james_mcpake_teddy

As of 4.45pm on Sunday, 20th September 2015, my son’s teddy bear is in need of a new name.

For the past month, the soft toy in question has been called James McPake in honour of the man who scored the last-minute equaliser in the first Dundee derby of the season. There was pandemonium. I’d had a few pints. It seemed a good idea at the time.

The teddy is part of the complete Dundee FC baby range I bought to celebrate the wee man’s arrival. The indoctrination has been largely successful to date; the 2015 DFC calendar is enthusiastically waved to every morning, dark blue babygrows remain unsoiled and, at 11 hours old, he was the club’s youngest-ever season ticket holder.

But the teddy, being the type of cuddly inanimate object that necessitates naming, has proved troublesome. As official club merchandise the obvious choice was to name it after a player, but which one?

The bear was not always called James McPake. The first game after my son’s birth was last season’s Scottish Cup 3rd Round tie with Aberdeen. If the events of that match have slipped your mind, Dundee’s injury-time winner was scored by David Clarkson. It was his eighth goals in his first eight games for the club, equalling Alan Gilzean’s 50-year-old record. The great man wrote to Clarkson to congratulate him. A Scotland recall was mentioned (Clarkson, not Gilzean). I went home, high on Derry adrenaline, to find my son sleeping like an angel with the teddy at the foot of his cot. I decided there and then that his name should be Clarkson (teddy, not baby).

The less-cuddly David Clarkson never scored for the club again and was freed in the summer after losing his place in the team and becoming a target for the boo-boys. From then until last month’s derby, the teddy answered to The Bear Formerly Known as Hero-to-Zero Ex-Dundee Striker David Clarkson. Clearly a more permanent solution needed to be found.

And so up popped James McPake. The Tannadice leveller was his second vital goal against United. The man would run through a brick wall for the cause and, on the back of a season where he’d largely kept his tendency to charge around out of position in check, James McPake was ready to take his place amongst the pantheon of footballers who have given their names to the soft toys of blissfully unsuspecting babies.

The teddy’s renaming coincided with an upturn in his popularity, with Elliot carrying the bear wherever he went and crying whenever he was separated from James McPake (something the big man’s central defensive partner Tomas Konrad is also prone to). As a result, James McPake has become a regular topic of conversation in our house. ‘Where’s James McPake?’ my wife would ask. ‘He’s underneath the cot,’ I’d reply. ‘Elliot threw James McPake away in the huff when I was changing his nappy.’ ‘Why is James McPake’s nose wet?’ ‘Elliot was chewing him, his teeth are bothering him.’ ‘Oh, thank God. I thought he’d pissed on James McPake again.’

Amusing parental exchanges and semi-regular individual heroism stopped being enough right about the time Celtic notched their sixth on Sunday. It was the second time in my 10-month-old’s life that we’ve shipped six, with a five sandwiched between them as well. But for our goalkeeper, a missed penalty and a contentiously disallowed goal it could have been double figures. I’m sorry, James McPake, but no member of that defence deserves to have a teddy bear named after him.

For supporters of provincial clubs the perils of soft toy nomenclature are many. If you support a top side the choice of candidates must be almost overwhelming but for us footballing plebs the options are often as uninspiring as they are in a game of ‘who would you rather catch your dad going down on, Boris Johnson or Margaret Thatcher’s corpse?’. Should a bright young thing break into the first team or a diamond in the rough be unearthed, the chances are that his time with you will be temporary. No one wants to be reminded of their lowly place in the food chain every time their child picks up a toy named after a player who fucked off for bigger and better things the first chance they got. The same is true of animals but thankfully my first childhood pet, a fish called Tosh, had swum off for the great carnival stall in the sky, via our u-bend, long before McKinley was sold to Hearts.

That takes us into James McPake territory – good, honest pros capable of delivering the odd hugely memorable moment but equally likely to be sitting on their arse around the halfway line as the man he was meant to be marking rounds the keeper.

Who knows what the future holds for Clarkson/The Bear Formerly Known as Hero-to-Zero Ex-Dundee Striker David Clarkson/James McPake. It’s a minefield so think long and hard before committing a name to that teddy.

Grant Hill
Grant Hill was born in Dundee in 1979 and has lived in the city ever since other than a brief period when the Alan Kernaghan regime had him seeking refuge in various European countries.

He is the author of ‘Clubbed to Death’, in which he makes jokes about mirrorballs, the Happy Mondays and Jimmy Savile.

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Dundee: Why My Son’s Teddy Bear Is No Longer Called James McPake

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