THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

And attempt to return it to the pitch

icon goalie13 January ~ I got both hands on it so should have held it. But I was being jostled, the floodlights blinded me as it dropped out the sky and – to be honest – it's hard to maintain concentration when you've had no saves to make for the previous 36 years. I've been watching Rangers since 1977. Yet December 3, 2013 was the first time I'd ever touched the match ball. At 6-1 down with ten minutes left, Forfar Athletic punted the ball at my seat. In three-and-a-half decades I've sat in every part of Ibrox, watching European semi-finals, Champions League games and internationals.

I've followed Rangers to more grounds, of varying sizes, than it's possible to avoid a football at. Yet I have to wait for an SPFL League One fixture to finally get a fleeting groping share of that little spherical target I've spent a fortune watching my heroes chase. Little wonder I've previously strayed in order to sample the ultimate vicarious buzz.

January 2000; Stair Park, Stranraer. On the hard-standing I flick it up over the perimeter fence into the hands of a hardy Berwick centre-half who, stunned by my skill, obesity and "this is my moment" demeanour, replied, "Thanks, Big Smoker". He was probably ten years younger than me and I have no idea what a big smoker is but I giggled like an embarrassed school girl and, as far as I was concerned, I'd played in the Scottish Cup.

February 2000; Shielfield Park, Berwick. The ball drops onto our spot of terracing. I drop kick it into the arms of a Queen's Park defender and claim I've played a pass for the oldest club in Scotland. But Scotland's non-League eventually sorted me out.

Ladywell "Stadium", Maybole, Ayrshire is a clubhouse, two bus shelter-sized enclosures and three wooden sleepers embedded in the grass bank opposite. But behind those sleepers, over a wire mesh fence, is the eponymous Ladywell burn, into which I sliced an attempted volley during a Maybole v Johnstone Burgh match in June 2008. My jeans wouldn't allow the purchase, I got underneath it, and up and back it looped.

Two committee men in their 70s reassured me they'd retrieve it. The sight of one having to be helped off with his jacket by the other guilted me into assisting. Slithering about in reeds, nettles and several different shades of muck, I decided I'd be avoiding match balls from now on. Yet 18 months later, Ardrossan Winton Rovers – the first club for whom I ever held a season ticket – were two down with 20 minutes to go, chasing a Scottish Junior Cup tie.

It came over the perimeter wall and I instinctively attempted the same volley. I'd been on a diet or bought wider jeans because this ball landed only ten yards behind me. With the Winton outside-right hanging over the perimeter wall I quickly retrieved it, turned, stepped on the hem of my jeans, went flat on my face and looked up to 100 men I know guffawing and a local footballer jumping over a perimeter wall to pick up a ball lying beside my head.

Winton lost 3-1 that day to Forfar West End. Forfar Athletic, against the second club for whom I ever held a season ticket, was perfect catharsis. As I departed Ibrox, fingers still smarting, photographers snapped hat-trick hero Nicky Clark holding the ball he'd take home. But Nicky and I both know who that match ball really belongs to – him. Alex Anderson

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