Monday, 9 January 2012

Penguins, Ducks, and Sheep-Staggers

On my very first foray into the world of stand-up comedy, on the very first occasion I stood on a stage in front of paying customers, I told my very first joke, the first joke I had ever written - or written down at least - and it was about my hometown.

'You can take the man out of Dingwall, but you probably shouldn't'.

The next time someone asks you where you're from feel free to use this joke, just insert your town/village/caravan site - it works particularly well if you're from the isle of Man - and if people don't laugh just remember; a good one liner is much like an Andy Barrowman square ball in the 82nd minute of a Scottish Cup semi-final, it's all in the delivery.

My opening gambits usually revolve around my Highland hometown which tends to induce heckles about bestiality - fancy word for sheep shagging - which is ridiculous considering most folk in the Highlands are too religious to shag the sheep - not without marrying them first at least.  Aside from bestiality many individuals first association with Dingwall is to its football club, Ross County, or the 'Staggies' as they're affectionately known.  And on that fateful cherry popping evening in Glasgow one hearty County admirer stood up and shouted...

Which in a fervent Glaswegian accent sounded an awful lot like..

I was in Glasgow I'd prepared myself for a knife attack what I wasn't expecting was a heckle about Ross County. It turned out not to be an isolated incident either, since then I've had lots of audience members threaten to stab me.

In truth Ross County doesn't belong solely to Dingwall.  The club's stadium, Victoria Park, is the only in Britain where the capacity of the stadium is larger than the town's population.  Despite this the club is well supported with one of the highest average attendances in the Scottish first division.  Ross County is the most Northerly professional club in Britain, the club's demographic of fans covers a geographical area larger than Belgium drawing from towns and villages such as Alness, Invergordon, Tain, Dornoch and further flung outreaches such as Lewis, Wick, Thurso, and Orkney.  In a modern day Jacobite rebellion Victoria Park makes a fitting place for 'Bonnie Prince Adams' to raise his standard.

Despite our Northerly disposition please ensure the sat-nav takes you to Dingwall, not St Tropez, because apparently, according to Trovit property..

Dingwall, the county town of Ross and Cromarty, situated a mere 14 miles from the 'city' - pssssshhtttt - of Inverness, has the sunniest climate of the County enjoying a milder micro climate.

That's a bit like saying it's the 'coolest' town in Death Valley.  I've yet to witness the residents of Balintore or Gairloch rushing to Dingwall to 'warm up'.  Looking on the huddled home fans in Victoria Parks Jail End - named so because of the stands close proximity to the Sheriff Court, which comes in handy when hosting Raith Rovers fans - the scene resembles a colony of penguins on an Attenborough documentary rather than a Bounty advert.

Anyone who has ever been part of the jail end colony might agree that the often incomprehensible Dingwallian dialect resembles a Pingu sound-bite.  Some lucky naturists might even have been fortunate enough to catch a rare slipping, sliding, flapping, performance from Gary McSwegan - although to be fair he was more of a donkey than a penguin.  Now I may have stretched the penguin analogies a little far, but when it comes to comparisons with birded, beaked, buddies, there was one particular Highland derby when my uncle managed to take it to the next level.

Mo Johnston, Alfie Conn, Steven Pressley and Kenny Miller are a select group of players who have crossed a divide as old as football itself.  A division between two teams separated by intense rivalry and religion, locked in a never ending battle for domination of the Scottish game.  I'm talking of course about players who have played for both Celtic and Rangers.  Players who have made headlines when deciding to change allegiances.  In the Highlands Ross County and local rivals Inverness Caledonian Thistle swap players like cups of sugar, the divide between the two teams has been crossed more often than a Wayne Rooney spelling test, or a certain Polish ex-Celtic goalkeeper.  For the last few Highland derbies Calley has fielded a number of ex-County players making the opposition lineup pretty easy to recite..

And despite the fact so many of County's players have crossed the Kessock Bridge to play down the ferry - Barry Wilson, Stuart Golabeck, Don MacMillan, Roy McBain, Nicky Walker, Richard Hastings, Gary McSwegan, Graham Bayne, Steven Hislop, John Rankin, Lionel Djebi-Zadi, Don Cowie, Andy Barrowman - it doesn't make them any less popular if they return to Victoria Park in Calley colours.

During one particular Highland Derby Calley full back Roy McBain was singled out for particularly abusive treatment.  Every time he touched the ball my uncle would go through a bizarre ritual that involved flapping arms and snapping fingers.  He was dancing around the Jail end shouting..

Despite my previous association with the polar South, and despite the fact one of Dingwall's pre-game  drinking establishments is called the 'Mallard', this isn't how the Jail end chooses to express their dislike for a certain player.  My uncle had got himself a little mixed up, what we were actually singing was...

The hand gestures were a little different as well.

Ross County is a football club at the heart of its community, as was evident when the team made it to the final of the 2010 Scottish Cup, the exodus from the Highlands on that day was like a repeat of the clearances.  Personally I have been involved with the club since taking in my first ever game aged six years old.  I played in the boys club, I worked and coached with County during my university years - the club even hosted an 'under achievers' meeting I attended when I was at school.  Ross County has provided me with as many memories and moments as any mentally unstable family member dancing about the home end.

  • There was the announcements my friends and I would get Stadium announcer Ally MacKintosh to read out at half time.

  • There was the time my brother and I almost enticed a full scale riot after Calley fans started throwing bricks at our supporters bus thanks to our gestures out the back window.

  • There was the time I got pelted in the testicles from a stray shot - probably McSwegan's - and had to hobble home at half time while the St John's ambulance people pointed and laughed at me.

  • There was the time the police put my intoxicated pal on a bus back to Dingwall when he had actually travelled to the game from Edinburgh.

  • There was the time one of the boys got knocked out after some over-zealous celebrations at the Challenge Cup final.

  • There was the time when working for the club I managed to get lost giving primary school pupils a tour of the stadium.

  • There was the time we broke onto the pitch and had a game in our kilts on my eighteenth birthday party.

  • There was the time when coaching for County I travelled to Orkney only to realise I'd forgotten to take any footballs.

  • There was the time we told some English guys we didn't accept English notes when selling programmes outside Victoria Park before an Under-18's Scotland versus England game

  • There was the time we had our inflatable sheep confiscated at Easter Road.

I apologise to any reader who may have expected an informative blog on an interesting, if slightly obscure, Scottish football team.  You may have expected me to talk about my favourite players, - Billy Ferris, Karim Boukrra - my favourite moments, - run to the Scottish Cup final 2010, 5-1 Victory against Calley in 2003 - or some of the clubs successes - Scottish Cup Finalists 2010, Second Division Champions 2007/8, Challenge Cup Winners 2011, 2007, Third Division Champions 1998/99 - the clubs history, - formed in 1929 County played in the Highland league until being accepted into the Scottish Third Division in 1994 - or their attempts at developing the stadium, facilities and youth teams - Victoria Park is home to the 'Highland Football Academy' which boasts some of the finest training facilities in Scotland and has already produced talented young players such as Gary MacKay-Steven.

It's almost inconceivable to think that Ross County and Inverness could potentially both be in Scottish footballs top flight a little over 17 years after their introduction into the Scottish Football League.  We have something that's rare in Scottish football at the moment, a talented team, a forward thinking club and a set of supporters who appreciate their efforts.  Flying high at the top of the Scottish first division - 3 points clear with two games in hand as I write this - and still basking in the success of their incredible 2010 Scottish cup run, Ross County are a club - hopefully - on the up.

2012 is the year of the Stag.  Promotion is on the horizon.  Don't like it..??  Then I'm gonnae stab ye.  You heard me right.

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