Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Disturbing Fans No.2: Hamilton Accies’ Last Great Orator

Last week I was browsing second hand book shops in Edinburgh when I came across a large hardback about Scottish football, published sometime in the 1980s. At the back end of the book was an obligatory, but short, section about the importance of fans. “Without the fans there’d be no game etc.” Alongside this dullard’s prose I found a picture of Ian ‘Fergie’ Russell, the man who inspired my short story ‘Furlington Welfare’s Last Great Orator’, published in For Whom the Ball Rolls

Literary inspiration - the
Late 'Fergie' of
 Hamilton Aacdemical 
During the early 1980s I went to a lot of games at Hamilton Academical, because my dad lived close by at the time. They played mainly in the Scottish second tier, and attracted around 1500 fans to their now demolished stadium, Douglas Park (it's a Sainsbury's). There are very few specific games that I can remember seeing there besides a mildly surprising 2-1 victory over Dundee in the Scottish League Cup. Truth be told, the most entertaining performer at Douglas Park was Fergie.

A portly gent, then in his late 40s, Fergie wore a shabby, dark grey suit and always had a red Accies scarf draped around his neck. His talent was to bark out unceasing invective for the entire 90 minutes, regardless of score and opponent.

Douglas Park was the standard, spartan Scottish lower league ground with a stand and three sides of terracing. You could walk around the entire terrace uninterrupted if you fancied a change of
view. Fergie fancied a change of view all game long, depending upon the object of his scorn and anger.

Old Douglas Park - Fergie's stage. 
He didn’t discriminate. If the Accies were losing, he’d slate his own players. If they were winning, he’d taunt the opposition. Either way, he always had plenty of spare thoughts for the referee and his linesmen, all of whom were chronically unfit to do their jobs, week after week. Most people ignored him, presumably having heard him bellow on for years, but I loved it when he wandered by our spot so that we could catch a blast of his foul-mouthed but impressive performance.

There was a story in one of the Accies' match programmes about an away game at Partick Thistle, whose goalkeeper at the time was the much maligned Alan Rough. Fergie stationed himself directly behind Rough’s goal and focused his rhetoric upon the serially fallible net-minder. Bemused, the keeper made the mistake of turning around and asking Fergie what his problem was. Encouraged by this attention, the foaming fan spent the remainder of the game telling him exactly what his problem was, and more.

The Accies improved for a while in the late 80s and were promoted to the Scottish Premier League. After a rare 1-0 victory at Rangers, Fergie was offered a lift home on the team bus, and team officials even gave him a bottle of whisky, thinking that their obstreperous follower would be in a benign mood after such a historic result. No chance.  He told the management and all its players exactly what he thought of them: Fuckin’ yoosless, the whole lot o’ ye! According to his obituary in the Mirror (Fergie died in 2009, aged 71), on the way back from a game at Forfar he was thrown off the bus “outside a chip shop in Arbroath” for swearing at the manager’s wife, the director’s wife and - it almost goes without saying - at all the players too.

In the late 90s he was banned from the club for using foul language - perhaps because a thrusting young marketing executive decided that the club needed to attract a core family audience. “If the Accies were doing better,” he reasoned, “I wouldn't have to swear.” He still went to away games, despite a £100 fine from Glasgow Sheriff Court for causing a breach of the peace.

An introduction to Alf
My fictitious re-creation of Fergie in the form of Alf Wangerman is an English fan who follows non-league Furlington Welfare, and who aims his vitriol solely at the referees. The club refuses to ban him on the grounds that they need every paying fan they can get:

“Every week he [Alf] hated the referee from the moment the latter stepped on to the Welfare’s scruffy turf at Lugdale Lane until around the time two long hours later when he disappeared back into the refuge of his changing room, Alf’s huge, prickly jaw bumping up and down and casting the last of his colourful curses at the nape of the hapless official’s head.”

Like Fergie, Alf ends up a victim of the courts and the modern game. There are too many grounds now where foul language is subject to zealous and unnecessary control, which is a crying fucking shame. Football matches should be where a young fan learns to swear with poetry and verve. Fergie may not have been the type of bloke you invited round for afternoon tea, but his bitter-tongued ilk have long been woefully absent in an age of sanitised glamour and cash-mining hype.

The Quiet Fan was published by Unbound in autumn 2018 and is here.

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