A scream left Calum Melville’s lips in a tortured dream and didn’t fade to silence until he was bolt-upright and wide-eyed back in reality. Dawn’s sunbeams stretched across the luxury Chicago hotel suite, penetrating the gloom to cast light on the morning-after-the-night-before mess that acted as a projection of his state his mind.
Through bleary eyes he looked round to see empty bottles and glasses on every white powder-smeared surface. Debris was strewn everywhere and the Persian rug by the bed sported a large pile of shit that gave off a stench fitting of the mess the place was in. Sleep was one of the few opportunities to take respite from his problems. Within seconds of becoming awake they returned as if a hot coal had been placed in his stomach. He could not shake the burning anxiety. There was trouble on the horizon, trouble he could run but not hide from, and Melville knew it only too well.
‘Baaaaaaa,’ bleated the sheep dressed in a basque and crotchless panties responsible for the fecal element of the clutter.
‘You are ok, baby? You have bad dream,’ mumbled the sleepy-yet-stunning, thickly-accented Russian prostitute by his side.
‘I think I lost my watch up your sheep’s ass, man,’ drawled the midget dressed as an Oompa Loompa raking round the clutter on the floor.
Melville lay back and shielded his eyes from light that came into the room. His heart was pounding like a kick drum. He listened to it beat hard in his chest and let out a long, low moan as he remembered why he was in Chicago. As far as nightmare scenarios went running a marathon in aid of charity was pretty much as bad as it got.
‘Fit time is it min?’
‘Hopefully I’ll tell ya in just a minute,’ said the Oompa Loompa as he groped around elbow-deep in the sheep’s arse. He sighed and pulled his hand out with an elongated squelch.
‘Shit, it ain’t up there. Mind if I check inside you, dude? No charge this time.’
After months of training and preparation Calum Melville had blown it by partying hard on the eve of the marathon. He dragged himself out of bed and into a cold shower. As the ice cold water shocked him into something resembling wakefulness the heat of the hot coal in his gut spread through the rest of his body. His world was crumbling around him. His business transactions had not been entirely above board and were nowhere near well enough disguised. There was no avoiding the repercussions, and those repercussions were serious. Very serious. The sense of dread, a near-constant weight that only grew heavier and weighed down his very being, was almost overwhelming. He leaned against the cold tiled wall and let the water stream over him.
‘Baby, you have room service at door. I let them in as I leave. Midget says he wants to work in my chocolate factory,’
The beautiful young Russian had changed back into her cocktail dress and put her head round the door to bid her client farewell. She took one final look at the smallest penis she’d ever come across and closed the door. Melville didn’t acknowledge her as she went. She had her fee for last night so he was none too concerned about closing pleasantries. She wheeled the room service trolley in and departed with the midget. The sheep remained, looking traumatised. Given the previous night’s events it would be hard-pressed to look anything but.
After a good soak Melville jumped out the shower, dried off and returned to the room to put his running shorts and vest on. What a nightmare. He was in no condition for walking to the other side of the room to open the curtains, never mind run a marathon. He sat on the edge of the bed, slumped on his elbows and noticed the room service trolley. A large silver dome covered a platter of breakfast he couldn’t remember ordering. A monogrammed hotel table cloth draped over it to within millimetres of the thick shag carpet. Maybe a nutritious bite to eat would help dull the pain and get him to the starting line. He reached out to see what was on offer.
‘Baaaaaa……baaaaaaa,’ bleated the sheep as Melville lifted the dome.
‘Black sheep huv yi’ any wool?’ sang the head of Jocky Scott that sat on the platter. ‘Yes sir, yes sir, Fairmuir rule. Quiet when the bingo’s on, glesses on a tray, should o’ smelt the ganja when eh signed in Dr Dre. The place wiz fuckin’ hoachin’ like. Eh says, “fuck up, Doc, this isnae the Civil Service clubbie. Ootside wi’ that.”‘
Jocky Scott’s head on a platter. Melville squealed like he’d seen a ghost who had a copy of Cosalt’s stock report.
‘Hiya Calum Melville! Hiya pal! Question fur yi’, “eh’ve got a fehve year plan” cunto: Huv yi’ got that Oompa Loompa’s moby number? He wiz fuckin’ teckle! Eh want aine tae! Wonder whaur yi’ put their batteries? A’ cunt immediately thinks “up the dunger!” when yi’ ask that, eh? Fuckin’ right, whaur else are they gonna go?’
Calum Melville started flapping about in a state of near hysteria.
‘Fit the fit? Jocky min! The fuck is this aboot min?’, he wailed pathetically. His heart felt like it might explode. The pressure. The shock. The post-coke binge fear and accompanying burning sensation in his rear-end, a result of having the midget blow powder up there with a rolled up photo of Stewart Milne. And now this. It was all too much. He buried his face in his hands in the vain hope he was still dreaming, shaking his head and begging someone, anyone, to make it stop. When he looked back up Jocky’s head was gone and had been replaced by a white cat with a black moustache. He sat behind a miniature travel-sized version of Connect 4.
Amazed, he looked at the cat intently. It looked right back at him.
The sheep bleated quietly as if it was concerned. The cat turned to it and miaowed. Some form of inter-species communication appeared to have taken place, because the sheep wandered off into the bathroom and nudged the door closed with his head. Melville wanted to get up and follow it but could not. He was paralysed, fixated by the cat’s never-blinking stare. It wanted him to play Connect 4. Yes, that was it. As his body moved into a playing position his mind protested vehemently and tried to prevent further movement towards the board. The mind over matter clash was a one-sided affair, and within seconds he was dropping a coloured disc – red, like that of the only football team he gave a damn about – into the top of the board. As the cat went to make a move Melville gazed at his mind’s eye as it played the highlight package of his life.
‘Hud the boat there, wee aine. Eh’ll start proceedings here,’ interrupted Jocky, who had suddenly appeared on the other side of the room and was filling a Tesco bag with complimentary tea and coffee, toiletries from the bathroom and the salted snacks from the mini bar.
He checked his wrist, and although there was no watch there asked, ‘ken what time it is, Wee Jock?’
Melville slowly turned to the cat, saw it nodding in response and turned back to Jocky. He started to cower away as he approached purposefully. His voice was quiet and cold, his words carefully measured.
‘This is fur a’body wha disnae deserve what will come at Dens. This is fur the brave boys, and girls, wha’ wear the dark blue o’ Dundee.’
It was the stroke of punch in the pus time in the Windy City.
The dark clouds that had gathered on the day of Jocky’s tribunal hung menacingly over Dundee Football Club for weeks, and with each passing day the rain grew heavier. It was an anxious time for all concerned. The players and staff tried to soldier on as best possible but there was no denying we all felt the tension and struggled not to let it affect us. The fans were in the same boat. They’d been through so much in the modern era. There was a time when Dundee were a force. The 1960s had seen a league championship win and some of the best teams in Europe fall at Dens. It may seem hard to believe now but Dundee were only two wins away from becoming European champions before Celtic’s lions roared in Lisbon in ’67.
That was the peak. From there Dundee slid back down to earth and landed with a bump. The team on the pitch would never scale the glorious heights of the championship winning team. The only side that could be considered anywhere near capable of bringing back the glory days never realised the dream and eventually saw the club go into administration with debts of £23 million without anything of any real note to show for it.
In the weeks after the tribunal it came to light that the situation was as serious, perhaps even worse, than they had been when the club went into administration. Melville, he of so many promises in which our faith was placed, started singing an entirely different tune to the one he’d hypnotised us with on his arrival. He wanted out. The man had poured a lot of money into the club but was drawing a line, effectively turning previous promises into lies. As we wondered what hope there would be without his financial backing the tax man came a calling. There was no money to pay for the bill he demanded be paid. The board started pointing fingers at each other but offered no solution. Dundee was in trouble, big trouble, and the possibility going to the wall – of ceasing to exist – was sick-to-the-stomach real.
On the 14th of October the storm reached a new level of intensity. Lightning crashed down as Dundee FC went into administration for the second time in seven years. The roar of thunder that followed shook the club to the core. The day after we went into administration vital cost-cuts were implemented and people lost their livelihoods. As my team mates, my friends, were told they were no longer Dundee players those who caused the problems were nowhere to be seen. Melville wasn’t even in the country. Bob Brannan was probably in TK Maxx and at least had the insanity thing to fall back on when blame was being proportioned. The people who lost their jobs and the fans who followed us through thick and more thin than they deserved took the brunt of the blow.
‘It’s a sad day, pal. This club’s seen far too many o’ them tae,’ sighed a visibily upset Jocky. I hadn’t seen him for a few days but he’d turned up at Dens that morning to offer moral support. ‘Cannae believe it’s come ti’ this again. It’s a fuckin’ shambles. Tell yi’ what, it wouldnae o’ happened under the Marrs, like. Well, mibbe Jimmy, but no’ Peter. Peter’s as financially astute and unwilling ti’ tak’ risks as any cunt eh ken, and eh ken a lot o’ cunts. Ken?’
The axe fell and we said farewell to those who got the chop, offering condolences and good wishes for the future. Most of the guys who went would be sadly missed. Others, well, maybe not quite as much.
‘Mon Dieu! Zees ees a disgrace! Zey cannot be allowed to get away weeth eet! En guarde!’
Mikael Antoine Curier stood on Sandeman Street waiting for a lift. I might have had more sympathy for him had he not already changed into a full Hamilton Accie kit and been acting like a plank. When he realised I’d been kept and he was sacked he flew into a rage and asked why the superior striker was being let go. It was pretty poor behaviour when the rest of the lads had taken the awful news with such dignity.
‘Monsieur Reid is on ze way, Leigh! I go back to ze SPL whereas you, you keep your place in ze hellhole! Who ees winning, huh?’
I was in no mood to challenge him. The place was crawling with national press who were treated with much more caution than the generally sound local papers. Apparently the Beano was here too because Jocky was offering his thoughts on events to someone and declaring, ‘the Bash Street Kids are sound. Plug’s a good cunt. Jocky kens his auld man, yaesed ti’ bide on the Provie Road.’
I tried to leave Mikael on good terms.
‘I’m sorry you lost your job, Mikael. All the best to you.’
I extended my hand but he only spat at my feet in return.
‘OW! You fuckin’ daein’ yi big prick? Eh? You gettin’ wide wi’ meh pal, cunto?’
Jocky stormed up and I had to hold him back before he made a scene. Curier backed off but kept the motor mouth running.
‘Here he ees, ze lunatic manager who ees always asking who is in charge. Do you not realise zat I, Mikael, am in charge?’
Oh man. That wasn’t smart. Thankfully Jocky seemed to find it quite funny.
‘Yas! That’s the gemme, big stuff! See if yi’ showed that attitude on the pitch instead o’ bein’ a big lazy spazzie bastard wha’s mair injury prone than the Brittle Bone Society’s karate team, yi’d be the maist famous Frenchman since Zidane and revered like thon boy fae ‘Allo ‘Allo.’
Curier responded by shouting, ‘YOU KNOW NOTHING OF ‘ALLO ‘ALLO! ALL YOU KNOW IS HOW TO CARE FOR ZAT RAT OF YOURS!’
Jocky took exception to that comment but for all the wrong reasons.
‘Dinnae call Leigh a rat ya bam! He’s no’ the bonniest laddie in the world but yi’ dinnae meet many sounder!’
Slightly offended, I suggested he was infact referring to Wee Jocky, and it pushed him over the edge.
‘WHIT? FUCKING WHIT? NAE CUNT CALLS MEH CAT A RAT, CUNTO! NAE CUNT!’
He softened instantly and politely asked if I had the time.
‘It’s just after…’
‘PUNCH IN THE FUCKING PUS TIME! THUNDERCATS – HOOOOOOOO!’
Curier bolted and Jocky was hot on his heels. I looked to see if anyone from the press saw it. Thankfully they were pre-occupied with people coming out the front door of Dens, so I gave chase. I tore down Provest Road and caught sight of them taking a right up on to Dens Road. Mikael was fast but Jocky was keeping pace just behind him. As they approached the play park Jocky started yelling, ‘Bomber! Get a hud o’ this cunt!’ at a middle-aged man with red hair and a wild look about him. He didn’t lay a finger on Curier but he blocked his way by dancing furiously in front of him, preventing him from passing and holding him up long enough to allow Jocky to catch up. The dancing man saw Jocky closing in and jumped out the way. As Curier turned to gauge his next move he was obliterated with a flying clothesline.
‘YAAAAAAAAAAAAASSSSSS!’ cried Jocky as he rolled Curier on to his back and lay over him. He started looking around, shouting, ‘some cunt count! Big Jock’s got him pinned ti’ fuck here!’
The dancer was making a UNTZ-UNTZ-UNTZ-UNTZ-UNTZ noise to himself and was lost in some robotic dances moves reminiscent of those I’d seen Jocky pull. I did the honours and got down on the pavement to slap my hand on the concrete three times.
‘YAAAAAAAAAAAAAASSSSS! Ya cunt, that wiz some clothesline! Best aine since eh banjoed Hacksaw Jim Duggan doon at the train station. The other Aberdeen casuals got right back on the train and went hame efter that aine.’
Curier moaned and groaned on the pavement. The aggression had been knocked out of him and the three-count seemed to have ended the matter as far as Jocky was concerned. He helped his defeated foe back up and dusted him down a bit.
‘A’right chief, it’s nae bather. Eh think yi’ learned yir lesson there, eh?’
He exhaled deeply,surrendering with a handshake and a weak smile.
‘Monsiur Jocky, I apologise for calling ze cat a rat.’
Jocky took his hand and shook it, nodding with respect as his opponent showed some dignity in defeat.
‘Fair doos, pal. Ain’t no thang but a G thang, a’body kens that. We’ll call it quits there, eh? Teckle! Now, what’s the plan? What yi’ up ti’? Bowzer for a swift jar? The High Corner fur a wee shot on the buckin’ bronco?’
Mikael gave it some thought. While he had said Hamilton were about to sign him and was certainly dressed for the occasion it seemed that deal wasn’t as cut and dried as he made out, because he stood for a minute looking a bit lost. I felt bad for him. Suddenly his eyes brightened and he stood tall as he walked out in the middle of Dens Road and lay down on his back with his hands behind his head. A couple of cars had to screech to a halt to avoid running him over.
‘Mikael! What the fuck, man?’
He shook his head at my failure to grasp what he was up to.
‘Leigh mon amis, can you not see what ees ‘appening? I am on strike! Why? No real reason. Perhaps someone suggested it’s only a matter of time before Hamilton will be back in ze 1st division. Perhaps I ‘ave just been informed ze actor who played Reni in ‘Allo ‘Allo was not only English but a notorious homosexual. Who knows? One thing is for sure – I am on strike.’
Les Marsaeillais started up out of nowhere. Jocky looked around for the source of the music, found none, shrugged his shoulders and gave Mikael a wee salute. I felt obliged to do the same. Mikael merely waved us off with disdain and got settled in for his latest strike action.
As traffic built up all the way down the road and the beeping and tooting started, Jocky introduced me to a guy whose name I’d heard a few times but hadn’t actually met.
‘Leigh “Mongchops” Griffiths, John “Bomber” Broon. Say hiya, cuntos!’
Bomber grabbed me and hugged me lovingly as if we’d known each other for years.
‘Leigh! Alright man! Having a good night?’
It was only lunchtime but I said I was indeed having a good night.
‘Fuck aye man, it’s pure mental in here! Did you catch Weatherall’s set? Fucking brilliant by the way, pure givin’ it UNTZ-UNTZ-UNTZ-UNTZ-UNTZ.’
Bomber shuffled away dancing to the beat he was recreating. Jocky looked on smiling and shaking his head.
‘Some cunt right there, Leigh. Bomber Broon! If yi’ ever need sorted oot that’s the man ti’ see, a’body kens that. Apparently his mushies are pure tec….’
He coughed and indicated it was time to head off. He told Bomber to meet up at the Fairmuir later on and received a hands-in-the-air salute and smile as wide as the Tay. I waved and followed Jocky. The day of sad goodbyes wasn’t over quite yet.
Though the bouncy castle was now deflated it didn’t stop Billy bouncing up and down on it. Jocky and I said hello to the team of removal men and called on our pal. Gordon Chisholm and Billy Dodds had been the first out the door today.
Billy stopped bouncing when he saw us. He waved, enthusiastically at first but slowing down gradually until he stopped and burst out in tears. Jocky and I both jogged over to console him.
‘Poor wee man! ‘Mon now, nae greetin’,’ soothed Jocky as he hugged Billy lovingly and kissed his forehead. Billy hugged him back fiercely then offered an open arm to me so I could join them. The three of us stood in a group hug. Billy’s wailing set Jocky off doing the same, and the sight of both of them crying started my waterworks. It was awful. Jocky wiped his eyes and tried to cheer his wee pal up a bit.
‘Billy, mind that time eh took yi’ ti’ Edinburgh Zoo? Mind that, Billy? The zoo’s fuckin’ teckle! Eh ended up scrapin’ wi’ thon penguin right enough, but it wiz a braw day oot. Mind that, Billy?’
Billy sniffled and nodded, smiling at the memory.
‘Mind what eh says tae that penguin, Billy? Eh?’
Jocky gave him a huge smile and a nudge with his elbow as he coaxed the good memory out him. Billy laughed through the end of his tears, wiping the snot from his nose and nodding. Jocky wanted Billy to say it so he nudged him a little more until he did.
‘Jocky asked the biscuit wha’s in cherge!’
Jocky erupted in laughter.
‘Yaaaaaas! Mind that, Billy? Fuckin’ right! Big Jocky’s in cherge here, a’body kens that! Fuckin’ penguin bastard, that wiz him telt.’
The three of us laughed heartily. The removal men stood watching with a freaked out look in their eye before continuing to load the lorry. It was a busy scene and we didn’t want to hang around getting in the way.
‘Well Billy, that’s you aff, eh? Affy sorry yi’ got the bullet, pal. Yi’ll be a’right though! Boy like you’ll hae another gig on the go in nae time.’
Billy nodded and creased his face as if it was daft to suggest he was stuck for work.
‘Billy’s on the radio! Speaks about futba.’
Jocky opened his arms up in a “well there you go” gesture.
‘See! It’s nae bather! If any cunt ever puts that Video Killed the Radio Star sang on eh’ll say, “ow, cunto, that’s no’ entirely true, like,” and tell them meh pal Billy’s a wee star and he’s on the radio, ken? Eh? Fuckin’ right.’
They shook hands and embraced. Watching them say goodbye brought the tears back to my eyes, and when Billy came to me to say farewell with a sad yet brave look that would melt a glacier I couldn’t help but let them run down my cheeks. Billy had been there for me. He was there when I pulled the lever, been prepared to fight for me when Brannan’s goons threatened me afterwards and taken the long journey up the Tay to find Jocky. He was a good man and a great friend whom I would miss terribly. We didn’t say a word as he hugged goodbye. Everything I needed to know was in his bright, sparkling eyes and the nod of complete understanding he gave me as we broke our embrace.
He looked and smiled at us in turn then wandered off to his tricycle. He put his propellor hat on, revved the engine (or at least made the noise it would make if it had an engine) and pedalled off. Jocky and I stood watching him go as the removal guys, who would follow on to Billy’s new location shortly, started packing up the bouncy castle. Just as he was almost out of sight Billy swerved round and came back towards us. With an enormous smile he approached to within a few feet, bellowed, ‘BILLY LIKES FUTBA!’, then turned without stopping and disappeared back down the road until he vanished from sight.
See yi’ later, Billy. See yi’, pal.