Last Wednesday morning I awoke to read the news that my local football team, Rothes FC, were in danger of going out of business. The club currently owes HMRC £30,000, a sizeable debt for an organization its size in a town of 1200 people. Operating a lower level team in a Regional league, well down the pyramid with a small customer base, is an extremely tricky accounting juggling act the world over, so it’s not a major surprise that the club has been beset with financial troubles. But, whilst this knowledge remains of these complexities, there’s always a feeling that the club will find a way through. The harsh contemplation that the club could be no more made me realize what an important position it held in my heart, a love affair which began one Saturday afternoon.
The game in question was the 1993 Qualifying Cup Quarter Final Replay against Inverness Clachnachuddin (Clach). A victory would ensure passage to the Scottish Cup proper, as well as the last four of the competition, so there was a double bonus on hand for the winners. For Rothes, save for that glorious league-winning season in 1958-59, this, along with the North of Scotland Cup, was one of the real opportunities for success.
I don’t remember all that much about the game in terms of the actual goals and action. Rothes won 3-1, and I think the game was tied at 1-1 for a certain period, but I could be wrong. There was no hang ups from me, nor anyone else, on the ‘level’ of the game, which seems to inform so much football viewing in today’s, everyone’s an expert 24/7, copy and paste media age. It was end to end, fast, hard and, on certain occasions, full of flair. There were midfielders who could put a foot on the ball in the middle of a sodden pitch and hit a diagonal 30yard pass into the path of a wide players, center halves who repelled goal kicks back across the half way line, strikers who held up clearances and brought others into play. It was ‘industrial’ but then, most football played in the UK in that period was.
But the game itself was just a part of the whole experience. The demographic makeup of the stand that day was almost overwhelmingly young males aged between 12-18 . I was 8 years old at the time and went to the game with my older brother, who was 15. The boys in here were the lads you’d normally find on the back seats of the bus, or standing outside the Victoria Bar. The lads you looked up to and wanted to be. The atmosphere was one of defiance and local pride, in stark contrast to the regular match goers who were an older, more gentile disposition. Through the songs I learned about Child Molesters and Scoring in Brothels. ‘We’ were manager Greame Scott’s ‘Barmy Army’. The referee may have been an illegitimate child. The back catalogue of chants was extensive (adapted of regular versions of bigger club’s songs as I later learned) and I had no idea how I would learn all the words. But I knew I would. I also knew I hated Elgin City, despite never seeing them play.
There’s moments in life when you experience something novel; a band, a tv series, a girlfriend/boyfriend, that make you contemplate how you’d ever lived without it before that point. Once the recognition hits, there becomes an obsession to consume as much as possible. That’s how I felt about Rothes after that game. How could I not have walked the half-mile down the road and been a part of this prior to now?
From then on, I was a regular at Rothes games until I left for University in 2003. Not all games were like that one against Clach, of course. As one of the perennial basement dwellers in a league with no relegation, there were few highs and many lows and the atmosphere was rarely as incendiary as it was that day. That being said, I saw goals from the halfway line, 6-5 defeats after being 5-1 up with 15 minutes to go, 6-5 wins, goals given when the ball went past the post and numerous other ridiculous refereeing decisions from which there was a somewhat perverse pleasure taken from.
Rothes were unique in our local Speyside district for having a Highland League team. As I got older and we went to the combined High School, it was a significant source of pride versus Aberlour and Dufftown lads, who had no team of their own at a similar level. I wondered what people did there on Saturday afternoons? In Rothes, it was the start of the weekend and the center piece of mine. As you got older a chance to make plans for the night ahead, or indeed, begin it right away. Sometimes, on bad days, at half time.
I spent many years trying to replicate that atmosphere of that Clach game, and as we got older it was the increased swagger from alcohol as opposed to youth, that resulted in a similar environment. It was still largely the same group of lads that stood on that stand in 1993 that made up the bulk of the support in later years. In 2003, Rothes reached the North of Scotland Cup Final against Lossiemouth. The final was played in Forres, a nearby town. I remember walking into The Mosset Tavern that afternoon about an hour prior to kick off. There was tangerine and black everywhere, stories being recounted, voracious consumption of whisky (from one of the Famous Five stills preferably) and, of course, renditions of the old favorites.
When I think of the idea of home and what it means to me, I can’t help recall that day. In all the World, I’m not sure there is a place I’d rather be with those same loons, watching the same team, from our same town, singing those same songs.