Colin Montgomery: Fitba’ passion can be a force for good

The long-suffering Tartan Army have missed out on another championship finals appearance. Picture: SNS
The long-suffering Tartan Army have missed out on another championship finals appearance. Picture: SNS
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Gutted. It’s been the natural state for anyone who follows Scotland at the football for way too many years. I’m seriously considering following the curling instead. Yeah, us Scots seem to kick ass on ice. Or bikes. Or snooker tables. Anything but grass, to be honest. I refer of course to what is now yesterday’s chip papers – our national team’s obligatory ‘close but no cigar’ moment, this time in Slovenia. Another ‘manana’, in Ljubljana. I can hear the gentle sobbing of Russian bar owners as I write. The Tartan Army shall not bolster their pensions.

So far, so what? Life moves on as the dust settles, the tears dry and the bile is hosed off many a pub floor. Yes, bile. Believe me, I caught the second half in a packed and sweaty ‘old school’ establishment just off Leith Walk and it was a pulsating mass of profanity, pleading and pointy fingers jabbing the air. At one point, my partner, English but a resident ‘Edinburgher’ for 30 years, threw me a look to say: “I’m actually a bit scared. It was never like this in Shropshire.”

Dooking for apples at Greenside Parish Church's Christmas party in 1971

Dooking for apples at Greenside Parish Church's Christmas party in 1971

Such are the gut emotions that football can arouse of course. That got me thinking – with my head and my gut – if only we were to be so passionate about matters that should truly determine our national mood. Oh, just off the top of my head: equality, progressive values, what it means to be a citizen. I’m talking about how our gut feeling determines how we react to what’s happening around us. Forgive me as I dip into politics to make the point, but I shall keep it brief.

For anyone with even just a shred of common decency, SNP MP Mhairi Black’s barnstorming Westminster speech on the ever more Kafkaesque iniquities of Universal Credit is truly uplifting. The dog’s dinner that said policy has turned out to be is ironic, as Black acknowledged at the outset of her oratory; something that was meant to be about ‘simplifying and streamlining’ has instead become a means for ‘stressing and starving’ our poorest citizens. But, what made Black’s takedown of this unacceptable situation so impressive was the fact it was a passionate response carefully constructed on a framework of facts. Gut instinct, fired by truth.

At this stage I was going to insert a paragraph distancing myself from any accusations of political bias (for the record, I’m not a member of any political party and have always been of the view that you lend someone your vote rather than donate it for a lifetime). But come on folks, this surely is not a matter for petty party politics; this is people without the means to eat, to heat or simply ‘live’ for up to six weeks.

If that’s a punch in the gut for them, what should be it for us? It should be the realisation that, sometimes, it takes guts to cut through the everyday complacency that can mean deeply harmful ideas, actions and events come to be accepted as the norm.

Gut feeling has been hijacked by those whose visceral kneejerk responses have come to dominate public discourse, be that in debating chambers, mid-market newspapers and online forums. That’s especially the case in an era where identity politics and its scummy mate – poisonous populism – are passed off as easy solutions. Side note: there’s nowt wrong with being proud of a flag, but surely it’s the values you fly the flag ‘for’ that should inspire feelings of pride. So, is this good gut instinct vs bad gut instinct? Nah, that’s stoopid. I’ve never been much for a binary outlook on life – that for computers and a simple reboot of a ZX81 could fill me with existential dread. No, perhaps we need a probiotic for our gut instincts, to encourage the friendly germs of civility to thrive and dominate the darker germs of callous self-interest. Perhaps we could start our treatment by following the lead of Mhairi Black and calling out the weasel words of those who would seek to defend forcing someone into penury because it ‘incentivises’ them. Something tells me that’s the right thing to do … you could just call it a gut feeling.

I’m your worst nightmare at Hallowe’en

Prepare to be totally terrified, scared out your socks and dispatched to the rest home for the perpetually panicked. For I am the worst demon of all, the most nefarious abomination human-born, the bitter fruit of the devil’s orchard (stay with me here, I have adjectives and metaphors that need using up). Yes, I’m the dad who cannae be arsed with Hallowe’en. Cue evil Vincent Price laugh etc.

A correction of sorts is in order. I’m not talking about switching off the lights and growling at guisers through the letterbox – my Hallowe’en-mad daughter would never forgive me for taking against the annual fright-fest completely. It’s more that I have no love for the Americanised tomfoolery it has now become. That is the fashionable grouch’s position to hold, but there is a chilling backstory …

Years ago, my local Boys Brigade held an annual All Hallows Costume Contest. Among the tatty bed sheets and drooling zombies (some of the lads didn’t need much make-up), I excelled. Why? My arty mum would never buy a costume, and it was always hand-made. And some corking get-ups where duly produced by her including the Loch Ness Monster, the Honey Monster and then, unfortunately, given hindsight, another monster . . . Jim’ll Fix It. That still haunts me to this day.

Perhaps the best way to exorcise such a ghost is to take to the proceedings with gusto – Scottish style. For me that means dooking for apples with forks, turnip lanterns instead of pumpkins and strange folk ditties about hopping witches from the Isle of Man (courtesy of my proudly Manx mother). Now that’s a Hallowe’en I could get behind . . . instead of hiding behind a sofa to avoid.

A sight you wouldn’t believe

This is tricky (as I’m about to alienate most of my cinema-loving pals), but how do you reveal to the world your ugly, Philistine reaction to Hollywood’s most hotly awaited sci-fi sequel of this century or any other?

Well no time like the present – especially as the future has turned out to be a colossal bore.

Blade Runner 2049. The most beautiful tedium I’ve experienced in quite a long time. And, believe me, it was a long time. Probably a good 40 minutes too long. There’s only so much stunning cinematography and mock profundity that can atone for that. Perhaps I’m a replicant for saying so. If so, I shall duly accept my fate.

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.

Some girl asleep, on the shoulder of the guy next to her.

I watched popcorn glitter in the dark near the emergency exit.

All those moments will be forgotten, like the 15 quid I spent to get in.

Time ... to sigh.