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Kelvin Hall dogs raised the woof in craziest Old Firm derby of all time; DAY GLASGOW WENT BARKING MAD.


THERE is only one way for me to approach the Kelvin Hall sports arena and that's from the direction of the Kelvingrove art galleries.

As a wide-eyed kid at Christmas my special treat was a trip to the Galleries then on to the Kelvin Hall carnival and circus. Culture followed by frivolity - I had a balanced childhood.

This is one pocket of Glasgow that has changed little over the years.

I always thought it was a brilliant piece of planning having two fantastic places in such close proximity.

And as I draw near the familiar red brick frontage of the sports arena the memories come flooding back.

I can still picture the rattle and hum of the diesel engines, the latest chart hits being blasted out from cheap speakers, the screams of the punters on The Mad Mouse, Rotor or Rib Tickler. Pennies being rolled, darts being thrown, air rifles being fired. The combined aroma of candy floss, toffee apples and the occasional whiff of exotic animal dung from the circus.

Magic. If you DIDN'T feel sick after a trip to the carnival you hadn't eaten enough junk and been on enough stomach-churning rides.

And it could also be a theatre for the bizarre. Once at the circus I saw two teams of greyhounds, one wearing blue the other green, play a `Rangers v Celtic' match on a small pitch with tiny goals.

Neither found the net but at half-time the ref gave the score as 2-1 to Gers.

Suddenly the situation was tense. Pro Celtic shouts. Pro Rangers shouts. Unbelievably, people were getting caught up in the match!

Thankfully in the second half the dogs were equally hopeless and there were no goals. The ref saw sense and the result was a draw.

I realised then that Old Firm matches, even those involving greyhounds, weren't to be taken lightly.

The Kelvin Hall was originally built as a multi-purpose exhibition centre when it opened in the mid 1920s. Back in the early days it boasted an ice rink and a ballroom. I'm sure you'll be aware of the Ideal Homes Exhibition. Well, back when it was called the Modern Homes Exhibition it was virtually synonymous with the Kelvin Hall.

The venue's most famous visitor was probably the American evangelist, the Reverend Billy Graham back in the 50s when he preached to a huge audience as part of his world-wide crusade.

What's perhaps less well known, though, is that it enjoyed a reputation as a rock venue.

The Kinks Live at the Kelvin Hall, an album recorded in 1968, is seen as a gem by fans and 60s' music heads.

So I walk under the arches, up the steps and through the swing doors. The foyer hasn't changed much but if you haven't been recently you will notice a few changes.

John Watson, in charge of what is now a highly respected sporting arena with an international reputation, is happy to take me on the guided tour.

We start on the concourse, an elevated space that essentially divides the main area in two.

On one side there are the multi-purpose courts used for basketball, badminton, volleyball, netball and five-a-side football. I know this because I have disgraced these floors many times in my Adidas Sambas. On the other side of the concourse, however, you see the jewel in the arena's crown - the athletics track where the best talent in the world has performed.

We pass a climbing wall - no chance of me trying it - en route to areas 4 and 5 where the circus used to be.

There are, of course, no remnants of those days. Where once the circus ring stood there are now more multi-purpose courts, the real clowns having long been replaced by would-be sportsmen behaving like clowns.

The courts are flanked by rows of permanent seating. John tells me this is where the boxing takes place - Jim Watt and Pat Clinton won world titles here. So one ring replaces another.

As we head downstairs I wonder what I really think of boxing.

My only experience of live boxing shocked me. Rocky it ain't. The whack of leather on jaw isn't a pretty sound.

It looked painful and there was something disturbing about sitting there in your dinner suit watching two blokes batter lumps out of each other for your entertainment.

Yet I still retain a fascination for this most brutal of sports - similar I suppose to those spectators watching gladiators fight in ancient Rome. Downstairs we double back, directly under the concourse to the health club and gym.

As well as being an internationally renowned sports venue this facility is open to the community. Joining the Glasgow Club is like joining all the council- owned leisure centres at once. Worth considering.

As we near the athletics track I'm excited. This is possibly the first sporting location I have visited that doesn't have a mad groundsman watching my every move, waiting for the chance to tell me to get off the grass.

Perhaps that's because there is no grass, only an extremely hard-wearing synthetic surface.

There are two running tracks. The five-lane 200 metre one runs round the circumference of the games area with the six- lane straight 60 metres right up the middle. Two things quickly spring to mind.

Can athletes cover the short sprint distance in around SIX seconds? Seems helluva far.

And can they really run so fast they don't fall over when they reach the steep camber at either end of the 200 metres circuit? Doesn't seem possible.

Incidentally, I love the way the 60 metre sprinters come to a stop - by running in to a padded wall. Within the oval track there are various areas set aside for events such as long jump, high jump and shot putt where a solitary girl trains. I watch her, admiring her concentration and dedication. A lonely business that gives some idea of what an athlete must endure.

But then it must help when you go through your paces on the same area as Carl Lewis, Linford Christie and Sally Gunnell.

The debris of the previous day's indoor athletics meeting is being swept away. Cans, sweetie papers, banana skins, crisp pokes.

Evidence of a family audience. It has to be positive that so many youngsters are turning up, even if they leave a mess.

Something else strikes me. Just how close the seating is to the action. A full house is 3,500 and given the negligible distance between spectator and participant the atmosphere is special.

Our last port of call is the function suite - a room above the entrance. It still boasts some of its original fittings and an air of grandness. A regiment of pensioners are being put through their aerobic paces - another reminder of the community role. We pass through the gyrating grannies out on to the verandah. Across the road is the Art Galleries and beyond that Glasgow University. Even on a drizzly day like this there's a grandeur in the view. So how has the Kelvin Hall handled the transition from exhibition centre to sports venue?

You would have to say, with some style. When you think recent events include the European and Scottish Badminton championships, World Indoor Bowling championships, grand prix gymnastics, World Masters weightlifting, international volleyball and fencing you have to be impressed by the variation and standard.

Forthcoming events at the hall include the Norwich Union International Athletics meeting on March 9.

Two days later there's world championship boxing with Scott Harrison and Alex Arthur on the bill.

Add the World Kendo Championships in July and you get a flavour of just how busy the Kelvin Hall is.

When I think of how many times I've heard or read the words world, international and championships in the short time I've been here I start to appreciate the importance of the hall.

I realise it's one I have perhaps undervalued. It's surely worthy of Scottish pride that this place in the heart of Glasgow attracts the best from so many sports.

Maybe there is more to the city than football. Even on a day like my visit, when the Kelvin Hall is virtually empty, it is very much alive.

All that energy and fitness passing through seems to leave some impression. But I'm not quite finished. For those of you resident in Scotland and not of a sporting persuasion - I'm prepared to accept there may be a few - there is also the superb Transport Museum, entrance off Bunhouse Road, still under the vast roof of the Kelvin Hall.

That, however, I'll leave you to find out yourself.
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Title Annotation:Sport Monthly February 2002
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Feb 3, 2002
Previous Article:Great sporting moment; No.14; Liz McColgan clinches gold at 1991 Tokyo World Games.
Next Article:100 GREATEST SCOTS.

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