…. especially when you come away with a win.
Killie left it late, but in truth they utterly dominated the game. The local rivals whose name dare not be spoken (except in derogatory terms) came with a plan: soak up all the pressure and hope to counter. Soak it they did, spending most of the 90 minutes fully entrenched in their own half. Killie played some nice football, as is their wont these days, and it was goal-less at full time, thanks only to some superb goalkeeping.
But in the last five minutes, Ayr came to life. They wanted to stay in the hunt more than Killie wanted to win it, it seemed. I was filled with dread for extra time but eventually class won out. At the third time of asking.
Being in the national stadium for the first time in a while, I realised how much I like it and why it was a good decision to redevelop the park. Every country needs a national football stadium; them what suggested we should just use the Old Firm middens were very wrong. Some of us don’t like going there for ordinary football, never mind big games.
Yes, we were wee in number but not so wee that we couldn’t make our voices heard or our presence felt. The atmosphere was a good one, the banter abusive but part and parcel of the ritual. There was no menace, not even when a young team of Ayr supporters forced their way down through the Killie throng provocatively. They were ignored by police and punters alike, as it should be.
Our day out was nearly a disaster. The wee chicklet arrived without a coat. He’d only ensconced himself in the car at 9.45am but managed to forget a couple of essentials as a result. Bless. Fortunately the mammy had extra attire in the bag (it’s in the job description) and a jacket was borrowed from one of the Stranraer contingent.
We only managed to get in five minutes after the start, for which blame the aforesaid team fae the toon. The big chicklet was safely ensconced with his pal in the VIP section by this time, surrounded by ex, retired and injured players – “it’s all about contacts, ma”. We had to wait for our tickets to arrive.
And wait. And wait. They like leaving everything to the last minute that lot. Worse was the garbled phone communications about which entrance. They’ve only got over a century of visiting Hampden among them: maybe the problem was that for once they were doing it sober.
But it gave us plenty of time to people watch. Keeping the ticket prices low was a gamble but it worked. They came from Ayrshire and beyond in their tens of thousands. The regulars and the families up for a big day out. Lovely.
We were promised, nay threatened with Olympic standard security measures and searches, as a test run for the real thing. The North Stand had them five deep at the turnstiles as a result but the rest of us? Well, I didn’t even get my bag searched which was a first. Light touch works: keep it that way.
Despite the determination of the fans to have a good time, it did seem as though the authorities were just as determined for us not to. The programme booths ran out well before kick off; by half-time, there were no pies, hot dogs or ketchup sachets left; the hot water in the ladies was scalding and dangerous; and a couple of bored polis decided to pick on some juniors, just to justify the overtime. This latter occurrence is a regular one at football matches, I’ve found, and it’s pathetic.
Sometimes I wonder at our football bodies’ fitness to govern. It’s the small things that make or break a big day out at something like a cup semi-final. It should be written into the SFA and Scottish League’s standing orders and rules: running out of pies is a sackable offence.
But it didn’t really dent the bonhomie. Everyone made do and enjoyed it nonetheless. The win, of course, helped.
Did I feel sorry for the rivals? For a nano second. They came to play for penalties, right from the start, and if they’d actually played the match properly, they might not have been on a long trudge home. Their track record against Killie in cup games is after all, remarkable. Or an amusing anomaly, as one neutral put it.
But no, the right team won, we all had a great day out and the best of it is, we get to do it all over again on 18 March.
It would be nice to have a repeat of the “family friendly” SFA Cup Final in 1997 with Falkirk as our opponents. Especially as we’d fancy our chances again.
But Celtic hold no fears either – they have been both spectacularly good and remarkably poor this season. Not only did we nearly beat them in the league, Killie are due a League Cup win. With two outrageous defeats under our belt – the last one against Hibs prompting the Big Chicklet to vow that he would never go to a final again – it could be, should be third time lucky.
The law of averages requires it.