I started this blog as a personal outlet. I’d never written anything properly by my own accord, and after putting it off for a few years, decided to jump in head first.
Like many, the pandemic cut me off from the live football fix I craved. My Easter Road routine is something I missed more than I thought I would. Therefore, I figured that once crowds were allowed back into the grounds I would make a much increased effort to see as many games as I could. I’d keep my Hibs season ticket of course, but I had a desire to see new grounds and experience life outside the SPFL for the first time.
My journey began on a warm July evening with my new local team, Bellshill Athletic. I wasn’t sure what to expect but was delighted with the friendly atmosphere, the surprisingly good play and the rapturous expectation. My appetite for the lower leagues grew instantly; I was immediately on the lookout for the next few games.
They arrived in the form of Lanark United, Blantyre Victoria and Gartcairn. I began to realise just how accessible ALL lower league games were. Every match ticket cost between £5-£8 (sometimes free!) and had arguably more excitement and drama than a standard Premiership game. Blantyre’s KG Stadium really opened my eyes to the history of former junior clubs and the huge loyalty shown by particularly older supporters. Junior football was never shown in mainstream media, and so seeing these famous old grounds and the ingrained sense of community within is something I loved being a part of.
The enormous size of lower league supporter bases really took me off guard. I’d heard about the famous crowds the likes of Clydebank and Pollok would regularly attain, but seeing them in person is a different kettle of fish. The atmosphere this can generate is therefore immense, and I witnessed this first hand on my trip to Newlandsfield. After being genuinely blown away by the old grandstand and loving the famous Pollok culture, the match I took in will stick with me forever. Six goals, three red cards and a whole lot of controversy cements this game into legend for me.
Through the soggy, miserable winter lower league encounters became naturally more difficult to attend. It did however give me an opportunity to take in growing establishments including Bonnyrigg Rose, East Kilbride and Tranent Juniors. These clubs showcase the level of ambition lower league clubs have to advance up the still raw pyramid system. Bonnyrigg and Tranent have certainly showcased this with their impressive promotions to League 2 and Lowland League respectively. I share the opinion of many that the pyramid system should be further expanded. More promotion places need to be made available to the Lowland League, as well as automatic promotion to League 2. Highland League and Lowland League giants battling it out for a place in the professional outset is enough to drive huge interest. Likewise the West, East and South of Scotland leagues have a windfall of massive clubs. The fact the champions of these three leagues must fight it out for one promotion place is ludicrous. Eventually, every tier in Scottish football will be massively diverse. I thoroughly believe that former junior outfits have what it takes to advance as far up the divisions as they want given the time. Traditionalists might not like it, but change is coming, and I’m all for it.
After bouncing around a variety of clubs, it felt natural to wind down the season with a few outfits that had been on my ‘groundhopping’ wish list. Firstly, a homecoming with Dalkeith Thistle felt right. Kings Park held plenty of exciting memories for me as a youngster, and so attending a league game with my granddad in late April felt like a milestone. St Rochs provided a much different experience but another one that I will certainly treasure. The culture, support base and inclusivity is one I thoroughly enjoyed.
It felt fitting to end the campaign with a bit of history. Witnessing Bonnyrigg’s monumental promotion to the professional leagues felt incredible. Cowdenbeath’s iconic Central Park had also been on my bucket list, and it certainly did not disappoint with its unique viewing points and weird stock car track perimeter. The result wasn’t too bad either. A 0-1 victory for the Rose saw them elevated to the professional leagues for the first time in their long history. I’m excited to see what they can do in the SPFL and believe they will be a positive example of what ex-junior clubs can achieve in the senior game.
In total, I visited 27 brand new clubs in the 2021/2022 season.
I attended 53 matches altogether (including Hibs home games).
I witnessed 155 goals on my travels, the highest in one game coming in the WoSFL, where Gartcairn beat Dalry Thistle 7-1.
These are rookie numbers compared to a lot, and I am incredibly jealous of those who have the time, energy and funds to put the work in to tick off a multitude of grounds. I’ll catch up one day.
Incredibly, these blogs have amassed just under 10,000 views in the last 10 or so months. I’m not entirely sure how, or why you’d choose to look at them, but your viewership, positive comments and helpful feedback have provided me with a sense of purpose around my place in Scottish football. It is all greatly appreciated.
See you in July for the League Cup Group Stages!
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