Glasgow was a social highlight of our eldest son, Damien’s Queensland Universities rugby league tour of the British Isles in 2001.
Scotland’s largest city was also on the itinerary for my second Kangaroos Supporters’ tour, in 1994, but the 44 members of my group took some convincing to agree to a couple of nights there.
They had this image of a grimy, rough town, with inhospitable locals, spilling out of notorious slums. Sorry Glasgow.
Edinburgh was their preferred destination, but ‘we’ had been there in 1990, on my first ‘Roo Supporters’ Tour, and there were 27 repeat customers on this second trip.
So, I got my way, and we had two nights in Glasgow, after two nights at Fort William.
The Scottish leg of our 36 day, 1994 trip came after two weeks in Europe (we started in Rome); a night in Dover; four nights in London and a week in Leeds.
Our drive north from Leeds took us over the Pennines, and then up the M6 and M74, before taking the ‘high road’ to Fort William, along the banks of Loch Lomond.
Our Fort William hotel was out of town, on the banks of Loch Linnhe.
I had planned a trip across to the Isle of Skye, on the ferry from Mallaig, but you wouldn’t believe it, when we got there, we discovered the ferry had stopped operating the previous day. Homework Stephen, homework! (The Skye Bridge did not open until 1995).
So we back tracked, and instead explored the banks of Loch Ness, stopping at Urquhart Castle.
After a night of dancing it was south to Glasgow, with a lunch stop at the lively harbor town of Oban; a leg stretch at Inverary (to look at its 18thC castle, Seat of the Dukes of Argyle) before booking into our hotel, the Hilton Grosvenor, in Glasgow.
I had arranged with a local publican for our group to adopt his establishment during the stay. He was a fine host and did a roaring trade, selling pub t-shirts, as well as beer.
Now, it was something of a gamble going to Glasgow, as my only experience of the city was for ‘Hogmanay’, 1977/78, when my wife, Marie and I had travelled up from Cheshire by coach. (We had been staying with friends, Paddy Hart Snr and his wife, May in Haig Road, Widnes).
The plan was to catch up with friends of my sister, Kerri-Anne, (Joe and Moira Currie, and their 10-year-old son, Eric) who lived at Paisley, not far from Glasgow. But they had been called away by a family emergency, so we had to fend for ourselves.
We had this idea of New Year in Glasgow being party central.
Instead, everyone was kicked out of the pubs at 11 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, and everything shut down, for several days.
Marie and I saw in the New Year, sipping on cheap Italian Spumante in our hotel room.
On New Year’s Day we walked all over the city and hardly saw a soul. One of the souls we did see, was a dearly departed soul, being fished out of the River Clyde by police. And just after that, we explored the Necropolis, a cemetery laid out in 1833, which contains the ornate tombs of city merchants. Woo Hoo! Good times.
The only sign of life was a fight between two young women.
But in 1994 it was a different story, with Glasgow gentrified compared with the city we remembered, and people everywhere in the shopping precincts. And our pub was packed, both nights.
We had a coach-free day in Glasgow, although some people took up the offer from our Welsh driver, Johnny to do a side trip to Edinburgh, for which he got cash in the hand. (Again, sorry Glasgow).
I took the chance to wander off by myself and explore the Botanical Gardens, and walk alongside the River Kelvin. I also walked past Firhill Park, the home ground of Partick Thistle Football Club. (One of Brisbane’s top soccer clubs is Grange Thistle).
One of Patrick’s most famous players was Jimmy Gibson, who later switched to English club, Aston Villa. One of our tour group was Jimmy Gibson, a Brisbane Souths’ rugby league stalwart, who was born at Hawick in the Scottish borders.
Jimmy; his wife, Lesley; fellow Souths’ stalwarts, Graham and Jean Kerr; Colin and Lyn Egan and Allan and Glenda Hayes all gave the thumbs up to the Scottish leg of the 1994 trip (as did most other members of my group, although Jimmy was adamant we had to go to Hawick on the next trip).
Footnote: Our son Damien’s Universities rugby league tour in 2001, featured matches in London, South Wales, Belfast and Glasgow, culminating in two matches in Hull, including a Test against Great Britain. He remembers the trip fondly, with the hospitality of the Scots’ lads, after the match in Glasgow, a real highlight.
1 Marie Ricketts on the banks of the River Kelvin, Glasgow in 1978
2 Marie Ricketts at Oban in 1994
3 Steve Ricketts in Glasgow in 1978
4 Glasgow Pub, January 1, 1978. Shut of course.