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Almax

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned a trip that a few friends and I had taken to Campbeltown to see an ailing friend. I referred to the fact that he hadn’t been too well recently.

That actually was a bit of an understatement.

He was terminally ill.

He knew that his chances of seeing out 2012 were remote indeed. Sadly the call came sooner than any of his family or friends had anticipated and I got the sad news that Alastair passed away early yesterday morning.

I first got to “know” him when he was a contributor to the fantastic “fanzine” The Absolute Game in the late 1980s. For those too young to know about these far off, pre-internet, simpler times, fanzines were underground publications produced independently of mainstream publishers and would invariably be based on music or football.

TAG was about Scottish football and was a breath of fresh air. Reading the irreverent yet highly articulate views expressed was the perfect antidote to the mainstream output of the monotonous, mediocre musings of aged hacks and ex pros which had hitherto been the stock in trade of sports radio and newspapers.

The influence of TAG and the like can still be detected in radio shows such as Off the Ball and the many websites and internet forums that have sprung up over the years.

With the advent of the Internet, sadly TAG folded. Alastair later recounted that one of the contributors had been Christopher Brookmyre. “He came in one day and announced that he was going to write a novel” Al recalled. “We all just laughed”.

Alastair later employed his writing talents on a blog called Alastair’s Heart Monitor. It was set up to keep family and friends informed of Al’s progress after life-saving heart surgery a few years ago. Later though as he recovered, it became a tremendous outlet for his creative talents. He wrote about music, football, politics, legal affairs and much more. It was on an internet search for something that I discovered the Heart Monitor and rediscovered the writer I knew from The Absolute Game.

Having recovered from his heart surgery, Alastair then resumed his legal career (the writing had always just been a hobby). An appointment to a senior position in the legal establishment meant that he felt unable to publish his sometimes radical and left field views on a blog with public access.

Thus he took the decision to make The Heart Monitor private. At the time he could only do this to include 35 readers. I was privileged to be one of these readers. The blog somehow became a community as readers, free of any wider public scrutiny could let their hair down a wee bit when commenting on posts. As many of Al’s friends were in the legal profession there were many very funny and poignant tales to be told.

Alastair then began to feel unwell again and a visit to the doctor revealed that another vital organ, his lungs, were the source of his fatigue and breathlessness. There were tests and more tests. There were trips to Glasgow and to Newcastle to assess his suitability for a transplant. Earlier this year Al received the cruellest of news that his physical state meant that in the opinion of the doctors he would not survive an operation.

This was when he was given the news that there was nothing more the medical profession could do and that the best they could offer was an oxygen bottle and the advice to make himself as comfortable as possible.

He was typically stoic and philosophical about the news and continued blogging right up until a few days ago when he posted a final “Bob on Sunday” piece. It was a weekly ritual of the Heart Monitor to feature a Bob Dylan track, often a rarity or a bootleg, on a Sunday.

I wonder if he perhaps had an inkling of what was going to happen. The very last words he typed on his blog were “Knocking on Heaven’s Door”

Although the Heart Monitor remains private, Alastair did publish some of his old articles from TAG on another, public blog for a while. It is well worth the trip here to read some of those, particularly if you have even a passing interest in the fitba’

The Heart Monitor introduced me to new friends I would never otherwise have known and was the inspiration for me to start this blog. Occasionally Alastair would link to an article I’d written or ask if he could pinch a bit or piece. This was praise indeed from the master of the art.

Farewell Almax.

You were an articulate,intelligent,caring and very funny man.

Everyone who knew you will feel a gap in their lives now that you are no longer here.

The Absolute Game

My friend Almax, who occasionally comments on posts here, was for many years a contributor to The Absolute Game, which was in those far off pre-internet chat board days, a ‘fanzine’. Recently I re-read one of his articles and found myself laughing out loud. So with Al’s permission (granted) I can share it with you. The article is from 1992 and concerns Al’s status as a season ticket holder at Brockville (Falkirk FC).

Here it is (language warning!!):

In TAG 23 Mad Mac pointed out that one of the hazards of having a season ticket for a numbered seat in the stand of your local team is that you’re stuck with the same people round about you for the duration. While this can lead to the forging of new friendships, it can equally result in less pleasant acquaintanceships. Mac himself was burdened with a bore of the year at McDiarmid Park. At Brockville meanwhile, I found myself locked up for the season with a demented madman. While, during the week he was probably gainfully employed as a clerk in a respectable Insurance company, come Saturday the mild-mannered disguise was put off along with the pin-striped suit, to be replaced by a Falkirk scarf and the persona of Neanderthal Man. Name a prejudice, any prejudice – he had it. Being a liberal, new-age type of thingie myself, I could hardly agree with some of the sentiments, but I have to say, in all honesty, that by the end of the season I genuinely liked the guy, and looked forward to each new outrage to my sensibilities with some pleasure. I note below some of his outbursts, but those who are offended by racism, sexism, homophobia, religious bigotry, industrial language etc please read no further.

Let ‘s start with some Face/Jason Donovan type homophobic smearing. Against Motherwell, ‘Well were preparing to make a substitution. Piltdown man is on his feet yelling insanely, “Hands over your bums boys, here comes Ian Ferguson“. Fancy some blasphemy? He was a dab hand at that as well. In the game with Aberdeen, Brian Irvine crudely fouled a Falkirk player. Our man is beside himself, eyes bulging, vocal chords straining to their limit, “Irvine, you think because you’re a Christian you can do what the fuck you like….you’re mair corrupt than me ya bastard“.

Moving along from homophobia to out-and-out racism we turn to Falkirk’s match with Dundee United when the United line-up featured talented Argentinian striker, Victor Ferreyra. Ferreyra was dark-skinned and had caused some controversy a week or two earlier by apparently spitting on Jim Duffy in the local derby against Dundee. As soon as he appeared out of the tunnel our man was on his feet yelling, “C’mon Bairns, get intae that fuckin’ Paki“. Apart from the fact that this was grotesquely racist per se, it set me musing on whether there were any two countries on the entire globe that were geographically further apart from each other than Argentina and Pakistan.

Fans of the Old Firm attracted our man’s particular attention, and it has to be said that his utterings on these subjects contained grains of truth hidden away in the enraged venom of his delivery. Against Rangers, the Billy Boys launched into their first rendition of The Sash. El Loco’s on his feet, screaming, “Can youse no sing aboot fitba boys? It’s a fitba match you’re at, it’s fuck all to do wae religion“. I’m sitting there thinking that he must be mellowing, but he immediately ruins the effect by following this up with, “Ya dirty Masonic Orange bastards“. Later, when the bluenoses adapt the English National Anthem to sing God Save Our Team he turns to me and says, “These c**ts think they’re at the Last Night o’ the fucking Proms“.

In the first match with Celtic, the Bhoys took an early lead and then inexplicably began to practice a half-witted offside trap. Mr Psychotic’s analysis hit the nail firmly on the head, “Jesus Christ, if Jock Stein could see you crowd he be turning in his fucking grave” (note – the offside trap ultimately proved so successful that Falkirk scored four goals). In the second match with the Parkhead men, the ref awarded a free kick for a foul by a Falkirk player. Senor Fruitcake’s assessment was that the free kick had been awarded for ‘cruelty to animals‘.

In the game with Airdrie he managed to surpass himself. Owen Coyle scored and celebrated in a provocative manner by running along the pitch at the front of the stand where he made some rude gestures to the few thousand Bairns fans assembled there. Did I say that these gestures were made to the occupants of the stand in general? Sorry. They were clearly directed to our man in particular. At least, in his demented state, he obviously thought so. He leapt to his feet in a phenomenal rage, shrieking, “Coyle, ya bastard, if you ever do that to me again, I’ll come down there and boot your fucking held in“.

The abuse which he directed towards match officials was pretty much your standard fare – questioning their parentage, sexual orientation, eyesight, religious beliefs, place of origin, intellectual capabilities, integrity, sobriety, partiality, and fitness to take their place in decent society. His favourite one-liner was “Get your black jersey off ref, and let’s see your (insert name of opposition) strip that you’re wearing underneath“. He was also keen to advise every referee who awarded a decision against Falkirk that “folk have been locked up in Bellsdyke for less“.

Can your stomach take some lavatorial language? Against St Mirren, Mr Mental disappeared for a few minutes during which period the Bairns scored. When he returned, he helpfully informed those around him that that was “the last time I go for a shite during the game“. On one occasion an elderely gentleman in front of him asked him politely to “tone it down a wee bit, son“. This was the opportunity for him to publicly announce his credo, “Fuck off you old bastard. I’ve paid my money so I’ll shout what the fuck I like“.

And that’s just what he proceeded to do for the entire season. I’ve now got to decide whether to renew my season ticket for this season. The funny thing is that on the one or two occasions when he wasn’t there, things seemed strangely quiet and less exciting. I think I’ve got so used to him wailing like a banshee. So, yes please, gimme another year of vicarious mindlessness, obscene abuse, barking madness and sheer downright nastiness. And if the man himself is reading this remember, chum, that I’m the young woman in the red and white anorak sitting about six rows behind you beside my husband, the heavyweight champion of Scotland.

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