In The Bygone Days Of Yore - The Aberdeen Weekend
By THE RETRO RANGER
Updated Thursday, 13th March 2008
In times gone by a trip to Aberdeen was something to look forward to.It has always been good to see our friends in the North heading home with their tails between their legs. They really are a despicable lot, running Ra Sellik a close second as the most hateful, spiteful, vindictive pond-life to visit our place. In fact, I'm even tempted to say I'd rather deal with Timothy, at least you know what you're getting with them, whereas the Sheepie shower have only relatively recently cultivated their hate of all things Rangers.
The Beeb's Richard Gordon may well boast that he has 'brought up to hate Rangers' but that certainly wasn't the case thirty or forty years ago - what age is he? - when the Gers' visits to Aberdeen were a big occasion which everyone looked forward to. In the pre-Premier League days when teams only played each other twice, as soon as the new season's fixture list came out, we would quickly scan through it to find out when we were at Pittodrie, then make arrangements for our expedition to the frozen North.
For some strange reason we always seemed to be up there in the dead of winter. It was feckin Baltic, then again I've heard it said that they get sub-zero temperatures in Sheepieville on the Twelfth of July!!! I have vivid memories of Market Street, seemingly a forty-five degree slope down to the harbour where all the buses would be parked, it was a sheet of ice like the Cresta Run, and Bears were skidding, sliding and tumbling all the way down at chucking-out time.
As we tended to be suited and booted for our Saturday night out, a lot of real good clobber was ruined that night. On another occasion we were hanging around outside our bus, waiting for the driver to get back, when one of us spotted a huge coal hill at the quayside. For reasons best known to ourselves, half a dozen of us were suddenly engaged in a race to the top. Oh dear, sorry Mum, another good suit bites the dust.
Travelling with our supporters club bus, we'd leave Greenock at 6 a.m., aiming to hit the Granite City for opening time. The local people, the publicans, even the polis, all seemed to make us welcome, in marked contrast to the current sad state of affairs. Before the oil boom, Aberdeen was grateful for the dosh we ploughed into the local economy. The pubs would be packed solid with singing, drinking Bears, the chippies, the bakers, and the sit-down tea-rooms would all do well out of our visit and they showed their appreciation, without the slightest hint of the hostility to come.
Of course, the mood of the weekend would be determined by the game. My first time at Pittodrie was early in the 1964-65 season when we won 4-3 in the League Cup at a time when the early stages of the tournament were played on a sectional basis. The main memory of that game was my auld fella and his mates going on and on about what a great game Dave Smith had for Aberdeen. With Bears beginning to realise that Jim Baxter would be moving on sooner or later, Smith was that day identified as the ideal replacement for Slim Jim.
My recollections of these trips are all positive. While I know we did lose once or twice, those games have faded from my mind. I prefer to remember a 4-1 win in 67, when the late Andy Penman was outstanding, a thrilling 3-2 victory early in Willie Waddell's reign (Baxter's last game for Rangers second time around?) and a dramatic 2-1 success on our way to winning our first league title in yonks in the 74-75 season.
On my earlier visits, being too young to get into the boozer with the auld yins, it was okay to stroll about town, even when wearing our colours. We'd wander around the shops, spending what money we had, then we'd head back to the pubs which had to close for the afternoon. All the way down King Street there would be a great sing-song as we made our way to the match and inside the ground we'd take over the bulk of the open terracing which ran the full length of the ground where the TV cameras are situated, while the choir would pack into the Beach End, on the site of the Dick Donald Stand.
But by the time of the early 1970s I was giving the supporters club bus a miss, heading off by train or by car around lunchtime on Friday, spending the entire weekend in Aberdeen, severely testing my liver's durability. In 1974 we stayed at the Douglas Hotel and managed to gatecrash a firm's Christmas Dance on the Friday night. While one of my mates tried to bluff his case by claiming to work in one department or another - was rumbled and got kicked out - a couple of us came clean, were allowed to stay and even managed to pull for the night. Aye, honesty is the best policy.
All around the city centre, the pubs and the dance halls would be full of Rangers supporters and inevitably our songs would be belted out loud and proud. We'd meet up with some old familiar faces we'd bumped into in Edinburgh or Dundee or somewhere else, we'd discuss the finer points of the funny old game, then it would be great fun to head down to the harbour and see all the buses off on their homeward journey. Having booked in for the full weekend, it was not unknown for us to smuggle the occasional straggler or two into our hotel room.
Sunday would be all about recuperation. A hotel bar or a social club - the pubs didn't open on Sundays - would see us enjoy/endure a curer and it wouldn't take long before we were a bit on the unsteady side again. Unfortunately, with dates and kick-off times being switched now as a matter of course, plus the fact that we now go up there more often, the Aberdeen weekend is a thing of the past. And the hostility of the locals has certainly played a big part too.
By the time we won the league at Pittodrie in Souness' first season we were getting bussed straight in and out of the city. On the way home that night, while many of us remembered a number of embarrassing humpings at that place, I remember thinking it would have been great if we'd been able to get booked up for the full weekend like we did in previous years. Hey, that would have been some party!
My last overnight stops up there were in the winter of the 1991-92 season when we went up twice in quick succession for midweek matches. In December we won 3-2 in a league game, with Mark Hateley scoring a peach of a goal, when one of my travelling companions was a friend involved in the licensed trade. We'd arrived in Aberdeen at lunchtime only for my pal to be told that, when his staff had opened his pub, they'd found the place had been broken into overnight. Being up North when the break-in was reported was his alibi...but I'm afraid he missed the cup-tie a month or so later as he was assisting the police with their inquiries into an inside job. What did I say about honesty being the best policy?
That cup-tie was also a bit of a laugh. It was supposed to be shown 'live' on Sky but, as two mickey mouse teams were playing somewhere in Ireland, somebody in Dublin objected to the screening so viewers had to settle for a deferred transmission an hour or two later. After the match we made our way into town and found ourselves in a pub full of Sheepies who were glued to the telly roaring their team on. They'd obviously made a point of avoiding the result so they could enjoy the full drama of the game as if it was 'live'.
Their focus on the screen was total when one of us piped up: 'Watch this bit boys, this is where Coisty gets the winner!' I don't know what the world record for the 50 yard dash is but we must have smashed it that night as we bolted up Union Street.
By then, of course, the legacy of Sir Greetin Face, Simpson's assault on Ian Durrant and the fact that we were again gubbing them on a regular basis had poisoned the atmosphere. It is sad but it is a fact of life and, as it was none of our doing, we can live with it quite comfortably. It is their loss, not ours.
But in my more morose moments, I've found myself wishing we could go back to the way we were.
THE RETRO RANGER