IT was an hour before kick-off when they first started to arrive. In groups of three and four, Partick Thistle fans negotiated their way up the steep grassy slope that led to the canal situated just behind Firhill with a song in their hearts and a can in their hand. 

For many, Thursday night would be the first time they had caught a glimpse of their heroes in the flesh in well over a year. For others, it was just the latest pilgrimage to provide support for their team in a time when fans were being urged to stay away from stadia. 

The supporters’ arrival was more than just a gesture to give the Thistle players an added slice of motivation. You see, there is a vantage point on the canal, a 100-yard stretch where you can just about make out the majority of the turf at Firhill. There’s the odd blind spot and a railed fence to contend with but for the most part, you can see the game. 

It’s proven to be something of a hotspot in recent weeks as the Jags’ title tilt gained momentum. It started off with a dozen or so fans, then a few dozen the next week, until Thursday arrived and suddenly, there were over a hundred supporters clad in red-and-yellow (some wearing face masks, some not) bellowing out passionate renditions of their favourite tunes from the Thistle songbook. 

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It was a little slice of normality in a year that has provided virtually none. Supporters have been locked out of stadia for some time now but that hasn’t deterred many of them from finding a way to follow their team and take in the action. Some will castigate the fans for breaking lockdown restrictions – remember, the gathering on Thursday night was illegal – but for those that were there, the title-winning clash was one that they simply couldn’t afford to miss, even if it meant bending the rules. 

“It’s borderline allowed,” says one fan at the canal, Alan*. “I mean, it’s not really but it’s as close as we can get. I’m from Airdrie so I’ve had to travel to come through. Not being here for a year has been driving me mad.” 

Another, Brian*, explains why simply watching on from home wasn’t a viable option for him. 

“It’s not the same watching from home – it will never be,” he said. “Coming up here is more than football. This is what it is to support a smaller team: it’s more than just 90 minutes of football. It’s the community stuff that comes with it, meeting your pals – everything that comes with the football that isn’t football, really.  

“I’ve been up here far too many times for my liking this season. It gets to the end of the second half and you can’t feel your toes. But you’d do anything to be in the ground with no toes!” 

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Chris*, another supporter, concurs. “For me personally, I always want to be at the ground,” he says. “I was at Dumbarton the other week – I was one of the fans on the ladders [a small contingent of fans were spotted peering over the fence at the Rock a few weeks ago]. 

“I always need to be here. I couldn’t miss it. Especially with a chance to win the league. It doesn’t happen often enough so when it does, you’ve got to be here to see it to believe it!” 

Speaking to those that gathered at Firhill, this appears to be the crux of the matter. Successes for the Jags are rare and fans want to feel involved when they come around. And after spending so long locked out of stadia, and with the overall health climate improving and restrictions easing, there were those that decided to throw caution to the wind and descend on Maryhill. 

As the game continued, their ranks swelled. By half-time, the Jags were 3-0 up and the contest was all but settled as the chanting from that little corner grew louder and louder. By full-time, Thistle had trounced Falkirk 5-0 and there were a couple of hundred supporters lapping up the players’ celebrations as the Jags squad partied in that little corner of the pitch, with just 100 feet or so separating the two groups. 

The fans weren’t done, however. As the players eventually made their way into the Colin Weir stand to get the title party well and truly going, those on the canal made their way round to the stadium’s front entrance. By this point, others had made their way to Firhill and the atmosphere resembled a carnival. A few hundred fans let off flares, smoke bombs and loudly chanted as police watched on, ready to intervene should the crowd indulge in acts of petty crime or vandalism. Thankfully, no intervention was required. The crowd were exuberant, sure, but they were well-behaved. 

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By this point, the players had made their way into the function suite in the Colin Weir stand, pressed up against the window looking out on to Firhill Road to soak up the adoring crowds outside. Now, the players and the fans were only separated by a matter of feet as supporters pressed their hands up against the window frame, singing and dancing along with the players. 

“I was in the pub watching it on my laptop up until it was 4-0 then I decided I would come to the canal for a laugh,” says Duncan*, a 50-something gentleman clutching a bottle of prosecco. 

“You’ve got to be here! This is my 49th year following the club. All season I’ve been saying ‘I’m not going up to the canal, no way’ but tonight we had to get along. It’s a great atmosphere.” 

Euan*, another fan who made his way to Firhill to join in the title party after the full-time whistle, concurs. “You’ve got to take it in because it doesn’t happen very often,” he said. “I was here in 1971 [when Thistle won the League Cup] and no one came, including the team! I’m soaking it all up while I can. It’s very rare and it’s a joyous occasion for this club.” 

The celebrations were short but sweet. Forty-five minutes after the full-time whistle, the mob dispersed as the fans made their way back home to continue the party at home. No arrests were made and no fines were issued by the police – testament to the supporters’ behaviour – as Firhill Road grew more and more deserted. 

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For those that had turned up, they had witnessed what was only the Jags’ eighth title in 145 years. They were few in number but they all now possessed triumphant memories that would last a lifetime. There will be no shortage of revisionism to justify their breaking of the rules but the fact of the matter is that rightly or wrongly, they didn’t really care. They had witnessed a little slice of history and that would be enough to console their conscience. After a miserable few years of suffering disappointment after disappointment, Thistle fans finally had something to shout about. For a few hundred of them there was only one place they could do it: Firhill. And so they went. 

*Name changed to protect source’s identity.