Sunday, 26 July 2009

Remembering with gratitude

First published in Sons View, 26 July 2009, Dumbarton -v- Morton (Alba Challenge Cup)

This season it’s exactly forty years since I started supporting the Sons. I was nearly 12-years-old when I made the momentous decision to ditch Manchester United, and I’ve never looked back (or anywhere else, other than showing an interest in whatever my local team happens to be).

As the title of this column indicates, I’ve been a ‘far post’ fan all my life – since, until a few years ago, I had no close relations to Dumbarton. My football loyalty was decided by a confusion in my young mind about where Ayrshire was – since that is where my great grandparents on my mother’s side had some actual family links. That and a bit of a penchant for what my late parents termed ‘exotic underdogs’. Well, hey, at least that makes DFC exotic, even if the comment wasn’t meant in an entirely sympathetic way!

The reason I mention all this again (apart from the fact that I get asked it from time-to-time) is that this season, and especially this game, is a time of remembering. And for me, as for many others, it marks the end of one season and the beginning of another in which the highs of Championship winning celebration and the lows of shock and sadness at the terrible loss of Gordon Lennon are inseparably connected.

I have always been proud to be a Sons fan, but never so much as in recent weeks. Nothing can ever take away the tragedy of Guido’s death. The loss this represents to Kelly, Kai, his family and many friends is incalculable. But the extraordinary response from Dumbarton as a Club, a group of supporters and a community has been incredibly moving to behold – and perhaps I notice it in a rather different way to many of you, because I live hundreds of miles away.

That fact alters your view in all kinds of ways. I was conscious when talking to friends in the town in the immediate aftermath of Gordon’s accident just how cut off you feel when you are physically distant: protected in a certain way from the full force of the emotion at a time like this, but also very aware of what people are going through and how they are responding.

It is the reaction of everyone involved, young and old, close and far, which has shown what a truly great Club this is. The stories of kindnesses small and large will stay with us and sustain us for many years, along with the poignant images of Guido holding aloft the Third Division Champions Trophy at Annan, and all the celebrations in and around the town. The Sons TV interview, too, strikes deep.

I felt very honoured to share in all this in a small way by coming up for the friendlies against Partick Thistle and St Mirren earlier this month, and shaking a bucket for the Gordon Lennon Fund – into which Denise Currie, Robert Ryan and many, many others are putting a great deal of love and work.

When I was a kid my father, who had a strongly charitable heart, used to dragoon me into street collections for all sorts of causes he was involved with. So I suppose I have some experience of shaking a tin, though not always quite as willingly as this! What struck me was that this time people didn’t need asking – they almost fell over one another to contribute. That goes for away fans, too. I collected at the Buddies end on 16 July, and like the Jags supporters and all at Annan, they did real credit to their Clubs by their generosity.

In the face of the wounding and inexplicable death of one so young, with so much still to give, this is some comfort. None of us need telling that the world can be a cruel and heartless place. But because it’s easy to be cynical, perhaps we do need reminding that human beings can really pull together, that good can come out of tragedy, and that there are more important things in life than football.

Today is that reminder. It’s also another game against a longstanding rival, Morton. Given everything that’s happened over the summer, many Sons fans may need some convincing that the Alba Challenge Cup matters. Guido wouldn’t have needed any convincing. His passion for the game, for life and for his loved ones is what we celebrate this afternoon and seek to honour in the 2009-10 season.

Let’s hope it’s a good game. Whatever happens on the park, it cannot but be a really significant occasion for all of us.

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