A wee while ago, I had cause to tune in to Hibs TV. To my delight, the programme presenter just happened to be the veteran and one time anchor of BBC Scotland's football coverage: the one and only Dougie Donnelly. Witnessing him on screen with his bouffant and extremely loud sports jacket, the theme and style for which was borrowed from the previous generation of commentators, Arthur Montford in particular, reminded me of the time we were both 'stranded' at Heathrow Airport on a Friday night on the eve of the Scottish Cup Final.
Let me be clear, when I say we were both stranded, I do not mean we were together. I have never actually met or spoken to the great man, only admired his work from a respectful distance. It was more that we were both in the airport at the same time, queuing up at the check-in desk, as the anger and frustration grew around us.
My job at the time demanded I be in London for part of the week and Edinburgh the rest. As a frequent flyer, I used to pick my tickets up at the airport. However, this evening the dispensing machine was not working and I joined the queue for check-in where the clerk would be able to issue my ticket. The queue was massive which struck me as unusual, however, it was the beginning of the weekend, so I supposed made sense. That is, until I noticed that all the departure boards were showing as cancelled. The word came down the line that the computer system was down and no flight would be leaving tonight.
This was disastrous! I had to get home. It was the Cup Final and my boys were looking forward to watching it at my friend's house. I eventually got to speak to the check-in clerk, who advised me to go back and get accommodation in London and phone in the morning to re-book, with the caveat that I was in no way guaranteed to get a seat on one of the planes leaving on the Saturday.
At this point, I joined a number of others heading to Edinburgh in refusing to leave the airport and demanded some form of transport to take us home. We were met with the same response as before – our only option was to take our chance in re-booking. However, our small group stood its ground and, after a protracted war of attrition, people power prevailed.
Just after midnight, we were led to a different part of the airport where a flight was being prepared to leave for Edinburgh. We were informed that the aircraft needed to be at Edinburgh for a further flight, early Saturday, and was not scheduled to carry passengers. We cared not, we were going home.
We made it to my friend's house just before kick-off, to see Dougie giving his final thoughts before handing over to the match commentator. I was in a state of shock seeing him. He was behind me in the queue at Heathrow and I can say for certainty he was not on our flight. So how did he get back in time?
I have given it a lot of thought over the intervening years and can only assume he probably caught a very early train to Glasgow on the Saturday as, by the time he would have gotten back in to Central London, it would have been too late for a train. Similarly, he would be pushing it to get to Gatwick or Luton on the Friday evening. Whichever way he made it home, it must have been a heroic effort. After all the effort of getting home, my team lost and I was barred from my friend's house – well, at least from watching Celtic matches on the premises. I had now watched three games, each one a defeat when in his home.
Ever the fair man, he did offer to pay for a hotel room in which I might view future big games, as that way he could be certain where I was and there would be no danger of me bringing bad luck to his door.
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