I took a trip to the cobblers' shop in Johnstone the other day, to get a key cut. I have never been able to understand why shoe repairers took on key cutting as a side line - there's no particular connection that I can think of, unless perhaps some historical one now lost.
I haven't been to a cobbler's for some time, but I am pleased to report that they still have an aroma of shoe and bag leather, mixed with oil, metal and time. Slower time, it seems, than you get in most shops. Modern power equipment is disdained amongst artisans, and if my cobbler has any he keeps it well hidden. I'm delighted to say that the current owner is the son of the old craftsman who worked there what seemed like forever; this continuity delights me, though whether it delights the son is another question.
Ironmongers used to have this atmosphere, this character; they are a sadly missed, to me at any rate, feature of the High Street. I remember the little trays the ironmonger had behind the counter, containing everything from light bulbs and fuses down to the smallest grade of nail imaginable. I don't believe you can purchase nails any more cheaply from B&Q than you could from the local shop; but you certainly don't get the hit of paraffin and well-worn overalls that have remained imprinted on my memory from childhood when I think of an ironmonger's.
These memories of how towns used to be have been in my mind for footballing reasons, too, as we set out on our adventure to new outposts of the game. Peterhead, Elgin, Annan...to the fan who has never been, there's the ability to idealise these places as some kind of link with his or her past, a place where perhaps the icons of the 60s or 70s remain, having somehow managed to avoid being crushed under the Thatcherite social revolution. Given the only news I read about Peterhead recently was the conviction of around a dozen fishing skippers for fraud on a scale (arf!) to leave Craig Whyte green with envy, this is perhaps a pious hope; but it's there, nontheless. Given our summer, it's no surprise that I'm keen to find continuity, even if it is only in my head.
A glance at Annan's community hub website only reinforces this imagined town. While the biggest town nearest me (Paisley) invites people from 'X Factor' and such like to do the Christmas duties at the Cross, in Annan a group of volunteers takes it upon themselves to do so, preparing, delivering and, apparently, being criticised for their Christmas parade down the High Street.
The contact name for this group is Mrs Joyce Wylie. If that's not a name redolent with Scotland past, I don't know what is. I imagine a lady in her 50s, solidly married, successful children, Kirk elder perhaps. Playwrights, especially TV ones, often take such people and depict a life of debauchery behind prim appearances; lazy writing, casting their own prejuidices and inadequacies upon others, for whose perceived lifestyle they possibly harbour more than a smidgin of jealousy. This scenario is one Rangers fans are more than familiar with!
While no life is without personal tragedy, I prefer to imagine Mrs Wylie in the terms laid out above and nothing more, and I imagine her to be part of a town akin to the one I grew up in and nothing more. Harsh reality is likely to intrude upon my vision of Annan-in-the-Head - no doubt there, like everywhere else, issues of alcohol, drug abuse and economic difficulty are every bit as present as they are here in the gloomy central belt.
Even so, I hope there's an element of the continuity seen in the cobblers shop there. With The Rangers we already knew, but have learned again, how important it is to maintain a sense of identity with who and what has gone before. I've seen that link break completely in my town (not that it was ever there much) and I imagine most of us who live in Scotland could say the same.
So as we line up against their team, I prefer to imagine Annan as in some way linked to our past. And I'm happy that their team is playing my team, at least until they spoil it by playing better than us, if Berwick was anything to go by. We are seeing links to our past forged anew, and these new links will, in their turn, become historical ones. To be present at such moments is a tiny consolation for the agony of the last year. Goodness knows, our keystone (The Rangers) has taken a battering over the last year and more; I hope Annan and Mrs Wylie, both real and imagined, escape such a fate.
As to the team, I would shift McCulloch to CB and start with Kyle. Been very unimpressed with him so far and I'd like 90 minutes to see what he can do; an away tie, with a battering ram up front, seems a good place to try it.
If you would like to talk about the game, tactics and possible starting XI, please join in the discussion on the Gersnet Forum.