Sangstories - Stories of Scottish Songs

Tales of Scottish traditional and newer songs sung by Sangschule of Linlithgow

Fitba Crazy

by James Curran (19th C)   
rewritten by Jimmie Macgregor

O ye a’ ken my wee brither, his name is Jock McGraw
He’s lately jined a fitba club , for he’s mad aboot fitba
He’s had two black eyes already an teeth lost frae his gub
Since Jock became a member o that terrible fitba club

O he’s fitba crazy, he’s fitba mad
An the fitba it has robbed him o the wee bit sense he had
An it wid tak a dozen skivvies, his claes tae wash an scrub
Since Jock became a member o that terrible fitba club

The first time he played fitba, I wis there masel an saw.
They had jaikets for the goal posts an a tin can for the ba
An the Provost o Glesga, he wis there, wi lords an ladies grand,
Oor Jock he took an orange box an made a big grandstand

In the middle o the park at Hampden, the captain says “McGraw!
“Wid ye kindly tak this penalty kick or we’ll never win at a’”
He took fifty paces backwards – shot off frae the mark –
An the ba went sailin ower the bar and landed in New York

His wife says she will leave him if he disnae keep
Frae playin fitba every night in bed when he’s asleep
O he ca’s her Charlie Tully  ( put in topical football heroes) an ither names sae droll
Last night he kicked her oot the bed an shouted “It’s a goal!”

Words:

Claes: clothes
Gub: mouth
Jaikets: jackets
Ken: know
Skivvies: menial household servants

Gordeanna McCulloch brought this song to Sangschule. It became popular in the 60’s mainly through the singing of Jimmie Macgregor who with Robin Hall had a regular folk-song spot on the TV programme “Tonight”. The Performing Rights Society credit Jimmie with having rewritten, from a fragment of an older song, most of the lyric we sing today.

Alternatives exist for many lines, showing the folk process in action e.g. in verse 2:
The Prince of Wales was there himsel in his dinner suit
Jock he passed the ball across an shouted “CHARLIE, SHOOT!”

A Daily Record article by George Mair in 2006 drew attention to a broadside version, a penny news-sheet published in Dundee in the 1880s. The National Library has a copy called “The Dooley Fitba Club”, written by Glaswegian James Curran.

The article quoted rare books curator Eoin Shalloo: "This is the earliest song about organised football that we are aware of - you'd certainly struggle to find one older because it coincides with the birth of the modern game.

"The broadside doesn't have a date on it but James Curran was a popular songwriter and parodist in the late 19th century. "At the height of his fame, he earned between £10 and £15 a week, a huge sum at the time - but he was a drinker and died in the Glasgow poorhouse in the 1890s."

The article continued : “With four verses and chorus, the song also features ‘patter’ delivered between verses by comedienne JG McDonald to her music hall audience.
She even makes reference to Rangers, against whom Dooley - an old Scots word for sorrowful or dopey - had supposedly played a charity match.”

The paper quotes “experts” who said Curran’s song marked the emergence of football as a huge part of popular culture, and writer Bob Crampsey who thought the timing would be about right for this to be the first football song. "Crowds grew because of the railway and the notion of not working all day on a Saturday emerged."

The full song can be seen in The Word on the Street, an online exhibition at website www.nls.uk  of broadside ballads. Searching first for “Word on the Street” and then entering the keyword “fitba” brings up the song and the “patter” in between e.g.:

Verse 1
“Noo ye a’ ken my big brother Jock/ his richt name is Johnny Shaw
Well he’s lately jined a fitba club / For he’s daft aboot fitba
He’s twa black een already an / Three teeth oot by the root
Whaur his face did come in contact wi / Some ither fellow’s boot

Patter: His fair daft a boot fitba, if he wis jist as daft aboot wark, it wid be tae his credit. He raves about a “throw-in” – ma sang – I could sometimes gie him a “throw-oot”. He sweers that their club has got yin o the best “passers” in the country; the individual referred to got three months lately for passin’ a bad shillin’. Ma fellow ye ken plays centre forword-halfback on the left wing, an flees up an doon the field they tell me like a hat on a winny day. Their club is a gran’ yin; they lately played the Blin’ Asylum, an scored a big victory, but for a’, I maun inform ye that –

Chorus
He’s fitba crazy fegs / He’s clean stane mad / His fitba’ capers robbed him o’ / Whit we bit sense he had / It wid tak a dizen servants / His claes tae patch and scrub / Since Jock’s become a member o’ / The Dooly fitba’ club”

Of the four verses, one has no counterpart in the modern version and Jimmie’s “penalty kick” verse has nothing like it in the original.

Linlithgow singer/songwriter Neil Macdonald wrote his own version in 2003, with contemporary references to the Tartan Army and the World Cup in Japan when the Scots were “broken hearted” that England were put out by Brazil.  The last lines of his chorus are current any time:
“We turn out in any weather that the elements can bring
With a fix of pie and Bovril, lads we’re game for anything”

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