Red Green Colourblindness

‘Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.’ Bill Shankly, Liverpool FC

In Edinburgh, there are only two professional football teams, and they are of course Heart of Midlothian FC and Hibernian FC. Many of the funerals I conduct end with the anthem of either one team or the other, and – as an entirely neutral observer – I have to say that Hibs are very lucky to number Craig & Charlie of The Proclaimers among their distinguished supporters.

‘Sunshine on Leith’ is in an entirely different musical league to ‘The Boys in Maroon’ which (in its defence) was written and recorded by Hector Nicol and his Kelvin Country Dance Band in 1958. What I hadn’t realised was that the canny Hector recorded songs for both teams, and once upon a time they were to be found on either side of a 7″ single. ‘Glory, Glory to the Hibees’ was the B-side back then, and it still gets the occasional airing on the terraces to this day.

In those days when transport was expensive and hard to come by, it was entirely normal for the fans of both teams to go to their rivals’ stadium on alternate weekends, but these days the Edinburgh derby is one of the game’s oldest and fiercest contests, when the city’s streets are filled with fans wearing either maroon (for Hearts) or emerald green (for Hibs).

That is why I was intrigued to hear the story of what happened when John died, and the funeral directors came to collect his body.

John had been a lifelong Hibs fan, so his son Colin was shocked to see his dad being zipped into a maroon body bag. “If my dad had been buried, he’d have been turning in his grave”, Colin told me, and that was the story with which I ended John’s ceremony earlier today.

I have to say that I was a bit taken aback by that story too, so before we started I had a quick word to both Gary, the Funeral Director, and Robert, the Crematorium Attendant, and they told me two things I hadn’t known until now.

Firstly, Gary told me that Cooperative Funeralcare use white body bags as standard. The only alternative colour they carry is black, so quite where the maroon one that Colin saw came from, we may never know. The other thing I learned, however – from Robert at Warriston – struck me as such a good idea, I just had to share it.

Warriston Crematorium (and its sister company at Seafield) offer their clients two colours of cardboard boxes in which to collect the ashes of their loved ones and I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that they are… yes; maroon and green.

It made a happy ending to John’s funeral, and I hope that his many friends and family members will remember that – when the time comes – they will have a choice as to whose colours they wear for their last journey.

In the matter of life and death, football will always take precedence, so I think it’s only appropriate to give the last word to the late, great Bill Shankly, who speaking at the funeral of Everton legend, Dixie Dean, said, “I know this is a sad occasion, but I think that Dixie would be amazed to know that even in death he could draw a bigger crowd to Goodison than Everton on a Saturday afternoon.”

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