Alan Mahood: It’s the final countdown

“Hampden Park” by Tom Brogan is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

It’s The Final Countdown

Bags packed and good to go. Take a few home comforts to make it easier. Some boys take their own pillows. Others take their favourite tea bags. Each to their own. Some take nothing because this is all new to them as it’s their first time.

The build up is well under way. Tickets are sorted. Everybody catered for. One less thing to worry about. Media looking to speak to the Manager and players after training before we head off.

“Newspaper rack” by NS Newsflash is licensed underCC BY 2.0

I never volunteered but if asked I wouldn’t say no. Leave that to the magnets that love it. Boys that would give the journalists the headlines they were looking for. Journalists that gave them the paper space they got a buzz off in return. They knew who each other were. Doing the dance till both got what they wanted.

Load the bags under the bus,quick head count, everybody on? We’re off. A few days down the coast was always a favourite of teams before a cup final. Bit of training. Loads of fresh air. Team bonding.

I had a routine for games that I carried out religiously week in week out and going away interfered with that big time but obviously it wasn’t a choice. En route we get told who’s sharing with who.

We were in 3s & 4s in chalets off the main hotel. It’s a few days till the game but the butterflies kick in as the bus enters the car park. All the gear is emptied off the bus. This is reality now.

You dream of playing in big games. I know how lucky I was to have done that. Better players have gone a full career and not done it for one reason or another. Now my time has come. Just hope I get picked! We train, we eat, we bond but all along all you want to know is you’re playing.

“A view of the Scottish coast by the North Sea” bydksesh is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Then the day of the game you go a walk, fill the lungs with lovely clean air, check the papers. Usual faces, daft pictures, going through their team mates. He does this, he does that. Then you read the probable line ups. Sub? SUB?? Nae bother mate. You check who’s wrote the article just in case it’s the Manager. It’s not. Bonus!

Pre match at the hotel, bags stowed away and we’re off. Some boys play cards. Some read the papers. I look out the window and take in the scenery. Musics blaring over speakers and the bus is buzzing. Some boys up walking about having a laugh and carry on. Others on their phones making sure loved ones are all set and looking forward to the game. Everybody deals with it different.

“NC03229 – HP – Hampden Park Stadium” byatomic_danny is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Some go deep into thought. Some get verbal diarrhea. If the nerves get really bad theres no verbal involved. The closer you get to the National Stadium the bigger the butterflies get. You see fans making their way to the ground. Replica tops, faces painted, draped in scarf or flag. Your own fans cheer and wave at the sight of the bus. The away fans not so friendly.

More than a few were predicting a 2-1 scoreline. I’m sure thats what they meant? Turn the corner and there it is. We’re here. Now the heart beating like a big drum has scared the butterflies away. Bus crawls along at snails pace and the steward guides the driver underneath to the dressing rooms. Bags off again. Reached our destination.

Walk in to the dressing room. Kit all out. Kitmans been here earlier. These boys take great pride in their job and leave nothing to chance. Everybody grabs a programme and walk out in dribs and drabs to take in our surroundings. Pitch looks massive. Grass cut short. G4 boys getting instructions. Caterers buzzing about getting kiosks filled. Perfect day for it.

“tactics board” by neilsongautama is licensed underCC BY-NC 2.0

We get the shout to go back in. Manager starts to name the team. Come on…. come on… defence out the way onto midfield, come on… come on…

YES!! Made it! Feel gutted for the boys that never made it but wasn’t my choice. Managers picked me that’s all I need to worry about. Warm ups done. Feel good. Stadium filling up and noise building too. You get your final instructions, the ref blows the whistle for kick off. Game on!

“Espanyol huddle – UEFA Cup Final 2007 – Hampden Park, Glasgow” by ToxicWeb is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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