Painfully low wages, “crowds” in the low triple digits, wins as rare as solar eclipses. The 2005 Tampa Bay Devil Rays? Nope, try East Stirlingshire F.C., the subject of Jeff Connor’s “Pointless : A Season With Britain’s Worst Football Team”, excerpted in today’s Guardian (link courtesy Jesper Eklow)
By the time I arrived at Firs Park, in the wake of the club’s worst season ever – eight points from 32 games – the relationship between Mackin and the hardcore East Stirlingshire support had reached an all-time low. The “Shire” fans hated the chairman; the chairman despised the fans. The fear of Shire fans was that Mackin and the board would simply sell up, walk away, and allow the club to join the ranks of other vanished Scottish football institutions such as Third Lanark, Clydebank and Airdrieonians. They felt the board – based on Mackin’s infamous decision in the summer of 2002 to set a wage cap of £10 a week and his lack of investment in Firs Park – was deliberately setting the club out to be uncompetitive. Mackin’s famous wage cut had made national news, along with what amounted to a mass walkout of senior players.
The warfare was brutal at times. Some fans alleged that Mackin, during one of his famously rare appearances at a game, had used binoculars to spy on them. Or maybe he was just counting them. If Mackin wasn’t going to dip in his own pocket, more money certainly wasn’t going to come from the turnstiles: the average home gate was about 200
Inured to the suffering that goes with being a Shire supporter, many have turned their side’s haplessness into a positive. A mordant sense of humour comes with the territory; travelling to see their team lose every week has become like a medal of honour. At one of their early matches, with the Shire still embedded in a dreadful losing run, I was seated in the Firs Park stand when a 10-year-old, face almost invisible under a black and white scarf, turned to his father and asked: “Dad, can I clap when we score?” “Yes, son, but you’ll be waiting a long time,” replied his father. On another occasion, 4-0 down against Stenhousemuir at Ochil View, one Shire fan shouted from the terraces: “Come on Shire, 5-4 will do.”
Home matches were invariably enlivened by four or five teenagers, quick-witted and sarcastic in the manner of Scottish youth, who always sat in the stand directly above the home dugout, a homemade Shire flag draped over the railing in front of them. The Dead End Kids, as I christened them, had a great line in patter and already possessed the sense of the absurd that goes with supporting the Shire. No one was safe.
“Pretend the ball’s a pie,” they would chorus at striker Ross Donaldson (above, middle). Once, when the Tony “The Cat” Mitchell went down at the feet of an opposing centre forward and took a blow to the head, one of them called: “Get the vet to put him down, he’s still moving,” as the poor goalie writhed on the turf.