The Angry Corrie 20: Oct-Dec 1994
Fantasy Premier League
In the wake of our art-filled TAC19, cries of anguish arose from disgruntled and disillusioned readers (well, reader, singular). Only three years after TAC1 had argued so strongly that hillwalking and football were virtually one and the same, why oh why had we overlooked the very Everest of football, the World Cup? Okay, we put up our hands, Maradona-style, and admit our guilt - or should that be our Gullit? And to try and make up,
Glen Coe. Renowned in phrase, fable and tourist information brochure as a wild and haunted place: where through aeons past the awesome forces of rock and ice have clashed to create a landscape of menacing beauty; where once, in the dark night of Scottish history, a terrible deed was done; where latterly, daring mountaineers have vied with the eagle for mastery of the heights; here also is the place where the Fantasy Football League was almost invented: let me explain.
It was the last weekend of August 1993, and I had sought out the solitude and tranquillity of a high camp in the hills in order to escape and forget: to forget the fact that Kilmarnock were due to be on the wrong end of a right gubbing from Rangers that Saturday; and to escape the subsequent triumphalism of the victorious Huns. For dreadful would be the slagging endured by the losers in the divided pubs of the town: vae victis, as Derek Johnstone is so fond of saying.
To most soldiers of Tommy Burns's Blue and White Army, this game was of huge significance: the advance on the citadel of Ibrox would be the real test of whether or not Killie had returned to their former position in the upper echelons of Scottish football. For too long, the club had been as recumbent as the Slumbering Warrior whose outline is formed by the Arran hills as seen from the Ayrshire coast: now the snoozing giant was yawning, scratching its jockstrap and pulling on its socks. My fear, however, was that the stripey Titan was about to put both feet into the same leg of his shorts and send himself sprawling across the dressing room floor: for despite a couple of reasonable performances heretofore, it had been many years since Killie had played in a league match against such mighty opposition as the Gers, the Teddy Bears, the Sons of William.
I had started to follow the team during the wilderness years, as something to do of a Saturday when hillwalking was out for one reason or another. I walked with them through the Glen of Weeping that is the Second Division; I slogged uphill through two terms in the mid-table of the First. And then came the 92-93 season, an Aggy Ridge of a season, a switchback scrotum-tightening knife-edge bastard of a season when, despite the team's best efforts to avoid promotion by throwing away leads at Love Street and East End Park as if they were so much half-time orange peel, we made it, having negotiated the last pinnacle of a nothing-each draw with Hamilton Accies, to the footballing summit: the Premier League.
The first game of the new season was at home to Dundee, and much to my surprise, resulted in Killie's first Premier points in ten years: but as the great Jim Duffy (or Skeletor, as he is affectionately known to Killie fans) has said, the fortunes of a football team may be likened unto a whore's drawers in the regularity of their rising and falling; and the next two games ended as one goal defeats despite great efforts. Now the Ibrox fixture was imminent, the prospect of which I should have relished; however, as the date approached, I found that I was looking forward to it about as much as I would a visit to the dentist who was technical adviser to Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man at that: in short, my bottle had went. I had a shameful crisis of confidence in the team's ability to avoid a doing at the hand of Her Majesty's Eleven, so much so that when the opportunity arose to go up the Coe that weekend, I said sure, why not, we're going to get massacred anyway.
And that's how Robin and I found ourselves late on the Friday evening camped in the Lost Valley, replete with Madras Shambar hot from the hissing Trangia, nibbling on tomato and herb calzone, and basking in the knowledge that a half bottle of glowing malt was to hand: no more thought of football as we relaxed in the twilight time, watching the ghostly cloud appear and vanish like a wraith roving across the tops of Bidean.
Thus the evening passed in pleasant conversation; and some hours later, when the last slow drop had trickled from bottle to tongue and the time had come to get some rest before the next day's exertions, I crawled into my sleeping bag and was asleep almost immediately.
I don't know whether it was the calzone, the curry or perhaps the grim associations of the Coe, but ghosts did stir in the Lost Valley, and my slumbers were disturbed by an awful dream. I found myself in 17th century Edinburgh, in a wood-pannelled office where sits at a great desk a man of obvious wealth and power; on the wall behind him hangs a portrait of bewigged king who is depicted astride a rampant white horse. The man adds a final flourish to the document on which he is working, and smiles wanly as he lifts a small handbell. He rings it with a shake of his lace-cuffed wrist, which tintinnabulation summons his servant, a grey-haired fellow clad in a knitted woollen waistcoat. Now, Master Walter, take this order and see that it is carried out in the last detail, he commands, absently patting the pet goat by his side. See that none escape, and in particular the traitor Burns, that he mote pay a pretty price for his popery. The lackey reads the document with pleasure, and promises: On my oath, milord Murray, so mote it be. The deed shall be done by mine agent Master Duncan, whose services I have lately purchased for a puckle of bawbees from milord Maclean of Dundee. A frown briefly crosses Murray's face. Master Duncan is but young, and untested: he will require assistance. Walter smiles: Fear not, milord: should aught go amiss, I have three black-clad brothers ready to declare against the enemy on the stir of an apron or the lift of a trouser leg... Murray is satisfied, but warns: an you fail, so mote your gizzard mote be cut out and buried still throbbing below the mark of the tide... All of a sudden they spot me and realise that I have overheard their entire conversation: at once they set the trained goat on me; it pins me to the ground and they begin to interrogate me: what age is your granny, sirrah, what age is your granny...?
I awoke, struggling against the constricting confines of my sleeping bag, pleading mercy mercy spare my gizzard. Whassamadderayouyabassar, grunted Robin, somewhat put out to be disturbed in such a strange manner. Indigestion, I answered, and involuntarily produced a gust of shambar fumes as if to prove it. However, it was clear to me that my intention to relegate thoughts of football to the Vauxhall Conference of the mind had faltered again. I turned over and tried to make myself comfortable, hoping that the remaining hours of darkness would pass quickly.
When at last the red card of the sun arose to banish dissenting night to the cosmic dressing room, I awoke to find myself not only with gizzard intact, but also strangely uncrapulous despite the previous night's beer and whisky. After a breakfast of coffee and tattie scones, we set off up the Coire Gabhail to the headwall which hangs between Stob Coire Sgreamhach and Bidean itself. Having passed by the spectacular gorge and waterfall, we then made the steep ascent to the col; then up through the mists over a false top to the wind-battered summit itself.
Chilled after all the sweat and pech, we wrapped up and took time to relax and enjoy the wildness of the elements. This is the biz, I thought, marvelling at the ease with which the wind picked up the mist from Glen Etive, lobbed it over our heads into the Coe and lashed it past the helpless keeper Am Bodach into the gaping goal of the Aonach Eagach. One-nil!
- It's no good, I cried out in confession to my companion as we headed towards Stob Coire nan Lochan. I can't stop thinking about it. What's the time?
- Half past two, he answered.
- The boys'll be in the dressing room just now, I said.
- Probably shitting themselves, Robin added helpfully. Either that or pretending to be injured so they don't have to play. Anyway, what happened to these big name signings you were supposed to be making?
It was a good question. Unless shock transfer deals had been done during the dream-haunted night, the team taking the field shortly would be unchanged from that twice defeated in two weeks. I shivered, looked and tried to concentrate on the ascent.
By the time we had got up to the top, dossed about a bit, and started back down, the hour had come: three o'clock. I could hear the whistle blow and the crowd roar as the ball was rolled forward to start the slaughter. Lacking a radio (not that the Lost Valley is particularly noted for its reception of Super Scoreboard), we could only imagine the match commentary:
- Well, there's only five minutes on the clock here at Ibrox and already Rangers are three up following a magnificent hat-trick from Ally McCoist. The writing certainly seems to be on the wall for the Ayrshire side, Derek...
- Yeah, Archie, and it must be particularly galling for the Killie defence that Ally has hit three past them despite the fact that his right leg is completely encased in a stookie.
- Oh dear oh dear, there goes another: four-nil. Looks like a massacre, Davie Provan...
- Sorry to interrupt you, Davie, but it looks like Killie are about to bring on Roberto Calzone, just signed this morning from Pizzeria, the Italian Seria A side. A positive move, Derek Johnstone?
- Yeah, Archie, I expect he'll play deep and let the other new signing, Shambar, try to put the wind up the Rangers defence.
- Oops, that's five-nil, with only eighty-two minutes to go... and it looks like another Killie substitution, Derek, I can see Trangia warming up... six-nil.
- Vae victis right enough, Archie...
And so, on the descent from Stob Coire nan Lochan into the Lost Valley, the concept of the Fantasy Football League was almost born. Shortly after this conversation took place, fantasy teams began to appear all over the newspapers and even on BBC2. Now, if I had only made the conceptual leap of imagining a team made out of the best players in the Premier League rather than a surreal collection of dinner ingredients, I could have been worth a small fortune. As it is, I have been left with nothing to show for my overstretched imagination but the kernel of a money-making idea: for having been second to the ball with Fantasy Soccer, perhaps I could pull something back with Fantasy Munro Bag. The idea is this: from a list of well-known walkers and climbers, you choose two imaginary companions. Over the length of the close season, the number of Munros bagged by your team is counted, and added to your own tally. The team with the most ticks at the end of the period is the winner and receives some paltry prize to the value of perhaps half the entrance fee.
Obviously, when I say you get to choose your companions, I don't mean that literally, or everyone would pick Hamish Brown and Hamish Brown's dug as their two buddies. To create a bit of sporting interest, players of Fantasy Munro Bag(tm) will choose at random two names: one from the First Division, and another from the Second. Some examples from Division One might be:
And from Division Two:
Etcetera, etcetera. Scoring is very simple: two points for a Munro; one point for a Top; twelve-bag suspension for proven helicopter assistance...
But I digress some way. Back in the real world on the day in question, it was after five o'clock and the end of the match before we struck camp and made our way down the path. Through ten-tenths midgies we descended to the car park, and all the way the little bastards seemed to be buzzing six-nil, six-nil at me. Despite our weariness, the last stretch up from the bridge was done at a canter, as curiosity inevitably got the better of us and we strove to get back to the car before the end of the sports programmes. We made it there just before six, and had to suffer seemingly interminable shinty results before the news came through over the closing music: And the shock result of the day at Ibrox, where Rangers ... broke the Premier League all-time gubbing record probably, I groaned ... lost 2-1 to Kilmarnock.
The car roof still has a convex dent in the shape of a fist. We drove off right away to the Kingshouse, where we sat outside and celebrated with beer and malt under the shadow of the Buachaille, and not even the midgies could alter our view that what with whisky and football and the hills, life was sweet.
Glen Coe: field of dreams, where the unlikeliest fantasy can be fulfilled, and not just those inspired by the Munro guidebook.