The year was 1971. The place was Hampden Park, Glasgow. The crowd was over 100,000. That is to say, double the maximum capacity allowed today. And it was mid-winter -- damp, and bitterly cold. We were standing on the terracing. All packed together. No seats in those days. People were hardy. They needed to be. We had no choice. I was 11 years old, and attending the Big Match -- the Old Firm rivalry: Rangers versus Celtic.
No team could afford to lose. Rangers went on to win the European Cup-Winners Cup, the following year -- their greatest historical achievement. But Celtic, at the time, were also a big noise in Europe, as they had been European Champions, just four years earlier, with their ‘67 European Cup win.
The match kicked off at 3pm, allowing the fans a few hours in the pub beforehand. Remarkably, alcohol was allowed into the ground too. It is also worth remembering that there were only three TV channels in those days, and not a lot else to do. And BBC2 was really ‘snowy’ -- which meant I could not see the ball very well when watching Wimbledon (in black and white) and so I dreaded when the tennis matches switched over to BBC2 because the picture-quality was awful.
On this day, I got into the football ground free, with my mate. We were both lifted over the turnstile by an adult -- the grown men towered over us. And, as we stood on the terracing, we were completely surrounded by these tough manual-workers (for the most part) as they let off steam at the weekend. Throw in sectarianism, and mix it with liberal quantities of alcohol, and we were experiencing a lethal situation -- sometimes literally so.
Inside of me, was a constant fear of a goal being scored. If ‘we’ scored, then everyone around jumped up, causing a wave in the crowd, which would lift me in the air, and put me down somewhere else, resulting in my complete disorientation. After having been thrown around in the surge, I would then be surrounded by a new set of faces.
On the other hand, if ‘they’ scored, I would instantaneously see the facing-half of the crowd, in the distance, turn blue, as all their scarves were brandished high in the air. But all around me, at the Celtic End, I would be overwhelmed by a feeling of intense depression, of a depth which reached the core of your being.
And then a wall of sound hit you -- the roar of celebration of the goal -- coming from the Rangers End. And it was truly deafening. The thunderous sound came like a blow, a couple of seconds after the vision of the sea of blue scarves, and it crushed your very soul. Next, came the backlash of aggression from the Celtic supporters -- the unspeakable language of intense anger projected at the Ranger’s fans. I lived in terror of a goal.
There were grown-men pee-ing on the ground around me; and there were constant projectiles being thrown (bottles, cans, coins -- sometimes even darts). The raw brutality of hate was violently expressed as individuals shouted abuse, at the opposition, until their voices broke and they became hoarse.
The push of the crowd was suffocating and I was often pressed against the protection-barriers which could get twisted unrecognisably by the sheer force of weight. This was not for the faint-hearted.
Getting out of Hampden was the worst thing. You were, essentially, caught up in a stampede as we all walked down the steep bank. I could lift my feet up, off the surface, but would still continue moving under the momentum of the crowd. It did not bear thinking about, what would happen, if someone tripped and fell over; they would stand no chance.
STAMP YOUR AUTHORITY
Pollok is a big, working-class housing scheme in the south west of Glasgow. At its peak, it housed around 40,000 people. However, a large percentage of the population consisted of those who were known as "problem families." Government social policy, in the late 60s, and early 70s, was to put all the ‘rotten eggs’ into one basket and let them fend for themselves.
The majority of the housing-stock was poorly-designed tenement blocks, that had four levels. Eight front-doors could be accessed via a dingy close, where the lighting rarely worked, as the bulbs would probably have been smashed or stolen.
People living in the scheme often acted primitively and territorially; especially young lads. In those days there was no Internet or mobile phones to keep people amused. Only a few had landlines, and they were seen to be posh, maybe even doctors or the like. Not everyone had a TV either, until government policy dictated that a coin-meter television was to be made available to everyone. The TV was also to be used as a way of saving, as you got money back when it was emptied by Telebank.
For a 14-year-old, like myself, at the time, you could be putting yourself into quite a bit of danger, just by going to see your pal. More so, if you were carrying something of value. Straying away from your own "close" meant that you would be moving into someone else’s patch. And they might not like it.
One evening, I set out to walk a short distance, just about a quarter of a mile, from Linthaugh Road ("Linty") to my mate’s house in Dormanside Road ("Dormy"). It was just after 6pm, and most people would be having their tea, and so I decided to take the risk.
Linthaugh Road was seen as "posher" than Dormanside -- at a different level -- and so, for me to appear in "Dormy" could mean trouble as this could be seen as "insolent." You had to choose your timing well, and hope to complete your journey unnoticed, and therefore without incident.
Of course, you could maybe just put a "sprint on" (and I was a fast runner, who represented my school once, at the Scotstoun Games) but this could also draw attention in itself -- someone moving fast. And so, best to walk, and stay low-key. And that is what I did, that warm and bright evening. I began walking, casually, to my mate’s house.
I stepped out of my own close at 73 Linthaugh Road, and turned left, heading for Dormanside Road. I was carrying my prized possession: a cassette tape of Band on the Run by Paul McCartney and Wings. I had saved for months for this, by working at Grandfare, in Town, on Saturdays. This was the ‘cool’ album to have.
I was excited about showing it off, and getting a chance to play it, for the first time, on my mate’s music centre. I had nothing to play it on myself, and so I had just been staring intently at the cover, and reading all the notes and pictures inside, that were contained in the wee perspex tape-holder. I knew all the details, off-by-heart. But now was my big chance to actually listen to it.
Linthaugh Road, where I lived, and Dormanside Road, where my mate lived, ran parallel to each other. And they both were very long. There was a small road nearby to me however, called Everton Road. It gently ran up hill, and connected "Linty" and "Dormy." It was not much more than a couple of hundred yards long, and nobody ever referred to this road as having an actual name. I headed for this wee hill, passing by a red pillar-box on the corner.
I used to try and take "ginger boatles" back to the Van to get 2p back on them. Four or five could get me a Mars Bar. But this meant you risked being humiliated by others and called a "pauper." They would look at you, mockingly, and say, "here comes Boatle Joe." And so I chose, for a while, to "plank" (meaning: hide) the empty lemonade bottles behind this pillar box, and then seize them, and run to the van, when it came, before I got spotted.
But it was not long before someone became aware of my trick, and when I went to get my stashed "boatles" they had already been "knocked’" (stolen). And so, I walked around the corner, past the pillar box, and headed up the gentle slope towards Dormanside Road. As I looked up the hill I saw a figure coming round the corner, from my left. The figure was on my side of the pavement, and so, instinctively, I crossed the road and began to walk up the hill on the right-hand side, that way avoiding having to pass someone. Always a wise move. However, the figure, in the distance, matched my movement and was now heading towards me, on the same pavement I was walking on. And that figure was Riley.
My heart sank. And then my pulse started to rise. I could feel a tingle of fear crawling over my skin. I walked steady, not to show weakness. I dared not hesitate. There was no option to turn back either. Riley already had his eyes on me. My legs were becoming a bit wobbly. I thought Riley was locked up. He must have been released. And now he was out for a stroll.
Riley was a young man of about 18. The last I had heard was that he had taken a broken bottle and crushed the jagged edge into his sister’s ankle, repeatedly, to maximise her pain, for no particular reason, just out of badness. And then he disappeared off the scene. I had this vision in my mind as I approached him, clutching my cassette.
I got to within ten yards of Riley, slowed down, and then I stopped. You don’t walk past Riley. No-one does. He came up close. There was a stench off of him. He wasn’t toilet-trained. He was feral. He simply relieved himself in his trousers. This didn’t bother him one bit. He looked at me, with the cold eyes of someone who had no soul. He said nothing. He just gestured that I was to hand him over what I was carrying. I gave him the tape.
Riley took the cassette off me, and examined it closely. He looked at it from many different angles. He seemed perplexed. He didn’t know what it was. He couldn’t read.
"How much dat rush ye?" he said, sternly.
"£2.95," I replied.
He looked at me, very closely, holding his gaze, as if to gauge whether I was actually telling the truth. My heart was racing. His was flat-calm, by the looks of it.
He then, very deliberately, placed the tape down on the ground and repeatedly stamped on it, with brutal aggression. He picked up the smashed remains, and handed them back to me. He then flicked his head to allow me away. His gesture said, move on, and get out of my patch.
I walked away with a great sense of relief. Riley was in a good mood that day. That tape could well have been my face. One year later, I encountered Riley again. This time he wasn’t so friendly.
As a kid, growing up in Pollok, I was fairly active. I used to play one-on-one "headers" a lot, which was a version of football where both players defended their own makeshift goal from the ball (or the "baw"). Two jumpers would be used for the posts, and the ball was constantly punted back-and-forth. I was also quite a fast runner, but more of a 100 yards dash sprinter, not a cross-country endurance type. Although, in those days, nobody knew the difference anyway. I was just known as being speedy. They called me "Billy Whizz" and I did represent my school. I also was good at gymnastics at school and I loved to climb trees in the summer.
My youth was dominated by the River. It was only after leaving Glasgow that I became aware that I was brought up right next to the River Cart. Nobody called it that, it was just referred to as "the River."
The River-bank area was a fascinating place to play. The Cart was right next to Linthaugh Road and very wide, with strong currents, and it had big trees running along the edge. Some of these trees had thick and wide branches and so were ideal for climbing. We were told to keep away from the River, because it was dangerous. I spent most of my time there. I used to try to get as high as possible up the trees. So high, if I fell, I would probably be badly injured. Maybe worse.
Me, and my mate Harry, once made a raft out of oil drums and a wooden palate, and sailed down the River late at night, in the darkness. But that’s another story. It was the river-rats, scampering along the bank, that freaked us the most that night.
During the day, now and then, we would come across a rope-swing that someone had put up. The swing would consist of a very long piece of thick rope, about 40 feet maybe, and at the bottom of the rope there would be a short bit of wood (or just a knot) to allow you to sit on the end. These ropes would be attached to the strongest and tallest trees, right on the river-bank.
There were different standards of swings. Some were quite short and not too exciting. And some were very long. But the swing I liked the best was too scary for most. It had about 60 feet of rope and was tied to a big tree-branch that allowed you to ‘launch’ yourself off from the main trunk and swing right out to almost half-way across the river.
‘Fearties’ didn’t go on this swing as they thought it might snap at any time. If it broke over the land then you would get bashed up. If it snapped over the water you could get swept away after you plunged into the drink. I could swim and so wasn’t that scared of the water, but I didn’t like the idea of hitting the "grun" (or ground).
And so, one sunny Saturday afternoon, me, Harry, Ally, and Rab headed for the "big swing." When we got there, we were glad to see it was unoccupied. If there had been bigger boys there then we would not have had much chance of a go.
Rab was a big "poof" (meaning: wimp) and so he was pretty reluctant to even go on the swing. Ally, couldn’t swim, and so made some feeble attempts at swinging a wee bit, but kept over the land. Harry, was a bit tougher and swung out, a couple of times, right over the river.
The thing about this rope-swing was it’s versatility. Depending where you ‘launched’ from (usually just from the bank) and how much push you gave yourself, you could swing way out, in elaborate arcs, and be in motion for minutes. The rope would gather up twists of different types and this led to ways of covering different areas of the land and water.
It was at this point that Harry said to me that I ought to try a "Morrie Cowan." He then described that an older boy called Morrie would climb up the main tree trunk, a few feet, and then leap off, with great momentum, and swing right out over the River. The rope would keep twisting, and then eventually unwind in the opposite direction and this would give you an extended time over the "waater." I fancied "geein this a go." But I was no Morrie Cowan. But the guys egged me on.
And so I climbed up the trunk and got myself into the ‘launch’ position. I had to leap off, backwards, and create ‘spin’ so as to get a huge arc and extended time over the water, before I eventually came back over the land which then allowed me to leap off to safety.
When you gave yourself a big ‘launch’ you would be suspended over the water for quite some time, circling around. After a couple of minutes the arc would change the area it was covering and you would start to circle over the land again, allowing you to jump off. And so I went for it.
I leapt off of the trunk, and swung way out, well over the water. I looked back at the guys on the bank. They looked so far away. It was a surreal feeling. Such freedom and excitement. It would be a wee while before I would be ‘touching down’ on the "grun" and I was enjoying the exhilaration.
As the rope spun me around, my back turned towards my mates on the bank, and I couldn't see them. At this point you would normally be getting the piss taken out of you. There would be a lot of shouting, and them saying that they could hear the rope about to snap, and stuff like that. But something strange was occurring. Something odd. It was all silent. No calling, or anything. Silence.
As I spun around, so that the bank came into view again, I realised why. My mates had scarpered. They were nowhere to be seen. But what I then saw was enough to make me wet myself. Riley was standing on the bank, staring at me, with the eyes of a predator. And there was a glint of sunlight coming off of something in his hand. He was carrying a machete. And I was dangling on a rope, right in front of him.
Riley wanted blood. My blood.
I didn’t hesitate for a second. I leaped off the swing, straight into the dark and cold water. The current was strong, but I somehow got to the opposite bank. I had no idea if Riley was pursuing me. I did not give myself the luxury of looking back. I scrambled up the faraway bank, and proceeded to run. I ran and ran and ran, in my saturated clothes. And then I ran some more.
I ran all the way through Cardonald. I never looked back once. I had covered two miles by now. And then I saw someone, in the distance, on a bicycle. It crossed my mind that Riley may have stolen someone’s bike and was using it to catch up with me. And so I headed for the railway tracks. I thought that, if I crossed them diagonally, then it would be impossible for Riley to use his stolen bike to gain on me.
By now my legs were burning. I was nearing exhaustion point. But I never stopped, I kept on going right the way through to Penilee. And then I finally ran out of energy. I collapsed to the ground. Completely spent. I looked up, with the certain expectation that Riley was going to be standing there, with his machete raised up to strike. But he was nowhere to be seen. My head was swimming. My heart was pounding in my chest. But I was still alive.
I never saw Riley again. Ever. But a few years later I found out that he had been jailed for several brutal murders.