Forza Candy – St Roch’s – 30/04/2022

In memory of Paul Kelly

‘Community’ can be defined asthe condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common.” Football in general is a community, where players, staff and supporters gather on a Saturday afternoon to enjoy a single match unfold. There is a shared interest, a unanimous absorption, and a much-needed respite from daily life. Sometimes though, football clubs go above and beyond the call of duty for the sake of this sense of community. 

St Roch’s FC were formed in 1920 by Father Canon Lawton as a result of a want and need to create a pathway from the Boy’s Guild to the senior game. The club flourished almost instantly, with a Scottish Junior Cup lifted in the first two years. The final(s) did not come without controversy though. After The Candy beat Kilwinning Rangers 2-1 at Firhill, Kilwinning complained of an ineligible player in the St Roch’s squad. Their complaints were upheld, with the final being replayed a couple weeks later. The Buffs would be dispatched once more though, with legend Jimmy McGrory scoring St Rochs’ equaliser in another 2-1 win. 

It would be impossible to write a St Roch’s-centred report without a paragraph on Britain’s greatest ever goal scorer. After starting his career at The Candy and winning a league and cup double, he moved on to Celtic, where his legacy remains. After achieving the small feat of the British goalscoring record of 550 goals in 547 senior appearances, he went on to manage the club for an astonishing twenty years. It is impossible to imagine a player committed to a single club, whilst given the time to build an empire. McGrory was given that chance to cement himself in Hoops folklore. 

Presently, Jimmy McGrory’s first club are a game away from concluding their West of Scotland Conference ‘C’ campaign. It has certainly been a successful season for The Candy, who secured qualification to the newly formed First Division a good few weeks ago. Having achieved some more than credible results against the sides above them in the league. St Rochs will have every belief going into the summer break that they can challenge for promotion. Time will tell.

Off the pitch, the St Roch’s committee, supporters, and wider community do some extraordinary work. The club have a frequently active charity foundation, which is used to raise important funds for the less fortunate in the greater Glasgow area. The generosity of the Candy loyal can be epitomised when the club asked for donations for a defibrillator. Supporters raised more than double the money required, with the club donating the second defibrillator to Forth Wanderers. It is hard for anyone to be critical of the Roch’s support when lives are being bettered – and in the case of the defibrillator money – potentially saved. Politics are meaningless when genuine good deeds are the end goal.

Facilities

James McGrory Park has to be one of the most unique grounds in Scotland. It has a ridiculous amount of personality, showing the social standpoint of the club and its supporters. The street art-style graffiti dotted around the arena adds to the independent and free-spirit like attitude the St Roch’s community care for. None more so than the mural dedicated to the man in which the ground is named after. I really, really love it. It feels like a proper fortress.

The ground is split into a few different sections. As you enter the narrow entrance, the toilets, club shop and food stall greet you on the left. On the right is a tight space filled with supporters having a carry on with a carry-out, with a wee social club imbedded inside. Further along, behind the away dugout is a tiny shelter that I assume is for away supporters. It’s a nice spot, with a decent vantage point for the entire pitch. Across the way is the main attraction. Despite its tired, rustic look it is a fabulous structure depicting exactly what St Roch’s are. Green, white and orange and spread across its length, as well as a nice tribute to Celtic legend Bertie Auld. It has a few benches along it (some looking more comfortable than others) to provide some respite for those who need it.

I absolutely love James McGrory Park. It is rustic, vintage, old and perfect. It is a clear representation of the club it hosts, in the community in which it serves. I felt as though I was in an arena with plenty of stories to tell, and it genuinely felt like a privilege to be within its gates. It deserves the first ever 5/5 for facilities.

Atmosphere

I’ve heard good things about the atmosphere at JMP. I was assured it would be a party-like atmosphere to celebrate the final league game of a successful campaign, and to be fair it wasn’t too far off. For a start, the crowd was busy (over 300 according to the club’s social media), with the two main stands pretty much full. It is a friendly, welcoming place to come to with Roch’s and EK fans mingling together on the far side. As far as noise, the majority was created and maintained by the young Candy Ultras.

Flying a variety of flags on the far side of the ground, the young team provided chants, songs, and drumming throughout much of the match. They looked to be having a great time before the game even kicked off and did not stop for the full ninety-minutes. Whatever your thoughts are on drums, pyros and chanting, it is impossible to deny how amazing it is to see young people so engaged with their local club. With elite football consuming most of the airtime, it is incredibly important the next generation are involved in the grassroots movement. Respect must also go to the club for allowing these youngsters to express themselves. 4/5.

Quality of the Match

After a Celtic-style huddle from the home side, the game kicked off to rapturous encouragement and expectation. After both sides putting feelers out for the first five or six minutes, the game got its first real piece of quality. After being sent through on the right, winger Brian Henderson smashed the ball first time into the top corner. I had a terrific view behind the strike and the swerve would be enough to beat any quality ‘keeper. One-nil to the Candy.

St Roch’s pushed for a second straight away. With Connor Hughes on his bike, he powered through on goal albeit from a tight angle. His shot was saved well by Thistle goalkeeper Harry Purves, with Jamie Longworth’s rebound effort blocked.

After a long period with no chances, EK mustered their first clear cut opportunity. With Adam Edgar sent for a run on the right, he chopped inside with agility and precision. His left foot strike was saved well at the front post by Roch’s stalwart John Stark. The big man was celebrating his 150th Candy appearance and will be happy with his contributions to the occasion so far.

The wet, slippy surface was causing issues for both teams, with neither side able to put together any sort of passing move. Set pieces looked to be the way to go, with the Candy almost taking advantage of one. After a good move resulted in a foul, midfielder Kieran Daw stepped up to take the free kick. The strike was good, but Purves was equal to it once more to push the ball away for a corner.

The last action of the half was almost a disaster for the Roch’s goalkeeper. From a passback, Stark’s dodgy clearance was blocked by a charging EK attacker. The ball fell to forward Andrew Skinner who had the net at his mercy, but the big man recovered well to tackle and smash the ball into touch.

Half Time: St Roch’s 1-0 East Kilbride Thistle

EK pressed for an equaliser from the start and forced Stark into a good save from a driven shot at the edge of the box. They should have scored a couple minutes later. From a whipped free kick from the left, Alex McDonald found himself free in the box. With plenty of space, he headed his effort wide of the mark, much to the frustration of the EK bench.

With the St Roch’s loyal looking nervy, EK got their goal. From a corner, a total stramash occurred in the box. After a few half clearances and failed tackles, the ball fell to Skinner. His shot was blocked well, but the rebound fell to McDonald a yard from goal. He made up for his earlier miss with an easy tap into the net. A much-deserved equaliser.

The next thirty minutes would prove to be an incredibly frustrating period for the Roch’s players and supporters. The Candy began to control the game with chances coming thick and fast. Jamie Longworth played fellow forward Luke Crerand in on goal. Despite having several opportunities to shoot, he attempted to round the goalkeeper, who gathered the ball from his feet.

Longworth had his own chance soon after. After being sent through on goal, the striker twisted and turned through several challenges with his shirt being pulled. His eventual strike may have been tipped wide by Harry Purves, but The Candy loyal roared in encouragement.

With the game beginning to reach its final stages, Longworth was sent through once more with a long, bouncing ball. Even with a rushing goalkeeper flying towards him, his header was sent goalward from the edge of the box, just to be cleared off the line.

With St Roch’s pushing for a winner, it was EK who almost got the next goal. From a floated corner, a free header at the back post forced a good save from Stark, who tipped the ball over. Another corner was then swung in, with the effort being dramatically cleared off the home side’s line.

The Candy’s second half was summed up in the last-minute. Pushing for a winner, a long throw found its way to the back post. Defender Brian McQueen and striker Connor Hughes seemed to get in each other’s way with neither player committing to a proper strike at goal. The resulting effort was blocked and cleared with ease, with the final whistle following the groans of the home support.

Full Time: St Roch’s 1-1 East Kilbride Thistle

The Candy will be disappointed to end the league campaign with a draw. Despite dominating most parts of both halves, they just could not find a killer touch, pass, or shot. Despite this, it has been a tremendous season in general, especially after the tragic loss of manager Paul Kelly halfway through the campaign. To finish fourth in a strong league and qualify for the First Division is an important success for the club. St Roch’s clearly have it together, with a loyal fanbase who will follow them across the country. The scenes at the end of the game, where goalkeeper John Stark joined in on the Candy Ultras pyro party in the middle of the pitch show this in depth. The closeness between the players and fans is clear and is something to take into next season.

Overall, I enjoyed the match I took in today. Despite some squandered chances and a lack of killer instinct, it was a feisty battle between two teams looking to end the season on a high. It was competitive, hardened and a right good game to watch. It scores a decent 3/5.

Pricing

Like all clubs at this level, the pricing is ridiculously good. I paid six quid on entry, with a further three for a coffee and pie. Where else can you spend less than a tenner at a football game and get tremendous value for money? 5/5.

Final Score

St Roch’s end the day with one of the highest scores of the season. They shoot up to third in the TSFA League Table with a score of 17/20. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience at James McGrory Park. The culture I took in, the people I spoke to and the arena I stepped into was some of the best I’ve been around all season. I look forward to returning.

– Connor

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