In his wonderful Diaries, Alan Clark mentions the importance of first and last times by recognising, acknowledging and celebrating the occasion-going out with style.
|The rather wonderful Alan Clark!|
That's of course fine if you know it's going to be your last time-more often than not one is unaware or so in the moment, there is an inability to step back from the experience and recognise it as such. Like most of the other boys at Oxgangs, football was my sport-the beautiful game. I loved the games of football which we played endlessly and gave my all in every match. A lot of the time I played up in The Field-often three games of an evening-with the big boys; then the bigger boys; and then with boys my own age.
|Eric Carruthers Signing For Hearts|
Some fine players featured in these games at Oxgangs who thereafter went on to play professionally for the likes of Hearts, including Eric Carruthers.
However, one player was metaphorically, if not literally, head and shoulders above the rest. He was a class apart. His name was Titch McMillan. He was a quite brilliant player. He was skilful as Messi. I loved watching him on the ball. He was a supreme artist, poetry in motion. His younger brother, Rab McMillan, who was a couple of years older than me, wasn't that far behind Titch.
The great George 'Titch' McMillan backr row third from right
Titch didn't make it to the same high level as Eric Carruthers, probably because they thought him too small. He may have gone on to play in Australia at a semi-professional level. Some people thought he was perhaps too greedy on the ball-there's a happy balance between being an individualist and doing the right thing by the team. Titch was the perfect size for today's Barcelona team. Physically he was a doppelganger for Messi in size, skill and appearance. I never felt envious of Titch. Because he was four years older he was somebody who I could aspire to and try to match one day. Also, I took consolation that I could already out-run all the older boys.
|Messi, Barcelona FC|
When I played with the older boys it always lifted my game. I loved the challenge of playing with and against them and trying to take the ball past their defence or to show some vision with a nicely weighted pass. Playing with Andy as my captain facilitated this approach and gave me the confidence to try things and express myself. He complimented me when it worked and if on occasion it didn't quite come off, he didn't criticise me. It was the carrot rather than the stick approach to management-admirable and mature given that Andy would have been only around sixteen years old.
At the age of twelve I went to Boroughmuir Secondary School where there was no football, so instead I played rugby for the school. This pleased my father. From 1968, apart from occasionally playing for Michael Hanlon's teams in their matches against a Joe Rendall Select or a Kenny Taylor Select I gave up football altogether. I only resumed playing again in my forties and fifties with colleagues at work and more recently with Atticus and d’Artagnan. Looking back I should have stuck with the footie.
Postscript: I’m pleased to say that my youthful assessment of George Titch McMillan’s skills were not far off the mark as he went on to become a legend in Australian football, including scoring against Manchester United in a friendly and the winning goal in a sensational victory by Western Australia against Glasgow Rangers in 1975.