First published in Sons View, 14 November 2009, for a special memorial match for Gordon Lennon.
“In this obsolescent society in which we live, age and tradition are to be dearly cherished”, writes Jim McAllister in his fine one volume history of Dumbarton FC. How right he is. And here is another significant day in the life of our small but distinguished Club. We are taking time out from our league schedule, and from the many activities involved in sustaining a modern football team, in order to remember with gratitude and pride the contribution of Gordon Lennon – who will go down in the annals as a Sons legend.
Memories are inevitably a blend of the happy and the sad, the joyful and the poignant. Today is a powerful example of that, but with the emphasis firmly on celebration – which is what Guido himself, full of life, would have wanted. Over the past weeks many words have been spoken and more than a few tears shed over the way Sons’ captain for the showcase 2008-9 season was tragically taken from us. For those closest him, there remains a gap that can never be filled.
But this gap is not a void. Far from it. As time moves on, so do our recollections. This afternoon’s game may be a memorial, but it is a forward-looking one, dedicated to the energy that animated Gordon and made him a special person, as well as a committed footballer. It is also a chance to recall the happiness he brought to us, not least on the field.
Much of what Guido embodied, and how he deserves to be remembered, is summed up in the picture that adorns the cover of Sons View this term. It captures his moment of sheer, unalloyed joy in lifting the Scottish Football League Third Division Championship trophy in front of 1,343 people at Annan Athletic on 9 May 2009.
Like many of you, I was there. That day will stay with those who made the trip for the rest of our lives. Indeed, it was a week of euphoria, with the extraordinary six-goal victory over Elgin at the Rock the Saturday before all but ensuring a title-winning day on the borders. As someone commented, it was theoretically possible for Sons to lose a 17-goal advantage in 90 minutes, but the outcome would have been one of the biggest legal investigations in Scottish football history!
That trip to Annan was therefore made in expectation, not just hope, and Gordon Lennon’s delight, shared generously with fans young and old as the celebrations spread onto the pitch at the end of a fitting 3-1 victory, was a key part of what made the afternoon, and the man himself, irreplaceable.
Of course it would not have been possible without the equal generosity of Annan Athletic, who enabled our party rather than spoiling it (as happens in the meaner rivalries of football). Similarly, for today, the Dumbarton Champions Select comprising players who won the third division championship are giving of their time and effort along with a Gordon Lennon Select made up of players Guido knew and worked with at other clubs like Harmony Row, Albion Rovers, Stenhousemuir and Partick Thistle.
In moments like this, human solidarity is seen to be the essence of this beautiful game of ours. There’s fierce competition in football, to be sure. But that would not be fulfilling if it wasn’t for the other side of the pitch – the one where ‘sport’ means not just athletic and technical prowess, but also the capacity to grow as people.
Liverpool managerial legend Bill Shankly, as proud a Scot as you will find, is widely credited with having once said on a TV show that “football isn’t a matter of life and death… it’s more important than that.” Those were not his actual words, and he tried on several occasions to set the record straight – because he understood, as do all who remember Gordon Lennon, that they are not true.
Nevertheless, football can and does reflect for us what is wonderful about life, as well as what is most difficult about it. And what is wonderful is that it brings us together and gives us a glimpse of something extraordinary in the midst of the mundane.
That’s what remembrance does, too. To re-member well is to experience a ‘joining together’ across the normal boundaries that separate us; to generate a spirit that goes beyond what divides, and instead enables us to overcome enmity.
Gordon Lennon was ‘just a man’ and football is ‘just a game’. But what a man, what a game… and what a Club!