The Gateway to the Highlands – Stirling Albion – 06/11/2021

A vibrant Fortbank

Background

He who holds Stirling, holds Scotland.

The city of Stirling is often described as the ‘Gateway to the Highlands’. It held huge military importance for a once independent Scotland and provided access in both directions to the Highlands and Lowlands. The impressive Stirling castle is the main attraction of Scotland’s former capital and sits proudly in an area of historical importance and mythical wonder. Kings, Queens, Princes and Princesses have walked these ancient streets, but I was not here to follow in their footsteps. On a possibly less important reason to take in Stirling’s magic, I visited for some coveted SPFL cinch action.

Stirling Albion Football Club are the city’s primary attraction for the beautiful game. Founded in 1945 from the ashes of King’s Park, Albion have been around the blocks a few times in the Scottish professional leagues. So much so, that the club are commonly known as ‘The Yo-Yos’, having famously been too good for the lower leagues but always falling short of making an impact in the higher reaches. England’s Norwich City are perhaps the modern example of such a club (#FreeBillyGilmour).  

Historically, The Binos have circulated around Scotland’s middle two divisions, pushing for a top-flight berth. Under gaffer Bob Shankly, the club just missed out on the top division party but were making strides in the second tier throughout the 1970s and 80s. They established themselves as a steady, ambitious organisation who continuously pressed for success. No less so than in cup competitions where they famously pushed an honour-laden Aberdeen to a replay and a superb Celtic side to extra-time in the League Cup. However, a few cash-strapped years followed. Even after the sale of key players, Albion found themselves falling between the cracks towards the third and fourth division, where they have largely remained in the modern era.

Currently, Stirling Albion ply their trade in SPFL League 2 and are establishing themselves as serious play-off contenders. Heading into Saturday’s game against struggling Stenhousemuir, The Binos find themselves sitting in second, a couple wins behind a Kelty Hearts team who look destined for greater things. In most cases, being the best of the rest is not usually a proud achievement. However, in this instance, I believe it is perfectly natural to laud whoever finishes behind the Fifers this season. I went into my first League 2 game of the season in high hopes, visiting a ground I’d never been to before, watching two teams I’d never seen in the flesh. What a Saturday.

The Journey

Work commitments brought me to Glasgow city centre for the morning. Despite a glum looking day and several road closures to accommodate COP26, the ‘Weeg appeared in good spirits. My walk back and forward through Glasgow Green was as pleasant as usual despite spitting rain, blustering winds and overcast clouds.

Quite embarrassingly, Stirling is the furthest north I have travelled for a game this season. Soon enough, I’ll have to unlock the gateway to the Highlands and explore the footballing culture in personally unknown lands up north. With a forty or so minute drive from Glasgow, I endeavoured in a good portion of the radio predictions given by Scotland’s so-called best pundits as they reported the team news from today’s Premiership games.

The scenery entering Stirling is mesmeric. The Ochil Hills are painted across the horizon and provide an unbelievable backdrop to the city. It is difficult to take them in with greater detail with a car to keep on the road and a stadium to get to. I have every intention of returning this way soon to take in everything I missed on this November afternoon. 

Facilities

Forthbank Stadum sits on the outreach of Stirling, on the banks of the Forth river (obviously). Opposite a large retail park and as part of a wider scale sporting facility, Forthbank is clear and obvious to see from a distance. With ample parking and plenty of space, it was an absolute dream to enter the complex and find a space, leaving a literal thirty-second walk to the turnstiles.

Consisting of two decent sized parallel stands and a couple standing areas behind each goal, Forthbank is a good-looking stadium with ample room to grow. It is simple, elegant and does the job to accommodate fans of all needs. Upon entering the West Stand, a nice wee tearoom greets you on the right with a merchandise shop directly in front. After grabbing my pre-match fill, the steps up to the stand provide you with a cracking view the Ochils on the left. They are tremendous. I do love a stadium with background scenery and having grown up with terrific views of Arthur’s Seat at Easter Road I like to think my standards are reasonably high in this department.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the aesthetics of Forthbank and believe it is a ground with plenty of potential. Having only been constructed in 1993, it provides a superb facility for the city and the football clubs it is represented by. It’s just a shame it’s a wee bit out the way for those without a driving license. I feel a score of 3.5/5 is fair.

Atmosphere

Another game, another young team, another drum. The Binos youths made themselves known before they had even entered the turnstiles. After parking my car, a march of what seemed to be 50+ young supporters stormed in from the retail park. Pyros in hand and chanting in the soundwaves, the young team looked ready for some prime cinch action at their local club.

It is no secret that I am in full support of young supporters showcasing love for their club in a vocal manner. They provide an encouraging noise to the usual grunts, groans and moans of the regular fan and must provide a motivation for the players in some way. They were in good voice for the first half and were then forced to move from their nest on the far side of the West Stand after some disrespectful throwing of food at the Stenhousemuir media team. This sort of behaviour isn’t great and I understand the club’s decision to get them moved from the away end.

I’m surprised they haven’t been given their own area in the stadium. There were two dry standing areas behind the goal, void of any other supporters. They’d fit in like a jigsaw piece and be able to create a display or support without bothering the old-school fans. East Kilbride do it well and other clubs need to take a leaf from their book.

The West Stand was pretty full, with a bustling atmosphere throughout. I’m not sure why the East Stand isn’t used more, which I feel could have been used more effectively to host the decent Stenhousemuir travelling support. Supporters younger and older gathered in their hundreds to watch their local team and made their voices heard. The young team’s enthusiasm brings this score to 3/5.

Quality of the Match

After the first seven or eight minutes, I had the feeling this may be a drab affair with very little action gracing Forthbank’s impeccable surface. Turns out I was wrong, but not in the way I imagined. After a cross from Stenny’s right winger Darren Christie was swung into the box, there didn’t seem to be much danger. However, Stirling defender Adam Cummins attempted a back-heeled swing at the ball and could not have gotten it any worse. The ball bounced off his standing leg and trundled into his own net. Scottish football is unrivalled.

The Binos were struggling to gain any sort of momentum and Stenny were taking advantage. A superb ball over the top by captain Sean Crichton deftly bounced off Christie’s chest. His swift turn set him up for an uncontested strike from the edge of the box – saved well down to Blair Currie’s right. More good play from Christie and Ross Forbes down Stenny’s right wing set up Thomas Orr just inside the eighteen-yard line. He moved the ball onto his left foot and comfortable struck the ball into the bottom corner. A well taken goal which in truth was far too easy. Stenny were strolling to the disbelief of The Binos support.

It could have been far worse for them shortly after. A superb cross in from the left by Euan O’Reilly found Orr unmarked in the box. His deft header inched just wide of the far post and really should have been put away. However, the relief didn’t last long. Stenny continued the press and found their just rewards. After a burst down the right by Thomas Orr, the ball was won well by Stirling substitute left-back Leon Watson. However, he gave the ball away instantly and allowed Stenny’s attack all the time and space in the world. The ball eventually found its way to Christie who produced a superb finish into the far corner. A well-deserved goal if I’ve ever seen one. Three-nil to the away side going on six, leaving The Binos with a few of the Ochils to climb.

Half Time: Stirling Albion 0-3 Stenhousemuir

After one of the most dismal home performances I’ve witnessed for a long time, Albion needed to come out strong in the second half. They began playing with greater attacking impetus and created small half chances to give the home crowd some hope. They were soon on their feet after a long ball was headed down towards striker Dylan Bikey. He smashed a low volley into the bottom corner to give Albion something to shout about.

However, they were unable to press on with this momentum and allowed Stenny further into the match. With a pacey forward line, the away side were able to counter quickly and turn possession over with speed. After good work by O’Reilly down the left, his driven cross was calling out for any sort of touch to divert the ball into the net. Fortunately for the anxious Binos, the touch didn’t arrive.

It is perhaps credit to Stenny’s defence that ‘keeper David Wilson remained largely untested. He gathered a long-range strike with ease before setting Thomas Orr on his way down the other end. With the striker through on goal, his initial effort was blocked well by Currie before the rebound was dealt with poorly by Stenny’s leading man, much to the delight of The Bino’s ever-vocal young team.

The game ended without another sniff from Stirling to the disappointment of the home support. A chance to keep up with runaway leaders Kelty had been missed, and the supporters knew it all too well.

Full Time: Stirling Albion 1-3 Stenhousemuir

Stirling will feel this was a huge, missed opportunity. 2nd playing 8th at home usually results in a comfortable home win in most cases. However, Stenhousemuir’s solid backline, battling midfield and pacey forwards made life difficult for the home side who had the three points wrapped up after half an hour.

A special shout out must go to Stenny’s midfield giant Nat Wedderburn. Every team needs a midfielder to do the dirty work well, and I felt Wedderburn brought finesse and class to this role. He seemed to enjoy the effective role he had and showcased his technical ability when it was required. An impressive performance.

Overall, I felt this was an entertaining spectacle to take in. Despite a disappointing home performance, I witnessed a visiting masterclass by a Stenhousemuir side that I was not expecting it from. To quote ‘A View from the Terrace’ host and Stenny fan Craig G Telfer, you simply have to say, ‘fair play.’

The game scores a cosy 3.5/5.

Pricing

With this game showcasing the highest level of Scottish football I had taken in this season it is natural that it would be the most expensive one too. £14 gave me a ticket through the turnstile, with a further £4 feeding me with a superb macaroni pie and coffee. It is decent value.

However, just one level lower, the ticket prices are half that. I’m a big believer that the gap between the SPFL and below is not as great as people think. You only need to look at Civil Service Strollers taking out Cowdenbeath and Clydebank knocking out Elgin City in the Scottish Cup to prove this. Is it still good value? Absolutely. However, is double the price justified? Probably not. 4/5.

Stirling Albion finish with a score of 14/20 and set a decent standard for their SPFL counterparts. I enjoyed my time at Forthbank and wish the club all the best for their play-off push. I suspect Stenny’s poor start to the season will give them too much to do for the play-offs this season, but I expect them to slowly press their way up the league. I look forward to my visit to Ochilview in due course.

Connor

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