Why football at the fringes remains a joy

October 18, 2017

In 2005,  Malcolm Gladwell published his second book,  Blink. It’s about the idea of ‘thin slicing’ which is how, with limited information and narrow period of experience we can come to a conclusion. I had such an experience this past weekend as I peered over the small wall behind one of the goals at Raydale Park: just how did any one person believe in the early 2000s Gretna fairytale?

I don’t wish to go over old ground as it’s a well established tale, but instead wanted to reflect on something more important: football still exists in Gretna and judging by Saturday, is healthy and thriving.

On a weekend of international football it’s vital to remember that for most, those star-studded fixtures would be as well taking place on the moon. Tip O’Neill once said that all politics was local and the same can be said for football rivalries. Only 39 miles separate Gretna and Dalbeattie but the enmity is real. Crunching tackles, a fair bit of skill and a last minute winner sent the Gretna 2008 fans into the social club happy.

It was the social club that gives me hope for Gretna and clubs of their size. The players mingle with fans as they eat their post-match meal and even stick around for a drink and participate in the quiz. That link is vital. In an era of disruption in football, the Lowland League is seeing it more than most. The two nominal ‘Glasgow clubs’ in the league play their home matches in Alloa and Annan. University clubs bring talented players to visit but barely a punter throughout the turnstile.

What clubs like Gretna 2008 offer is inclusion. The charming, community-owned Raydale Park might feel a bit remaindered but for many it’s theirs, it’s home, it’s a sense of community and a sense of place. If clubs like Gretna go to the wall, they don’t magically start showing up at Brunton Park or making the journey to Dumfries or Dalbeattie every other week. Our cities and towns need their sports clubs every bit as much as they need their Post Office and their supermarket. Losing them is the equivalent of losing a limb. You can still function but you notice its absence quite a bit.

It’s too easy to get cynical about football in this era. But visits to places like Raydale Park can jolt you from that cynicism. And after a few pints of frankly outrageously cheap lager in the social club you can’t help but feel that cynicism wear off. And your remember: this football thing is actually pretty magic.

By Duncan McKay

– Duncan attended Gretna 2008 vs. Dalbeattie Star as a guest of Nil By Mouth as part of FARE’s Football People campaign that runs across Europe from 5th-19th October 2017.

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