Scotland | As foretold in scripture: ‘The queen of the South will rise up …’

Geoff Thomas, a Middlesbrough season-ticket holder, does not mention Queen of the South’s biblical connections but describes a conversion experience at a Nov 07 trip to Palmerston. The visit formed part of Thomas’s “football education,” an effort to escape the stranglehold of England’s major clubs by seeing a team that, previously, had been little more than “a quirky name on the ‘World of Sport’ vidi-printer.” After the Apr 12 QOS victory, he writes, “Pay my respects to those who refused to let the soul of football die.” (© Queen of the South Website)

Ritchie’s affection for Queen of the South, which plays in the 6,412-capacity Palmerston Park (featuring Scotland’s tallest floodlights), went against his father’s wishes. Having grown up in the Borders, Ritchie’s father referred to rugby as “football.” “When he meant football,” Ritchie continues, “he called it soccer.”

For him soccer wasn’t really a game for men. He also worried, I suspect, that a little Dumfries boy like me, at the impressionable age of eight, might be lured towards the cultural darkness of Glasgow’s Old Firm. So [my parents] agreed that if I was to follow football it would be as a Queens supporter. Queens fans have a saying that “yer hame team’s yer ain team” and it was probably on that basis that my mother took me along to the only Scottish Cup semi-final that Queens have played—until today.

The side’s current form—“punching above their weight,” in the time-worn saying—becomes more extraordinary on learning that only this season have Queen of the South players become full-time footballers. The club’s chairman, Davie Rae, is a retired farmer. As Hunter Davies comments in the current New Statesman, all the players but one are native Scots—the exception is from England. They are the kind of team for whom the domestic cup competitions offer the prospect of breaking, if only for a moment, the perception of unassailable Old Firm dominance that Scottish football offers the world.

Natalie Stitt Queen of the South ’06

Dumfries, a medieval rampart overlooking the River Nith, has held status as a royal burgh since William the Lion, king of Scotland, issued the charter in 1186. The chartering acknowledged the town’s strategic importance to the southwest part of the country and allowed Dumfries self-governance, celebrated each June as part of the Guid Nychburris (Guid Neighbours) Festival. At each festival, held the third Saturday in June, criers proclaim the charter; then, the Queen of the South is crowned, heralding mid–19th century politician David Dunbar, who, whether drawing on the Bible or indulging in sentimental pandering, gave Dumfries its nickname.

The festival itself is a catch-all of civic pride and kitsch, offering rugby players in drag as well as handwriting and best-dressed-window competitions. One local, writing anonymously, confesses a love-hate relationship to such events and to the place in general, which she labels “Dumpfries.” Of Guid Nychburris, she says:

In the week leading up to the main Saturday all the horsey types flee about the boundries of Dumfries and the main roads on horseback. This is called the Riding of the Marches. It is an old tradition dating to when the English would come over the border and burn down Dumfries. The principal players in this are the cornet who has a horn-type thing and his lass. On Guid Nychburris Saturday the Queen of [the] South is crowned. She is a girl from one of the four secondary schools.

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