Killie’s League Cup win: triumph tinged with sadness

At 65 minutes, we dared to dream.

Earlier, a nudge in the ribs at around 25 minutes with the ominous pronouncement that “this lot’s just not going to score today” was met with shushing from all around.  But it was clear we were all thinking it.

By that stage in the first half, Killie were bossing it:  the tactics were working.  A few heart-stopping moments early on with silly wee square passes – across the front of the goal!! – had given way to some nice but fairly ineffectual football.  By 30 minutes though, we were wearing Celtic down, even forcing them to make mistakes and spending more time in their half than in our own.

That first half was a great advert for Scottish football – few fouls, no cards, end to end stuff.  Willie Collum, despite what Neil Lennon said rather unsportingly in the immediate aftermath, had a great game.  He kept it clean and used a light touch.  A few scrappy moments at the start of the second half were sorted out quickly and authoritatively.  He allowed the football to flow, to everyone’s benefit.

The interval though, has to be the most boring half time I have ever witnessed.  A film played on the big screens with appalling sound levels (it’s a Hampden problem, get it sorted!).  A nice wee penalty shoot out, a heartfelt presentation to a child off to get potentially life-saving treatment in the US thanks to the generosity of football fans, and that was it.  Nae choons, nae atmosphere.  Sorry, but we deserve better.

And generally, the Killie fans did deserve better.  Squashed into a corner of the ground, all the better to give the best view to the “big team” who presumably deserved to be there and whom the authorities clearly expected to win.  How else to explain the shocking decision to have the Cup ceremony square in front of the main stands, watched by no-one, instead of moving it to where the Killie fans were corralled?

You can tell who’s used to winning.  When we scored – oh boy, when we scored – the Celtic fans started heading for the exits.  By the time Kilmarnock went up to collect the cup there was only a handful left in the ground.  Yet, I recall on the two previous League Cup Final occasions when Killie got a doing, insisting to the Big Chicklet that we stay to the bitter end and we applaud our team for their efforts and when they collected their runners-up medals.  Most other Killie supporters did the same.

That’s the difference when you support a team for whom winning is an occasion.  Not only do you savour every moment but you always travel more in hope than in expectation, and behave accordingly.

But yes, by 65 minutes we dared to dream, albeit with our hearts in our mouths.  Celtic certainly dominated the last 15 minutes and at times, it seemed like Cammy Bell was on a one man mission to keep us in the game.  He was outstanding.

Our boys didn’t give up, and over the 90 minutes, we probably had as many shots on target as they did.   The difference came through an inspired substitution by Kenny Shiels, who deserves plaudits for tactics which involved taking the game to the big boys.

A great cross in and bang.  I’d like to say I was on my feet as soon as van Tornhout struck the ball with his heid but actually, we were all on our feet by that stage anyway.  It might have been over in a flash, but all day the exact move has replayed in my mind – and no doubt will continue to do so for many years to come.  It was a great cup-winning goal actually;  a just reward for a real team effort.

And lo, Killie were in the lead.  Celtic 0 Kilmarnock 1.  Followed by the longest ten minutes of our lives.

We cheered, we jigged, we waved the flags and shouted ourselves hoarse.  Cmon the Killie!!  Scarves in the air and a rendition of Paper Roses, the fans’ anthem adopted by Killie supporters like the late Danny Coffey and John Dearie as a rejoinder to all the hate and violence that blighted Scottish football in their youth.  Yep, it’s nonsense but it’s our nonsense.  Then, at last, the final whistle.

There have been three times in my life I have been deliriously happy – the first two involved the birth of my children.  And no, that’s not an exaggeration.  To understand, you need to have followed a team through more dark days than light, through relegation near-misses and all the way through the doldrums of season after season playing for very little, bar the odd decent performance and uplifting, surprise win. Fifteen times Kilmarnock has tried to win that cup and it’s fifteen years since Killie won its last silverware; that’s how meaningful this triumph is.

Arrival in Kilmarnock to join the celebrations was met with the awful news that Liam Kelly’s father had died of the heart attack he suffered in the stands.  Folk were stunned and talked of little else: a terrible tragedy for him, his family and indeed, the whole Killie family.

Everyone set it aside for a short while to celebrate the victory with an open-top bus parade all through the town and on to Rugby Park.  It was lovely to stand in exactly the same spot as I did after the 97 Scottish Cup win to watch it all, seeing the famous John Finnie Street once again thronged with exultant supporters and townsfolk, only this time to be with my boys and to watch their faces as they joined in the celebrations.  These memories last a lifetime.

Rightly, attention today has turned back to Liam Kelly’s loss, for this will always be a triumph tinged with sadness.  Football often wears its heart on its sleeve:  this is one of those occasions.  Condolences have poured in from all around, with the most poignant comments from Kenny Shiels, the Killie manager.

Killie will celebrate and savour its triumph – it’s too important and too rare not to.  But the Killie family will also rally round and look out for one of its brightest young stars and his kin:  it’s not for nothing that the club motto is “confidimus”.




Ye cannae beat a trip to Hampden…

…. 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.


A burdz eye view on the year ahead

Predictions.  It’s a mug’s game really and having failed totally on all my political bets for 2010 – apart from a spectacular gain on an Ed Miliband win – the burd has absolutely no track record whatsoever on this front.

But hey, it’s a bit of harmless fun, right?  And thank goodness there are no tartan bollocks awards for bloggers.  Yet… 

So here is a burdz eye view on the year ahead:

  1. The Scottish Budget will pass at the first attempt.  Make no mistake, there will be much huffing and puffing from the Opposition parties but they will baulk at blowing the SNP’s house down so close to an election.  No one will want to enter the campaign with a reputation for fiscal irresponsibility on their report card.  They will all abstain and claim the moral high ground.  It will make headlines, a few of us might even blog on it, but ultimately voters won’t care.
  2. Labour will hold the most seats after the Holyrood election but won’t form the next administration.  I don’t think it’s the walk in the park for Labour that the polls currently predict.  As blogged in 2010, it all comes down to about 20 marginals and roughly three key voter groups whose votes will swing it.  And on the list seats, the Lib Dems occupy as many vulnerable last places as the SNP.  Both Labour and the SNP will gain seats from the the Lib Dems, the Conservatives will end up more or less as they began, the Greens will make some gains but not enough to achieve the much vaunted breakthrough (sorry @twodoctors) and while Labour will gain a few constituency seats from the SNP, the SNP will recoup those losses through the regional votes. 
  3. The SNP will remain in government, with the support of the Conservatives in return for baubles.  More committee convenors than their numbers deserve, a depute presiding officer, possibly even a Ministerial without portfolio invented post.  But no one will dare call it a coalition.  Apart from Labour of course.  
  4. The unholy alliance with the Tories will prompt a resurgence of the left in the SNP.  Kenny MacAskill, Keith Brown and Angela Constance will emerge as the ring leaders.  Though this might just be the burdz wishful thinking. 
  5. The UK coalition government will last at least another 12 months.  Heaven help us all.
  6. The first UK Minister to resign on conscience grounds will be a Conservative not a Liberal Democrat.  And it will be on Europe, or AV, or reform of the Lords, or some other nonesuch issue.
  7. The UK will vote no in the AV referendum – but Scotland and Wales will vote yes.  Another constitutional nail will have been driven into the United Kingdom’s coffin, but it won’t be anything like enough to seal the box.
  8. Wales will vote yes in its referendum for legislative powers for the Assembly.  Hurrah!
  9. Tavish Scott will resign as Scottish Liberal Democrat leader and will be replaced by Margaret Smith.  Scotland will not only have another woman leading a party but also the first lesbian woman to lead a party.  Some will gnash and wail; others, including the burd, will cheer at a triumph for diversity.
  10. Iain Gray and Ed Miliband will survive the year in their respective leadership posts.  Gray’s performance will be seen as good enough to survive and in any event, no one will have the stomach for a fight this far out from 2015.  Labour winning the Oldham East by-election this month will be the start of a turnaround for Miliband.  He will use the goodwill this buys him to silence the Balls-Cooper axis.  In spectacular fashion.  They will slink off and Miliband’s authority will be assured until the General Election.
  11. Scotland will not qualify for the Euro 2012 finals.  As usual, we will be there or thereabouts right to the last, prompting much unjustified optimism, as usual, and hope that this time will be our time.  As usual, we will snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
  12. Celtic will claim the SPL title on the last day of the season (thanks to a controversial refereeing decision elsewhere), Hearts will nearly finish second and the mighty Killie will finish fourth.  This will cause the burd to get very, very drunk and cry.
  13. A Scottish band will win the Mercury Prize.  I’d like to think it will be the Sexual Objects, but more likely to be Broken Records or Kid Canaveral.
  14. A Scottish newspaper title will fold.  Sadly.  It might be the Scottish outpost of a UK title aka the Sunday Times last year.  Sad as that would be, it would be preferable to a wholly Scottish title going.  But that is a distinct possibility.  If the Herald gets hit by a long drawn out strike, its owners might just give up and walk away.
  15. We will have a heatwave summer.  Hotter even than 1976 which the burdz bairns (and no doubt others) are convinced is a figment of their mammy’s overly febrile imagination.  There will be a drought, the Greens will get all shouty, but no one will care.  We’ll all either be too busy enjoying it or moaning, just as we did about the snow.