Saturday, 1 October 2011

Heroes and Villains of the Unconventional Kind

Earlier this week, we brought you an excellent article written by David Hamilton. Today, as well as making the latest podcast available for download, we are delighted to introduce to you another of our writers: Ruairidh MacLennan.


People can be idolised in many different ways and for many different reasons in football; the striker who makes a habit of scoring late on, the keeper who will not be beaten, the rock-solid centre-half whose attitude is an example to all. We all had our footballing heroes as kids. Whether during dark times or better ones, kids need their idols on the pitch; someone they can identify with and feel close to despite not really knowing them at all! Likewise, we all had players we loved to hate. It was these sorts of links that helped me add a dash of yellow to my blood, so let me tell you about who my own “heroes” in the red and yellow were and why they helped me become a regular at the Firhill panto.

I was a relative latecomer to the footballing scene, attending my first ever Thistle game at the age of 12; a meaningless and low-key 2-0 home SPL win against Aberdeen. I was hooked however. The following season, I became a semi-regular with my also new to the Jags father. Alas, relegation came yet again. Something had to go right eventually I thought to myself, and thankfully mercy arrived the following season in the doldrums of Division 2. It is more or less at this point, that my Thistle journey really begins. The scene is as follows; Thistle trail 2-0 at home to Dumbarton in a game where 3 points were badly needed to start the campaign in a reasonable manner. Up steps the first of my Thistle heroes, Mark Roberts. Being too young to understand why many were unhappy at his signing with the team, my first ever memory of him was scoring twice to save me from a school-boy “banter” savaging in the cut-throat, Rangers dominated South of Glasgow. He became a hero in the space of a single football match. His non-stop heroics throughout the next few months were a real highlight in my fledgling tie to Thistle. I cherished the moment he scored a last-minute penalty in Inverness, his overhead-kick against Forfar and of course a bullet of a half-volley against my then idea of a school environment death sentence, Gretna Football Club. I know full well that Mr Roberts saved my skin from a horrific amount of stick at the hands of the Ugly sisters’ “fans”!

I also have fond memories of a player who was not at Thistle for a particularly long time, yet will be one of my favourites for much longer. I couldn’t believe the size of Scott McCulloch when he arrived at Firhill. It seemed so ridiculous that such a man could really claim to be an athlete. I learned from him however, that spirit is just as important as fitness and is a trait not valued enough amongst many. His never-say die approach was quite something to behold, not to mention a powerfully hit effort landing in the back of the net. On an altogether different note, I could have leaped for joy when he lifted Adam Strachan (whose attitude reminded me of some of my co-pupils) by the scruff of the neck during a bit of play-acting. The two men I wanted to hear on the team-sheet every week were very different players for Thistle, but nonetheless they are largely responsible for my getting any enjoyment from Dick Campbell’s catastrophic time at the helm.

I also loved to see other teams field certain players for rather different reasons. My own personal “villains” have become synonymous with a dark-blue team who have a habit of creeping away from the financial abyss. I remember Alex Rae well, from even earlier than his Dundee days might I add. His hatchet-man way of playing was something which, unsurprisingly, went down well with those of the Ibrox persuasion. He was idolised by some of my more “colourful” co-pupils, co-incidentally the same ones whose tackles would consist of a wild swing of the boot at the shins. A man of his kind was in every way a loathsome one, therefore it was much to my delight that he was sent-off on consecutive visits to Firhill. The panto-villain figures can bring the best lines from the Thistle support, further strengthening the feeling for the club and all it stands for.

My final character is none other than Dundee’s current manager, Barry Smith. While Scott McCulloch defied his questionable fitness to become a real favourite, Barry Smith managed to more than illustrate why he was as, for want of a better word, round as he was. His debut at Ross County in a Scottish Cup match is something which lives long in the memory. Rather unfortunately, Barry Smith had “Campbell” written all over him. To his credit however, Smith may well be the only one to have ever fully united the Thistle support. Never have I felt so much despair when a name was read out over the tannoy. His signing brought a sense of togetherness in the Thistle support in a rather perverse way.

I hope that in the years to come, other youngsters have a rich choice of Thistle heroes. They are the people who protect our young followers from that one ribbing which leads them astray to the insufferable big two. Although now a 2nd year student (stereotypically), I still look back fondly on the earlier days and how they keep me coming back today. Long may the heroes and villains of Firhill create the special bond with this fantastic club!

Ruairidh MacLennan

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