“Dae I know you, pal?”
He gets right in my face as he says it, almost knocking me out with the toxic fumes. I back away, partially for the sake of my nose, but also because I’m more intimidated than I should be by a man so much smaller than myself. Then again, he was once one of my heroes.
“No, but I think I recognise you. Didn’t you used to be Rab McLaughlin?”
“Still was last time I checked.”
“I was a big fan of yours – do you have time for a chat?”
“I’ve got time for a fucking drink, if that’s what you’re asking!”
I nod my agreement and buy in two pints. I take a light mouthful of mine; Rab makes serious inroads into his before I even get to ask about his football career.
“Must have been amazing playing for Hibs,” I observe, perhaps redundantly.
“Aye, fucking barry! I used to go out clubbing and the girls were all over me. Tits half out, skirts up to there,” he cups his scrotum, “And all wanting to go home with me!”
He shakes his head in apparent disbelief even as he beams at the memory.
“That’s great,” I say, “But what about on the pitch? That goal you scored against Celtic?”
“Aye, I enjoyed that, alright!” He stands up from his bar stool to re-enact the moment. “Put through one on one with big Pat Bonner, I’ve took this big backswing and gone as if to hit it. Pat’s bought it, hook, line and sinker: he’s dived full length to his left, but I’ve just rolled my foot over it, gone past him and walked it into the net! I was looking over my shoulder and laughing at the bastard when I finally knocked it in. Celtic fans behind the goal weren’t happy. Couple of ‘em caught up with me after the game – they said I should’ve shown more respect. I wouldnae back down though, said I’d take ‘em both on, but one of ‘em landed a lucky punch and the bastards cost me a couple of weeks in hospital and a couple of months out of the team.”
“The paper said you’d pulled your hamstring.”
“So now you know the truth. Or maybe I’m thinking of another time, I was pissed more often than not.”
I nod along to that without knowing why, trying to dig up another question. “Oh, what about that second goal against St Mirren, do you remember that?”
He frowns. “Actually, no. Likesay, I was pissed more often than not.” He takes another large swig, as if to emphasise the point. “Tell you what I do remember though, that missed penalty against the Jambos. How unfair is that? All the great stuff I can’t remember, but I can’t forget that no matter much I drink.”
I wasn’t going to bring that up. We were drawing one-all at the end of the local derby against Hearts and got a penalty. Rab wasn’t the usual taker, but he must have fancied the glory, because he snatched the ball, placed it on the spot, cocky as you like, and then booted it into Row Z. One of the Hearts players got into his face crowing about it, so Rab head butted him and got sent off.
“I went on a proper one that night, I tell you! Cannae remember who I saw or what I did, but I woke up in hospital three days later with a fractured skull. I don’t know if some Hearts fan got me with a lucky punch, or if I just fell down some steps, but that was me done for the season. Done forever, actually. Start of the next season, gaffer says he wants me to go on loan to Cowdenbeath! I say I’m not playing for Cowden-fucking-beath no matter what. I stormed out of his office and spent the next few days in the pub. When I get home there’s a message telling me I’m sacked! And I’ve never set foot on a football pitch since.”
So much for his football career. “So what are you doing with yourself now, then?” I ask.
“What’s it fucking look like I’m daeing?”
“Oh, right. Sorry.”
“Dinnae be sorry pal, I like it here. As long as some doss bastard keeps buying my beer, I’ve got everything I need in this bar. I tell you what though, I could have been a wealthy man today.”
“Oh yeah, footballers today earn millions.”
“I’m not talking about football, pal – what is it with you and football, there’s more to life you know! I’m talking serious business here.” He lowers his voice for the first and only time, “The skag. I’m no fan of that shite myself, my poison’s – you already know well enough what my poison is. But my mate Rents and a few others, they got a load of it off some guy. We all went down to London, right posh hotel, to sell to this proper rich bastard. He’s got these personal bodyguards and everything, big suitcase full of cash, and it felt more big time than playing for Hibs ever did. We got twenty grand or so, I forget how much exactly, ‘cos I was drinking the whole time, but it worked out as a few grand each, nae bother. We gave it to Rents to look after ‘cos no one else could be trusted. One of us was a complete skagheid who might lose it all, one was a conniving bastard who’d rip us off given half a chance, and another was a complete psycho who’d slit your throat for a ten pound note, never mind a backpack full of ‘em. No one even asked me, cannae think why, but that was their mistake ‘cos when we got up next morning, after a bit of a session the night before, Rents was gone, and so was the money. All that way for nothing, and we never saw him or the cash ever again.” Another swig of his beer. “Fuck it though, good luck to the bastard, wherever he is.”
Rab drains the last of his pint and stares at a spot on the wall for a minute, before turning back to me once again. “Dae I know you, pal?”