After attending various Champions League, Premier League and European Championship matches in recent months at some of Europe’s finest stadia, Saturday was a strangely welcome return to grassroots football with the Scottish Cup 4th round replay between first division Partick Thistle and non-league Culter FC.
At the rather ramshackle Firhill stadium with its three sides and a grass bank, a complete contrast to the towering Veltins Arena and Estadio da Luz; and thanks to Maryhill’s diametrically opposite climate system to Alicante, this was undoubtedly The Other Side of Football.
Partick’s students-for-a-fiver ticket policy seemed generous; as did the steward’s reluctance to look at the matriculation cards placed before him. No allocated seats here, or even a match ticket for the collection – we selected a spot in the away end that appeared dry and readied ourselves for an afternoon squinting into a driving Scottish rainstorm.
Unfortunately, the upset scenario was utterly smothered after only eleven seconds. Partick centre. Big no-nonsense punt up the park early doors. Flicked on by target man. Rammed home by nippy striker. Get in there. Scottish fitba at its cliched finest.
Culter had held Partick to a draw on the previous Saturday but that result looked more ludicrous by the second as the non-leaguers presented Thistle with about five hundred clear goalscoring opportunities in the first three minutes.
Despite the extinguishment of hope, the Culter fans remained in fine, if unoriginal, voice throughout. Serenading the Partick Thistle players, supporters and the referee with derogatory chants for the duration they contributed to a surprisingly, and pleasingly, rowdy atmosphere in the ground. Even if: “Division one ; you’re having a laugh,” did seem slightly optimistic when Culter managed a frantic spell of possession in the Partick half at one nil.
The game itself proceeded exactly according to Partick’s plan – 3-0 up at half time, 4-0 at full-time and showcasing a thoroughly professional attitude the Jags completed a comfortable afternoon for Thistle manager and sitcom-writer Jackie McNamara; squandered chances and poor finishing the only sour note.
Players who caught the eye included Thistle’s Number 4 – a tall central midfielder who combined strength in the tackle with effortless recycling of possession. Chris Erskine, the Partick winger also impressed with some direct running although his lack of a footballing brain was evident even to this rookie Thistle observer; an impression later confirmed by my season-ticket holding friend.
For Culter, the standout was their No. 8 – not for any particular footballing reasons – purely for the fact that he clearly regarded himself as a cut-price Charlie Adam. However, the only Adam-esque attributes the self-appointed maestro displayed were some errant Hollywood passes and the trademark lethargic running style of Liverpool’s lynchpin. He even Adamed Culter’s lone first-half shot high into the stand.
Seasoned Partick supporters I spoke to after the match remained steadfastly – and slightly unfairly in my opinion – unimpressed by their side. But, while the football team might languish in the wilderness of Division One for the foreseeable future, at least the casual element of the club’s support appears to be in good hands. We were subjected to a litany of hand-signals, favourite among them the Reverse Churchill, from a gang of eight year olds who missed most of the match in pursuit of directing maximum abuse at the travelling fans. In these days of dedicated Football Intelligence Units and passport confiscation, it was reassuring to see the North Glasgow Express displaying such great potential for the future.
Although the weather conditions were grim and the quality of football erratic, this was undoubtedly an enjoyable Saturday afternoon out. Despite being somewhat quenched after 10 seconds here, the romance of the cup clearly remains in bloom and the Culter supporters, however hypothermic they ended up, obviously enjoyed their big day and provided the day’s highlight with their sustained boisterousness.