open country

Despite having followed Motherwell Football Club since he was a boy, my father did not order tickets for the cup final as soon as they won their semi-final game. In the 1930s and 1950’s Motherwell were in the final five times, three of these were against Celtic, and only won once in 1952.

They did not find themselves in the final again until 1991 when they beat Dundee United. Now, 20 years on, they had made it again and we had procured tickets, at last. I found myself walking into Hampden Park with the surge of the crowds – threatening, claustrophobic – but for a special occasion, so bearable.

From my youth, when I went to international matches, I remember the air felt aggressive because the supporters were predominantly male. On one occasion my father asked an older man to stop swearing so as not to offend me and my sister. The capped gentleman turned round and said, without looking at Julie and me, “I don’t give a f*** about your daughters.”

I was too street wise not to sense the humour in this incident and the story still makes my mother laugh when I tell it.

The old smells rose with the crowd’s emotion at almost goals, bad decisions and fouls – musty clothes, pipe smoke, beer – filtered through the visible breath on cold afternoons and evenings.

When the stadium was refurbished during the 1990s, that was the end of the evocative clack-clack of the wooden seats of the stand being pushed up as people lefted, often after a disappointing result. Now the stadium shines with metal, glass and plastic and the pies and Bovril replaced with burgers and coke.

The nostalgia of these visits will remain, no matter what modern architecture masks the sensory experiences. This awareness of a small part of my underpinning consciousness was awoken this week by artist, Craig Coulthard.

Craig was chosen to produce a large art project as part of the Cultural Olympiad, the only one of nine British projects that will happen in Scotland. He is quietly spoken but you still wanted to listen as he told us about the tracks in his mind that led to Forest Pitch.

His father was stationed in Dusseldorf with the RAF, so here Craig and his sister were brought up. As a boy he would play football on a pitch in the middle of a forest. As an adult he went to look at the football pitch hidden in the woodland; it was no longer marked out and the changing rooms were dilapidated – a mere footprint of its former use.

This reverberated in the memory of the artist when he visited Cathkin Park in Glasgow, former home of Third Lanark, established in 1872 and once a strong voice in Scottish football. Now a public park the grass is mown but the terraces have been taken back by nature, mature trees grow out of the concrete and moss covers the steps where the autumn leaves gather in swathes against the rises.

Forest Pitch, on a personal level for the artist, emanated from a connectivity of experiences and was chosen by a panel of creative people because it embodies the ethos of the Cultural Olympiad – the communion of sport and art.

The pitch is not being created in a woodland as a temporary, self-indulgent, memory-induced creation, it is designed to be used for two games then it will become a living mutating space. Re-planting will be part of the scheme, eventually there will only be a residue of the original pitch.

Even though the project has just started, it has awoken coincidences and connections around me. One of the creative team told me he was at the cup final in 1991. I used to hang out in Cathkin Park with friends from school; we sat on the mossy terraces. On May 17 I attended the presentation in Selkirk for Forest Pitch. When I went home I Googled the history of Motherwell Football Club – they were founded on May 17, 1886.