A Wand, a Drop and a Brave Stop – Blantyre Victoria – 28/07/2021

The shed at the KG Stadium

Background

I’ve always loved midweek football. The feeling of having something to look forward to after a working day and the excitement of a game under the floodlights epitomises the sport for me. It may not have been dark enough for the floodlights to be called into action, but I was definitely looking forward to this one. Blantyre Victoria play at the KG Stadium, located in the industrial heart of the South Lanarkshire town. As one of the more recognisable names in the junior game, ‘The Vics’ have a rich history. They boast the accolade of having won every single tournament they’ve ever competed in at least once. Therefore, a whirlwind of success lies in their past, including three impressive Scottish Junior Cup wins. Celtic legend Billy McNeil started his career in Blantyre, perhaps giving the Vics a miniscule claim to European Cup glory. I have no doubt that some Lisbon Lion tenacity lies within the KG.

At present day, Blantyre play in the WOSFL Premier Division having gained promotion in the 2019/20 season. The Vics were looking to bounce back after a 5-0 drubbing from Kilwinning in their last outing. Benburb arrived in confidence, after starting the season unbeaten. A terrific night of summer-time football awaited me.

The Journey

Blantyre is a short ten-minute drive away from my current location. A short journey through Bellshill and down the A725 gave me a very simple route to the easily found KG Stadium. The ground itself is tucked away in an industrial estate and has a very closed-off feel to it. The perfectly straight road running through the estate had ample parking for me to slide into. No hassle, no drama, no getting lost. I was here.

Facilities

Firstly, the view of the turnstiles from outside the ground has a very old-school feel to it. The worn-down bricks and scabbed paintwork gave me the impression that this weathered ground had seen a lot more than just football. I liked it. This was the first ground I’ve been to this season where there’s been an actual turnstile. Although there was no classic ‘Click, Click, Click’ as I entered, it was still satisfying to go through. I also was able to pay for entry by card. Another welcomed first.

There are many viewing options to watch a game at the KG. You have a couple of old, steel sheds to stand under on your left-hand side or 2 very modern looking but small seated stands behind the goal on your right. Over the other side of the park by a building I can only assume is either changing rooms or a social club are more prime viewing seats. Plenty of options. Behind the programme stand there is a grass-area where youngsters were enjoying a good kick about. This is the second time I’ve seen this on my travels after Bellshill Athletic. I love it. Giving the young ones a chance to play whilst watching their local team is fantastic. I hope to see more clubs being this accommodating.

Having had a wee walk around the ground, you get a terrific view of the action wherever you are. Most punters who arrived preferred to stand under the sheltered shed and soak up the atmosphere. To be fair, the shed looks like it’s been there for a while and could do with a big of touching up. Not too sure I’d trust it during some adverse weather. The pitch looked to be in great condition and looked more than ready to take on a season of football. Overall, the KG has a lovely blend of old and new structures and has a very iconic look to it. I’m sure if the old walls could speak, they’d have some stories to tell. I believe a score of 4/5 is deserved.

The Match

The game kicked off to a cry of support from the home crowd – the first glimpse of a cracking atmosphere inside the KG. Blantyre started quickly. A well-thought throw was taken sharply with striker Lewis MacDonald through on goal. The tight angle may have put him off though and McLean in the Benburb goal stood tall. A few chances came and went for the away side. Benburb’s Lewis squaffed a shot wide of the mark after some good build up play. They really should have taken the lead after a horrible goal kick by Blantyre’s David Cherrie allowed them in. However, a very poor through ball muted the gifted opportunity. Benburb controlled the game well for the majority of the first half and reduced the Vics to long balls, which was never going to work against the oppositions’ towering centre backs. Benburb’s number 5, Docherty, particularly enjoyed strolling into the middle of the park to create opportunities for his front line. Nothing manifesting yet though. Blantyre came into the game and began to create some space and possession for themselves until the KG rose to life just before half time. A good move down the right resulted in a foul around 30 yards out for the home side. Sam McKenzie stepped up confidently and smashed the ball into McLean’s top right-hand corner to give Blantyre the lead on the stroke of half time. A thunderbolt to give the Vics the edge on an evenly contested half.

Benburb must have taken that personally as they flew out the traps to begin the second half. A terrific cross in from Livingston on the left landed perfectly on the head of Lovering. He expertly guided the ball into the bottom right corner to equalise for the away side. Back to square one. Benburb were pushing for the lead. A corner was dropped by Cherrie, with Blantyre throwing their bodies on the line to deny ‘The Bens’. A very strong stop. The game was beginning to really show its quality immediately after. A quick break saw McKenzie on the right driving inside with the ball at his feet. He curled in a wonderful strike which McLean could only watch fly into the back of the net. Another sensational goal by a player who was brimming with confidence. Blantyre took the lead and ran with it. They eased into the game and looked like a side invigorated by McKenzie’s masterstrokes. Grant Brennan went on a terrific solo run and set up Simon Eeles on the left. His drilled shot went just wide of the far post. Brennan was causing all sorts of issues for the Benburb defence with his tricky feet and lightning agility. More good work down the left resulted in Blantyre winning a penalty with the referee deciding Lewis MacDonald’s pass was illegally blocked by the hand of a Bens defender. McKenzie placed the ball on the spot and blasted the ball into the roof of the net. No keeper in the SPFL would be saving this one. A hat-trick for McKenzie who thoroughly deserved it. From this point, Blantyre controlled most of the possession, but slack defending let them down. Cherrie dropped the ball (literally and metaphorically) from a corner and allowed the Bens to fire into the net. A nervy final 15 minutes loomed at the KG for the home support. The Vics had a few chances to put the game to bed but could not put the icing on the cake. Some terrific last-ditch Benburb defending saw MacDonald’s effort cleared off the line into touch. Benburb were not able to muster up any final chances after pushing forward. Blantyre appeared to be a very good counter-attacking side and will be disappointed with no further goals to speak of. Much to the delight of the home support, the final whistle blew and the Vics had their first win of the season. Given the league circumstances for this year, it could prove to be a very useful jump-start.

Blantyre will be rightly delighted with the result of this match. Some individual class shone through and the Vics will be praising Sam McKenzie for his wand of a left foot. Grant Brennan also impressed for me. His quick feet and expert ball control caused issues for the Benburb defence and will be disappointed to not get on the scoresheet himself. I also felt Mikey Archer and Con Boyle will be pleased with their midfield partnership, particularly in the second half. They got a good grip on the game and created good opportunities for their more creative team-mates to drive forward. Blantyre will hope to push forward from this win and create some momentum to press up further up the table.

Benburb will naturally feel disappointed with the result, given that they controlled most of the first half but couldn’t muster any real opportunities. I felt they should have really pushed at Blantyre’s nervy defence and goalkeeper more after they scored to make it 3-2, but again failed to create anything of note. The season is still young though and this is the Ben’s first defeat of the season. On another day, Blantyre would not have scored two cracking goals and Benburb would have been up the road with three points. They must push on and secure a result on Saturday.

The beauty of midweek football. The KG provided a very enticing game, filled to the brim with excitement. 5 goals, a flurry of missed opportunities and some cracking individual performances leaves me with very little complaints. 4.5/5 is my final score for the match.

Atmosphere

The KG is the first ground on my travels this season where I feel like there is a properly loud support. I saw plenty of supporters with Blantyre themed merchandise, with both older and younger generations sporting their team’s colours. I enjoyed seeing the healthy mix of supporters who had been watching the Vics for years, and youngsters out on a Wednesday night getting a taste of their local team. It paints a bright future for Blantyre. Families were dotted across the ground, with the wee ones being allowed to showcase their future right to turn out for the Vics with half-time strikes at goal. I even saw two very excitable Dalmatians at the game! The massive dog-person in me naturally lit up. Not too sure they’d be of any use running onto a penalty right enough.

The KG also gave me my first proper experience with an excitable crowd who felt there was something on the line here for them. The home support under the shed were particularly vocal and created a cagey atmosphere for the away side. I’ve particularly missed the mass cheer when a wonder-strike is scored, with the sounding of high-fives and whistles echoing around the ground. Benburb brought a noticeably young away support too. One young man was very vocal throughout the match and ensured ‘The Benburb boys were making all the noise’. His conversations in the pub with his Celtic and Rangers supporting pals must be very interesting.  

I loved the atmosphere in the KG. The tightly compacted home support brought a terrific noise and support to their club which almost definitely had an influence on the team. A very positive score of 4/5 seems fair to me.

Pricing

I really can’t complain with this one. I paid £7 to watch a thoroughly entertaining game of football. I wish I had picked up a programme which were going for a reasonable price too. I also wasn’t hungry enough to pick up anything at the refreshments stand but they seemed well priced. 5/5. No doubt.

Final Score

Blantyre deservedly fly up to the top of the Scottish Football Adventures League Table where they’ll be hoping to stay for a while. A final score of 17.5/20 is very deserving. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at the KG and will be hoping to return to a game very soon. I wish them all the best for the rest of the season.

– Connor

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