I nipped across to the Fiddlers Green for a swift one, and bumped into Jimmy, a fast-talking, glint-eyed Glaswegian straight out of the pages of James Kelman, who writes for one of the Celtic fanzines and, like all commited exiled football supporters of a certain ilk, considers it his duty to represent the interests of his club in bar-room conversations- to act as a kind of roving ambassador, if you will. I recognised the role immediately as it is the same one I perform for the black and white cause. It is kind of thrust upon you, really- you will be standing in a bar and someone will hear your accent and ask, without any kind of preliminary small-talk, 'So-do you reckon Sounness has got what it takes?'. A definitive reply is expected- shrugging your shoulders and mumbling something non-commital might leave you in danger of having your Geordie cards taken off you.
Anyway I think that was how the conversation started- I was getting change from a pint of Guinness when Jimmy leaned across the bar and said, 'So, er-what about this Owen signing- eh?' I gave what has by now become my practiced watercooler and bar-room response to this enquiry (the little striker may be a touch overrated but is still an arch goalpoacher worth twenty goals a season), and, as is customary in this type of diplomatic exchange, enquired about the current fortunes of his own club. Twenty minutes later I had been provided with rapid-fire analysis, not only of Celtic's latest signings (a choice Bulgarian midfielder is the pick), but also of the respective managerial styles of the last four coaches and the prospects for the upcoming European campaign. Thrown in for good measure (the man was straight out of the pages of Kelman after all- all combative working-class eloquence and dangerous glint-eyed charm) there was detailed observation of the north-of-the-border system of Secondary Education and its links to Sectarianism, and a political deconstruction of the use of the term 'Teuchtar' to define any person (for example the Manchester United reserve midfielder Darren Fletcher) hailing from beyond the Scottish West Coast conurbation.
In return I offered a detailed account of the famous goal Newcastle's Mark McGhee scored against Barnsley in 1987, complete with an illustrative demonstration of sidesteps. And then it was time for me to go home. We shook hands warmly and thanked each other for a stimulating exchange of views. 'Aye, see you later Geordie', he shouted as I stepped back onto the A6, wrongfooting a couple of Irishmen in cardigans, McGhee-style, on the way down the steps. Our diplomatic exchange had been brief, just one pint of Guinness’ worth, in fact- but I like to think that in our small way me and Jimmy had made steps towards the achievement of a greater understanding between our two peoples.