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Have you played Marbles in a football ground?

 

With the Bohemians versus East Fife game in the IrnBru Scottish Challenge Cup postponed, my Saturday afternoon took a slightly different course than I had planned; I ended up playing marbles with my son Blaise, who had got some as a stocking filler at Christmas. Although I’d have been happier watching the game in Dalymount, I was glad Santa brought them; I haven’t played marbles for years and because Blaise has taken a shine to them he needs someone to play against so I’ll just have to step into the breach whenever he wants a game.

Bohemians weren’t alone in having their match called off due to a frozen pitch. Quite a bit of the Scottish football programme went the same way, especially as you moved down from the SPL and Scottish Championship, where resources probably stretch to undersoil heating. Stranraer against Cowdenbeath was postponed in the Scottish League One, where only 2 games survived – Airdrie’s draw with Dumbarton and Montrose’s 5-2 hammering of Brechin City [how about ‘Brechin Bad’ for a headline?].

Down in League Two everything was off except Edinburgh City against Albion Rovers. As for the Highland League, every single game was off; as cold as the pitch in Dalymount must have been, I’d imagine those at Clachnacuddin, Deveronvale, Fortmarine, Inverurie, Strathspey, Turriff and Wick were a tad colder.

So marbles it was. I can teach Blaise the games I used to play with marbles when I was his age. They usually revolved around soccer in some way or other. I’d get out the Subbuteo mat and replace the plastic players with glass marbles; smallest and niftiest up front, biggest at the back and in goal one of those big steel ones – my marble equivalent of Pat ‘Hands Like Shovels’ Jennings. Marbles and footballs, sure don’t they share a shape and a majesty in how they roll.

I doubt he’d be allowed bring them into school. Quite right too. Even a small marble is a dangerous missile. He’s amazed at how we were allowed bring them into our school back in the 70’s though. All you’d hear as the lads sauntered into the yard was the jingle from the coat pockets, not of coins but of marbles.

I used to bring a supply of marbles everywhere, not just school. In case I met someone who wanted a game. Bray Wanderers matches were ideal. The old ‘shed’ in the Carlisle Grounds had a kind of narrow channel running the length of it. I’m sure it was something to do with drainage but on dry days it was ideal for playing marbles. The drier the day the better because if you missed your target the marble would carry on for some distance making it more difficult for the other guy to hit yours.

I went to Bray to watch the matches of course. Marble time was restricted to before the game or during half time. Often I just had to play by myself, as there were no other marble owners in attendance. There was another lad my age who was always there but he wasn’t a marble lad, he used to go off and play in a kind of dump that was at the back of the pitch; he’d stay at that for the whole game too.

I remember years later when Bray joined the League of Ireland and going to other grounds that had suitable ‘marble trenches’. Tolka Park was probably the best, in front of the Riverside Stand. The Wembley of marbles, if you like. I was too old to still be playing marbles then, but you’re never too old for nostalgia. What’s that Blaise, another game of marbles? Be right there son.

Brian Quigley

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