“Think I’ll just stay here” I said, as everyone else left for the game.
When trying to conceive these blogs in my mind my main focus was to give a window into my Rangers supporting life and how my experiences have changed as I have gotten older. In my latter teens something entered the equation that would forever change my Rangers experience – alcohol.
Again, I feel I must state that I am in no way glorifying excessive alcohol consumption or making light of addiction issues. These were my experiences and mine alone.
Sitting in the kids’ room of the Tradeston Ex-Serviceman’s Club I used to watch the men come and go with their pints in hand. They were all laughing and looked in great spirits. Men sitting with three or four halves on the table around them as the others in their round were drinking quicker and they certainly weren’t for being missed out. They would tell stories that they wouldn’t dare mention in front of their wives or within earshot of children (that they knew of) and would use colourful language to say the very least. I wanted some of that. At 14 it didn’t really bother me and I was more than happy with my cans of juice but by 16-17 I was dying to go for a ‘beer before the game.’
Of course I had already started drinking by this point at various ‘empties’ over the weekends, but not being legally aged I always had to miss out on match day. The fact the other child in our party was a lot younger too meant I was stuck (not that it was her fault) with the kids when by that point all my mind was on was boobs and booze.
My first ‘official’ pre-match drink was before the 2000 Scottish Cup Final on 27 May, three days after my 18th birthday. I have been incredibly lucky - I’m probably jinxing myself now - that since getting a season ticket in 1996 I have gotten a ticket for every domestic cup final we’ve been in. We went to the local golf club bar for about 11:30am and as silly as it sounds I finally felt like a man. We left about 1:15pm to make our way from pre-M77 Ayrshire to Hampden. The car had to stop on the Eaglesham Moor road for me to pee...
I found that after several pints I was nowhere near as nervous during the game, a cup final, as I would have been were I sober, although the match did become something of a farce after two minutes when Robbie Winters, a hobbit-sized striker, had to go in goals for Aberdeen. It was unlikely we would lose. I also had to go to the toilets a further three times during the proceedings which I’m sure was annoying to others.
After that, carry outs for the trip became the norm. A blue bag full of whatever cans were on special in the local shop that day would accompany us. As a family we moved to the metropolis that was/is Kilmarnock in 2002 when I was twenty (we moved literally about 10 miles). The pre-match boozing would go up a few levels from here on in. A few weeks after moving we played Celtic at Ibrox and beat them 3-2 after going a goal down in something like 18 seconds.
We still travelled with the same group and as such we invariably ended up back in the old village, well the village next to it, in the local pub until shutting. My mum had actually come from Kilmarnock to pick up my dad but I refused to go saying I was fine and I’d get my own way home later. By this point I’d been on it for about 13 hours and was happy to accept a lift home from a guy I knew. It wasn’t till he asked if I hadn’t moved with my mum and dad that it clicked I no longer stayed there and I ended up spending the night in a bus shelter until the first bus the next morning. How I didn’t freeze to death I’ll never know. It must have been a mild early December night. I can laugh about it now but it was a hell of state to be in, forgetting that we had moved house a few weeks earlier.
Ironically the 02-03 season is probably my favourite. I like to think of it as the BBC season as all our away games were on BBC 1 and I would regularly be sat on my couch on a Sunday or Saturday lunchtime with a case of miller watching the game. In general I was drunk in one way or another for almost every game that season. It was also the season that my 21st birthday party fell the night before we won the title the following day against Dunfermline at Ibrox. We had to drink a carry out in an entry (close) on Copland Road after I buzzed a random flat and asked if we could make use of their building to avoid the police. Still the best weekend of my life and alcohol was a large part of it.
At this point I’d like to discuss the absurdity that is Pre-Old Firm game drinking. The police seem to think that by making it kick off as early as possible they are asserting their authority and showing that they are in control when in reality you have grown men (and women) up and down the country paraletic by 10:30am on a Sunday. I’m as guilty of it as anyone so it’s certainly not a criticism of others but why do we need to be drunk for these games? Is it nerves? Is it in our psyche? Is it habit? What is it? We seem to need to imbibe as much as we are physically able in as short a time as possible. This inevitably leads to trouble. Half the time I need to come home and watch the game again the next day as I can barely remember any of it. That’s before we even get into drinking a bottle of orange Mad Dog disguised as Lucozade before 10am on the bus up to Pittodrie. My eyes were certainly opened when I started travelling to away games on buses...
That finally brings me to the banter years. I think we were all just so happy to see Rangers playing it didn’t matter who it was against or where it was. Those quaint little stadiums had us all nostalgic and just happy to still be going. The novelty had well and truly worn off for me by Annan away where we drew 0-0 and I spent the entire second half wanting to go back to the pub. That was the first time that I can really recall that happening but as the next few years got more and more dreary it wasn’t the last. My friend worked for Rangers at the time and he was always able to secure a couple of tickets for away games for me. I think in those first two seasons in the lower divisions I had a ticket for about 90% of the away games. I travelled to them all. I went to less than half. On those occasions where I didn’t I decided to stay in whatever local public house I was in as my taste for the drink outweighed my desire to watch Rangers play, badly, against a bunch of junior teams. I certainly wasn’t alone as these pubs were always still well stocked with bears long after kick off.
I understand there probably is a percentage of our support – middle aged men, who use Rangers as an excuse to get away from their other halves for a few hours to drink as they simply wouldn’t be allowed out on a Saturday night and that’s their right. I am certainly not in that bracket but during the banter years the away trips were more about the beer than they were about the game. I ashamedly didn’t learn to drive till I was 32 as I didn’t want to but also I knew I would have to take my turn at driving to games and that would mean I wouldn’t get a beer or a night out after it. It doesn’t bother me now.
Look it’s not all doom and gloom here. I have had some of the best days of my life out following Rangers up and down the land with friends and family all over a few beers before and after the game. Memories (that I recall) that will last a lifetime and I wouldn’t change them. Away games, Cup finals, European nights and games against Celtic are made more of an event with a few beers amongst fellow supporters but are certainly not needed to enjoy the game. I’ve also had relationships end as, at times; I placed having a beer after a Rangers game over other things. Perhaps I was right to, perhaps not.
Now that I’m a dad it doesn’t hold the same pull for me. At first it felt weird watching an away game on TV (I won’t be back at an away game after the carry on in 2012) and not having a beer but watching my son play with his toys whilst the Rangers are on the TV behind him is an ideal Sunday for me.
That being said, due to the ever increasing traffic pile up on match day we find ourselves leaving earlier and earlier to get to Ibrox in decent time. This invariably leads to us being very early sometimes if traffic isn’t busy and we have started frequenting pubs on the road up to the stadium for a beer before the game. I’ve no doubt that’ll be the case on Thursday against Rapid Vienna too.
It’ll be a cola for me though, I’m driving.
Gary Spence (@garywolfboy)