Another Wednesday, another trip to watch a match in the WOSFL league pyramid. On this occasion, a venture to Airdrie beckoned to take in Gartcairn against Dalry Thistle. I’ll be migrating eastward to watch a game soon, I promise!
The Gartcairn Football Academy was founded in 2010 and is a continuing success and mainstream name in Airdrie and Coatbridge. With over 700 players on their books and a straight pathway from under-8s to semi-professional football, Gartcairn provide a fantastic community service and a genuine opportunity to play. A statement on the club website states that no trials are offered for youth sides, instead running on a ‘first come, first serve’ basis. The club also mentions an ethos of preferring children to play with their friends instead of being involved in an ‘elitist’ and ‘cut-throat’ environment at a young age. Perhaps a dig at the bigger clubs and their pro-youth setups, it’s hard to disagree with Gartcairn and their opinions on this.
The junior side were created in 2015 and gained access to the WOSFL shortly after. They set up shop at MTC Park, a community arena parallel to Airdrie Leisure Centre. After the cancellation of the league season last year, the club are desperate to make an impression in the semi-professional game and showcase the young players coming through the ranks. I was excited to see them in action and expected plenty of goals. Gartcairn came into the game heavily favoured to stroll past Dalry, a team who had shipped ten goals in their last outing.
Another simple journey. A straight drive through Holytown and Calderbank brought me to Airdrie. Good views of Airdrieonians’ stadium were available as I drove past what felt like 168 car dealerships on my left. A simple path brought me to Airdrie Leisure Centre with MTC Park in plain sight. Easy days.
You can’t miss MTC Park. It sits proudly on an embankment with Gartcairn advertisements surrounding the fencing. I’ve got to be honest, after handing over my entry fee to a nice gentleman and entering the ground, I felt a bit underwhelmed. If it wasn’t for the three fairly modern stands the ground could be mistaken for a decent high school facility. Furthermore, only one side of the ground is accessible to fans. On the contrary though, the artificial, multi-use pitch most likely offers a good training ground for Gartcairn’s many youth teams to share. The stands themselves are spacious, colourful and offer an elevated view of the pitch. To my knowledge, there were no options to get any food or drink, nor were there any toilets. Literally no pot for me to piss in. In fairness, with Gartcairn still being a fresh member of the WOSFL and the implications of the pandemic I’m sure this won’t be the only ground on my travels with these kinds of facilities. Overall, as basic as MTC Park is, it has space for expansion and is a terrific asset to community football with its modern, artificial surface. I feel a score of 2/5 is fair.
Quality of the Match
Gartcairn flew out of the blocks to the sound of a single supporter screaming encouragement. It must have given enough momentum as ‘Cairn opened the scoring after a couple of minutes. The tap in from Ross McNeil may be the easiest goal he’ll ever score. From early on, the gap in quality between the two teams was clear. Dalry were consistently cut open by through balls and Gartcairn’s tricky wingers. McNeil scored his second after one of these through passes beat the Thistle centre backs, with the striker coolly chipping the ball over the onrushing goalkeeper. His hattrick followed five minutes later. ANOTHER through pass gave McNeil the opportunity to round the ‘keeper and slot the ball into the back of the net. As impressive as any hattrick is, McNeil did not have to work very hard to achieve the feat. Gartcairn’s fourth arrived soon after. After a cross in from the right, a classic scramble occurred in the six-yard box. Left-back Ben Cappie reacted quickest to slot the ball away. Dalry did manage to get out of their own half before the interval. A terrific break saw a lovely finish from Thistle’s left back to make It 4-1 just before half time. Was the comeback on? Could Dalry repeat Hamilton Accies’ achievement of coming from 4-0 down to get a result four days earlier?
The short answer was (and this may shock you) no. Five minutes after the restart, McNeil and Cappie combined to allow the left-back to score his second of the game. This was easy street, and Gartcairn were strolling on it. The game appeared to fade for the next 20 minutes. ‘Cairn took the foot off the gas and preferred to play a possession-based game. Dalry had a chance to reduce the deficit, but a tame shot was gathered comfortable by the relaxed-looking Gartcairn goalkeeper. He may as well have been on a sun lounger in Tenerife to be fair. ‘Cairn right back Joshua Gracie then scored the goal of the game. He brought the ball from his side of defence and strolled through the middle of the park. With intricate feet and terrific pace, he sidestepped two Thistle players before playing the ball out wide to his winger. He continued his run with intent and managed to get on the end of a superb cross to score ‘Cairn’s sixth goal. A move that would have genuinely impressed any football admirer. They added their seventh with the last attack of the game. Anthony Higgins was given a chance to impress after replacing hattrick hero McNeil. He easily finished off a nice run and cross from Ben Cappie and offered insult to injury for Dalry’s journey home.
Analysing the game is not a difficult task. Dalry left so many spaces for ‘Cairn to push through and therefore suffered consequences when those spaces were pressured. Gartcairn’s pace and penetration left the Thistle defenders constantly chasing shadows. Ross McNeil did not have to work particularly head to score his hattrick and possibly should have scored more. He looks a fantastic asset to have at this level and will surely be pushing for the Top Goalscorer accolade this season. Gartcairn looked organised, quick, and attacked with intentionality. They currently sit second in the league table after this win and will be pushing for a winner’s medal.
Dalry on the other hand look powderpuff at the back. The young-looking midfield were often found to be bullied off the ball and seemed to lack the motivation to win possession back. They pressed forward a couple of times in the first half but never seemed to have the quality to add the finishing touch. To lose seventeen (SEVENTEEN) goals in consecutive games leaves me worried for them.
Gartcairn can only beat what’s in front of them. It was just a shame that what faced them this evening was an incredibly poor opposition that will be lucky to avoid the bottom of the table. I’m personally not a massive fan of seeing a game being completely dominated by one team and don’t find it particularly entertaining. Harsh perhaps considering how seamless Gartcairn looked going forward, I feel a score of 2.5/5 is sufficient.
It was a very quiet night at MTC Park from a supporter’s perspective. Fans are usually enamoured by exciting play, controversial decisions, and a genuine contest on the park. Unfortunately, not a lot of this was offered and resulted in muted terraces. There was good chat amongst supporters, and they all seemed very friendly, with some youth players in attendance too. However, the conversations were mostly Old Firm and Airdrieonians based. I’m sure Gartcairn will be a lot of people’s ‘second team’ which may make it difficult to build the noise supporters make. The Dalry coaching staff were on the supporter’s end of the pitch and provided ample entertainment with their shouts, screams and cries. These noises were the main amplification of sound from the row of supporters on an otherwise flat evening. However, after speaking to one or two genuine Gartcairn loyalists, they expressed excitement over the team’s progress and believe they are on the way up. Sometimes it is a couple of positive conversation that truly lift the mood inside a ground. 2.5/5.
Again, £6 is what I paid for this encounter. I witnessed eight goals and a flurry of missed opportunities. With nothing really on offer at the ground, it’s hard to judge anything else. I’ll keep the scores consistent on this front with a 5/5. Six quid is terrific value.
Gartcairn finish with a respectable 12/20. Perhaps on another night this would have been a greater score with a more competitive match on the park. Gartcairn have decent, basic grounds for growth and if the team on the pitch continue the relative recent success, I’m sure the next time I visit it will be a different story. I look forward to that moment.
As always, I wish both clubs the best of luck going forward (Dalry may need it this season).