Why train­ing was anath­ema to the Dirty Dozen

The Herald - Herald Sport - - FRONT PAGE -

MY WIT­TER­INGS of last week seem to have struck a chord. This was the re­sult of both my read­ers rolling up the news­pa­per into a ball and throw­ing the mass at their pianos.

Their anger was un­der­stand­able, and that is an ac­cu­sa­tion one can rarely level at this col­umn. But my me­an­der­ings down the dusty road of nos­tal­gia pro­duce painful mem­o­ries for some. Al­most as painful, says Dr John, the res­i­dent psy­chi­a­trist, as read­ing the col­umn it­self.

There is, dear reader, an el­e­ment of re­mem­brance to the col­umn this week and it is piqued by the sto­ries of Swansea City play­ers fight­ing at train­ing. This in­ci­dent has been re­ported by the me­dia with the slavering wor­thy of a ra­bid dog sook­ing an ice lolly.

It is an ex­am­ple of people not quite know­ing what goes on in­side a pro­fes­sional foot­ball club. Fight­ing at train­ing is akin to ar­gu­ing in Cab­i­net, get­ting dirty down pit and be­ing the sub­ject of hu­mil­i­at­ing bul­ly­ing by the sports edi­tor. That is, it comes with the job.

One ad­mits one was sur­prised that there was bel­liger­ence among Swansea City play­ers. These guys all ap­pear so nice they were surely all de­scended from the dotty vicar in a 1970s sit­com. Swansea City play­ers are as tough as the Sun’s quick crossword. Their idea of a good kick­ing is a Pos­sil man’s idea of a wee tickle.

Sure, they had a player sent off at the weekend but he was so daft in col­lect­ing two yel­low cards that he sub­se­quently passed both a drugs and dope test.

But foot­ball teams – par­tic­u­larly those who win – have fights in train­ing reg­u­larly. Hen­rik Lars­son was loved by the fans, but the re­spect af­forded by his team-mates was mem­o­rably once marked by a black eye in­flicted in a ro­bust ex­change of views on the train­ing field.

This is a mere bruise, of course. There were mo­ments in my ca­reer when the first team and sub­sti­tute were known as The Dirty Dozen, and not just by the in­hab­i­tants of their armpits. We never, ever played train­ing matches. Well, not af­ter the first and only time.

This was an at­tempt to im­pose a shape on the team. One would have had more chance of im­pos­ing a shape on Anne Wid­de­combe. Big Nor­rie, our man­ager, blew the whis­tle in the man­ner of a young of­fi­cer in the First World War and we all went over the top.

The tack­les were fly­ing in so high he had a call from a ha­rassed air traf­fic con­troller at Glas­gow Air­port. I called Mick, our left-back, the Great Ma­gi­cian be­cause he sawed you in half. With­out a saw.

It was the only full-scale train­ing match to de­scend into such vi­o­lence that not only did the UN Peace­keep­ing force de­cline to in­ter­vene but an ap­peal to im­pose or­der made to the Gam­bino fam­ily in New York was ig­nored.

The match lasted for about an hour, or seven at­tempted cul­pa­ble homi­cides as the procu­ra­tor-fis­cal de­scribed the events in his match re­port, which was of­fi­cially a “pre­lim­i­nary in­ves­ti­ga­tion into a se­ries of heinous crimes”.

When that fateful match ended, there was no bad blood. There was plenty of sticky, red and fresh blood, though. One ba­si­cally wiped off the ef­fu­sions of the red stuff from var­i­ous wounds, ap­plied an arm to the snot­ters, tucked a de­tached leg un­der yir ox­ter and hopped to­wards the pub.

There, one suc­cumbed to a dis­ci­plined hy­dra­tion ses­sion that in­volved sup­ping amounts of al­co­hol only hitherto con­sumed on Ol­lie Reed’s stag night.

Af­ter this episode – there­after re­ferred to by the play­ers as “that bit of non­sense” and by Scot­tish his­to­ri­ans as The Great Dis­rup­tion – big Nor­rie kept us all on a leash. This did cause abra­sions to our necks and strangely saved at least one mar­riage but it meant train­ing could re­turn to a wee run around St Nini­ans, a mass and joy­ful slag­ging match and then the pub.

It did not, of course, curb the col­lec­tive ag­gres­sive in­stincts of the team. This was a mob who if they turned am­phibi­ous would be a wolver­ine crossed with a shark. And a very crab­bit wolver­ine and a psy­cho shark, at that.

Oh no, the team was splen­didly bel­liger­ent and could be an equal op­por­tu­nity ag­gres­sor. My ev­i­dence? Once, two of our play­ers butted each other so re­lent­lessly they were mis­taken for rut­ting stags and ap­peared in a sem­i­nal episode of Life on Earth.

They were not only part of a team win­ning eas­ily, they were not only mem­bers of a de­fence com­plet­ing a clean sheet. They were broth­ers. And they would only have struck a chord if it was wear­ing a fitba’ strip.

On Mon­day Michael Grant

NO HOLDS BARRED: The lads get in some match prac­tice in the pub – “the team was splen­didly bel­liger­ent . . .”

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