My worst own goal

18th May 2001 at 01:00
ONCE I got over my initial probationer's paralysis, I've always quite enjoyed parents' nights. They are good opportunities for some direct communication, for putting names to faces, posting messages of praise and encouragement, and maybe even correcting a few misconceptions, from either side of the desk.

Apart from the chaos caused by the occasional nightmare class list of four Lees, three Louises and three Craigs, these meetings can provide a tonic to lighten the late night exhaustion, as parents will often take the opportunity to acknowledge and thank staff for their efforts. Even legitimate complaints can be more easily tackled when it's face to face.

However, Hibernian's up and coming appearance in the Scottish Cup Final proves an unlikely reminder of my worst ever parents' night. On their last final appearance, in 1979, two goalless draws, of the "we wuz robbed" variety, against Rangers, led to a second replay, and this third game coincided with a third-year parents' evening.

Distraught but dutiful, I turned up at school, and, as guidance teacher for the year group, was allocated a desk on the stage in the assembly hall, from where, as the evening progressed, I could watch anxious knots of Hibs-supporting parents clustered around radios in various parts of the room.

Trying to keep my professional concetration on the parents seated across the desk from me was not facilitated by a colleague, who, with far fewer parents than me to see, and an earpiece in his ear, periodically stage whispered goal updates through the curtain behind me.

With little time remaining and the score at 2-2, came the ear piecing sibilance: "Arthur Duncan's scored!" My heart leapt: Hibs's speedy winger had brought the cup back to Leith after all these years. I could see that open-topped bus on Princes Street.

With an automatic reaction that will be recognised by all football followers, my right foot shot straight out as if I was prodding the ball into the net. It connnected with the chair opposite which catapulted backwards and fell off the stage, clattering to the floor of the hall. In the deafening silence which followed this Norman Wisdom moment, everyone could plainly hear the second part of the whispered message, propelled by angst through the curtain: "It was an own goal; we've lost."

I had no time to address this calamity, as the next parent, with fallen chair in hand and bemused look on face, was approaching the desk. I looked down at my list to check on her child's name. Tragically, and inevitably, it was "Duncan". From that moment on, I've always had a sneaking sympathy for that much maligned national hero - Macbeth.

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