Staring at a blank screen, it is difficult to decipher where to begin.
So many thoughts and memories swirl as I ponder what to say, how to say it. No matter what I write, I know it really isn’t going to do any justice.
The last few days have been the most difficult we have ever faced as my dad’s battle with Leukaemia came to an end on Friday evening. He was just 59-years-old.
We had a lot in common. Brought together by a love of sport, that took us to all corners of the country as we searched for our football fix most weekends.
Life as I know it was moulded by this man. This fantastic man.
He was a man of principal and a man of loyalty. A man with the most infectious of personalities, and also a somewhat questionable sense of humour and taste in music.
But Billy Ritchie was more than just another man.
He is my dad. He was my Buddie.
Born from a loving marriage forged in the thread mills, Paisley was woven into the fabric of a life cut painfully short by the most ruthless of illnesses.
From kicking a ball around the streets of Gallowhill, to an education that took him from Abercorn Primary to Castlehead High School, the town was central to his make-up.
But sport was never far away and even in the real world when he owned his own television shop, imaginatively named Ritchie’s Televisions, it was on Love Street.
He eventually tuned out of televisions — turning his attentions to a tireless career as a police dog handler. As fate would have it, he was due to retire on January 29, on what would have been his 60th birthday.
Standing on the sidelines
Like many of us, my dad’s hopes and dreams of a professional football career never materialised, although he was always proud of all he had achieved. A distinguished youth career with the likes of Eastercraigs, Drumchapel Amateurs and Duntocher yielded trials down south with Aston Villa among others, before he eventually turned his hand to coaching back at Eastercraigs.
He never shut up about it, although always in jest. The jabs that I “couldn’t have laced his boots” were a traditional rib on the journey to wherever my own fixture list took us on a Saturday morning. Anyone that knows me knows that he was probably right.
He would be there every week, without fail, to not only watch, but to bellow instructions — often to my bemusement. But it summed up my dad’s deep stilled passion for making sure I was the best I could be, “If you’re going to do a job, do it right” and “I don’t care what anyone else is doing, I care about you”, were the common comebacks. These transcended sport and into pretty much everything I’ve ever done.
Straight off of nightshift, he’d rattle the door and that was my cue to race out to the car every Saturday morning.
Come the full-time whistle, it was straight back into the car, and off to wherever St Mirren went… with some fritters on the way.
Into the stands
Going to the football every week with my dad was an oasis of happiness, be it playing or supporting. When I was reporting, he would often come up to the press box simply to say hello. I would joke he just wanted a free cup of tea or coffee but I was glad every time he did.
Our love of football means memories have been made in the most modest of surroundings.
Fir Park, the site of St Mirren’s Great Escape of 2007, typified the colourful array of emotions — and language — that following this special side from Paisley can bring. No one can ever take away the warm embrace of father and son, and grandfather, as soon as John Sutton’s volley smashed into the roof of the Motherwell net. My dad was on both our backs before the ball even flew beyond Colin Meldrum’s flailing arms.
There were afternoons in Airdrie I’ll never forget, defeats in Dundee that I wish I could. The post-match debriefs were every bit as fun. He would berate a player I said was good just to wind me up — and it worked every time.
In his infinite wisdom he once shouted “open yer eyes” to Willie Young, only for the esteemed ref to point to the Specsavers sponsor on his jersey, much to my dad’s embarrassment. He wasn’t so vocal the rest of that particular afternoon… but I never let him forget it.
When Paul McKnight scored at Ayr he was holding my hand so six-year-old me didn’t get lost among the madness, when Conor Newton fired home at Hampden I was still holding on to him — but simply to share the moment.
Memories like that will last a lifetime.
Everyone that knew Billy Ritchie will remember him for his quick wit and generosity. The outpouring of messages our family have received confirm to me that he was the rock of a man that I always knew he was.
Knowing that he won’t be around for weddings, birthdays, and each and every Saturday, is tough to take. It’s downright heart-breaking. But he wouldn’t want us to mope around letting life pass us by on his account.
When the time comes, we will celebrate a life well-lived.
He is my inspiration. A man I’m proud to call my father.