Stevie Mitchell 1966-2009
The talk was Stevie Mitchell found a body down the canal when he was running, underneath the Erskine Bridge. Not all jumpers make the water. I know it seems a bit stupid, but just because you’re going to commit suicide doesn’t mean you’re not scared of heights. Alternatively, she might just have been hurrying across the bridge, and thought this is far enough, climbed up on the railings and jumped before she changed her mind. My brother Bod, kidded me on that knowing his former schoolmate, Stevie probably cleaned her out before he reported that he’d found her body. We thought that was funny.
In the late eighties, I’d been out jogging down at the canal and spotted him in the distance. I overtook him before he got to the bridge at Durban that would take him up Mountblow Hill and sprinted ahead. He couldn’t catch me. When he wasn’t drinking he was training. It kept his head in the right place. He’d probably run about twelve miles that morning. I’d run two, but I knew he’d be going nuts I’d beaten him. I was bigger, taller, faster—better.
Stevie was born the same year England won the World Cup and Walter McGowan flyweight world champion at Wembley. Being Irish Catholic like my own family we were happier when England lost, but happier still, when Celtic won the Scottish championship that year. When Rangers lost, we cheered. Softly, Softly on the telly, not that anyone could afford a telly. You could rent a black and white from Radio Rentals, which took coins like the gas meter. You could get your headlines from the Daily Record 4d, when you were buying your fags for work. Stevie’s dad Joe was a joiner, and the four workmen who died when hundreds of tons of concrete in the seven-storey frame of Aberdeen’s zoology department collapsed would be more of a headline that struck home. My own da had to dive into the basin harbour at Bowling Harbour when something weighing several tons dropped from a crane. No hard hats. Just hard men, my da dried off and went back to work. I stuck that incident in a novel, but obviously, I killed him off.
When I was cutting my mate’s mum’s grass on Kimberly Street, Stevie regularly walked past with his bag of cans jangling by his side as he went down to meet old Ned Smiley at Dalmuir Park gates.
‘You better watch somebody doesnae steal that strimmer,’ he said.
We both laughed.
Stevie Mitchell was small and stocky and pugnacious. Most men in Scotland, after a certain age, begin to resemble Grant Mitchell of Eastenders. But Stevie Mitchell played for real. He was the Black Knight in the Monty Python sketch defending a bridge, his own rickety plank of wood. His motto, ‘no man shall pass’. Losing an arm or a leg and then another. Armless, legless the Black Knight tries to stick the head on his assailant. ‘Come back and fight, you coward’.
With Stevie playing in your team there was a good-to-better chance of winning. He was our Dalmuir Maradona, but when losing he was liable to get sent off for ‘violent conduct’. Making one of those lunging tackles, or trying to stick the head on an opponent. Referees in the Welfare League, like Billy Connolly, as we nicknamed him, because he looked like the Glaswegian comic, often stunk of booze, and were just seeing the game out and collecting the match fee. Sending Stevie off was a regular occurrence. A fine would follow and a ban. But Stevie would turn up and play under a pseudonym beginning with his older brother Joe Mitchell, who was a head taller, but had the same balding head, to John Mitchell, who retained a full head of black hair into his fifties.
When the ban finally kicked in and we couldn’t play Stevie, he often turned up and would heckle from the side of the Reccie Parks. Or he’d take on another pseudonym and put on a cap and play in goals. As usual, he was a terrific goalie, but would still manage to get sent off.
One Saturday morning when we didn’t have enough players and the gravel park was icy, and on a high slope, so that the wind cut through the jackets we wore, we warmed up, by not warming up. We didn’t even have a ball. The other team were doing all that running about stuff. Young boys, with a manager that worked them in drilled groups, with a bag of balls.
‘Goin’ and get a ball aff them, Stevie,’ our manager said, out of the side of his mouth. It worried him we didn’t have enough players, and he’d need to play, but not as worried as us.
Stevie jogged across and got a ball and the players dropped the fags that were keeping them warm, and we started knocking it about. When the referee blew the whistle to start the game our captain went up to toss the coin. Stevie kicked the ball we’d borrowed back into their half. The referee asked for the match ball.
‘We’ve no got a ball,’ Coulie, our captain said. ‘Use one of theirs.’
The referee wasn’t that bothered. He signalled for the opposition team to kick over a ball.
Their manager shook his head. Cited some reference from the rule book about the home team having to provide a match ball. We’d lost the match before a ball was kicked, because we didn’t have a ball. Stevie was raging.
The rest of us lost the £3 we paid to play, but Stevie, rarely, if ever, coughed up. He said he’d pay it later. He would sometimes pay it by sleight of hand and head in the Horse and Barge. Selling a football card for the team at 50p a shot per team. He’d sell multiple scratch cards and always seem to come up winner every time.
Playing pool for pints was another money-spinner. Stevie played to win and get drunk. But he wasn’t one to lose his focus. Every shot weighed, every outcome contested. In one game I looked certain to win he snookered me about five times in a row behind the same ball. I picked up the black ball and rammed it down the pocket.
‘Fuck off, yah cunt,’ I screwed up my face and stared at him through the fag smoke. But when I calmed down, I bought him a pint.
Most folk would make some excuse, even apologise. Stevie was not most folk.
The amateur psychologist in us likes to make sense by simplifying it. Stevie Mitchell was the way he was because when he was painting traffic markings on the roads in Paisley, his younger brother Mikey got hit on the head by a car. He was seventeen, floppy fringed and part of the New Romantics’ movement. Stevie, not yet twenty-one, watched him die. He turned to drink is the conventional narrative because we like to simplify other people’s lives. This happened because that happened.
Stevie’s daughter, Kerry Selena was born to Stevie’s long-term partner, Helen in 1988. She suffered brain-damage in her attempted suicide attempt in her twenties and was in care. Helen did her best, but there was nothing much she could do. This happened because that happened. Stevie hung himself or electrocuted himself. He was still dead, aged 42. This happened because that happened. Kerry died aged 29, 2018. RIP.