I have made it big time! No more being ignored by Darrell King – now I am moving to be ignored on a bigger stage
I am a “first reserve” to attend the Queen’s Park match on Saturday as a guest as part of a corporate hospitality package. I agreed to hold myself in reserve to attend and then thought I should check who the opponents were.
Imagine my surprise when I noticed that it was against the club owned by Rangers Football Club Ltd owned, in turn, by Rangers International Football Club PLC!
So, I might have great fun at the weekend, in amongst the pies and Bovril at Hampden. It might even give me the chance to have a chat with some of the Rangers fans, and maybe even Chico Verde himself!
It made me think of some of my past football visits as sponsor’s guest, or a recipient of the wonders of corporate hospitality. I hope that mick excuses me venturing into his area by writing about pies!
The first example taught me that coming to a football match in a suit is not always a good idea. My employer had booked a sponsorship package for an Albion Rovers match at sunny Cliftonhill. As was his wont, he managed to forget to tell anyone that he had done so, until around noon on the Saturday of the game. Needless to say, he himself found something better to do on a spring Saturday afternoon, but his minions were ordered to attend. Fortunately I did not have time to get home to change into a suit, although a couple of my colleagues did so. After all, they felt, it was right to be smart when being match sponsor.
We got to Cliftonhill early, and were admitted into the air-conditioned stand (air conditioned as the corrugated iron sheeting which makes up the stadium was at the time as “holey” as Swiss cheese).
At the time the Chairman of Albion Rovers and my boss were not on the best of terms. However, it was still a surprise to find ourselves not admitted to the Board room – we thought that came with the package. However, Grandstand was on the TV in the ante-chamber outside the Board room, and there was hot tea – a nice way to get ready for the game.
Soon enough we were called to take our seats. I firmly believe, partly as a function of the stadium “air-conditioning” that Cliftonhill is the coldest place on earth. Having a north facing stand did not help, although you never got the sun in your eyes.
We made our way to the Directors’ box. I don’t know how small people were when Cliftonhill was built, but the only way I could fit in the fold down seat was by dangling my legs over the seat in front. And having done so, my feet reached the floor of the row ahead! Whilst I am tall, I am not of the Stretch Armstrong dimensions that might conjure up!
Anyway, the game went ahead, though I cannot recall who Albion Rovers were playing. The first half showed that one player was head and shoulders above everyone else on the pitch. A Trialist was playing as left winger for the Rovers, and was unafraid to take on the opposing right back, again and again beating him to send crosses into the box, but without the Rovers front men putting the ball in the net.
Half time came, and we piled out of the Directors’ box back to the ante-room. By now it was full of people, cups of Bovril and pies! In those pre-mobile phone and pre-internet days too you could not keep up with scores from elsewhere on your own. You needed to buy a programme and pay careful attention when the announcer read the scores at half time. Younger readers might find this hard to believe, but at many grounds the scores were read out, but not the teams. This was because some of the games were listed in the match programme under letters from A to M, and the announcer would intone “Match A – 2-1” and so on.
As honoured guests however we were in the room where Grandstand was on and could keep up with the scores there.
Soon enough, just at the point when fingers had thawed to the stage where you could hold the pie, it was time for the second half.
Back out we headed and again the second half saw the Trialist showing a standard of skill above the bottom division standard of the other 21 players. In fact he was most reminiscent of the great Vic Kasule, who had enjoyed a few years at Cliftonhill playing a brand of football which went from outstanding to rubbish, often in the same move!
My recollection is that Rovers’ despite the Trialist’s best efforts fell behind and could not get back on terms. With a couple of minutes to go, the Commercial Manager came looking for one of us to present the Man of the Match award. As luck would have it, the smartest dressed of us all was the one who knew least about football, and so the awful finish was set in motion.
As the rest of us breathed a sigh of relief, we heard Bob (name changed to protect the guilty party) say to the Commercial manager “Who do I present the prize to?”
The answer was “You choose.”
As the game came to an end “Bob” made his way to the side of the park. He seemed to be engaged in heated conversation with the Commercial Manager who eventually shook his head, shrugged, and started to make John McCririck-style hand signals to the announcer’s box.
We soon enough found out what it had all been about.
As the final whistle went, and the players raced across to the tunnel in an effort to hit the showers before the hot water ran out, “Bob” and the Commercial Manager made their way onto the pitch with the bottle which was the Man of the Match prize. Surely the Trialist was going to cap a fine game with the award. After all, he was the best of all the players on the pitch, not just those in red and yellow.
But no – despite him slowing as he reached “Bob” he was not flagged down. Instead the Commercial Manager grabbed the Rovers centre half as he ran past. Now he had not had a bad game, but nor had he displayed anything to make us think he was the star of the day.
As he was pulled to one side, he made the most obvious “Who? Me?” gesture I have ever seen. He was, to say the least, surprised!
As he received his award, and as a photographer snapped Bob and the day’s star for the local paper, the announcer told everyone else what had happened.
“And, the winner of the Man of the Match award, as chosen by Bob, from today’s sponsors, Bloggs & Co is … Number five????”
He would not have sounded more astonished if instead he had been announcing the Second Coming, or even Rovers reaching European football!
And, as he repeated the announcement, the Rovers faithful, probably around 300-400 of them, roundly booed the award and the sponsor!
We made a quick getaway back to the ante-room for the final scores and some last tea. As Bob made his way into the room, he seemed surprised that he had been heckled as he had been. We asked him why on earth he had chosen the centre half and not the Trialist.
“Because he was better” came the reply.
Football is a game of opinions – and people can hold them, no matter how bizarre they might seem.
That episode meant that when next asked to attend as sponsors’ guests at Cliftonhill, there was no chance of any of us “in the know” wearing a suit. An accountancy firm had sponsored the game and again my boss had been told about this well in advance, but had managed to forget about it till Saturday lunchtime. We were now in winter.
We were ordered to attend, and met the Partner from the accountants’ office who was there as our host outside the ground.
This time we were admitted to the Board Room, where both sets of directors eyed each other warily from either end of the Board Room table. The Chairman made his way over to us, as we looked at the fine trophy cabinet (a fine cabinet indeed, but not much was in it). As he welcomed the accountant, George, and his guests to Cliftonhill, he had a double take – “You work for Bloggs. What are you doing here?”
It was not the most welcoming of tones, and we saw ourselves on the verge of being thrown out of Cliftonhill for gate-crashing the boardroom! George quickly explained that we were there as his firm’s guests.
The Chairman did not seem happy, but he could not get rid of us. He proceeded to thank George for his firm’s support and presented him with a History of Albion Rovers, written by Robin Marwick, a long time Director of the club.
“All of our match sponsors are presented with a copy of this book” said the Chairman to George.
“We weren’t” I piped up. The Chairman glowered at us, but made his way to the bottom of the trophy cabinet, from here he removed another copy and grudgingly handed it over.
I remember little of the game itself. My main pre-occupation was in not dying of hypothermia! I am sure that Cliftonhill is more hospitable now than it was in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, but if it was still the same, then Ray Mears or Bear Grylls could star in a show about using survival techniques to survive a match at Cliftonhill on a cold Saturday!
And as this was the winter, it became much worse as the sun went down, for whilst it seemed to have no warming effect when it was up, there was a definite cooling when it set.
This time, none of us were selected for the humiliation of picking the Man of the Match and we escaped out into the 5 pm sleet for some warmth!
I next had the pleasure of corporate hospitality a few years later at Boghead. I had been to see Dumbarton play a few tomes over the years – we had family friends there.
I recall one Dumbarton v Hearts game where, as time ran out Tommy McGrain, playing for the Sons, strike a shot from what seemed to me like 45 yards, which soared into the Hearts net to give the home team the win.
Now I was back as my employer was sponsoring the match, and as my Senior Partner was the Chairman.
Boghead was cold, but not so bad as Cliftonhill. I had come wearing a suit this time. A bad mistake. No overcoat meant that I was freezing by the time the game kicked off. However there had been a three course meal before the game for sponsors and guests, so at least I had some calories to keep me warm.
As with the Rovers games, my recollection of the match is poor. I do recall that Dumbarton lost. This bothered me, not because I was motivated either way about them, but because the loss resulted in a long post-match discussion between the board and the manager. It was my job, as a perk for attending, to give my boss a lift back to his local Golf Club after the game, but he couldn’t leave till his boss, the Chairman, could leave too.
Finally they emerged and I was able to head home, having done my taxi-ing duties.
My next corporate hospitality was actually not at football at all, but at the Loch Lomond Golf Club, and that will lead off the next bit of these reminiscences.
Till then, adieu!
Posted by Paul McConville, who, despite his best efforts and appearances, has never managed to eat ALL the pies.