Ecstasy, Passion and Pain

Back in 1969 when I sat my English ‘O’ level  exam, the essay question asked the candidate to describe an event that they’d been really looking forward to, only for the reality to fall short of expectation. I’ve thought a lot about that exam question this week.

This is the true story of Ecstasy, Passion and Pain.

First the Ecstasy…

Two sayings have been going round in my head for most of the week: “sport and politics don’t mix” and “all good things must come to an end”. And both have reared their ugly head in the last few days. What started out as a joyous weekend of sporting celebration quickly turned sour as the people who allegedly ‘govern’ Scottish football managed to turn club against club and fan against fan. At a time when I’m trying desperately hard to set up an Inverness Highland Everything celebration at Celtic on the last day of the season, the events of the last few days have been a right good kick in the stones.

Which came first, the chicken or the egg (I’m clearly on a roll today) so should I tell the lead up to the outcome first or the story itself? Are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin

Last weekend, Inverness played Celtic at Hampden Park in a Scottish Cup semi-final, and with the game being on a Sunday, I homed in on the idea of a wee fanzone at a pub in the city the day before. It was after all, a football free day (except the Baggies won at Palace to secure Greedy League survival). It was a right good do: about half a dozen of our fans and half a dozen of theirs, plus partners and offspring, made for a good atmosphere and great craic. I went home happy that I’d done my bit for relations between the two clubs on the eve of arguably the biggest day of the season for us.

Sunday was match day. Everything went according to the script if you were a Celtic fan and their team were one up with half time fast approaching. We were playing well but without really threatening in the final third. What happened thereafter changed the course of the game, the course of the whole afternoon, and possibly the course of some aspects of my life.

Celtic should have been awarded a penalty when Josh Meekings, the colossal Inverness defender, handled the ball close to the goal line. Was the ball going in? Possibly. Even if it wasn’t, there was another Celtic player, Kris Commons, steaming in behind Meekings ready to apply the finishing touch. The official behind the goal had a perfect view of the action and advised the referee of his observations. He only had one job. The referee waved play on: no penalty. Big Josh scarpered up the park, Inverness went into the break 1-0 down and showing the spirit that typifies LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma, came out full of drive and passion in the second half, going on to win the game after extra time. We were in the Scottish Cup Final for the first time in our history.

Cue the recriminations…

Celtic wrote to the Scottish Football Association asking for clarification of the handball decision (not being given) and the SFA responded by citing Meekings and offering him a one game ban in the (same) competition, effectively ruling him out of the final. Inverness rightly appealed the ban and the decision was overturned. There are precedents in history, such as Thierry Henry’s famous handball against Ireland in a World Cup qualifier, where the governing body has tried to discipline the player after the event, only for the case to be dismissed on technical grounds. For the SFA to pursue Josh for handball after the event was sheer folly.

But there was another consequence of this action: cue mayhem on social media…

Free The Inverness One and Justice For Josh were just two of the headlines that I saw in the week.The frenzy of opinion had now reached full blown tsunami proportions. We had Inverness fans blaming Celtic for not accepting the original decision, and subsequently forcing the SFA’s hand to do something (just not the right something). And we had some Celtic fans saying that Meekings got what he deserved, albeit not in the game and at the moment that had potentially prevented their team from building a match winning lead. That of course is mere speculation as the awarding of a penalty is no guarantee of it being converted. But amongst all the mayhem we even had some well intentioned fans of both sides calling for calm heads and reason. But when did calmness and reason ever placate a baying mob?

And that brings me to Highland Bike 2…

Then the Passion…

I introduced the notion last week that Highland Bike 2 would be from Inverness to Celtic Park in memory of wee Oscar and that I would attempt to recruit some of the original Team Oscar cyclists to join me. It was intended as a joint celebration of all things Highland March/Highland Bike in support of LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma. The Team Oscar cyclists are Celtic fans who have raised tens of thousands of pounds in support of Oscar Knox.  When Mouldy and I cycled from the Sick Kids Hospital in Edinburgh to Yorkhill in Glasgow then took our bikes to Belfast to go to the Belfast Sick Children’s Hospital in pretty dreadful weather conditions back in December, it was because we had forged a spirit of charity through cycling. Our support driver for the proposed Highland Bike walked from Celtic Park to Anfield last year in support of the Justice For The 96 campaign and Simba, the Scottish stillbirth charity. The dilemma that I face now is that the actions of the SFA have put the goodwill of Highland Bike 2 at risk. That is a bitter pill to swallow.

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this is the paragraph that I wrote, then rewrote, then wrote a third time because it’s difficult to get what I want to say into words. So rather than offend anyone, I’ve deleted it ………………………………………………………………………………………………………..………………………….………..………….………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….………………….…………….>

The Oscar memorial ride will go ahead, I just don’t know where from at this time. And it’s an issue that I need to get sorted as soon as possible because I need to book the accommodation. Celtic and Inverness together as #TeamOscar. Fuck the SFA, it’s going to become a reality.

I’m still undecided whether to ride from Inverness to Hampden Park for the cup final: I need to take a personal time out to see how I feel both physically and mentally before taking on 200 miles in two days so close to the Oscar event. My priority now is LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma miles, not football miles. This is one mixed up gig right now, and I’m not convinced that my tired, patched up old body can handle it all.

And finally the Pain…

Despite everything else that’s going on, the miles continue to stack up and April is already shaping up to be the fifth biggest month mileswise since I started, despite this being the first full month back since my operation. 800 miles is on the cards but I have to balance that hope against the prospect of some seriously inclement weather that’s forecast for next week. I need less than 50 miles which under normal circumstances would be a skoosh with three bike days left but I’m sore. And I mean really sore. The legs I can deal with; hell, I just scoff more Soreen malt loaf and tell them to get on with it. My gammy shoulder’s still sore six months after I fell off but it is finally getting better. And both hamstring tendons are sore behind my knees but I’ve been there before. And in any case, I’ll just use a smaller gear and ride slower. What’s a mile less in each direction at the end of the day, just so long as I’m making miles? Then there’s my hernia: it’s sore. Again. I didn’t want that and it certainly wasn’t in any script that I’ve been reading from. I did 6,000 miles on it before I had the op but if it’s gonna play up again now, twice that is going to be some gig. I suspect this is not going away anytime soon.

On the weather front, the cold mornings, gorgeous sunrises and beautiful warm runs home are about to be replaced by an ice blast bearing wind, rain and quite possibly snow. Just when I’d got into my shorts and showed off some leg, the bare skin is going back indoors into something warm and fully covering.

But hell, the show goes on: the show always goes on. The show goes on until politics interferes with sport, and when that happens, you don’t have a show anymore. So here’s hoping that some heads get knocked together and I get the ride I crave for on May 16th

The Ecstasy, the Passion and the Pain of being an Inverness Caley Thistle LifeCyclist….

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