One day, someone will release a game called simply “FITBA”, and it will be a complete and accurate rendition of the game in Scotland.
Games against East Fife will incorporate the swirling winds coming in off the North Sea, Celtic fans will gather around the edges of Cliftonhill to watch Albion Rovers home games for free, away fans at St Mirren might give up on football and watch the planes coming into Glasgow Airport, and there will an option to play the Tennents’ Sixes – FIFA Street style – with classic early Nineties lineups and kits.
You may occasionally see retired greats heaving their guts about a Coke-lavished sandpit in the summer, and realise that all of Ian Rush’s power lay in his ‘tache, but Beach Soccer Fives have nothing on the allure of seeing professional footballers sandwiched into an indoor Pitz pitch, and put in front of a multicoloured mob of families inside the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (next week: Rush. The band, not Ian.)
If you’ve ever played 5-a-side on an outdoors astroturf pitch, imagine one of the old astroturfs (the mightily dense subbuteo pitch ones, not the ones that were basically green sandpaper on a rug) laid out onto mega-shed concrete and surrounded by ice hockey style clear plastic walls. Six-a-side, squads of twelve, unlimited rolling subs, Sin Bins, and various rules regarding passing, shooting and holding onto the ball (see Wikipedia, obviously, for more details).
As a St Johnstone fan, the event holds fond memories, as it’s one of the few cup finals we’ve ever actually reached thanks to our legendary habit of completely bottling it in the semis. A crowd of Seven Thousand Five Hundred people watched us lose 4-2 to Celtic (so, if you ratio it, only 2-1). This is more than we, and indeed most Scottish teams, usually get for a league match now, admittedly helped by the fact that supporters of every competing team were in attendance.
The main things I remember about seeing the Tennents’ Sixes live were:
• The American style announcements, countdowns and foghorns.
• The sheer colourful energy of it, of a concentrated burst of football in a small space and fans picking sides while other teams were playing.
• The fact that merely stepping into the goal area resulted in a penalty.
• The unlikely heroes that emerged.
At the time, few St Johnstone fans would have had Tommy Turner near the top of their list for praise singing. A defensive midfielder who looked like Teacher from The Bash Street Kids, Turner’s 11-a-side performances were more combative than spectacular, someone who kept things ticking over and got stuck in. He scored seven goals throughout his five years at St Johnstone, but put him on the Tennents’ Sixes pitch and it was like your old school janitor had suddenly found the skills of Ibrahimovic.
He was a machine. And every time he scored he would turn away and grimace, knowing that the job was only half-done.
Don’t believe me? STV have the video of the last tournament in 1993. It was given a comprehensive highlights package by Scotsport (and it was also live on the radio) with regular commentator Gerry McNee treating it with the utmost sincerity. Listen to the way he says the words ‘Half Time hooter’ for proof of this. Not only can you see the current St Mirren manager, Jordan Rhodes’ Dad and Kit Manufactuer Bukta’s tiny-shorted heyday, but frankly the theme tune alone is better than most other things.
The tournament came to an end when the sponsorship ceased, but you can’t imagine it continuing to this day anyway. Rangers were notable by their absence from the 1993 tournament, and you can’t help but feel it would’ve become full of youth team players as time went on, and eventually crowds would’ve dwindled along with the big names.
One thing you can’t deny is that they are hugely entertaining, kinda weird, and occasionally comical. Many would love to see them make a return in some form, even a one-off tournament, but it’s unlikely. Entertainment is one thing, but you can’t imagine Celtic risking their star players for a six-a-side tournament. I mean, sure, all those keech strikers Neil Lennon keeps signing could get a game, but Kris Commons wouldn’t be let anywhere near it.
Teams in a relegation dogfight would hardly be likely to put their star players into what was essentially a novelty tournament. Hearts, in their current situation, could be forgiven for not entering. The nearest we could expect, now, is that these players of the early Nineties – the Gerry Creaneys, the Paul Wrights, the Pat McGinleys – would return for a nostalgic kickabout. Probably not in the same kit, mind.
There’s a reason such tournaments don’t exist anymore, as acceptable financial compensation can’t really compete with lucrative pre-season friendly tours. The Tennents’ Sixes are not going to come back, just in the same way that Ride, Push Pops, and Thatcherism Ride and Push Pops aren’t going to come back.
Still, it’s not like there’s nothing left behind. Amidst the old VHS uploads that are dotted about the web, the entirety of the 1990 tournament is available as one video on You Tube.
That’s right. All 107 minutes of it. Introduced by a pre Transfer Deadline Day Jim White.
I apologise for nothing. What else were you planning on doing this morning anyway?