982 World Cup, imagine that a few steps out of defence I suddenly morphed into Socrates – which is quite a feat for a thin and pale skeleton fed on poor cuts of meat covered in baked beans.
Whichever of the footballing greats you alight on in your head to imagine the scene, the magic was about to happen. I strode towards the opposite goals, skipped past a defender (maybe), dropped a shoulder (probably) and ended up with room to shoot (definitely). Time stood still. The entire school drew in a breath as I drew back my right foot. I unleashed the shot.
As you’d expect from such a tale, the shot was entirely unstoppable. Ish. Sadly, unlike Pele’s overhead kick at the end of Escape To Victory, the net didn’t bulge. And that wasn’t just because there was no net. The ball rocketed towards goal and hit the left post. Or skittle. Skittles are as skittles do. The skittle went left, the ball went right and, as far as I was concerned, into the goal. This opinion was shared by the Janitorial referee and the goal was given which, as a result of the hastily invented Golden Goal rule, meant we had won the competition.
Now, I have to be honest here, I think it was goal. The skittle went left, not straight backwards, the shot didn’t ‘hit’ the post, it glanced it on the way into the goal. You could also suggest that, given the extended nature of the lunch break, bringing things to a conclusion was in the school’s interest so they may well have looked favourably on my attempt. The only person who I’m still in contact with from that day will tell you that it wasn’t a goal. But he knows so little about football he supports Hearts so, I’m not sure his opinion is in any way valid. It was a goal. The record book doesn’t lie. I have the medal. And the memory of what happened next.
There was a pitch invasion. I can remember being at the bottom of an enormous pile of – presumably – very smelly school children. Screams and shouts, mayhem even. It was quite something. Turns out I was lucky to be at the bottom of the pile. It wasn’t just the aforementioned Jambo that didn’t think it was a goal, the opposing team were – unsurprisingly – of a similar opinion. There were – I think – immediate protests on the pitch which, sadly, didn’t stop there. Being a team comprised of, shall we say, some of the rougher lads, things got a bit feisty. The rest I didn’t witness directly. I know that one of the losing team, Gary Murray, attacked the Janitor with a chair when back in the school. He was promptly suspended. Don’t really know what happened to him.
Such was football. No VAR, no Hawkeye, it happened in 1966, it happened to me. The official had the final say and it got him some unwelcome chair action. There you have it. The day I started a riot. And it was a goal. Don’t listen to that dirty Jambo.