On one of the warmest days of the year I took a saunter down to Rockburn Park to take in the WOSFL Conference ‘A’ tie between Bellshill and Lesmahagow. Having moved to the Lanarkshire town just last year, I’ve been curious to attend a game during my time here. With COVID-19 kicking the life out of the hospitality sector and ruling public gatherings as a big ‘no-no’, my visit has had to wait. However, today was the day! A swift 40 or so minute walk from my flat was the beginning of the journey.
From a distance, it would be difficult to tell exactly where Rockburn Park is. It’s located in the off-centre of a housing estate on a small embankment with the park being surrounded by fences which are covered to deny sneaky pundits viewing matches without paying. The outside doesn’t look very impressive or indeed appealing.
Once you enter the gate though, it’s a lovely little ground. A newly structured but unfinished clubhouse greets you on the right-hand side as you enter and the pitch beckons straight ahead. After talking to some home supporters before the game I learned the original clubhouse and changing rooms had been burned down in an arson attack by “arsehole neds” as one gentleman put it. As tragic as this was for the club – the community took control and raised thousands to begin rebuilding the structures. English club Bridlington Town continued the unbelievable generosity by donating their old-clubhouse and offered to send it north for free. In the middle of a global pandemic, human kindness shone through. Despite the in-progress state of repairs, the clubhouse was open for refreshments and the changing rooms appeared more than operable from the outside.
Rockburn Park itself is admittedly one of the smaller grounds I’ve attended. Only two sides of the pitch are accessible to supporters with a tightly packed runway flowing down the length of the park. On a busier day it may have been a sweatbox due to lack of space but thankfully today was not that day. Beside the clubhouse lay a small, open area of grass for children and younger people to play on. This really gave me the feeling of a well-run, community-based club that welcomes all to its matches. Families were present all around the ground.
On a whole – for a club whose main facilities have been decimated in the last year it is hard to criticise what the club has in the short time of rebuilding. The small, intimate ground works perfectly fine for now and has an almost unique feel to it. However, if Bellshill Athletic have aims to grow and advance up the Scottish football pyramid an expansion or move is required. I feel as though a score of 2.5/5 is a fair reflection of Bellshill’s situation at the moment.
After an impeccably observed minutes silence, the start of a thoroughly entertaining 90 minutes began. The Gow’s defence didn’t seem to settle in too well with uncertainty looming over the back four. Shortly after Bellshill’s No.9 seemed to be caught offside for what seemed like the 78th time in the first half, they took the lead. A lofted free-kick was thrown into the box with No.11 being able to loop the ball over the The Gow’s stranded goalkeeper. The away side hit back swiftly though with Lesmahagow’s no.8 nodding in from a poorly defended corner. After some flying tackles and heated on-field debates – Bellshill’s No.7 fired a rebounded effort into the top of the net to regain the lead. The post saved Bellshill just before half time after a well struck effort from Lesmahagow’s no.9 (who could’ve and maybe should’ve had a hat-trick in this game) to ensure The Hill went into half-time 2-1 up.
Bellshill started the brighter of the two sides in the second-half. After more rough tackles and blatant shithousery, skirmishes in the middle of park ensued. Tempers were starting to flare and boiling point was hit when Bellshill’s no.7 was sent off for a raised arm in an aerial challenge. A silly mistake to make from a player who was easily a standout member of the squad. Bellshill would have to play the remaining 35 minutes or so with ten men. However, The Hill did not sit in. They drove up the park and after some good work down the left, No.9 poked in a goal that was deserving of his work ethic for the night. Lesmahagow pushed back and had some fantastic chances to reduce the deficit but the finishing touch did not appear to be manifesting itself. Despite this, The Gow received a bizarre lifeline. From a corner, Bellshill’s No.8 produced the most blatant hand-ball I think I’ve ever seen. Imagine a Diego Maradona/Luis Suarez hybrid from Lanarkshire. No.3 swiftly dispatched the spot kick, and the game was on. Lesmahagow pressed for an equaliser but it was no use. The game seemed to flicker out before their very eyes. The Hill defended superbly and thoroughly deserved to hold out for the full-time whistle.
Bellshill will feel delighted with this result, especially after losing a key-man so quickly in the second half. They did not look too troubled with 10-men and had it not been for the hilarious penalty incident could have seen the game out with a two-goal cushion. Despite finishing the game with 124 offside decisions against him, No.9 was a stand-out for me. His consistent running and tricky footwork proved to be a lot to handle for The Gow defence. Special shout out to Bellshill no.4 and captain who I thought had a superb game before being subbed off. He acted in a sort-of quarterback role where he pinged passes out wide to his wingers and fired balls into the feet of his strikers. An excellent performance all round. Despite it being incredibly early days in this league, I would expect The Hill to do well in this division.
Lesmahagow will naturally feel disappointed with this. However, they should not be too deflated. They created more than enough chances to win the game and, on another day, would have. Their forward line seemed to lack the composure required to slot the ball into the net. I felt No.7 was a fiery character who clearly has talent and ability. A good performance. Lesmahagow’s no.3 also stood out. The left back defended his area of the pitch superbly and may feel aggrieved to be on the losing side. There will be some positives to take from his match. After two defeats in two games though, The Gow will have to pucker up their ideas if they are to challenge in this division.
Overall, I was treated to a five-goals, a red card, a bizarre penalty and plenty of hard-hitting challenges. What’s not to love?! It warrants a score of 4.5/5
A warm, sunny mid-week game will always bring out a good number of people to come out and enjoy themselves. I thoroughly enjoyed having conversations with supporters and immediately felt welcomed by those who I spoke with. It is clear to see the positive influence this club has on the community. A family-friendly feel was present. A grass area for children to play on and plenty of youth team players in attendance to watch the first-team further backs this up. With fewer people in attendance at semi-professional level it can naturally be difficult to encourage fans to provide a bit of energy and flair. Ultimately, fans and supporters can add to the atmosphere of a ground and despite a few shouts and cries, there was no real energy surrounding the support. The community spirit of the club and the supporter’s sheer friendliness lifts this score up to 3/5.
I’ll make this short and sweet. I paid £6 for a game of this quality. Six. Pounds. That’s a bargain and perhaps daylight robbery. The food and drink were also reasonably priced and lived up to the high standard of the entry fee. 5/5. No question.
It’s a strong start to the season. Bellshill finish the night with a fantastic 15/20, pushing them to the dizzy heights of The Scottish Football Adventures League Table. Granted, they are the first team I have visited this season but a worthwhile achievement nonetheless. I will return to Rockburn Park at some point to continue my interest in the club. I wish them all the best for the rest of the season.