A bitter, cold wind had picked up since we left the car and rain was in the air. It was that fine rain, the sort of rain that had you squinting to see but still soaked you to your skin. After a quick dash around cars, pedestrians and a whole assortment of large obstacles, all capable of knocking down a naïve ten-year-old boy, I felt miserable. I am ashamed to admit it now but at the time I felt a mix of emotions: I was deflated by the poor winter-like conditions on what should have been a warm May evening; I was unhappy at having my daily routine uplifted and yet despite all that I had some strange tingling feeling in the pit of my stomach that gave me the desire to go on.
Despite the turbulent weather, it was still May. This was the penultimate game of a long, lacklustre season for my newfound team – Dundee United Football Club. It had been the game from two weeks before that had converted me from the artistic, athletic, fun-loving child to the dark, murky waters of a football fan. This game had changed my life, a slightly sad but entirely true statement. Having listened to the TV build up to this game for days I had decided to watch it. My dad and brother had settled down for the Champions League second leg semi final. It was football giants, Barcelona, against past champions AC Milan. To most it was a dull 0-0 game but to me it was a fine display of attacking football.
I had never been into football much when I was younger. I was healthy, I ran a lot in PE, but watching the beautiful game didn’t interest me. I had never had a sport that I felt strongly about. Until that game. It had given me a fever. Football fever! I had woken up early one Saturday morning and, instead of the usual dose of Spongebob Squarepants, I had opted to stick on Sky Sports. My dad had walked in, double taking before slowly reversing out of the room in shock.
I was happy at school, doing well at my subjects, but now at lunch I was playing football – and playing quite well too. I grew to love playing football and went on to captain Balmullo Primary School in a hard fought defeat to Ceres Primary School! I could even join into football conversations to an extent. I was elated the day my friends asked me to play football at the park, I had gone out with my brothers and dad before but now I was able to impress my friends with this newfound football fascination. I had always been a quiet sort. I had a small group of friends so it was brilliant for me to find new people to play with. Now, over a decade on some of us still play football, others watch but don’t play anymore and some just want nothing to do with the sport. I found it odd how people can change their opinions so much but I guess that’s what I did – football hater to football lover.
Now, the late, great, Dundee United Chairman, Eddie Thompson had offered a promotional ticket offer of £5 for kids as an end of season “dud” fixture and my dad decided it would be a good opportunity to take me to my first game. I clearly remember the morning of the match, I was watching the Lord of the Rings when my dad walked in and asked if I’d like to go see a live game of football. After a few minutes it sunk in, I was going to my first game of football. My heart skipped a beat, then another.
So it all began one dismal May evening on that walk from the car to a close by pub but what happened in the next 100 yards changed everything.
The smell was a strange mixture of petrol and burgers, mingling together in the damp air to create a wonderfully strange aroma. The sound of our fans, showing their undying support to a team of underachievers, was incredible but the view was the most special. It was a sight that has a special place in my heart: it was the fans. A sea of tangerine, the moonlight glinting off their shirts, a similar effect to reflectors on bikes when a car headlight focuses on it. It was spell bounding.The proclaimers – “500 miles” – was blaring full blast, geeing up the crowd. It was working well as the school kids were getting up and singing along – their fathers following suit. No doubt they would say they were humouring their children, however I knew they took great pleasure in belting out the lyrics and humming the rest. I hurried down to our seats and we waited. Despite it being a “dud tie” the crowd were still up for it and a tremendous roar greeted the players, firstly when they
jogged out the tunnel and again when the game kicked off. Dundee band “The View” had their song “Superstar Tradesman” blaring out when the players charged out of the
tunnel. To most supporters there it brought on an eye roll, a “oh, here we go again” attitude. Me? I was enthralled.
Looking back now it must have been an awful game but at the time I was in awe of the event. I was genuinely surprised at just how much I enjoyed it. I was equally surprised at how fast the time went by, despite loosing 2-0. The crowd started to disperse and I was slightly embarrassed at the abusive language I heard. At the time I was quite taken aback but now as I get older I realise its just part of the spectacle. It was a few thousand men, women and children away from the usual office and home life, it’s a chance to let loose. If shouting and swearing at these underperforming footballers is what it takes to keep them sane then why not?
The rain was lashing down – the stadium had all but emptied so we decided to go up to the back of the stands and watch without getting drenched. At the time I could only compare the experience to going to the cinema – you had to commit to a seat at the start so this was exciting for me, getting to move about. The excitement ended for most at the full time whistle. My dad and brother were in deep conversation about how the game had turned so sour and I just sat there listening happily. I couldn’t fully contribute beyond the extreme basics, but it was the beginning of a lifetime of post match analysis by myself.
I went back to Tannadice again a month later in a pre-season friendly and we lost, however, I was delighted to find out that we had signed striker Noel Hunt, the Dunfermline player who had scored against us on my first game. In just over a month the Irishman had gone from having his name cursed by United fans to being wished all the luck in the world. It goes to show how cynical football fans can be in life. He was the first professional player that I had seen score live and now he was the star of my newfound team. I idolised Noel Hunt for the years he spent plying his trade at Tannadice and was delighted to see him back in Dundee United colours for Sean Dillon’s testimonial match in 2017.
My first experience of football was started by a Champion’s League game, gaining me a new set of friends and a new hobby. It shows that despite crowd trouble, sectarianism and other such foul play, that good can come out of football. I was a season ticket holder for the next decade, before other factors stopped this weekly ritual. I enjoy looking back on my first game, the excitement I had always puts a smile on my face. It may have been Dunfermline we were playing but it could have been Barcelona such was my excitement. Nowadays, the prospect of playing Dunfermline in a half empty stadium doesn’t quite fill me with the same enjoyment! It has given me so much joy and pain over the years and I have come to learn that if I am going to relish the joys of cup wins and giant killings then I need to take the heartache that comes with it. I have witnessed my team loose on penalties only to see us win the Scottish Cup in 2010. I have seen us play Europa League fixtures and I watched us go down at the hands of our city rivals Dundee FC. I have said it before but football has undoubtedly changed my life for the better. While I frequently curse
Dundee United and the frustration that they have caused me over the years, I would not be the same person that I am today without them.