Adventures

Disclaimer

All views and opinions are my own. My goal is to document experiences as I see them regardless of whether they are positive or negative. If you would like to discuss my experiences further, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Brazil is Blue – Cowdenbeath FC – 14/05/2022

Cowdenbeath Football Club have a long history in Scottish football folklore. Founded in 1881 as a merger between Cowdenbeath Rangers and Cowdenbeath Thistle, the club are the oldest surviving in Fife. Imbedded in a town of only 14,000 odd people, The Blue Brazil have had decent success over the last 141 years. Despite no cup silverware, the club have achieved multiple league titles in the lower regions of the professional pyramid. No less than three old First Division titles have made their way back to the ‘Beath, meaning they have spent a surprising amount of time in the topflight. Not bad for an old coal mining town.

There are a couple different stories I could find around the unique and flattering nickname Cowdenbeath have. One involves a few coalminers digging all the way to a suburb of Rio De Janeiro, finding three skilful youngsters, and bringing them all the way back to Fife. According to legend, these three played as trialists and scored all eleven goals between them in an 11-1 victory over rivals Dunfermline and were thus dubbed the ‘Blue Brazilians’. I’d take it with a pinch of salt. I prefer the light-hearted version where Cowdenbeath’s style of play was so good, ‘it was like watching Brazil.’

Away from fictional Brazilian superstars, some prestigious Scottish football alumni have also plied their trade at Central Park. From prolific goal-machine Rab Walls (who once scored 54 goals in a season for ‘Beath), to outstanding shot-stopper Ray Allan as well as superstar loanees Craig Gordon and Derek Riordan. There’s no doubt the town has had some famous footballing names walk its streets.

In recent times though, Cowdenbeath have struggled. After plummeting from the heights of the Championship, which included a 10-0 thumping from Hearts, the club suffered consecutive relegations. After a dreadful League 2 campaign, the club faced a play-off with Lowland League champions East Kilbride. Only a victorious penalty shootout out saved them that day. The following year, the same fate awaited ‘Beath. This time an impressive 3-2 win at Central Park secured their SPFL status against now flying Cove Rangers.

The club find themselves in the play-off once again. This time, an ambitious Bonnyrigg Rose visit ‘Beath with promotion in mind. After a 3-0 hammering at New Dundas Park the previous week, it looks a certain struggle for The Blue Brazil to maintain their SPFL name. Would it be third time unlucky?

Facilities

Central Park is one of the most talked about away days in Scotland, and rightly so. The ground sits right in the centre of the town (funnily enough) and is ridiculously accessible. The train station lies directly next to it, with pubs, shops and plenty of entertainment in the surroundings. Its popularity cannot be denied.

Inside the ground is everything I wanted it to be and more. From the steep steps to the terracing, to the surroundings banks, to the ridiculous stock-car track around the pitch, Central Park is an absolute wonderland of uniqueness. It has a terrific feel to it. It has seen thousands of goals, plenty of joy, a plethora of disappointment but most importantly, a huge number of memories. I felt as though I was part of one of those memories today.

Even the traditional home stands are mesmeric. The vast majority of Cowden supporters found themselves in the seated terracing behind the dugouts, while the noisier section found themselves in the adjacent ‘cow shed’. They are rustic, a bit ancient but they fit perfectly into the style of the old ground.

It is so easy to see why Central Park is unanimously loved, and I am very comfortable admitting I am now officially on board after seeing it in person. It gains only the second ever 5/5 in this category.

Atmosphere

A huge travelling support

Just over 2000 people turned up for this vitally important match in both club’s history, and the atmosphere, for the most part did not disappoint. On estimate, I’d guess around 1400/1500 supporters travelled from Midlothian to support Bonnyrigg, with the far bank packed with red and white. An unbelievable effort.

‘Beath supporters were in good voice too. I love a drum, and with the banging coming from the shed, it riled up the home supporters hopes of turning over a difficult deficit. It had the atmosphere the occasion deserved, with a tense suspense depending on the action on the pitch. Otherwise, it was a friendly, welcoming, gala-day feeling with plenty of families and kids enjoying their day out at the football. 3.5/5.

Quality of the Match

With a three-goal deficit, Cowdenbeath would have to come out of the blocks quickly. After a nervy first ten, they almost snatched an early lifeline. A good touch and turn from Bobby Barr allowed him time and space on the 18-yard line. His curling effort beat Bonnyrigg ‘keeper Mark Weir, but the ball struck the post. A warning for The Rose.

Bonnyrigg responded well. With good work down the right, a ball in from Kerr Young found its way to the back post. Popular hometown winger Bradley Barrett peeled off his marker and met the ball, with his volley heading just over.

Bonnyrigg midfielder Lee Currie almost scored a fortuitous opener soon after. A strike from twenty or so yards slipped through the fingers of young stopper Cammy Gill, who was lucky the ball ended up wide.

The Rose continued their flurry of chances. A good corner to the penalty spot was met by captain Jonny Stewart, but his free header was nodded behind.

Former ‘Beath right-back Dean Brett was next to send the home supporters hearts into their mouths. From a corner, a few blocked shots and missed opportunities found its way to Brett on the right. His smashed effort flew over the bar from close range, letting Cowdenbeath off the hook once more.

Cowden’s opportunity to score arrived just before half-time. With good work down the right, a sweetly hit cross found its way into the box. With no marker and from four yards out, the ball was met by Samuel Denham. However, from a stretching effort, it flew over the bar with the Cowden fans with their head in their hands.

Half time: Cowdenbeath 0-0 Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic

Despite the importance of the following forty-five minutes, the second half started slowly. Bonnyrigg remained on top with possession, and would get their just reward fifteen minutes in. After gaining possession in the Cowden box, Ross Gray was fouled, and a penalty awarded. Spot-kick expert Neil Martyniuk stepped up confidenlyt to slot the ball home.A season defining moment.

Cowdenbeath pushed and pushed to no avail. Their long balls were defended well by a sturdy and organised Rose side, who looked under no pressure from their League 2 opponents.

Beath did show fight in the final stages. A flicked on long throw flicked on found the head of Quinn Coulson, who headed over from close range.

Mark Weir finally had a save to make five minutes before time. A well worked move found the feet of Alex Ferguson twenty-five yards out. His thunderous strike was met well by the strong wrists of Weir, who pushed the ball wide.

In tune with the tie as a whole, it would be Bonnyrigg who ended the game on a high. A well-timed cross found the head of substitute Kieran Hall who perhaps should have headed home. It would not matter in the end though, with the full-time whistle blowing soon after.

Full Time: Cowdenbeath 0-1 Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic (0-4 on aggregate)

Ultimately, Bonnyrigg proved a step too far for this Cowdenbeath side. The home side did not appear to have much of a game plan against a rigid defence, who dealt with many of their attacks with ease. It genuinely is a shame to see The Blue Brazil drop out of the SPFL, but I hope to see them flourish in the Lowland League to regain their identity. As one of the bigger clubs in the league, they have an opportunity to be a voice for change in an organisation that badly needs it. I wish them all the best.

On the other hand, I am delighted for Bonnyrigg Rose. The journey they have been on the last few years has been remarkable, and I cannot think of another club that deserves this promotion as much as them. Having visited them late last year, it is clear to see the massive community outreach they have. Their loyal supporters deserve this, the forward-thinking board and committee deserve this, and the town deserves this. I am very excited for Midlothian to have its first ever football club in the professional leagues. I’ll be back at New Dundas to see it.

As a game, it had tension, drama and expectation. Despite a lack of genuine quality, it was a gripping watch with so much at stake. I enjoyed the occasion and felt part of history. 3/5.

Celebrations

Pricing

Tickets were priced at £12 for online purchases for this game. For the uniqueness of the ground and the size of the occasion, it is difficult to begrudge paying any less. 5/5.

Final Score

Cowdenbeath end the day on a large score of 16.5/20. They’re a quality club with massive history and one of the best away days in Scotland. I wish them all the best in the Lowland League and hope they can find their way once more. I’ll be looking out for their results.

– Connor

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.

Homecoming – Dalkeith Thistle – 23/04/2022

Background

I grew up in Dalkeith – spent the best part of twenty odd years in the place before moving to Glasgow for university. Like most towns, it has its smooth surfaces and rough edges. I lived in Woodburn (the rough edge), famous for underage drinking haven Dalkeith Miners Club and Marmite footballer Ryan Porteous. (I don’t like Marmite, but love Porto). Like in most council estates, growing up was an interesting exposure to what life could be like if I did not buckle down and get my priorities right. It is very easy to look down on these environments, but those who come through are some of the strongest individuals to walk society, and although my experience growing up wasn’t particularly tough, it gives a different perspective to life in general. 

During the early 2000s, street and local park football still reigned supreme. Cowden Park and the AstroTurf pitches at the old Woodburn Primary School were always teeming with youngsters playing Long Bangers, Cuppy and Red Arse, which out of context sounds like a council smut film but I assure you they were street games. For much of my boys club career, I represented Dalkeith CYP, the predecessor to Dalkeith Thistle Community Club, where I had some of the best experiences of my playing career. Cowden was a fortress on its good days. 

The Community Club does some fantastic work. Operating out of Woodburn, the organisation consists of a multitude of youth, amateur and futsal teams for boys and girls in the community. It provides opportunities to grow and showcases a real grassroots effort to bring enjoyment, physical activity and community to the surrounding areas. It also provides a ladder to climb from the lowest rung in the ladder to the senior outfit. Run completely by volunteers, they are a stalwart in the town. Long may it continue. 


Further down the road, Dalkeith Thistle are the town’s senior team. After moving from the junior leagues in 2018, the club currently compete in the East of Scotland Conference ‘A’ and look odds on favourites to qualify for the newly formed Second Division. However, recent cup results will give the club encouragement that it can compete at a higher level. A sensational win away to Premier Division giants Linlithgow Rose showed the tip of the proverbial iceberg and was followed by incredible dressing room scenes. Scottish Border side Coldstream were next on the fixture list for The Jags, with a win essential in the quest to claw their way back up the league. For the first time, I was a home supporter in my blog adventures and would be hoping for a Dalkeith win.

Facilities

Since 1892

King’s Park is situated in the centre of Dalkeith amongst a greater, green public space filled with rugby pitches, tennis courts and a bowling club. It is incredibly accessible from multiple sides with easy pickings parking. On arrival, the arena is about as basic as it gets, but has a unique charm to it. A single tiered shelter stands opposite the changing rooms with all sides of the ground open for spectators. Uniquely, seating took form of random single chairs dotted around the pitch which a good few viewers took the opportunity to use. On a sunny day like today, its hard to grudge the choice.

One thing about King’s Park that stands out to me is the scenery around the ground. With blossom trees blooming, a wonderful masterstroke of colour surrounds the skyline. It is shared by the picturesque church spire and the ancient looking King’s Park primary school in the horizon. It really is mesmerising to drag your eyes over the continued charm of the old buildings. It is not something I remember about the ground whilst on playing duty, but it’s a welcome addition for new memories.

I like King’s Park. For a basic ground, it has a lot of character and style. It certainly does the job for the level Thistle play at and has done for a long time.  3/5.

An old looking Kings Park Primary School

Atmosphere

With neighbours Bonnyrigg Rose playing an incredibly important Pyramid Play-Off just up the road, it can be forgiven for how quiet King’s Park was today. A few shouts were heard here and there from the home supporters, with a handful of those from the Borders also providing limited noise. There is no doubt that Dalkeith provide a friendly, hospitable environment but in terms of actual atmosphere, today did not provide the party shown at Linlithgow a few weeks prior. I’ll just have to come back for a bigger fixture to take it all in. 2/5.

Quality of the Match

With plenty on the line for both sides, Coldstream started the brighter. After a scrappy midfield battle resulted in a corner, Christian Briggs put the ball directly onto the head of defender Ejay Gay. From five yards out, the big man couldn’t miss. 1-0 to the visitors.

Dalkeith struggled for the first twenty minutes, with a few injuries mounting up for an already depleted squad. After adjusting to the pace of the game, Thistle began to apply pressure and eventually got their just rewards. After a superb touch and turn from Dylan Greig, his intricate through ball matched a surging midfield run from Darren McTearnan. Coldstream ‘keeper Elliot Turnbull blocked the initial effort well, but striker Josh Davison reacted first to tap the ball into the net. A well-deserved equaliser. Game on.

With momentum on their side, the home side came close to a lead soon after. After a cleared long ball only reached as far as left-back Ronan Clelland, he unleashed an almost-perfect volley toward goal. The Dalkeith bench had their hands on their head as the ball fizzed just over.

As quickly as they had gained it, Dalkeith’s momentum would be sucked out a couple minutes after. For apparent dissent, striker Jack Burrows was sent off. Most people around the ground looked around in confusion, and I still have no idea what was said to warrant a red. Regardless, Dalkeith were down to ten and would go into the half with plenty to contemplate.

Half Time: Dalkeith Thistle 1-1 Coldstream

Coldstream immediately took advantage. After good build up on the right, Gary Windram was slid in with relative easy, with the forward slotting away to reinstate the visitors’ advantage.

With Dalkeith on the backfoot and the wind snatched from their sails, Coldstream went further ahead. More good work through the centre saw midfielder Craig Heugh control, turn and strike the ball on the volley. With tremendous technique, his effort wrong-footed Dalkeith stopper Dean Beveridge to send Coldstream into cruise control.

Things went from bad to worse for the home side. Unable to gain any control in midfield and with no real target man up top, the visitors squeezed with ease and continued their pressure. It told with twenty minutes to play, but not in the way the crowd were expecting. From a corner on the right, Windram swept the ball straight in at the back post. Poor defending which ultimately sealed Thistle’s fate.

Dalkeith’s only real opportunity of the half arrived as a result of the energetic introduction of forward Darren Leslie. His quick feet and direct running won a free-kick twenty-odd yards out. The resulting effort sailed weakly over the bar and summed up the home side’s second half.

Full Time: Dalkeith Thistle 1-4 Coldstream

It wasn’t to be for Dalkeith today. With a depleted squad, it was always going to be a difficult shift against a team in decent form. Going down to ten men doesn’t help either, especially coming during a time where The Jags were on the front foot. Darren Leslie looked a driving force in the second half, and I can only assume the forward was not fully fit to start the match, otherwise I’m sure he’d have showcased himself as a positive influence in the match. Dalkeith must now look forward to their few remaining games to head into next season with a forward mindset and determined attitude. If they can beat Linlithgow, there’s no reason why the club cannot push forward and assert themselves.

Coldstream looked a decent outfit. They were organised in defence, relentless in midfield and clinical up top. With more pitch space after the sending off, the visitors performed well to ensure they took the game by the scruff of the neck. They can be pleased with this performance and will be looking to push forward themselves. They’ll be a competitive outfit in the newly formed East of Scotland structure next season.

Overall, despite a lack of real quality for the majority, I was treated to five goals, a sending off and some moments of individual brilliance. 3/5.

Pricing

I was charged £7 entry for today’s game, which nobody in their right mind can ever complain about. Adding in the cheap food and drink prices, this level of football is unreal value. 5/5.

Final Score

Dalkeith end the day with a respectable score of 13/20. Despite a difficult afternoon on the pitch supporting my local team, I thoroughly enjoyed being back at King’s Park to take in a game. There’s no question I’ll be back, where I hope to see The Jags pushing their way back up the league and competing at a good level. Time will tell.

– Connor

Fame from Smoke – Rutherglen Glencairn 06/04/2022

Background

Rutherglen Glencairn have represented the former Royal Burgh for 126 years and are a large part of the town’s heritage. The club crest matches the symbols represented on the town seal, incorporating the values of the local community simultaneously. With the historical importance of Rutherglen to the west of Scotland, it is fitting that the football club have similar success to add their own mark on the town.

The Glens played their first ever game in August 1896, and it did not take long for the club to cement themselves into Scottish junior football folklore. In 1902, The Glens brought home the Scottish Junior Cup for the first time, with a team considered to be one of the best to win the trophy. If once wasn’t enough, Rutherglen went on to win the trophy another three times, with the latest arriving back to the town in 1939. Their four-time success makes the club one of the more prestigious winners of the competitions.

Presently, Glencairn ply their trade in the West of Scotland Premier Division and are fighting for their right to stay there. A massive month of league fixtures await the club, with relegation to the up-coming First Division looming if they don’t pick up the results they need. A West of Scotland Kilmarnock Pie Cup game may give welcome distraction though, with Arthurlie the visitors to the Hamish B. Allan Stadium. With Arthurlie looking prime time favourites for the Conference ‘A’ title, a tasty encounter looked on the cards.

Facilities

The Hamish. B Allan Stadium is named after a lifelong committee member and supporter of the club. The ground is easily accessible and sits incredibly close to the town’s centre. Upon entrance, you are greeted with the pitch head on, with the single-tiered stand on the left-hand side. It looks good, if a bit simple. The M74 motorway and railway line lie in clear view behind the far-side goal, adding a modern, unique, and structural feel to the ground. A small embankment lies opposite the main stand, presumably made for visiting supporters on sunnier match days.

Glencairn branding is displayed around the stadium, colours and all. It’s a small thing, but I feel it adds a nice sense of identity to a footballing arena. Decent toilet and food/drink facilities are also available, with helpful staff to boot.

Overall, I really enjoy the Hamish B. Allan Stadium and feel it is one of the more personable grounds I have visited this season.  It is a bit rustic in places, but a bit of character never hurt anyone. 3/5.

Atmosphere

For a midweek second round cup tie that looked destined to be rained off, the atmosphere within the ground was surprisingly lively. A good number of travelling Arthurlie supporters arrived in literal busloads, decked out in light blue and white merchandise. They largely took up the far side of the main stand and were in decent voice all game, especially when the occasion became a bit feisty. A decent number of Glencairn fans made themselves heard too, but as the game progressed, they naturally lost their voice. Overall, it is very positive to see a good crowd for games like this. It adds a sense of occasion and importance to the match, and I’m sure the players feel the same. 3/5.

Quality of the Match

The Conference ‘A’ side started the better of the two sides, but it took a good ten minutes before the first real chance could be carved. A swift counter saw the ball swept to winger Gary Carroll. His low cross looked destined to hit his teammate at the back post, but for a shinned deflection over the bar. A close shave for the home side.

Rutherglen were struggling to contain the visitor’s pace going forward, with another decent chance heading their way. After cutting inside on the edge of the box, Carroll fed striker Dale Simeon with plenty of space in front of him. Unfortunately, he scuffed his shot and the ball bundled wide of the mark.

For the next fifteen minutes, both teams really struggled to get a passing game going, with long balls dominating most of the play. It almost – and should have- put the hosts in front. After a clearance from the back, Glens front-man Kit Cummins took a wonderful touch past the pressing Arthurlie defender and raced clear. With time on his hands and the ball at his feet, he could only hit the onrushing Garry Black; keeping the scores level. A huge moment in the game.

Cummins was at it again minutes later. With Rutherglen gaining momentum and sensing an opening, Thomas Lone whipped in a superb ball into the area. Cummins glancing his header toward goal. Unfortunately, the ball inched just wide, with the big man rueing his luck.

In return, Arthurlie’s next move deserved a goal. Another good counterattack left Simeon out on the right, with his first-time cross reaching compatriot Kris Amponsah in the middle. With a first-time volley, the winger’s strike flew just over the bar in what could have been an incredible opening goal.

That goal did come in the final minute of the half. With the Rutherglen defence clearing another cross, a misjudged bounce was pounced on quickly by Arthurlie centre-back Calum Nolan. With a single stride, he unleashed a low, driven effort from twenty-five yards which arrowed into the bottom corner. It is the type of strike to ignite any match.

Half Time: Rutherglen Glencairn 0-1 Arthurlie

The Glens looked to bounce back from the sucker punch quickly and started the second half the brighter. After some attacking pressure, a corner met the head of defender Callum Shields, with the effort going just wide.

From this scare, Arthurlie switched gears and surmounted an unbelievable assault on the Rutherglen goal. First, a mistake in the corner allowed substitute Nab Zeb to nip in and dribble into the box. His pass inward found Tam McAughey, with one more falling to Dale Simeon. With time on the striker’s side, his effort was saved well by the feet of ‘keeper Scott McLellan, with the ball flying over for a corner.

Five minutes later, McAughey raced down Arthurlie’s right hand-side, with the winger waltzing himself into the box. After cutting onto his favoured left-foot, his effort was again saved well by McLellan, this time able to beat the ball away to safety. The visitors were knocking on the door for a second.

Said door would be kicked in with force a minute later. After a quick free-kick, agile substitute Aaron Healy nipped his way into the box and produced a goalward curling effort. Another McLellan save only found the feet of Michael MacNeil, who smashed the rebound into the roof of the net. A much deserved second for the visitors, with more to come.

Arthurlie turned relentless. A defensive mishap gave plenty of time and space for Dale Simeon who crossed an inch-perfect ball to the far post. A diving effort from MacNeil was met expertly, with the midfielder scoring his second goal in a matter of minutes. Rutherglen looked deflated and beaten, and with no substitutes on the bench, it was looking to be a long night for the hosts.

MacNeil could have had his hattrick soon after. More good work from Healy on the left saw him dribble past a couple of players before crossing into the box. MacNeil’s header went just over, much to the frustration of the midfielder.

More sloppy play from the hosts resulted in Arthurlie’s fourth. With the ball lost in the middle of the park, the ball found its way to McAughey on the right. With the goal at his mercy, he unselfishly played the ball to Healy, who comfortably slotted away to a huge roar from the travelling faithful. A much-deserved goal for a player who had been immense for the visitors since coming on.

The fifth would arrive ten minutes from time. More good work by McAughey, followed by an impressive overlap from Alan Dunsmore, saw the visitors advance down the park with ease. The latters’ cross found Zeb in the middle who tapped in. Cruise control.

Rutherglen felt they could (and probably should) have had a penalty. A blatant push in the back from a free kick was unawarded, which in the end, probably sums up the host’s night.

Full Time: Rutherglen Glencairn 0-5 Arthurlie

On the face of it, a team from the division below coming to your home ground and smashing five past you is a bad look.  I would argue however, that the league system is still in its infancy. Teams are still trying to find their own place in the pyramid, with results like this happening naturally. Furthermore, Rutherglen had no named substitutes and it showed in the second half. I would argue the first half was highly competitive, with the hosts having a couple of great opportunities to take the lead. They will feel disappointed with this result, but should no means take it to heart. With a huge month ahead, there’s no reason they cannot regroup and fight for Premier Division survival.

Arthurlie’s second half performance was immense. From back to front, the whole team operated as a smooth, cognitive machine. Although the front line will take most of the credit, there are a couple of individual performances that may have slipped under the radar. Firstly, Lance Pearce did not put a foot wrong all game. Operating as part of a back three, he controlled the intensity in the build up play and was integral to a defence that held their own against two powerful forward men. He looks a natural leader, and certainly played like one. Secondly, midfielder Jordan Leydon was a thorn in the Rutherglen side the entire game. With a workhorse-like attitude and the technical ability to match, he run amok in the centre and put in the groundwork for his forward line to flourish. He was fantastic, and I suspect he’ll draw some attention when Arthurlie are inevitably promoted.

Overall, I was thoroughly entertained by this match on a drizzly Wednesday night. Lower league cup action always brings excitement, drama, and big moments – this one was no different. Some great goals, tidy performances and gripping battles were on show, and I loved every second. 4/5.

Pricing

Like any game at this level, pricing is unmatched. £7 entry with cheap food and drink. It’s the best value for money in the country. 5/5.

Final Score

Rutherglen Glencairn finish with a score of 15/20 and shoot up into the higher reaches of the TSFA League Table. Despite the disappointing result on the pitch, I enjoyed the atmosphere and facilities greatly and feel it is a terrific place to watch football. I look forward to returning in the future when – hopefully – the team have a few subs!

– Connor

Diamonds Are Forever – Airdrieonians – 26/03/2022

Background

Airdrieonians’ story is widely known in Scottish football folklore. It begins back in 1878, when the original club was founded to satisfy the local craving for a team in Airdrie. Forty years passed, with Airdrie showcasing themselves as a real challenger for dominance. They finished runners-up in the Scottish topflight four years a row, a period which also brought the club’s first and only Scottish Cup trophy. Whilst that victory over Hibernian (typically) may be the jewel in the crown for Airdrie, they had always remained an ever-present figure in Lanarkshire and beyond. They excited their faithful with eons of local cup success, exciting individual talents and even a European adventure in Prague. However, the weight of financial instability proved too much for the club. Even with steady progress on the pitch under a fledging Ian McCall, Airdrieonians became only the second club after Third Lanark to be officially liquidated.

The second, and shorter chapter of this story starts in 2002. With the club looking to seek their way back into the professional leagues, different tactics would have to be attempted. A reincarnation of the original club; Airdrie United applied to fill the fresh gap. This failed, with a money-laden Gretna proving the preferable option. The club tried something different. With the horrific mismanagement of a struggling Clydebank, Airdrie sought an opportunity. The Bankies were sold, the club moved to North Lanarkshire and their identity changed forevermore to match that of the Airdrieonians of the past. It is interesting, as the current Airdrie are legally a continuation of Clydebank under a different name, the club are universally accepted to be a reincarnation. This was helped by the formation of a new Clydebank; currently plying their trade in the West of Scotland Premier Division. I hope they play each other soon, for some Clydebank v Clydebank action.

In the present day, Airdrieonians are pushing for the SPFL Championship. The team are flying, with their last league defeat coming at the start of December. However, their efforts have been outdone by today’s visitors Cove Rangers. A fresh addition thanks to the expansion of the pyramid, Aberdeen’s second side are a well deserved five points clear at the top of the table and are looking to seal their second consecutive SPFL promotion. The potential consequences of today’s match were massive. A win for Airdrie would close the gap to two points, with fifteen to play for. I expected a tasty encounter and was very excited to take it in.

Facilities

The Excelsior Stadium (or Penny Cars Stadium for sponsorship reasons) has been associated with both forms of Airdrieonians. Having opened in 1998, the original club only played at the ground for a few years before the Clydebank/Airdrie United hybrid took over. With a 10,000+ capacity, the Excelsior hosts four similar looking single-tiered stands in a typical looking modern style. The club colours and symbols are dotted around the ground, making sure there is no confusion on who owns the stadium, despite the many teams who play their home games here.

This makes sense for the club, who have a decent looking artificial surface. If a club is to ground share, the shambles that is Firhill at the moment is the leading example of the benefits an artificial surface can bring. For the level Airdrie play at, it is no doubt one of the leading grounds to play football in. With the stands being close to the pitch, it would be a dream to feel the atmosphere with a full-house.

Overall, I like the Excelsior Stadium. It more than does the job and will suit Airdrie for years to come. It might be a bit out the way from the town centre itself, but once you reach the ground, it provides a good experience. 3.5/5.

Atmosphere

For this top-of-the table clash, big interest would surely wait in the wings. Airdrie looked to promote the game by selling tickets at a reduced rate to entice supporters inside, on a weekend with no Premiership football. It worked, with almost double the attendance the club would normally get taking in the game. The crowd were in strong voice all game, with drums, chants and tension flying around the ground. It felt like a huge occasion, and fair play to the club for reducing prices for this game.

Cove also brought a healthy crowd down for the occasion. A few bus loads perched outside the East Stand made their way in and made noise throughout. It’s a long way to come for a game of football, but their spirits never dampened, always remaining high. I really enjoyed it. It got the crowd the game deserved, and the atmosphere showed. 4/5.

Quality of the Match

In a match with huge connotations for the rest of the season, The Diamonds could not have asked for a more explosive start. Callum Smith and Adam Frizzell combined well in a quick Airdrie attack. After the latter’s strike was saved by Cove ‘keeper Stuart McKenzie, Gabbie McGill reacted quickest to bundle the ball into the net, sending the large home support into early rapture.

Cove responded well and had the better of the next twenty minutes. Chances came and went for Scottish Cup winner Fraser Fyvie and former Aberdeen icon Shay Logan. Despite their respective strikes being saved and drilled over, Cove looked to make their own stamp on this tie in rapid fashion.

With the visitors chasing, Airdrie had a golden opportunity to double their lead. After good work down the left by Craig Watson, a returning header across goal found its way to Rhys McCabe. From six yards out though, his weak header nestled in the hands of McKenzie. There is no question on whether he should have scored.

The same can be said of Cove’s Harry Milne. After he and Connor Scully passed their way through the Airdrie defence, the latter crossed for the former. With plenty of time and space, Milne volleyed the ball goalwards, only for Airdrie stopper Max Currie to deny an equaliser.

A highly entertaining first half, with both sides heading into the break disappointed for different reasons.

Half Time: Airdrieonians 1-0 Cove Rangers

After an energetic first forty-five, the drama only heightened as the contest progressed. After a few blocked efforts from Fyvie and Milne, Cove continued to huff and puff with no reward immediately incoming.

Airdrie had a chance of their own, with the home faithful disappointed not to see a Callum Smith header nestle in the back of the net. Tension was building in the stadium from both ends, with the atmosphere growing evermore restless. A big moment felt certain.

It arrived three minutes into stoppage time. From a last-gasp corner kick, the ball bounced around and fell to Fyvie twenty yards from goal. From a slight acute angle, he rifled a sensational volley over Max Currie and into the back of the net. The Cove support went wild. Centre-back Morgyn Neill pounded his chest in front of the away faithful. They were now twenty-one games unbeaten. The Airdrie fans went silent. Their heroes fell to the ground in disbelief. Airdrie were two minutes away from closing the gap and instead find themselves back at square one.

What a game. 4/5.

Pricing

As mentioned, Airdrie reduced their ticket prices to a measly £10 for todays encounter. For a top of the table game, on an international break, with so much at stake, it may have looked an easy option to keep the prices as they were, knowing an increased crowd would come anyway. However, their decision to reduce prices looked to have paid off. A healthy crowd of just over 1,600 were in full voice the entire game and added a wonderful atmosphere. 5/5.

Final Score

Airdrieonians slide into third place in the TSFA League Table, funnily enough just ahead of Clydebank, with a score of 16.5/20. Despite their natural disappointment, I have every reason to believe that Airdrie will find themselves in the Championship next season, even if they fail to catch a rampant Cove side. Their day will come.

– Connor

A Day with the Colts – Rangers B – 20/03/2022

Background

Colt teams are not new nor revolutionary. Most clubs – professional or otherwise – have some form of youth, reserve or development system in order to create a pathway from grassroots to the first-team squad. This is normal. It has been for generations. Some of the world’s top nations have B teams lingering in the lower leagues in order to promote growth for the nation’s footballing youngsters. If it can work in Spain or Germany, then why not Scotland?

For me, Colt teams are an issue for a couple of reasons. The two Glasgow giants already have such a huge financial stranglehold on the Scottish game. I remember growing up in an era where the Old Firm could buy players from other Scottish clubs willy-nilly at a cut-throat price. The draw of either Celtic or Rangers was far too large to even consider turning them down, especially as a youngster who wishes to make it to a higher level.

However, Rangers B and Celtic B entering the Lowland League just looks rank rotten. It makes a mockery of the pyramid system, which has only recently been rightfully opened up for those who wish to progress upward. To have two clubs just slot in for a few quid absolutely stinks. Also, the precedent has now been set. Although the two teams cannot gain promotion to League 2 for now, I would not be surprised if conversations are already taking place to make promotion a reality. Then, where does it stop?  Could we be seeing Colt teams challenge for League 1, or the Championship? I certainly hope not.

However, I do understand the incentive that caused Lowland League clubs to vote in favour of the Colts. The financial gain from increased crowds and testing yourself against the supposed ‘elite’ of Scottish youth football can bring benefits to developmental progression in itself and perhaps give an extra edge to raise your game.

I believe there are better alternatives in developing youth players than firing nine past against lowly Vale of Leithen or Gretna 2008. For me, the loan system works perfectly well and allows younger players to experience a more competitive edge with experienced players who have seen everything at every level. Strategic partnerships should also be encouraged. Working with other clubs around the country at a higher level in a collaborative manner surely brings the same benefits to what competing in the Lowland League would bring to the future of Scotland’s national team?

On a bright and sunny Saturday, I decided to see for myself. The highly anticipated first Old Firm ‘B’ Team Derby (too much of a mouthful) was being played at Ibrox with the coveted Colt bragging rights up for grabs. Does anyone even care? I was about to find out.

The Journey

Finally, I have a Saturday off! Usually, I would travel to games by driving, but with today’s weather, I fancied a stroll or two in my adventure to Ibrox. After leaving in plenty of time, a busy train towards Glasgow Central completed the first part of my journey. The second consisted of only my (maybe) fourth time on the Glasgow Subway. I find it unbelievably convenient, quick and cheap and provided the simplest route possible to today’s destination. A short walk after arriving at Ibrox Subway Station brought me to the ancient home of Scotland’s current champions for the very first time.

Facilities

It honestly blows my mind how big Ibrox Stadium actually is. After turning a corner, it stands in all its glory in the middle of the community in which it serves. Parts of the stadium look rustic, but most look incredibly top of the range and exactly what you’d expect from an elite worldwide football club. As I climbed up the stairs in the Sandy Jardine Stand it brought back familiar feelings to what I experience at Easter Road on a bi-weekly basis. The view of the ground in full view is outstanding, with TV cameras and angles providing no justice whatsoever to what I was seeing. It is not a regular, modern clone of a stadium. It is feeling. It is old-school, and obviously plays a huge role for the 50 odd thousand fans who fill it out every week. Ibrox easily scores a 4.5/5.

Atmosphere

Naturally, the largest crowd of my travels so far poured into the Sandy Jardine stand to witness this derby. I enjoyed the noise and encouragement the supporters poured into their youngsters, with positive play being applauded at every move. I enjoyed the camaraderie of the support as a whole and felt as though it was not as hostile as I expected it to be. This is a huge community, and I appreciated it greatly. I don’t particularly appreciate a tiny, tiny enclave of support singing a few sectarian numbers though. In fairness, the vast majority of Rangers supporters around me did not approve either. It may still be a problem in today’s stadium stands, but it is reassuring to know it is not universal. 3/5.

Quality of the Match

I went into today’s contest expecting a relatively close encounter by two young sides looking to assert themselves in this new world they have found themselves in. However, my presumption was squatted away like a fly on a hot day within the first fifteen seconds. Ross McCausland found himself with plenty of time and space down the right. With the Celtic defense spluttering, he cut inside and fired low to send the 9000+ supporters wild. An electric start.

Rangers continued their pressure, with Alex Lowry putting his stamp on the game with flair and intent. After a tremendous touch and turn, the forward took on a backtracking Celtic defense with   a few step-overs before firing his strike just wide of the post. His next attempt at goal would be a bit more accurate…

After Lowry collected the ball 35 yards from goal, he marauded forward with plenty of space in front. He unleashed a curling effort beyond Tobi Oluwayemi to send the Sandy Jardine into raptures. A wonderful goal for a tremendous young talent. Rangers were two-nil up and cruising.

The game remained one-way traffic, with the young Gers refusing to let Celtic out their own half. After more good work down the left, Lowry found Tony Weston with an inch-perfect overhead pass into the box. Although Weston’s half-volley rolled wide, the Rangers supporters were showed their appreciation for the dominance their team were applying to the occasion.  

They were on their feet once more shortly after. After a defense splitting pass from left-back Robbie Fraser, Weston found himself one-on-one with the Celtic ‘keeper. With cool confidence, the striker swept the ball home to give the home side an unassailable three-nil lead. I’ve never seen a more dominant display at this level of football.

It could have been four shortly after. After Lowry found yet another killer pass, right-back, Adam Devine wandered his way into the box. His toe-poked strike slapped the bottom of the far post to send the young Hoops into the break without further embarrassment.

Half time: Rangers B 3-0 Celtic B

The second half started slowly, and never gained any traction in the entire 45 minutes. The only real chance in the half for Rangers fell to Devine once more. After a positive passing move, the right-backs strike from the edge of the box went comfortably wide.

It took around eighty minutes of the game for Celtic to muster their first chance on goal. Substitute and promising attacker Ben Doak’s scuffed shot the only real attempt on the Rangers goal. It summed up a disappointing and underwhelming performance from a Celtic team I expected a whole lot more from.

Honestly, this could be one of the most boring halves of football I’ll ever watch. With Rangers having wrapped the game up after twenty-five minutes, there looked to be more intention to try different styles of play and test out further tactical elements. The Gers defense stood too strong for a Celtic forward line who had absolutely nothing to give.

Full Time: Rangers B 3-0 Celtic B

Rangers’ first half display was tremendous. They had the game wrapped around their finger after the first quarter of the game, with a few individual performances standing out for the Young Gers. None more so than Alex Lowry. The highly promising attacker ran the show in the first half and thoroughly deserved the standing ovation he received after his substitution. The young man looks as though he could control a fly-away in a hurricane, and has a deadly final ball to bring his fellow attackers into the game. His aesthetically pleasing curling finish put the cherry on the top of a wonderful performance. If the Colts are to bring anything positive to Scottish football, Alex Lowry looks to be the poster boy for it.

To say Celtic B were disappointing would be an understatement. They looked weak at the back and unimaginative going forward. Their plan of feeding the ball to flair enthusiast Karamoko Dembele did not work, with the winger being outmuscled and outwitted the entire game by a clever Rangers defense. They will need to rethink their strategy going forward, as whatever plan they had came undone very quickly.

Overall, the first half of this match showed the young talent on the blue side in terrific form. Their attacking impetus and constant barrage on the Celtic goal provided entertainment by itself. However, the quicker I forget about the second-half the better. I’d have honestly preferred to watch paint dry. This match scores a 2.5/5.

Pricing

For a visit to Ibrox, a ticket costing just a tenner is a pretty good deal. It’s a decent way to enter this iconic Scottish stadium to tick it off the list in an easy way. I certainly cannot complain. 5/5.

Final Score

Rangers B score a handy 15/20 and shoot up to mid-table in the TSFA League Table. I may not agree with Colt teams in the professional set-up, but I can’t complain about the action I watched and the individual performances I took in. I hope to see some of these youngsters playing regular football soon. It is the least the Colts can bring.

– Connor

A Day in the Pits – Newtongrange Star – 13/03/2022

The town of Newtongrange is the perfect insight into Scotland’s historic mining culture. Home to the famous Lady Victoria Colliery, this small town in the heart of Midlothian became a powerful asset in the country’s industrial success. Old mining cottages are lined in perfect unison in the middle of town, allowing a glimpse into days gone by. When the old mining shaft was closed and replaced by the National Mining Museum (a decent school trip by the way), Nitten developed contrasting priorities to mining Black Diamond and sending canaries down a pit.

Formed in 1890, Newtongrange Star have been a stalwart for this old mining community for many a generation. In my younger days, Nitten were always seen as a team to beat and boasted plenty of talent in their ranks. This is shown by the wealth of historical achievements displayed in their Social Club. Nitten have more East of Scotland league and cup titles than I can comprehend, but no achievement matches the victory in the 1930 Scottish Junior Cup final. The Star pushed past Hall Russell in front of 17,000 at Tynecastle to lift the trophy for what remains the only time in the club’s history. Scottish football legends Willie Bauld, Bobby Johnstone and Walter Kidd have all plied their trade at New Victoria Park, with their pictures displayed proudly on the club interior. I’m sure they’d have been proud of their successes in Midlothian.

The current crop of players finds themselves in a different scenario. After moving from the junior ranks, the club compete in the East of Scotland Premier Division, where they sit third bottom of the table. While relegation looks to be a real threat, the distraction of cup football may prove to be a healthy alternative. After an opening game win, The Star will look to make it two wins from two in the East of Scotland League Cup group stage. Today they face a St Andrews United side who are struggling themselves in Conference ‘A’. On paper, this looked a simple case of home advantage, home win. What do I know though, eh?

Facilities

I’ve heard great things about New Victoria Park, and from the offset I could see why. First off, the social club next door is a nice wee establishment. Two rooms were filled with good patter, cheap pints and a welcoming atmosphere. It was a perfect pre-match stop to take in the Premier League lunchtime kick off and prepare for the experience ahead. I especially enjoyed the old photographs of the aforementioned famous former players and the board of the multitude of achievements the club have amassed. If you’re visiting NVP, it comes well recommended as an essential pit stop.

The football arena also lives up to expectation. A single tiered terrace lies to the left-hand side and looks tremendous in its old age.  There are plenty of seats dotted around the place if you prefer a more comfortable viewing spot, but I enjoyed being amongst the Star faithful in the terrace for today’s match. With a perimeter of trees surrounding the other three sides of the ground, I can see NVP looking like a nature encompassed wonderland during the summer months. I’ll need to come back and confirm this another day.

Furthermore, the playing surface itself looked immaculate after a difficult winter period for lower league clubs. With games being called off up and down the country due to poorly maintained pitches, it was refreshing to see the grass hold up well for most of the match.

Overall, I really like NVP. It is a classic but engaging arena to take in a game of football in the heart of the community it serves. If you are around this neck of the woods and fancy a game to watch, head along. You won’t regret it. 3.5/5.

Atmosphere

A decent crowd turned up for today’s league cup group stage game, with the crowd fully expectant for the Star to put in a positive performance. A few shouts were heard here and there but by and large, the crowd was relatively quiet. I did appreciate the friendly atmosphere though and believe that is the game has gone Nitten’s way, it could have been a different story. 2/5.

Quality of the Match

Newtongrange Star went into this match as heavy favourites against a team a step below them. However, the first ten minutes would set the pace for the game’s manner. After a game of head-tennis in midfield, an aimless forward ball was hooked toward the Newtongrange eighteen-yard box. Goalkeeper Sean Brennan and towering centre back Craig McBride got themselves mixed up in the worst possible moment, with the latter heading the loose ball over the onrushing ‘keeper. St Andrews striker Jake Grady reacted quickest to tap the ball into an empty net. The forward won’t score an easier goal this season. One-nil St Andrews.

Nitten’s slow start continued, with the visitors looking to capitalise on their opponents lack of attacking quality. After good play down the right from goal-scorer Grady, he hit a low-hit cross towards his striking compatriot Adam Davidson. His goalward effort from 6 yards was blocked well by the Newtongrange defence, with the home supporters growing increasingly frustrated with their team’s efforts.

Another great opportunity fell Jake Grady’s way, with the striker sent through from Davidson after good work between the two. With his sights fully on goal, the forward lost his footing in the process of shooting to send the ball bobbling into Brennan’s arms.

Nitten finally forced themselves into the match and produced their first real attack on the St Andrews goal. After good work down the right from Chris Roberston and Ben Finnan, the latter’s cross into the box was met well by striker Liam McIntosh. He couldn’t direct his touch into the bottom corner though, with his effort kissing the base of the post before being launched out the park by the United defence.

The home side’s pressure continued and were mightily close to equalising. A positive ball forward by right-back Ali Forster found Chris Robertson at the edge of the box. The winger turned well and hit a powerful strike towards goal. United ‘keeper Kyle Moran saved the effort well, but the ball spiralled towards the goal line. It took an incredible acrobatic clearance from a member of the Saints defence to keep the away side in the lead. Nitten strongly appealed that the ball had crossed the line, but neither the referee nor near side linesman agreed.

St Andrews should have doubled their lead shortly after. Nitten’s centre back pairing parted like the Red Sea, leaving Saints midfielder Ross Cunningham the simple task of threading a through ball to Grady once more. With acres of space and only the ‘keeper to beat, the striker saw his effort saved well by the onrushing stopper, who prevented any further embarrassment for his side. I genuinely believe you could have fit a full Lothian Bus between the two Nitten centre backs. The home side finished the half behind on goals and down on morale.

Half time: Newtongrange Star 0-1 St Andrews United

This second half has the potential to be shortest documentation of football I’ll ever write. For much of the half, play was very predictable from both sides. Nitten controlled most of the possession but lacked any form of attacking impetus to break down a resolute St Andrews defence. On the flip-slide, whenever the visitors regained possession, a simple hoof down the park was enough to restart the whole process over again. Neither team looked good enough to create a chance and the game eased away with every dying moment.

The only interesting part of the half came halfway through. A free kick delivered from the far side met the head of substitute Jack Gillan. He guided his header into the bottom corner, only for the referee to pull the ball back for a foul. An inch of excitement taken away in the blink of an eye.

Full time: Newtongrange Star 0-1 St Andrews United

Newtongrange will be hugely disappointed not to have taken anything from this game. As a team who entered the game as heavy favourites, they created next to nothing and will be heading back to the drawing board. They looked sluggish going forward and lacked any creativity when reaching the final third. They can have no complaints with todays result and will need to be better in their pursuit for East of Scotland Premier Division safety.

St Andrews will be delighted with todays result and ultimately how easy it was for them. They defended deeply and ousted any attack their hosts pushed on them with ease. They took an opportunity and perhaps should have been further ahead soon after. For a team in the lower reaches of Conference ‘A’, this will prove to be a morale-boosting victory to take up the road.

A special mention must also go to today’s referee, who I thought had a very good game. He proved consistent for both teams and looked to communicate well with the players on the park. With negativity flowing around Scottish referees at the moment, his performance was a refreshing sight.

On a whole, this was not a hugely entertaining fixture. Ultimately, a lack of quality on both sides made this contest a difficult one to watch, with a costly defensive mistake proving to be the decisive moment. This match scores a generous 1.5/5.

Pricing

This is where clubs at this level earn their points. Newtongrange are no different and score full marks in this section. From the well-priced pints in the social club, to the affordable entry fee to the cheap and cheerful food, it would be crazy not to praise the accessibility for this level. 5/5.

Final Score

Newtongrange Star end the day with a score of 12/20. On another day, a better performance on the park would have pushed the side into the upper echelons of the TSFA League Table. I was still highly impressed with the ground itself; the friendliness of the staff and the obvious community feel of the club. I’ll be back again soon and will be hoping for a Star victory to add to a future day out.

– Connor

United for the Cup – Edinburgh United – 27/02/2022

Background

Scotland’s capital has a lot of football clubs within its borders. From the upper echelons of Hibs and Hearts to the grassroots of Leith Athletic, my hosts for today have a unique story in comparison. Edinburgh United have largely been the capital’s sole ‘junior’ club for the majority of their thirty-seven-year history, with only Craigroyston joining them for a two-year stint in 2016.

Despite being young in comparison to their compatriots, Edinburgh United have held their own in a variety of competitions. They’ve won the Brown Cup twice, the Fife & Lothians cup once and the East and South Region leagues once each. After moving into the East of Scotland senior league set up in 2018, United will be hoping to amass further silverware in the cabinet and propel themselves up a newly opened pyramid.

I travelled to Paties Road Stadium with a good feeling. With Edinburgh taking on Hawick Royal Albert United in the King Cup, I had felt positive about this tie. I love knockout football as it always produces crackers, and I was hoping this one would be no different. Murrayfield can keep its rugby, I’d be at Paties Road.

The Journey

My weekend work has me consistently rotating between Glasgow and Edinburgh. After finishing my short, sharp shift in the latter’s city centre, a relatively easy drive to the quaint suburb of Colinton followed. With the egg-chasing traffic avoided, Paties Road is easy to find, with decent parking surrounding the ground. I like the inner-city feel and genuinely enjoyed the journey to today’s match.

Facilities

After paying my small entry fee to a welcoming and friendly committee member, Paties Road’s main attraction greets you instantly. A single, benched stand lies directly to your left where most spectators would be placing themselves. With no real back rest though, I would recommend practicing a strong and stable posture if choosing to sit.

I enjoy the open, wide spaces of Paties Road. I took advantage of all four sides being accessible and after taking a stroll to the stand’s opposite side, I took in the uniqueness of today’s venue. It really is a good looking and well-maintained arena, which suits the level its hosts compete in. Paties Road looks to be ingrained into the heart of what Edinburgh United stand for. It sits in the centre of the community the club serves, which can never be a negative.

I also enjoyed the friendliness and general patter of the club staff members running the food and drink stall. It always adds to a positive experience, and I genuinely always appreciate it.

Overall, I feel Paties Road is a nice wee place to watch a game of football. It has clear ties with this quaint Edinburgh suburb and has plenty of room to grow if required. I feel it scores a handy 2.5/5.

Atmosphere

I am not entirely sure what Edinburgh United’s average attendance is for a league game, but I’m sure today’s number fell way short of it. As a result, the atmosphere for this cup tie was largely muted. However, like most grounds in country, Paties Roads has a friendly climate and produced a very welcoming overtone to my visit.

In honesty, the majority of shouts and noise came from the small group of Hawick supporters who had travelled up from the Borders to watch their side in cup action. On a day where Hearts were away from home and Hibs were not playing till the Sunday, I am surprised Paties Road did not see an increased attendance with local supporters looking for a game of football. I’m sure this hallowed ground has been the host of many a belting atmosphere. Unfortunately, today was not that day. It’s a huge shame, as the match on display deserved a larger crowd… 1.5/5.

Quality of the Match

As the wind blew in around Paties Road, it was the visitors who carved out the first couple chances of the match. After good work down Hawick’s left, a cross in from No.3* was headed goalward at the back post by winger No.7. He couldn’t keep the effort down though, with the ball flying over. The visitors were beginning to rue their early opportunities and fluffed another great chance. After a masterful flick by No.8, his inch-perfect through ball left Kieran Crawford with just the keeper to beat. Edinburgh ‘keeper Michael Hay was quick off his line though and snuffed any danger for the meantime.

United responded almost instantly with a couple chances of their own. After an Andrew Swinney delivery was spilled by the Albert ‘keeper, a lobbed effort from the edge of the box was cleared well off the line and behind for a corner. Swinney’s crossing was causing all sorts of issues for the Hawick defence. Another whipped effort towards the back post was met well by forward Sonny Swanson. He did well to direct his header goalward, but the Hawick ‘keeper did even better to keep it out at his front post.

Edinburgh’s pressure did not amount to an opener, and Hawick took advantage. After another good through ball, Albert striker Kieran Crawford found himself one-on-one again. Despite an onrushing Michael Hay to beat and shouts for offside, he expertly lifted the ball over the ‘keeper to give the visitors the lead. The home dugout looked incredibly animated by the lack of a decision and were increasingly annoyed soon after. After more Hawick pressure, an in-swinging corner found its way to Crawford once more. He made absolutely no mistake at the back post and smashed the ball into the net. Two-nil Hawick. My hosts for today looked deflated.

Edinburgh did not let the first half slip away though. After a ball intended for Swanson found its way to the striker, an alleged clattering from the back sent him to the floor. The referee had no doubt in his mind and immediately awarded the hosts a way back into the game. Midfielder Steven Clark stood up confidently and fired his side within a goal of levelling the tie.

Half Time: Edinburgh United 1-2 Hawick Royal Albert United

Edinburgh’s mood had been obviously lifted from their lifeline, and powered into the second half with pace. Winger Ryan Quinn was sent for a mazy down the left and found himself in good space inside the box. His placed shot beat both the ‘keeper and post, with Hawick breathing a sigh of relief. More good work on Edinburgh’s left allowed Swanson to cross. His deft lift was met well by Taylor Black, but his effort was knocked wide of the mark. Good pressure from United, but no reward as of yet.

Hawick were not one for standing back. After gaining momentum, they created a few chances of their own and looked unlucky not to extend their lead. A good run down the right-hand side by No.8 allowed him a strike at goal. His effort was saved well by Hay, giving the Edinburgh ‘keeper another decent save for his collection.

With the game slowing down and the visitors defending bravely, an intense final ten minutes was about to bear fruit. Firstly, controversy struck. A surging run by the ever-present Swinney saw the right-back reach the byline and cut the ball back, with Josh Lamont all alone in the box. His effort was saved incredibly by the Hawick ‘keeper, but with the ball falling kindly to Blair White, the substitute knocked the ball in. Celebrations were cut shot immediately, with the referee determining the striker offside from the initial strike. I have no idea if the man in the middle got it right, but with no linesmen for this cup-tie, its an increasingly difficult job at the best of times.

Frustrated, the home side continued to push for an equaliser. Lamont missed another key opportunity, with Paties Road looking consigned to an early cup exit. That was until Andrew Swinney stepped up with an incredible last-gasp effort. After a corner found its way to him, he took a touch towards the D and smashed a right-footed strike into the top corner. After wheeling away with his arm aloft, its difficult not to see a wee bit of Alan Shearer in his finish as well.

With regular time amassing two additional minutes and extra-time looming, both sides could have buried the game before 4 o’clock. Firstly, Kieran Crawford easily should have had his hat-trick. After twisting and turning in the Edinburgh box, his strike was beaten away well by Michael Hay. Edinburgh reciprocated with a chance of their own. Another goalward Josh Lamont effort was held well by a Hawick ‘keeper who was having a superb game.

Even before the final time whistle blew, there was still time for further action. Robbie Dowie, who was having a decent game for the hosts, made the choice to sarcastically clap the referee after another contentious foul. His frustration bubbled and was shown a second yellow for his troubles. This proved a lifeline for Hawick, who had put so much effort into defending and could now focus on pushing forward in extra-time.

Full time: Edinburgh United 2-2 Hawick Royal Albert United

In the first extra-time of my travels thus far this season, I was in for an absolute cracker of an additional half hour. With cramp setting in for the hardworking visitors, Edinburgh pushed for a winner despite their numerical disadvantage. They pushed through in spectacular fashion. A free-kick delivery from the corner flag was met acrobatically by Steven Clark. Unbelievably, his overhead kick nestled into the bottom corner and sent the majority of Paties Road into ecstasy.

Things went bad to worst for Albert soon after. A second booking for the visitor’s right back evened the numbers and looked to make a comeback increasingly unlikely.

ET Half time: Edinburgh United 3-2 Hawick Royal Albert United

The following fifteen minutes were absorbing. Genuinely edge of your seat stuff. With both teams leggy and obviously knackered, it would take a monumental effort to see the game through without any further goals. Gaps opened on both ends; it would just take a clinical edge from either team to finish the match.

Unbelievably, it would be the visitors who would find this cutting attitude. Kieran Crawford took centre stage for Hawick, creating meaningful memories for the club in the meantime. After a long ball was misjudged by the Edinburgh back-line, Crawford capitalised and flicked the ball over Michael Hay to even the tie once more with five minutes to go. Hat-trick hero.

With both teams dead on their feet, a single moment would be enough to send either team through. Crawford stepped up once again and delivered that moment. After another long ball by the Hawick ‘keeper, a wonderfully timed flick on left Crawford unmarked at the front post. The poacher did more than enough to touch the ball past Hay, to send the four Hawick supporters into delirium. I’ve never seen a player score four times in a single match before in real life. I have now.

ET Full time: Edinburgh United 3-4 Hawick Royal Albert United

Well, what a truly engaging game of football. A whirlwind of a match produced a number of key moments and genuinely had me on the edge of my seat at times. Edinburgh United will be gutted with losing an extra time lead and will feel as though they had more than enough chances to put the game to bed during the initial ninety minutes. Today’s hosts had a few good performers who I feel deserve a mention. Midfielder Steven Clark had a good game and stepped up when his team needed him. His expert penalty kick and monumental overhead effort gave his team belief when they needed it most. Right-back Andrew Swinney also had a solid game in my opinion. He generally kept his Hawick counterpart quiet and made surging runs when allowed. His strike in the last minute of regulation fired his side into extra-time and gave a good performance throughout. Edinburgh can now focus on league duty.

Hawick surprised me immensely. The team from the borders stood up incredibly to todays challenge and had more that enough in the game to win it themselves. They took the game to Edinburgh and can be hugely proud of their performance today. Kieran Crawford will naturally take the majority of plaudits after his four-goal rout and rightly so. His pace proved difficult for the United defence, with his clinical finishing skills even more so. Scoring four goals at any level is an incredible achievement, and the striker should feel proud of himself. Hawick will also look to take this momentum into league duty.

On this windy Saturday, I witnessed comebacks, seven goals, two red cards and genuinely engaging entertainment. It is difficult to give this match any less than a 4.5/5.

Pricing

Pricing at this level will always receive full marks. I paid £6 entry and an additional quid for a coffee. For the entertainment I witnessed, the value for money at his level is unrivalled. If you haven’t explored it yet, get along to your local side and see it for yourself. 5/5.

Final Score

Edinburgh United finish with a score of 13.5/20 and find themselves midway of the TSFA League Table. I enjoyed my time at Paties Road and can see the potential the club has to grow. I hope to see it soon. I wish both United and Hawick the very best for the remainder of the season.

– Connor

* Squad lists and player names were difficult to find for Hawick. I contacted the club for a team sheet for today’s game, but I received no response. I always like to name players for the performances they put in, but unfortunately, I was unable to do this today. Kieran Crawford was named on the club’s social media as the scorer, hence why I was able to name him.

An Afternoon in the Bleachers – Benburb FC – 12/02/2022

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It’s been a few weeks since my last Scottish football adventure. Season ticket duty at a lacklustre Easter Road over the past few matchdays has not only damaged my soul and questioned my sanity but has also had me chomping at the bit for something fresh. Benburb are the answer to my prayers this weekend, with a first ever trip to New Tinto Park soothing my mind before my Hibee-related stress bears fruit once more for Scottish Cup action away to high-flying Arbroath.

Various sources suggest Benburb’s name and origin comes from a small in village in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. It is suggested that immigrants arriving from the area had a big influence in the formation of the club, with the name sticking forevermore. After creation in 1885, The Bens circulated a few locations in Glasgow before calling Govan home. In their 137-year history, Benburb’s golden age blossomed in the 1930s. They won the junior Holy Grail in 1934 after a convincing 3-1 victory over Bridgeton Waverley at nearby Ibrox, in front of an estimated 13,000 spectators. With Govan buzzing with Scottish Junior Cup success, The Bens did it again. This time at Hampden, Yoker Athletic were beaten 1-0 after a replay to bring the trophy back to a then brand-new Tinto Park.

Since those glory days, silverware has unfortunately come few and far between. A few sporadic league and cup parades followed in the eighties and early noughties, but Benburb will be hoping for a few more chances at silverware come sooner rather than later. At the time of my visit, Benburb sit comfortably in midtable, while visitors Blantyre Victoria lie a long way down in second from bottom. However, on my visit to The Vics in late July, I witnessed Blantyre beat today’s host 3-2 in what is only one of two wins in the league for them this season. With The Bens looking for revenge for that defeat, today’s West of Scotland Premier Division looked a tasty one.

The Journey

Govan is easily accessible by both car and public transport, but as a sucker for convenience I set upon an easy 25-minute drive from home. A busy but moving M74 and later M8 brought me towards Ibrox, where remarkable access to Rangers’ home ground is clear to see. It still amazes me how large the stadium is, no matter how many times I come across it. New Tinto Park is a stone’s throw away, and with plenty of street parking alongside the local Asda, I left the car and strolled towards my destination.

Facilities

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The Bleacher

The first and most obvious element of NTP to point out is the unique grandstand left of the entrance. It stands out as an American bleacher style seating area which would not look out of place at the NCAA Basketball Finals. As someone who has spent a good amount of time working in the States, these seating arrangements are great indoors, where it is heated. Luckily, I planned for this visit and bought myself an umbrella, knowing fine well open bleachers do not work in outdoor, rainy Scotland. It certainly brings a unique scenery to football though and would be a great place to take in a game with a roof over its head. I’m sure it is terrific in the warmer months.

The jewel of NTP lies before you even head into the footballing arena. The clubhouse on the right is superb. It hosts a fantastic bar filled with seating, heating, food, drink, and a warm atmosphere for both home and away supporters. It has everything you would need for a good pre and post-match experience, and if I had chosen to take the train today, I would have been delighted to have a couple pints.

Overall, NTP has a unique quality to it. It hosts a terrific artificial surface used by multiple teams across the WoS leagues, has plenty of room to expand and a strange grandstand to take it all in. The clubhouse certainly brings the score up a bit, and I believe a score of 3/5 suffices.

Atmosphere

Naturally, a rainy day can dampen the spirits of any supporter and keep neutral fans away from a ground with no cover. However, a good number of both Benburb and Blantyre loyal were scattered in attendance for today’s game. On my visit to the KG earlier in the season, Benburb had brought a decent number of young ‘ultras’ who supplied their team with a racket of noise. As far as I could see though, these super-fans were not present and the noise inside NTP remained largely muted.

Nevertheless, supporters younger and older gathered to take in their local team in league action. I enjoyed the chat inside the clubhouse and took in the laughter and positivity within. People discussing the ins and outs of the local game is fascinating to me and I have since developed a love for the lower league culture.

I was surprised there was not a higher attendance today given how close NTP is to Ibrox. As the Glasgow giants were not in action until later that evening away from home, I would have expected more Gers supporters to turn out and see their local club in action. It would certainly go a long way. Overall, the good vibes inside the clubhouse and welcoming feel of NTP pushes this score to a 2/5.

Quality of the Match

After a slow initial five minutes, Benburb made sure the first real chance of the game was a meaningful one. After good work down the right-hand side, a high cross into the box was controlled expertly by Bens’ striker Declan McDonald. As the ball dropped, he fired a volley into the net from close range and gave the hosts an early lead.

For the next ten to fifteen minutes, Blantyre largely controlled possession, but without a large attacking impetus found chances few and far between in the first quarter. Good Benburb pressure forced the away side into slack passes and almost reaped the rewards for their hard work. After a throw in from left-back David Leadbetter and a great flick on in the box, Ally Taylor found himself free on the edge of the box. He took on a volley first time which grazed the roof of the Vics’ net.

Benburb’s attacking dominance continued and almost doubled their lead soon after. After a poor defensive mistake, Luke Murphy found himself with a free strike on the right side of the box. His shot flew narrowly wide but drew a foul for his efforts. McDonald stood up to the task and unleashed a rocket of a shot, which Blantyre ‘keeper Kyle King matched superbly. He managed to acrobatically tip the goalward effort over and deny the hosts a second.

Blantyre improved dramatically in the second quarter and carved out their first clear cut chance of the game. After a superb through ball, Vics winger Cammy McNair saw himself with just the ‘keeper to beat. His low drive was saved well by Daniel McLean, who got down low to tip the ball wide for a corner and ensure Benburb headed into the break a goal up. Blantyre’s newfound momentum meant they were far from out of this contest and were looking to push their agenda further when play resumed.

Half Time: Benburb 1-0 Blantyre Victoria

Unfortunately for the Vics though, Benburb started the second half in the same way they did the first – with a goal. After a surging run down the wing by right-back Lee Duncanson, his terrific delivery to the back post was expertly met by compatriot Lewis Lovering. The wingers’ guided header nestled into King’s far post to give the hosts a two-goal advantage and dampen Blantyre’s spirits simultaneously.

Benburb were showcasing their flair going forward and began to take complete control of the contest. Once again, Duncanson found himself free on the right and delivered another beauty of a cross to the back post. Lovering’s volley was mistimed but not ineffective, as it flew into the air at the despair of the Blantyre ‘keeper. The young stopper was unable to claim the high ball in time, which allowed substitute Ryan Livingston to perform a crafty acrobatic finish to give The Bens a three-goal cushion.

Further chances came and went for the hosts, but with the Vics defence standing strong, it allowed opportunities to develop going forward. After a long ball forward from a free-kick, substitute Sam McKenzie controlled the ball superbly and turned his defender with ease. His left-footed effort was saved comfortably by McLean but opened the door for the Vics to continue the pressure. A rare defensive mistake by Benburb saw Connor O’Donnell gather a loose pass. He slipped McKenzie through once more, and with just the ‘keeper to beat, he deftly lofted the ball into the corner to ensure he scored his third league goal against The Bens this season. After witnessing his other two in the reverse fixture, I can assure you this superb finish still finishes third behind the other two.

Blantyre were on a high and were pushing for an instant second. A quick free kick from new signing Luke Watt drew his right winger into contention for a shot at goal. After an expertly controlled touch on the chest, a wicked half volley flew just wide of the mark, ending the Vics’ attacking momentum.

Benburb regained control and should have had a fourth ten minutes from time. After another good save from Kyle King, the resulting corner found the head of towering centre back Ryan Docherty. From four yards out though, his free header was directed just wide. Docherty’s headed efforts would not be in vain though. After another surge of corners, Leadbetter’s corner found Benburb’s number five once more. His goalward was blocked off the line by a scrambling Blantyre defence, only to be deflected straight in by Bens’ substitute Lewis McTaggart. A well deserved fourth goal from a team who worked hard until the final whistle.

Full Time: Benburb 4-1 Blantyre Victoria

After a competitive first half, The Bens will be delighted to have taken the game by the scruff of the neck and gain another important three points. Their work rate and attacking prowess was rewarded after the break and ensured the hosts walked away with a victory. As well as a good team performance, I feel a couple individuals stood out for me. No more so than right-back Lee Duncanson. His offensive and defensive performances set the record for his team, with his incredible work ethic and quality of crossing making the difference.

Blantyre can take a lot of pride in aspects of their performance. For large parts of the first half, they dominated possession and played a great deal of positive football. However, The Vics struggled to cut Benburb’s defence open to create enough clear-cut chances to win the game. Luke Watt looks to be a shrewd signing though. He played in a variety of positions across the park and looked very comfortable on and off the ball. Having seen him a few weeks earlier playing for Petershill, he looks a very positive addition to Blantyre’s squad.

Overall, I felt this match was an exciting one. As a neutral, I was treated to five goals, a load of positive football and a few inspiring individual performances. I feel as though this game scores a comfy 3.5/5.

Pricing

Like most games at this level, I paid £7 entry and no more than three quid for coffee and a munch. To witness some of the quality at this level for these prices is incredible. 5/5.

Final Score

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There hasn’t been an experience on my travels thus far I haven’t enjoyed. Each ground is invariably different and brings a unique feel within itself. New Tinto Park is no different. Despite being exposed to the elements; it was hard not to take in the experience for what it was – an excellent game of football.Benburb end the day with a score of 13.5/20 and I wish them all the best for the future. The famous bleacher deserves its heyday.

– Connor

Lie Forrit Turnent – Tranent Juniors – 22/01/2022

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Packed in the shed.

Background

The first month of the year is not far off its cold conclusion. As January ends as quickly as it began, the football calendar only continues to offer a tremendous amount of sporting action up and down the country. On a weekend of exciting Scottish Cup activity, I took the opportunity to explore a contrast to Scotland’s premier domestic competition; the East of Scotland Qualifying Cup.

To achieve this, I’d have to visit a town very close to where I grew up. Tranent lies close to the western border of East Lothian and is famous for setting the development pace of the mining industry for both Scotland and later, the UK. Working class roots run deep, with huge communities thriving as a result of booming production. Naturally, like most towns in central belt Scotland, the decline of the mining industry saw Tranent turn to alternative modes of income, operating as a commuter town to Edinburgh, with its steep history lingering behind.

However, exciting things are brewing in this newly quiet area of the world. Tranent Juniors are pushing to be the talk of the town and are showcasing themselves to be a powerful entity in the east of Scotland set-up in the process. After moving from the junior leagues in 2018, ‘The Big T’ currently sit third in the East of Scotland Premier Division, four points from top with a game in hand. After thrashing league leaders Penicuik 3-0 last week though, Tranent have their tails up heading into this weekend’s important cup tie. Lowland League trailblazers Bonnyrigg Rose travel the short distance from Midlothian to face up in what should be an epic encounter. A bumper crowd looked set to descend onto Foresters Park to watch the cracking game on offer. It might not live up to Tranent’s Scottish Junior Cup win in 1935, but this ambitious club will be looking to add more silverware to an already well decorated cabinet. Their Scottish Cup exploits this season proves this level of pedigree.

The Journey

Trips to grounds in the east are helped greatly by staying with family. As I grew up in Dalkeith, accessibility to clubs in and around the capital is easier for me than for most and made today’s adventure incredibly simple. After daundering through Wallyford and latching onto the A1, the drive through Tranent’s town centre brought me to the housing estate where Foresters Park is based. Parking is easy in and around the ground, with a wall of noise directing me towards today’s venue.

Facilities

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Club Identification

After paying my entry fee to two wonderfully cheerful gentlemen at the gate, I was impressed by Foresters Park at first glance. You are greeted with a single stand where most of today’s punters would be based, with a standard perimeter lining the park. Tranent’s club brand is paramount across the entire gaff, including a maroon fence behind one goal and the club’s name and motto emblazoned on a large wall behind the other. Identity is so important in sport, and it is great to see local clubs engaging with this form of pride.

I enjoy the look and feel to the ground. It is clean, spacious and has plenty of room to grow should Tranent’s ambitions come to fruition in years to come. A handy tearoom will cater for all your food and drink needs, with two lovely club staff taking orders with excellent efficiency. It is also nice to see clubs selling merchandise at this level. If you happen to be a collector of niche Scottish football memorabilia, The Big T have you covered.

One special feature of Foresters Park in particular caught my eye. Next to the canteen, a garden lies in memory for those Tranent supporters who are no longer with us. I’ve seen a few similar memorials for supporters in other lower league clubs, and I feel it is a classy touch. Being immortalised in the ground of the club you support holds incredible sentimentality and is genuinely wholesome to see this offered.

Overall, today’s venue has a mixture of modern and classic feels to it. The old, rustic stand and the fresh, ambient maroon wall lie side by side in a superb footballing venue with a near-perfect playing surface. I feel a score of 4/5 is fair.

Atmosphere

Both clubs on display have equally impressive numbers when it comes to attendance. It is no surprise then that a large crowd descended onto Foresters Park and created a bustling and excitable atmosphere. Supporters young and old littered the perimeter and packed the stand, to the occasional sound of The Belters’ drum in the corner. I’m not sure if Hibs and Hearts’ away days added to the numbers, but with an official attendance of 957, it is certainly not one to turn your nose up to.

The friendly patter flowed through the ground and created a vibrant and friendly feel to the fixture, with supporters of both clubs mingling throughout. With the two teams geographically close, it gave the match a sense of tension, but without the excessive dislike and abuse as seen further up the pyramid. I feel as though the noise could have been louder with the heavy number of supporters inside, but by no means was it as quiet as my experience at Easter Road on Thursday. I feel a score of 3/5 is fair.

Quality of the Match

Both teams came into this match on a high. With the hosts riding a wave after a huge league win the week before and the visitors in the Lowland League clouds, the expectant crowd hoped for an eventful contest. For the first ten or fifteen minutes though, it remained even stevens in terms of chances and possession. With both teams feeling each other out, it took a swift counterattack to create the game’s first real opportunity. A quick break down Tranent’s left hand side saw Matthew Knox powering forward. With plenty of time and space, he struck a low ball just wide of Michael Andrews’ far post.

After a slow start, slick play from both sides began to open the contest up. After twenty minutes, Bonnyrigg carved their first chance of the match. Iconic striker George Hunter was sent through on goal with plenty still to do. Tranent stopper Dean Beveridge matched the run perfectly though, rushing out instantly to save and hold the close-range effort into his chest. Tranent returned the explosive favour and looked dangerous going forward. Some nice touches and quick feet from wingers Knox and Jamie Docherty managed to bring The Belters up the park, but the lack of a final pass prevented the hosts any further opportunities.

The breakthrough did come, but not in the way anyone packed inside Foresters Park expected. A harmless pass back to Beveridge looked to be played to the side for a punt up the park. However, a powerful chase from George Hunter blocked the ‘keepers kick in front of goal, which rolled into the back of the net. A horrible goal for the hosts to concede after holding their own for much of the first half.

Jamie Docherty almost equalised five minutes later. A tricky and intricate run down Tranent’s left saw the forward dance through three Bonnyrigg defenders with immense agility and balance. With the goal at his mercy at a tight angle, a tremendous block saw his strike bobble wide for a corner. An outstanding run which deserved a goal. With The Big T in the ascendency and oozing with momentum, Bonnyrigg delivered a swift sucker-punch. After more good work from George Hunter to win a corner, the resulting delivery was half-cleared before falling back to the striker. His accurate volley powered past the stranded Beveridge to double the visitor’s lead at the half.

Half Time: Tranent Juniors 0-2 Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic

Bonnyrigg started the second half on the front foot and almost increased their lead further in an instant. A well-controlled touch in the box by Nathan Evans saw his snapshot fly just wide of the post. Bonnyrigg looked to control the game and piled on the pressure to secure the game. George Hunter caused problems for the Tranent defence consistently and succeeded in making life difficult for them. His strength and balance secured a good touch and turn in the Belters’ box and looked to have been chopped down before he could unleash his strike at goal. With the Bonnyrigg faithful screaming for a penalty, the referee disagreed to much frustration and disbelief.

Bonnyrigg’s experience showed why they are favourites to be playing SPFL football next season with a professional and steady defensive performance. They limited the hosts to largely long-range efforts, very little of which troubled Andrews’ goal. The best opportunity fell to captain Shaun Rutherford on the edge of the box. After cutting inside on his right foot, his curling effort flew just wide and looked to end Tranent’s pursuit for a goal.

With five minutes left, Bonnyrigg continued to press and could have increased their lead further. After some intricate play in midfield, right-back Dean Brett found himself on the edge of the box before releasing a superb strike at goal. From my angle it looked to be nestling in the back of the net, but instead arrowed just wide. The final chance of the game fell to hard-working midfielder Lee Currie. After relentless work from substitute Kieran Hall, his diverted cross was poked just wide, ending the contest with Bonnyrigg on a high.

Full Time: Tranent Juniors 0-2 Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic

In a game where Tranent could test themselves against higher league opposition, The Belters should keep their heads held high. For large spells of the game, they proved more than capable of going toe-to-toe with a team destined for SPFL football. On the counter, The Big T looked dangerous and with a better final pass and a bit of luck could have easily found themselves with clearer sights of goal. On the right, Jamie Docherty looked lively the entire game. His fast feet and energetic runs often created problems for The Rose backline, who couldn’t keep up at times. Left-back and captain Shaun Rutherford also impressed. He worked incredibly hard for ninety minutes and led his team from the front. His impressive runs forward brought his team forward and, on another day, one of his long-range strikes could have bought Tranent a result. The Big T are on the up, and I would not be surprised if they pulled off promotion this season.

Bonnyrigg will be content with today’s result. A thoroughly professional defensive performance built the required foundation to win this cup tie. Similarly, when I witnessed them in league action in October, Bonnyrigg’s physicality and special awareness created problems across their opponent’s back line – opening them up for good deal of opportunities at goal. George Hunter epitomised this style of play and ran his heart out for the duration of the game. His determination was rewarded with two goals to his name and could have had more on another day. The only way is up for The Rose and I look forward to when Midlothian can host SPFL football.

Overall, I enjoyed this ‘Lothian derby’. I was treated to some terrific individual play, some meaty tackles, and a great insight into where these two local clubs fit into the pyramid. After a slow and uneventful start, the game turned into a feisty battle with plenty left on the park. I feel a score of 3/5 is a good reflection.

Pricing

On entry to Foresters Park, I paid a cheap and cheerful £7 and £1 for a coffee. Like every other club at this level, the value for money is incredible and scores no less than a 5/5.

Final Score

Tranent end with a final score of 15/20 and push themselves into the upper echelons of the TSFA League Table. I had a terrific experience at Foresters Park, and I look forward to seeing how the ground develops as the club advances. There is no doubt The Big T will be making some wild strides in the years to come. I wish them all the best.

– Connor

Great Expectations – Petershill FC – 15/01/2022

An expectant crowd

Background

2022 is alive and well. Omicron is still rife, and the Tories are having wild work events they can’t remember, but at least football fans are back in Premiership stadiums from Monday. What a time to be alive. Despite the 500-fan limit over the past few weeks, lower league clubs have been powering on with their season as best they can. It has been pleasing to see supporters up and down the country heading off to their local clubs to take in the beautiful game for the basic activity it is, watching a game of football. I hope those who have witnessed some local action enjoyed it and provide their clubs with support and publicity in the future. It’s the least we can do.

This weekend’s match takes me to Springburn, where Petershill FC ply their trade. As one of the more recognisable names in west of Scotland folklore, The Peasy were formed in 1897 and have remained a stalwart in the community ever since. Crowds from all over Glasgow’s north and east sides would flock to see the team, some official numbers totalling 19,000 upwards at one point. It is genuinely mind-blowing to think of how popular the junior game was in decades past.

In terms of success, Peasy are no strangers. A huge collective of silverware lies within the cabinets of New Petershill Park, justifying the huge number of punters attending games. The club have amassed an incredible number of Central Leagues, Glasgow Junior Cups and West of Scotland Cups in their time, but no achievements come close to the junior Holy Grail. Petershill have reached the final of the Scottish Junior Cup an outrageous nine times, lifting the cup on five of those visits. In a six-year period between 1912 and 1918, the club paraded the trophy around Springburn three times. They’re a popular club, and a big deal around these parts.

I’ve been eager to attend a Petershill match since my ‘groundhopping’ travels began in July last year. On a mild winter afternoon, I made the trip to New Petershill Park to take in the club’s West of Scotland Conference ‘C’ match against league strugglers Lanark United. With Peasy pushing top spot after last week’s terrific win over leaders Drumchapel United, I was looking forward to seeing what this exciting side could do.

The Journey

Once again, work commitments meant I was in Glasgow’s core on Saturday morning. After finishing up my events for the day and gazing into the new Batgirl film set next to St Enoch’s, I was on my way to Springburn. It’s nice to see Glasgow’s unique architecture and atmosphere in the spotlight on the big screen. An easier than I anticipated jaunt north through the city centre brought me to today’s venue with plenty of time to spare. Finding New Petershill Park is simple, with plenty spectators’ cars already parked in alignment ready for the game. After pulling in, I was no different.

Facilities

New Petershill Park is a relatively new multi-use venue in the heart of Springburn’s community. As well as the fantastic football facilities, NPP also hosts a gymnasium, dance studio, health suite, a bar and a function room. Upon entry, it is clean, organised, and homely. It pays tribute to the multitude of club sides the ground hosts, including women’s football giants Glasgow City, with pendants and memorabilia decorating the walls. After being welcomed at the door by friendly club staff, a door leads you outside where you are greeted by a flawless artificial playing surface.

NPP really is a great place to watch football for all. A 500-seater stand is the main attraction, consisting of two sections of regular seating with raised benches either side and small standing sections behind them. Three sides of the park are accessible, with a miniscule, raised embankment just behind the dugouts – presumably for away supporters on the busier occasions. Behind the goal to my left, I spotted an interesting feature to keep younger audiences entertained; a Teqball table. For those not familiar, the sport is essentially played in a ping-pong style on a similar sized but curved table, using your head, literally. I would highly recommend.

On the far side of the stand, The Coffee Cabin can supply your food and drink needs with approachable service and decent prices. I personally picked up a fancy-ass latte before taking my seat for the entertainment ahead. Furthermore, a huge shout out to whoever creates the match programmes. It was a terrific and informative read, with plenty of facts, statistics and data on today’s opponents and the leagues around the club. When you visit, make sure to pick up a copy.

Overall, I really, really like NPP. It has a wonderful setting, a comfortable feel and is clearly a mainstay in the community. It is not difficult to see why the venue is experienced in hosting UEFA Women’s Champions League football. I hope to return one day to experience it for myself. 4/5.

Atmosphere

With the game kicking off, plenty of punters from both sides of today’s game flooded out of the function rooms almost at once. It is easy to identify the Petershill loyal. Numerous supporters kitted out in Peasy-branded scarves and jackets. This is clearly a support base intertwined with loyalty to their local side for a lifetime.

Despite limited noise throughout the match, the friendly community feel was clear. Old pals getting together to catch up, talk football and watch the match is a wholesome experience to be a part of, and something I enjoy whilst on my travels. Lanark brought a decent number of their blue and white army, providing encouragement and showcasing their own deep affiliations with the local club.

I enjoyed the good size of crowd for this match. However, I suspect a larger game in the broad spectrum of the season may bring a louder and more enthusiastic atmosphere. There are no negative connotations with this though, and I look forward to returning to NPP when the stakes are a bit higher. 2.5/5.

Quality of the Match

Heading into today’s spectacle, Petershill were pushing for top spot in Conference ‘C’ against a Lanark United side languishing at the bottom of the table. However, very little separated the two teams in the first ten minutes. A mixture of poor long-balls and tenacious ball-winning midfielders stopped any one side stringing any more than three passes together. The first big chance of the game came to Peasy midfielder Craig Quinn. He controlled a loose ball well in the box, but his half-volley was aimed directly into the chest of Lanark goalkeeper David Cherrie.

Half an hour passed and Petershill began to take the game by the scruff of the neck. Stephen Docherty came close after a wonderful touch and turn at the edge of the box. At a slight angle he arrowed the ball towards the far corner, with his spectacular effort being met by an equally impressive save from Cherrie. It began a largely frustrating afternoon for the Peasy striker, who was sent through on goal a minute later. A poor first touch saw the chance go begging though, a common theme moving forward.

Petershill began to dominate. With David Cherrie pulling off saves left and right, it would take a lapse of concentration to provide the breakthrough. After a long ball sent forward by Peasy ‘keeper Steven McNeil, a well won header by David Aubrey sent Docherty on his way once again. The striker managed to reach the ball ahead of towering centre back Dom Chiedu, who got his legs tangled with his maroon-cladded opponent in the box. To me, it looked an obvious penalty. The referee agreed and gave Petershill the opportunity to break the deadlock. Ross McCabe stepped up confidently to drill the ball into the top-right corner and give the home side a well-deserved opener.

The Yowes woke up straightaway and finally created a few chances of their own. The best of the bunch fell to striker Jake Hughes. A few awkward bounces in the Peasy box saw McNeil hesitant to rush out to meet the ball. Hughes’ lunging effort was not enough on this occasion, however. Lanark’s number ten had another chance soon after. After skipping past two Peasy defenders, the angle proved too tight for his left footed drive, which flew wide of the post.

With Lanark beginning to showcase what they could do; their task was about to get increasingly difficult. Chiedu, already on a booking, lunged in on Petershill attacker Ronan Sweeney. His rash decision deservedly resulted in a second yellow to send the defender into the changing rooms a minute before the half-time whistle. It meant the visitors went into the half a goal down and a man short.

Pressure mounting

Half time: Petershill 1-0 Lanark United

Petershill met expectations in the second half and dominated throughout. Sweeney started the pressure off with a sly chip to the back post, but with no takers, Lanark lived another day. A wave of corners came Peasy’s way in a mixture of both short and long. A short corner to right-back Luke Watt brought the defender within shooting range, but his weak-footed strike fell comfortably in Cherrie’s arms.

Further chances came and went for Petershill. However, a well struck volley from Sweeney, a blazed effort from Quinn and a saved effort from substitute Ben Harwood couldn’t hit the Lanark net, much to the frustration of the majority of NPP. The Yowes were defending resolutely and began to push their own pressure. A deflected effort met the head of Hughes inside the box, which luckily for the home side landed comfortably in McNeil’s gloves. It was beginning to feel like Peasy may rue the multitude of squandered chances coming their way.

With five minutes to go, Petershill cranked up the heat once again. Luke Watt’s excellent work on Lanark’s right-hand side took him into shooting range for a second time. His exquisite driven effort was once again beaten wide by the Yowes stopper, who was putting in an assured performance.  

Finally, the Peasy support breathed a huge sigh of relief. After another ball sent through for Docherty, the striker had his goalward strike blocked. The resulting rebound fell kindly to Craig Quinn who showed similar composure to Andrea Pirlo’s panenka against England. He coolly lifted the ball over David Cherrie, to a huge roar from the Peasy faithful. The midfielder’s muted celebration was perhaps a release of frustration after several missed chances to extend Petershill’s goal difference.

Full time: Petershill 2-0 Lanark United

Petershill’s dominating performance will be pleasing for the home side. On another day, Peasy’s afternoon could have been far more comfortable had they been more clinical. A large reason for Petershill’s attacking prowess fell to the battling performance of the midfield. For me, Antony Eadie controlled the middle of the park and worked incredibly hard to set up attacks for his side. He went about his business efficiently and impressed throughout the ninety minutes. On the right, Luke Watt powered up and down all game. He looked comfortable in defence and dangerous in attack, with the right-back whipping in tempting crosses and vigorous set-pieces. Overall, Petershill will be delighted with the end result, but will be naturally disappointed with how open the game was left. With an energetic and technical squad, I would expect them to push Drumchapel and Neilston for promotion this season.

This is the second time I have seen Lanark United this season, with defeats occurring both times but not without their own missed opportunities. Had the team not gone down to ten, I suspect the game would have been closer. The Yowes will be disappointed not to have been clinical themselves but will take confidence from their brave and battling defensive performance, especially if David Cherrie keeps putting in dominating goalkeeping performances. I wish the club well for the rest of the season.

On the whole, I was thoroughly entertained by today’s spectacle. I was treated to a whirlwind of chances, some fantastic individual performances and plenty of talking points. I feel a score of 3/5 for this match is a fair assessment.

Pricing

Like every club at this level, Petershill provide an affordable matchday experience for everyone. I paid £8 for entry, £1.50 for a programme and £2 for a coffee which for me, is outstanding value. Easily, the pricing scores a comfortable 5/5.

Final Score

Petershill score an impressive 14.5/20 and move themselves into the upper echelons of the TSFA League Table. I really enjoyed my trip to NPP and feel good about ticking the ground off my list. As a bonus, I was treated to an entertaining match, a superb facility, and a welcome atmosphere. I’ll be back soon enough for my inaugural SWPL match when Glasgow City will be under the microscope. I’m looking forward to it.

– Connor

Keeping it Civil – Civil Service Strollers – 28/12/2021

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CGP Under the Lights

Background

The festive football season continues. Games across the country remain in full swing in most of Scotland’s divisions, with matches coming thick and fast in the process. The SPFL Premiership may now be in its premature winter break, but funnily enough, football does exist outside the topflight despite what some media outlets may suggest.  

During my stay with family just south of Scotland’s capital for Christmas, I made a deal with myself to see as much football around Edinburgh and the Lothians as I could. My adventures for this post-Christmas spectacle take me to the north of the city to Christie Gillies Park, home of Civil Service Strollers FC. Originally founded in 1908 as Edinburgh Civil Service Football Club, the senior team have been a mainstay in the lower echelons of Scottish football, with a few league and cup titles to their name. After being installed into the Lowland League in 2016, a South Challenge Cup triumph in 2018 will have ignited a flame to challenge for further silverware.

Presently, Strollers sit sixth in a highly competitive top third of the league, only three points behind Rangers and Celtic’s B teams tied in second. After witnessing the Strollers against Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic earlier in the season, I was impressed by the way they played the ball on the deck and moved efficiently around the park. With some exciting individual players on the Strollers books as well, I was expecting a fast-flowing, attacking performance from the home side this evening. Visitors East Stirlingshire may have other ideas though, with the club looking to make their own advancements up the league.

The Journey

Christie Gillies Park is quite easy to reach on the roads. As I was travelling from Midlothian, the Edinburgh City Bypass is a godsend to circumnavigate the inner crevices of the city centre. After reaching the Gyle roundabout and a small detour around Davidson Mains and Silverknowes, I reached Muirhouse; home to my hosts for this evening. Parking is straightforward at the ground, with an open car park used by both visitors to CGP and the World of Footballit shared its space with. So far, so good.

Facilities

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After navigating my way through a small path around the side of a few buildings and asking a member of staff where the entrance was, I eventually made it to the turnstiles. Upon entering, you are greeted with a tea-room and basic toilet facilities on your left. Although they are nothing spectacular, they do the job and will be used by many over the course of the game. The staff inside were nothing short of friendly, which as always, I hugely appreciate.

Initially, the expansive open space behind the goals is very noticeable. I’ve never seen so much room around a park at any level, and it is by no means a bad thing. There is plenty of room for expansion if needed, but for now it is used for the youngsters in the crowd to volley a ball back and forward before the game. Behind the opposite goal is a large, wooded area: another unique feature. It looks a bit eerie, and I’m sure plenty of footballs have been lost in its depths over the years.

A single terraced seating area lies parallel to the pitch. The retro look and feel to the structure is nice, and suits its purpose for the size of tonight’s crowd, including those requiring accessible viewpoints. Most punters were spread out the length of the pitch on both sides with plenty of room to get a great view of the action.  

Although the ground overall could do with a bit of work and sprucing up, I like it. Its expansive feel and retro look is very distinctive in comparison to other stadia. As football grows, grounds like CGP will remain an interesting place to watch the beautiful game. I just hope it doesn’t get left behind. I feel a score of 2/5 is fair.

Atmosphere

I think most of us can agree that the 500-spectator limit imposed on Scottish football is a farce. However, one of the slim positives around it is the encouragement it gives supporters around the country to visit their local clubs. After speaking to a few people around CGP, it appeared a lot of those in attendance were not regulars and had in turn raised the usual number of punters through the turnstiles. Who can blame them? A midweek festive fixture under the lights at a local club is exciting stuff. It is certainly no misery.

As for the atmosphere itself, for most of the ninety-minutes, there was more noise coming from the World of Football next door. A few Shire supporters had made their way to the capital and were providing most of the shouts and encouragement from the side lines. CGP did supply a very friendly aura though. I spoke to a few individuals who could not have been nicer and witnessed a few small groups huddled in discussion around the national game. I hope those who were visiting for the first time will return and give CGP a larger supporter base. This famous old ground certainly has the potential for it. 2.5/5.

Quality of the Match

To begin this bumper midweek encounter, Strollers placed their front foot forward and had the first real chance of the game within five minutes. A decent cross from the right-hand side was controlled in the box by forward Robbie Cole who laid the ball to midfielder Scott Clapperton. Just as the ball had been skied high, so too was Civil’s momentum. Two minutes later, prolific striker Alieau Faye was sent through on goal. The big man may be one of the top scorers in the Lowland League, but this strike was fired straight at Shire ‘keeper Ross Connelly to keep the score level for now.

East Stirling fired back. After a stramash in the Civil box, the ball found its way out to the left. After a low cross in, the ball was somehow poked wide by David Churchill. The offside flag had been raised though to save the Shire midfielder his blushes. From one end to the other, Civil could and should have been ahead once again. After a superb corner delivery by Jayden Fairley, it looked routine for the ball to nestle in the back of the net. Instead, the header was put wide and East Stirling were riding their luck. That was until Strollers stepped it up once again. After a lovely Pepe Reina-esque kick from Civil ‘keeper Craig Murdoch, the ball was controlled expertly on the chest by lively forward Joao Balde. After a jinking run through a few Shire defenders, the ball was sent across the box and bundled into the net. Civil’s social media granted the goal to Faye, but I was sure it was an own goal. Either way, they all count, and the Strollers were a deserved goal up.

From the restart, the Shire awoke and attacked with free-flowing impetus. After a few wayward shots on goal, they should have been level. From an in-swinging free-kick, a close-range header was very well saved by Murdoch in the home goal. The pressure continued, and Murdoch produced another close range save, this time with his feet. The away side pumped balls into the box like artillery but to no avail. Their pressure told for little and ended the half a goal behind.

Half time: Civil Service Strollers 1-0 East Stirlingshire

Stirling immediately picked up where they left off. The feet of Murdoch once again denied David Churchill before the Strollers keeper produced an acrobatic if not awkward save to deny a flying strike from eighteen yards. The Shire pressure continued through a high pressing midfield and denied the Strollers any chance of springing anything meaningful. A further strike by captain Kieran Gibbons flew just wide of Murdoch’s post and from my angle could be described as a bawhair away from levelling the scores.

Strollers did manage to find themselves up the park and began playing the football we all knew they could. Some good interchanging play from the midfield brought playmakers Balde and Cole up the pitch and into attacking areas. However, a few strikes comfortably wide of Connelly’s goal was all the home team could muster. Then, like a light switch, the game’s energy flipped into an end-to-end basketball tie. Attacks on both sides lacked the final pass and, on another day, could have made the score an eye-opening one. Finally, momentum on Shire’s end prevailed. A defence splitting pass sent Kevin Turner through on goal. The veteran striker finished expertly and granted the away fans an almighty roar and a deserved equaliser.

The entertainment did not stop there. As both teams began to tire on the heavy surface, gaps in both defences began to open. On every occasion though, the final pass lacked and resulted in frustrated groan from both sets of supporters. One last opportunity for excitement arrived two minutes before the final whistle. Kieran Offord spearheaded an energetic counterattack down the left and swept the ball towards substitute Jamie Hamilton. The midfielder appeared to have the feet of a well drilled performer as he danced his way past three or four Strollers players. In a cruel turn of events, the final strike was blasted over much to provide the home support a much-needed sigh of relief.

Full time: Civil Service Strollers 1-1 East Stirlingshire

Football is a funny game. Throughout the course of the first-half, Strollers could have been three goals up without anyone batting an eyelid. The skill and pace of Joao Balde brought his teammates forward and created numerous openings. Although, like much of the home side’s attack, the ball was held onto for too long and prevented any opportunities growing arms and legs. On loan Hibernian midfielder Jayden Fairley also impressed for me. His set pieces were consistently whipped in with accuracy and pace and on another day, the young man could have had a couple assists to his name.

On the other hand, the Shire will feel disappointed to have only left CGP with a point after a constant barrage of pressure for most of the game. Captain Kieran Gibbons impressed after a commanding midfield performance. He led his team well and kickstarted several attacks in the second half with Murdoch in the Civil goal keeping the home side ahead. Shire can take confidence from this display though. They showed more than enough defensive competency and attacking prowess to take the game to any team in this division.

Overall, I was treated to a very entertaining spectacle between two sides going for the jugular. Two goals, good individual performances, and plenty of missed opportunities places this experience as a memorable one. One another day, this contest could have ended four-all and made this a five-star spectacle. Today though, I feel a 3.5/5 is fair.

Pricing

For those not used to lower league football in the capital, the pricing is a stark contrast to the norm. I spent £8 in total to enter CGP and to warm my hands with a cup of tea. That money will get you nowhere near Easter Road or Tynecastle. That’s a fact. I’m a huge believer that supporters of the game should visit the teams local to them. It is cheap, accessible, and thoroughly entertaining. 5/5.

Final Score

Civil Service Strollers finish on a respectable 13/20 and push themselves into mid-table in the TSFA League Table. I really enjoyed my time at CGP and genuinely hope the Strollers can kick on and push themselves into contention for promotion in future years. They have a good set-up, a nice style of play and a young playing squad that are desperate to make an impact. I’ve found a new club to follow.

– Connor



The West Lothian Question – Blackburn United – 18/12/2021

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Those colours though.

Christmas beckons. A magical time of year filled with laughs, family, gifts, food and most importantly, a wealth of football. For supporters of the game up and down the country, the festive season brings us a whirlwind of action. Matches come thick and fast for teams across the divisions where momentum can either be built or snatched away in the blink of an eye. As a bonus, the rammy of fixtures provides plenty of opportunity to visit unfamiliar grounds and access exciting experiences. Who said winter was miserable?  

My visit this week takes me to West Lothian for the first time this season. As a county which is primarily known in modern times as an industrial powerhouse, West Lothian’s history is incredibly interesting. For example, plenty of prehistoric burial sites found in the county’s beautifully natural landscape has helped shape the way we understand our past.  

However, like much of Scotland’s central belt in recent times, heavy industries’ demise has proved challenging for a region stuck in the middle of the countries’ two largest cities. Community thrives though, and always has done. Sport, and more specifically football often plays an important role in this.  

Blackburn United are a shining example of how sport meets the needs of its community. Formed in 1978, The Burrie’s senior team are just the tip of the iceberg in the club’s wider scale: Blackburn United Community Sports Club. As stated by the club’s website, “the Club recognised the role that football and sport can make to improving lives and life chances for young people.” Community and sport evidently play such a large role in the health and wellbeing of an individual, with Blackburn United putting their front foot forward on the issue. The club have a huge range of youth set-ups and community initiatives around the town for those who desperately need it. It is tremendous to see, and long may it continue.  

The first-team presently ply their trade in the East of Scotland Premier Division after shifting from junior football in 2018; a decision in which plenty of former juniors have made in recent years. Currently sitting 14th in an eighteen-team league with a few games in hand, there is plenty of room for Blackburn to cement themselves as an EoS powerhouse in years to come. Jeanfield Swifts were the visitors on this crisp December Saturday where I was hoping the football may warm our souls on the side-line.  

The Journey 

Work commitments brought me to Glasgow city centre once again. As the fog descended on my walk through Glasgow Green, I did wonder how many games would succumb to the conditions this weekend. Thankfully, as you are reading this, Blackburn United’s was indeed on.  

Blackburn is generally easy to get to by car. After picking up my guest for today’s entertainment, a simple half-hour or so down the M8 brought us to the town centre where it was very easy to find New Murrayfield Park (or the Purdie Worldwide Community Stadium for sponsorship reasons). Street parking is accessible and easy, so the car was brought to a halt and a thirty second walk to the ground commenced. 

Facilities 

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The main stand at NMP.

First glimpses of NMP are superb. A modern, clean and easy-on-the-eye building emblazoned with the stadium name and club badge is the first structure that greets you. It is genuinely impressive.  

Upon paying my entry fee and entering game, the good impressions did not stop there. The ground is clean and aesthetically pleasing. A white barrier surrounds the periphery of the park with a single standing terrace on the far side. Even the dugouts look nice, with the club badge and colours decorating both home and away.  

On the left of the turnstiles lie the food and restrooms. A spotless toilet facility was nice to see, as was the efficient and friendly kitchen that lay ahead of it. I was served with lovely enthusiasm by the two members of club staff who couldn’t have been nicer. The work of those in the kitchen and turnstiles largely go unnoticed, and so it is great to see people enjoying the graft they put in. Thank you.  

I genuinely really like NMP. The fresh, modern look suits the club to the ground. The accessible artificial surface makes complete sense and the ground has plenty of room to grow should the club succeed. I also loved the benches around the park dedicated to the memories of supporters who had sadly passed on. It truly is a nice touch. I feel NMP as a whole deserves a solid 3.5/5. 

Atmosphere 

It’s always nice to see a club welcome plenty of locals through the turnstiles. With Blackburn being a relatively small town in the grand scheme of things, it is perhaps unsurprising that the noise and atmosphere would be subdued to an extent. A few shouts from the crowd could be heard here and there but ultimately it sounded pretty dry. 

However, it was clear to see the community environment the club encourage. Plenty of younger supporters were in attendance to watch their local team, and that in general is great. Everyone around appeared friendly and willing to chat if given the opportunity. I wonder if the cold put some regulars off though, and what an experience at NMP would be like in the warmer months. For this particular visit though, it scores a freezing 1.5/5.  

Quality of the Match 

The Burries started the brighter of the two sides early on with a flowing move through the middle. As a low cross from the right was bundled in though, the linesman’s flag was duly raised to cancel any excitement. Two minutes later however, Blackburn striker Danny Campbell rounded Sean Dalton in the Jeanfield goal, with the former sent flying to the deck. Whether he was touched or not is completely up for debate, but nonetheless the spot kick was given, and Dalton booked for his troubles. Burries captain Michael Browne slotted the ball away to give the home side a quick lead. 

Swifts took this warning shot and responded immediately. Paul Simpson looked lively on the right with a few bursts of pace and tantalising crosses. His left-footed effort curled just wide of Craig Saunders’ far post. It wouldn’t be long before Jeanfield’s equaliser arrived though. After working the ball down the left, Chris Dodd’s shot deflected into the path of striker Dayle Robertson. He calmly placed the ball into the bottom corner to bring The Swifts back into the game.  

Both Jeanfield and Robertson came so close to a second minutes later. After the big striker twisted and turned away from a few languishing defenders, his progress towards goal was halted by Saunders. The rebound fell to Connor McLaren, whose powerful volley smashed off the bar. A superb effort which looked destined to cut the net wide open.  

Jeanfield continued their pressure and looked to ride the wave of momentum coming their way. It told ten minutes before half time. A free kick whipped in by Simpson on the right looked destined to hit the back of the net. After a slight headed deflection by a Blackburn defender, it did. It felt like a deserved lead for the Swifts who went into half-time a goal up.  

Half time: Blackburn United 1-2 Jeanfield Swifts 

The Swifts started the second half as they ended the first; on the front foot. Blackburn struggled to deal with Jeanfield’s wide, expansive play and paid the price five minutes after the interval. After excellent build up play down the left, a strike at goal by Simpson was converted goalward by Robertson who claimed a deserved second goal of the game. 

Jeanfield’s main man should have been taking the match ball away soon after. After a well saved effort by Saunders, the resulting corner was headed just wide when it looked easier to score. Blackburn hit back, and had it not been for Dalton in the Jeanfield goals though, those chances may have been rued. A close-range effort was expertly directed over the bar to ruin Blackburn’s hopes of getting back into the game. The crossbar played its part too, with the woodwork being hit once again to deny Callum Heath’s goalward effort.  

With the game fizzling out and the affair becoming feisty, Jack Garrad managed to get himself sent off for obvious descent towards the linesman. A silly decision from one of Blackburn’s more creative players left the home side in a frustrated lurch. A few more missed opportunities came and went for Jeanfield, before the final whistle saved the hosts’ goal difference for today.  

Full time: Blackburn United 1-3 Jeanfield Swifts 

Blackburn will feel disappointed with today’s result but should not be too disheartened. I felt they had a decent flow going forward and some excellent creative impetus in the final third. Although the end result was not forthcoming this weekend, I suspect they have enough in their locker to be absolutely fine in this seasons Premier Division. Furthermore, despite his hot-headed sending off, I felt Jack Garrad had a decent game and should look to focus his eccentrics into his quick feet moving forward.  

Jeanfield will be delighted to have travelled up the road with three points. They played some exquisite football at times and really took advantage of the smooth artificial surface. They seemed to enjoy their fast, cut-throat style of play and gained plenty of space in the wide areas. Paul Simpson impressed me today for the most part. His agility, footwork and athleticism proved to be a deciding factor in a lot of Jeanfield’s attacking moves, and it was unsurprising to see him involved in the away side’s goals. Striker Dayle Robertson also impressed. He worked incredibly hard all game and charged down the Blackburn defence at a moment’s notice. He will naturally be disappointed not to have gone home with the match ball, but I’m sure two goals in an important away fixture is a good feeling to take back regardless.  

Overall, I enjoyed this weekend’s fixture. A superb battle with plenty of goalmouth action on both sides. I look forward to heading to Jeanfield at some point in the future to see what they are like on home turf. I feel this encounter deserves a solid 3/5.  

Pricing 

There is a photo circulating social media at the moment of the food prices down at Arsenal. I don’t know about any of you, but I almost spewed at the thought of paying £18.50 for a cheeseburger and chips deal. Thankfully the prices at Blackburn United were an absolute dream. £6 entry, £2 pies and £1 teas/coffees brought my entire visit to a tenner. The value for money is tremendous and can score no less than a 5/5.  

Final Score 

Blackburn United end the weekend with a score of 13/20. I imagine on a warmer day and a bigger fixture; this score may be higher. I look forward to the day where I can return to NMP to bask in the glorious West Lothian sunshine to watch an absolute cracker of a game.  

I enjoyed the modern and welcome feel of the club, and I wish them all the best for the rest of the season. As for Jeanfield, I am excited to head up to Perth and see what they have to offer. 

Happy Holidays, 

Connor. 

Run of the Mill – Haddington Athletic – 20/11/2021

Background

The county of East Lothian is home to many beautiful settings and landmarks. A region filled with vast countryside, scenic coastlines and mesmeric landscapes: East Lothian prides itself on its friendly endeavour and historic status. After bouncing around the Kingdoms of Bernicia, Northumbria, England and finally Scotland: the town of Haddington finds itself central to East Lothian’s concourse in modern times.

Haddington Athletic have been a mainstay in the East of Scotland football scene since their formation in 1939. However, it is fair to say that prominent success has been few and far between for The Hi His, with three East of Scotland Cups taking up the most room in Haddington’s trophy cabinet. This is a club on the up though. The Hi His are currently storming the East of Scotland Conference ‘A’ and look destined for promotion to the Premier Division.

Furthermore, Scottish Cup fever had well and truly descended onto the club over the last couple months. After a hard-fought penalty shoot-out victory over Highland League side Deveronvale, Haddington went toe-to-toe with newly relegated Brechin City and only just came up short. Considering Brechin were in the 2nd tier not so long ago, Haddington travelled home to rapturous praise and their heads held high.

On Saturday, I decided to make the journey to Millfield Park to see what the fuss was all about. Lowland League legends Spartans were travelling eastward for a chance to progress into the South Challenge Cup Fourth Round and the opportunity appeared too good to miss. Who has two thumbs and loves the idea of a cup upset? This guy.

The Journey

Work/family commitments brought me to the east coast this weekend, making my journey toward Haddington very straightforward. The A1 takes you beyond Tranent and Prestonpans (clubs I will be visiting shortly) before turning off when signs for Haddington became clear.

The drive through Haddington town centre feels like a trip through history. Beautiful old buildings grace the tight streets, where I couldn’t help but notice that everything appeared spotlessly clean. This is clearly a community that takes pride in the town and maintains it accordingly.

Passing the centre, the road to the ground is easy. I parked at a local sports centre and walked past an old mill on my stroll to the ground. I’ve been to Haddington a few times in the past, but this is the first time I’ve truly appreciated its beauty. If you ever have a chance to visit, do it. The warm-up shouts from Millfield Park could be heard from a while away and built my excitement for the match ahead.

Facilities

Upon entering Millfield Park, a signpost lies directly ahead giving directions to the ground’s many perks, pointing towards food and drink, toilets, and disability access. This is the first time I’ve seen such a structure at a ground on my travels and for new visitors like me it is a simple but appreciated feature. The view of a historic old mill in the background certainly gives context to this old ground’s name.

The ground itself is a very quaint environment. A single standing structure lies alone on the near touchline with a thick white barrier running the length and width of the pitch. A few benches also run along either side, providing comfortable access for those who need it. Much like the town itself, Millfield Park is very clean. I’m not sure if this is a Haddington state of mind or an East Lothian trait in general but either way, I am all for it. The committee and supporters clearly care about the image of the club, and it is great to see.

The legendary food stall lies on the left upon entry. Having watched the superb VT on BBC Scotland’s A View from the Terrace, it was difficult not to visit right away and I was not disappointed with the tasty culinary delights to choose from. A pie and a coffee took my fancy as I wandered to find a place to stand. Margaret, you’re an icon.

I enjoy Millfield Park. It is quaint, well-kept, and incredibly clean. Furthermore, the immaculate playing surface showcases this high standard is being delivered at all levels. It scores a handy 3.5/5.

Atmosphere

Millfield Park may be the friendliest crowd I’ve experienced on my travels thus far. Many conversations were struck with punters littered across the barriers who made me feel incredibly welcome. I was easily able to gather just how much the club means to the local community. They were enjoying Haddington’s leap into senior football and the excitement it has brought to the town. Droves of spectators young and old were scattered across the ground dressed in Haddington clad, with kids kicking a ball about on the pitch when the senior team were not.

The regulars who I chatted with discussed how today’s atmosphere was unusually quiet in comparison to other recent home games. They spoke highly of the bustling atmosphere for Scottish Cup ties and important league fixtures. For all their chat, it was difficult to ignore just how silent the punters were during the ninety minutes. Perhaps it is a one off. I’ll know on my next visit. Overall, the friendly community feel, excellent ‘local club’ environment and the amazing number of spaniels in the ground lifts this score to 3/5. I do love a dog at the football.

Quality of the Match

Heading into this South Challenge Cup tie, The Spartans sat second in the Lowland League, two divisions above The Hi His. Early on, Spartan’s experience at this higher level showcased itself. They spread the ball the ease and stretched the pitch to the best of their ability which lead to the first half-chance of the game. Larger than life striker Blair Henderson struck the ball with his left, only to be held well by Hi His ‘keeper Dale Cornet. Haddington struggled to leave their own half for a prolonged period, with the away side’s defence sweeping anything away comfortably.

Haddington hung in there and created their first opportunity soon after. After superb distribution by Cornet, Alassan Jones showed excellent technical drive and powered the home side up the park. A few neat flicks and passes resulted in a Gabri Auriemma volley nestling in goalkeeper Blair Carswell’s arms. Despite Spartan’s dominance, both teams had created equal chances.

After a few last-ditch challenges and a hairy moment from Haddington’s number one, Spartans took advantage from a defensive error. After a drilled pass over the top, Cornet hesitated once more on his decision to come off his line. This split second allowed Sean Brown to nip in and receive a clattering from the onrushing goalkeeper. With no complaints from the packed stand, Blair Henderson stepped up to put Spartans a goal up. To add injury to insult, the Haddington ‘keeper went off with a busted shoulder caused by the challenge: replaced by Robbie Stirling for the remainder of the match.

Half Time: Haddington Athletic 0-1 The Spartans

To begin proceedings for the second half, Spartans picked up where they left off. They pressed on the front foot and almost grabbed a second goal soon after the restart. A nice lay off by Henderson to Brown saw the powerful forward’s strike hitting the side-netting.

The scales did begin to balance though, with Haddington battling well in the middle of the park. It was a mistake by Carswell though that almost gifted them an equaliser. After some silky footwork in his own box, the stopper was caught on the ball by striker Guy McGarry. From a tight angle, he could only lift the ball over the crossbar and watch as it rolled down the back of the net. Funnily enough, there were a good amount of home supporters who thought McGarry had scored an equaliser.

Spartans heeded this warning and pushed for a second with increased intensity. After some tidy build-up play in midfield the ball found its way to Sean Brown on his right foot. From an acute angle he drilled the ball near post and put his side two goals up. A good goal overall, but Stirling may feel disappointed with his positioning.

With a comfortable lead, Spartans drifted through the remainder of the match in second gear. Haddington played some nice football to advance up the park at times but could not find a way through a solid Spartans defence with their only real chance coming in the closing stages. After slack play by the Spartans midfield, Shaun Hill found himself galloping down the left. After cutting inside and feeding the ball to substitute Aaron Congalton, the ball flew just wide to at least dirty Blair Carswell’s shorts for the afternoon.

Full Time: Haddington Athletic 0-2 The Spartans

On the whole, this was a pretty comfortable afternoon for the visitors. The Hi His had their moments and produced some good football at times, but the gulf in quality and experience ultimately shone through. I will give a special mention for midfielder Alassan Jones. His technical quality and quick football took the ball through the lines and brought Haddington up the park. I felt he was excellent, and I imagine him to be a top player in EoS Conference ‘A’. Also, the Haddington back line generally stood up well to the threat of Spartan’s strikers. They limited the visitors to only a few clear chances which is a difficult task for most Lowland League sides.

Spartans will be pleased with their performance. They produced a thoroughly professional job and did what they had to do to progress. Sean Brown was a pest of a forward all game and scored a deserved goal in the second half. Jamie Dishington had a solid game on the right and showed why he has experience playing in the professional leagues. I also felt centre back Kevin Waugh had a great game. He dealt with any threats that came his way and looked comfortable for the duration. The former Hibernian youth player also looked excellent on the ball.

Overall, I was treated to some decent football, some good individual performances and an entertaining midfield battle. I suspect Haddington may close the gap on today’s visitors in seasons to come. Unfortunately, they are some way off just yet. The game scores a comfy 2.5/5.

Pricing

I paid an incredibly cheap £6 for this third-round cup tie. For me, any game of football priced this cheaply is worth it regardless of the quality on the pitch. Furthermore, with the food and drink fairly priced too, it is easy to score this as 5/5.

Final Score

Haddington Athletic end the day with a score of 14/20. I really enjoyed my time at Millfield Park and certainly felt the appeal the club has to the local community. This is a well looked after club with tremendous spirit in the town. The only way is up for The Hi His, and I for one cannot wait to see them progress. As for Spartans, my visit to Ainslie Park will come soon enough.

– Connor

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

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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

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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

The Kings of the County – Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic – 30/10/2021

Sunset bears down on New Dundas

Background

Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic are Midlothian’s kingpins. As it stands, they are the county’s highest ranking football club and are beginning to make their mark on a nationwide scale. After winning the East of Scotland League in 2019, the club were granted SFA membership status and took their place in the Lowland League. ‘Rosey Posey’ have settled in well to their new surroundings despite COVID trying to foil their extensive ambitions. They finished runners-up in their inaugural season and third in last year’s pandemic party.

The club’s dominance of the East of Scotland scene has given them the tools to succeed at a higher level and an ability to showcase themselves as a surprise package in the Scottish Cup. After remarkably knocking Scottish Championship side Dumbarton out, they set up a tie with holders Hibernian at Tynecastle. 5000 Rose supporters filled The Gorgie Stand to witness the biggest game in the club’s history. The Hibees may have run out 8-1 winners, but Bonnyrigg went home with their heads held high. They took an extraordinary amount of pride back to the town, whilst also inflicting some nervy moments for Hibs. I should know, I was in Tynie with my green and white tinted specs on that day.

Historically, The Rose are no strangers to silverware in their cabinet. A plethora of East of Scotland Junior Cups and East of Scotland League titles are the spongy base to Bonnyrigg’s icing on the cake. In 1966, 10,000 spectators watched on as they battered Whitburn 6-1 in a replay to parade the Scottish Junior Cup in ‘Boomtown’. They repeated the incredible feat in 1978, beating Stonehouse Vics to further cement themselves into Scottish Junior folklore. Former player and legendary actor Sean Connery would have been proud.

After a weather-beaten week, I travelled the short journey to New Dundas Park to take in Bonnyrigg’s Lowland League fixture against Civil Service Strollers. With the Rose flying at the top of the table, they’d have to remain in good form to take anything from a Strollers side who were having a fantastic season and deservedly found themselves in the higher reaches of the league. I was hoping for quite a spectacle.

The Journey

Having grown up ten minutes away in Dalkeith, I like to think I know Bonnyrigg and the surrounding areas fairly well. In probably the quickest and easiest drive I’ll have all season, I passed Dalkeith Thistle’s King’s Park on the way to Boomtown. Knowing the streets around New Dundas Park are usually busy and cramped, I swung into a small estate five minutes’ walk away from the ground to save me the time and effort of escaping the thinner streets after the game. Thankfully, the weather held up in my casual stroll.

Facilities

New Dundas Park is tucked away in the middle of the town’s centre, in the midst of the loyal community it serves. Like Whitehill Welfare’s Ferguson Park, it is embedded alongside a main street in town. A swing through a tight alley on Lothian Street takes you to the instantly familiar bright red gates of New Dundas. After entering through one of two turnstiles, the pitch greets you head on. Even with the consistent rain battering the Central Belt, the pitch somehow looked in good shape, even with the characteristic unevenness of the nearside touchline. It may not be as iconic as the famous Easter Road slope, but it is certainly big enough to be noticeable.

The ground has plenty of viewpoints to take in the action. The obvious starting position would be the main stand, locally known as ‘The Shed’, beginning slightly off centre from the half-way line. A sheltered cover on the right-hand side provides disability access for those who need it and provided plenty of space in the process. A grass embankment on the opposite touchline provided standing access and an alternative view of the action. If those weren’t enough options for you, a small, seated area lies on the left next to the superb Rose Suite.

I loved a great deal of New Dundas Park, none more so than the new and clean feel to the entire place. Every inch of the structures felt as though they had been painted yesterday and thoroughly cleaned the morning of the game. Not even the spider webs that cover a lot of lower league structures were present. My favourite part of the ground however lay with the Supporters Wall. Not only does it look impressive with a huge layout, but it gives supporters a chance to be engraved into New Dundas forever whilst raising important funds for the club.

New Dundas Park is a tremendous facility and has room to grow alongside the club’s SPFL ambitions. The old-school feel is paramount, with an obvious care to keep it up to scratch. Bonnyrigg badges and ‘Rosey Posey’ banners litter the ground and truly feels like an arena with plenty stories to tell. I feel it deserves a 4/5.

Warming up in front of The Shed

Atmosphere

From the outset, it is glaringly obvious what Bonnyrigg Rose means to the community. From countless youth teams and coaching academies to excited chatter from older supporters, The Rose are the talk of the town and displayed everywhere. Every single person I either spoke to or overheard gossiped excitedly about Bonnyrigg’s prospects this season and about the weekly routine of watching their team. Everyone seems to know one another on a first name basis and provided plenty of friendly patter and laughs amongst themselves.

With a sea of red and white covering the main stand, the crowd were in decent voice all game. Even with little chanting or cheering, the bustling atmosphere created by the 500+ crowd brought an exciting energy to the contest. With Hibs and Hearts both scheduled to play away from home on this day of fixtures, it may have helped gate receipts and interest just a little bit.

I enjoyed the friendly, comfortable, and excited nature of the atmosphere at New Dundas. Supporters old and new were packed into a superb arena to cheer on their local team. A little more noise may have pushed this score up but a 3.5/5 sounds suitable to me.

Quality of the Match

With a delicate pitch holding up well, the game kicked off to rapturous expectation. Five minutes in though, Bonnyrigg’s shed was almost silenced. After a clumsy mistake at the back, Mikey Andrews in the Rose goals pulled off two superb saves before the resulting stramash in the box saw Dean Brett clear the third effort off the line. Civil Service were beginning to play some lovely football on the deck. With a smaller but technical midfield, they found pockets of space through the middle of the park and were trying to take advantage of the glaring sun sticking into Andrews’ eyes.

Rose were playing a different kind of football. For most of the first half, they shelled long balls up to strikers Kieran McGachie and George Hunter with little success. Strollers identified the tactic quickly and sat deeper to counter the threat of the two target men, with the midfield battling well to prevent any advances. Bonnyrigg did eventually fester their first opportunity of the game when Hunter held play up well and threaded a perfect through ball to Lewis Turner. A good save from Mac Whyte in the Stroller’s goal denied a certain opener for the Rose.

A few half-chances came and went for both teams as the minutes ticked down towards half-time. After a Bonnyrigg corner was swung in by former Hibs Kid Neil Martyniuk, the resulting header at the back post by Callum Connelly cleared the crossbar with plenty of room to spare. Strollers responded with a decent strike from the edge of the box with was saved relatively comfortably by Mikey Andrews. The half-time whilst blew with a sense of relief from the Bonnyrigg faithful in tune. Strollers would feel disappointed coming into the break level but would have taken encouragement from their play in the first forty-five.

Half Time: Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic 0-0 Civil Service Strollers

Bonnyrigg started a different animal after the interval. An early corner was just headed over by McGachie and grazed the roof of the net. However, the best chance of the match thus far fell to Strollers soon after. A superb through ball saw Andrew Johnston through on goal with only the ‘keeper to beat. The Rose ‘keeper made himself a goliath to deflect the goal-bound effort wide of the post. A vitally important save which kept Bonnyrigg’s rhythm from being halted.

McGachie and Hunter were beginning to combine well. Good hold up play from the former set up the latter for a strike at goal, which was sent high enough to score three points at Murrayfield. After more denials from Mac Whyte, Bonnyrigg finally found the opener. With the harsh sunlight bearing down on the Stroller’s goal, Dean Brett’s inch-perfect corner found McGachie unmarked in the box. With a powerful diversion he headed Rose into the lead.

From then on, the game transformed into one-way traffic with Bonnyrigg showcasing their league leader mentality. After a cross was half-cleared by the Civil defence, the ball found it’s way to Bradley Barrett on Bonnyrigg’s left. His first touch appeared poor but was good enough for his second to be driven across the eighteen-yard box. His effort was tapped in with ease by McGachie to double his tally on the day and become a Bonnyrigg centurion. He may not score an easier goal in his Rose career, but it will certainly be one of the more memorable ones. One hundred goals for any club at any level is a huge achievement and McGachie will rightly be delighted.

The flurry of goals continued soon after. Another whipped corner towards an unsighted Whyte was headed goalwards by substitute Kieran Hall to finish off a deadly last fifteen minutes for the Rose. A much-improved second-half performance would prove the difference between the two teams and see Bonnyrigg continue their terrific run of form.

Full Time: Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic 3-0 Civil Service Strollers

After a sluggish first half where the home side failed to gather any momentum, Bonnyrigg raised their game dramatically in the second period. A tough forward line lead by the deadly Kieran McGachie proved much the difference and were too much to handle for Stroller’s defence. Bonnyrigg have a playing identity and are not afraid to showcase it. Strong, balanced strikers allowed their teammates up the park and place pressure on the opposition. I feel it is a style of play that could do them well if they were to continue their impressive form and move into League 2.

After an impressive first half, Strollers will feel disappointed to not take anything from the game. I felt they played in a slick, fast-paced, and intentional manner and used their technical drive to cut open the Bonnyrigg defence. Involved at the heart of this style is Joao Balde. The former Rangers and Livingston youth player brought terrific quick-feet and flair that troubled the Rose midfield in the opening forty-five. He impressed a fair few supporters in the home end too. If they can keep their more influential players, Strollers look set to become a force in the Lowland League in the coming years. All the best to them.

Overall, I was treated to (excuse the cliché) a game of two halves and some clinical finishing. Although there were some lulls and unexciting football, I felt this was a worthwhile game to justify my visit to New Dundas. 3/5 sounds fair.

Pricing

For this Lowland League fixture, I was charged £7 for the pleasure. Good priced food, drink and merchandise were also available which I’ll be sure to indulge in next time. For a club that look destined for the SPFL, this is terrific value. Get here while these prices last. 5/5

Final Score

Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic finish with a worthy score of 15.5/20 and push themselves into 4th place in the TSFA League Table just behind Clydebank. I would be very interested in returning to New Dundas Park next year when I assume they’ll be a pressing League 2 side. Midlothian deserves it and is waiting for it. No pressure…

– Connor

‘The Kilby Boys Making All the Noise’ – East Kilbride FC- 23/10/2021

Background

The town of East Kilbride is one of the biggest on the Scottish landscape. With a wealth of history, culture and personalities, it is surprising that the town has never had a hugely successful football club. As with most of the west coast, loyalties lie within the clutches of Glasgow’s big two, with little competition in South Lanarkshire to challenge this norm. However, with a little help from Old Firm alumni, EK gained a club to represent the town at national senior level.

East Kilbride FC are a club barely old enough to attend high school but are one with hearty ambitions. With the club formed in 2010, they are a merger of Jackton Boys Club, Stewartfield FC, EK Diamonds and EK Wanderers. Celtic hero John Hartson and Rangers icon John Brown launched the club initially as an amateur side before being inducted into the Lowland League for its inaugural season in 2013.

In their short history, Kilby have amassed tremendous success. In the eight seasons since the Lowland League’s birth, EK have either won the thing or finished runners up in five of them. Add a few Lowland League Cups, Challenge Cups and Qualifying Cups and you’ve got yourself a decoration of silverware. So much so, that only a penalty shoot-out loss to Cowdenbeath in 2017 stopped the club from SPFL football.  

After finishing runners up in last season’s league campaign, Kilby find themselves in themselves in 6th place in the current standings. It was Scottish Cup duty today though as the hosts took on fellow league side University of Stirling for a 3rd round berth. Cup fever is back, and I was delighted to be a part of it.

The Journey

Work duties of my own took me into Glasgow’s city centre for the morning. I’ve always enjoyed parking my car on the banks of the Clyde near Richmond Park and taking a stroll through Glasgow Green to get to the city’s inner core. The weather held up nicely there and back, with a build-up of multi-coloured leaves greeting my steps.

The drive to EK is roughly half an hour from the city. I passed Rutherglen and Cathkin before heading down the nature filled A749 and through East Kilbride’s belly. K-Park is located on the southside of the town next to the much-loved Calderglen Park. Since Google Maps took me totally in the wrong direction, I had to navigate the monstrous roadworks outside the park twice. Eventually, my bearings were caught, and I was parked for the game ahead. On another day I’d be visiting the wee zoo and the lovely trails Calderglen has to offer, but today my only goal was to see some Scottish Cup action.

Facilities

K-Park Training Facility opened its doors in 2011, a year after the formation of the club. While EK develop plans for relocation to a permanent home, they share K Park with Celtic Women.

Firstly, it’s a lovely place. It’s modern, accessible and has everything you need to enjoy the football experience. The main stand runs across the touchline with a small, layered seating area stretching the length of it. For those spectators quick on the mark, priority seating lay at the top row. With no backrest for any of the seats, these lucky punters got the benefit of stretching their back out against the structure. For those who were not so lucky, this was a day to practise keeping proper posture.

As soon as you enter, the food kiosk greets you directly to the right where I grabbed my pre-match roll and coffee. One of the best things about lower league football in this country is the friendliness of the club staff. It’s personable, caring and adds a nice patter to the day out. I can’t for the life of me remember the woman’s name who I spoke to in the kiosk (sorry!), but credit to her.

I really like K-Park for what is it. It provides a suitable home for EK in the meantime and suits the Lowland League standard well. I wonder if the club’s relocation plans would have been forced to speed up if they had won that penalty shoot out in 2017. It scores a 3/5.

Atmosphere

I love a drum at the football. It adds to an exciting atmosphere and distils any white noise coming from the stands. This is exactly what ‘The Kilby Boys’ brought to K-Park. Placed at the far end of the main structure, the young team brought banners, scarves, noise, and enthusiasm. These boys looked about as old as the club itself but are fully aware of their importance to the ground. They beat their drum and sang their songs for the entire duration of the game and were thoroughly superb. They even provided a few laughs with their charismatic and improvised chants. It is rare to see such young supporters investing their time and effort into the local club. EK themselves expressed their gratitude by providing them with the unsold pies and thanking them over the PR system. Long may it continue.

Other than the young team, there seemed to be a decent wee support down from Stirling providing the atmosphere. They were relatively vocal but had little to shout about throughout. I’d imagine they’d have been in better fettle had their team provided any spark during the contest.

Overall, The Kilby Boys lift this score up to a cushty 4/5. I hope they remain loyal to EK and give them the support they need going forward. The players appeared to appreciate it.

Quality of the Match

After a slow start to the proceedings, EK established themselves as the team who would control this game. With a plethora of former SPFL starlets it was immediately clear the gulf in class between the two sides would be too much for the visitors. Forward Joao Victoria is vastly experienced in Scottish league football and led the line superbly. His quick feet and spatial awareness provided the first chance of the game. After dancing through a few Uni players, his teasing cross was somehow headed over by Daniel McManus when it looked easier to score. McManus would redeem himself shortly after though. A surging run from Victoria fed McManus at the edge of the box. His deflected strike bobbled past Ben Fry in the Stirling goal to give EK the lead. The Kilby Boys erupted as the players celebrated in front of their young faithful.

For the rest of the first half, the game was largely non-eventful. A few half chances came and went for Kilby but failed to create anything meaningful. Stirling had a single snapshot on goal which was deflected wide. EK’s physical presence across the park was clear to see and could easily dominate any high balls or fifty-fifty tackles. Stirling would have to show a bit more if anything were to come from their trip to South Lanarkshire.

Half Time: East Kilbride 1-0 University of Stirling

The second half started at a much quicker pace. Neil McLauglin cut inside after a terrific dribble into the box, only to see his left-footed strike hit the post. EK began to pile on the pressure and got their just rewards. After a cross from the right was headed away, the ball fell to Ryan Blair who smashed a volley into the roof of the net. A superb goal which gave Kilby some breathing space.

After another shot was cleared off the line and a dipping volley from McLaughlin tested Fry in the Stirling goals, EK got their third. After Jamie Stevenson’s long-range strike was parried somewhat unconvincingly by Fry, Jack Stainrod quickly gathered the ball and slotted it away first time.

In my opinion, the goal of the game came towards the end of proceedings. A bursting run from half-way by right back Cammy Elliot saw him beat two or three Stirling defenders. He reached the by-line in a time Usain Bolt would be proud of and swept the ball into the box. An unmarked Stainrod coolly poked the ball home to give the hosts a four-goal advantage. Elliot’s run was tremendous to watch and showed the desire from EK to pressurise till the end.

Full Time: East Kilbride 4-0 University of Stirling

In the end, it was a comfortable performance from the home side who saw themselves stroll past their league compatriots. It is perhaps unsurprising when they have a number of players with SPFL experience. Chris Erskine, Gregg Wylde and Joao Victoria stood out for the duration of the game and showcased the reason they had played at a higher level. With these players on the books, I would be surprised if EK didn’t start to propel themselves up the league.

University of Stirling will feel disappointed with their performance today but showed glimpses of what they can do, especially in the second half. A host of smaller, trickier players provided some moments of excitement for the travelling support but ultimately had nothing to show for it. James Stokes had a few decent bursts from midfield and showed himself to be an agile player going forward.

Overall, I was treated to four goals, a superb atmosphere, and a few terrific individual performances. This game scores 3/5 for me. A more fruitful opponent may have provided a bit more excitement to the match.

Pricing

For this Scottish Cup tie I was charged £8 entry, £4 for a roll and coffee and £2 for a programme. Is £14 worth watching a game in this age-old tournament in a decent wee ground with a banging atmosphere? I’d say so. 5/5.

Final Score

East Kilbride finish with a final score of 15/20 and push themselves towards the upper end of the TSFA League Table. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at K Park and look forward to the day where EK have a permanent stadium to call home. I’ll be there one day to experience it when that time comes. I wish Kilby luck for the remaining league season and all the best for the Scottish Cup third round.

– Connor

Shang-a-Lang – Cambuslang Rangers – 09/10/2021

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A soggy day in Cambuslang

Background

It’s fair to say that Cambuslang Rangers are a club steeped in success. Throughout the second half of the 20th century, ‘The Lang gathered an extensive haul of silverware including five Scottish Junior Cups. No strangers to the biggest stage in Scottish Junior football, Camby participated in the final of this prestigious tournament eleven times in total.

The club’s success in the 1970s is well versed through the South Lanarkshire town and it’s genuinely incredible to look at the honours the club achieved during this decade. Cup double’s, League and Cup trebles and even a quadruple winning season in 1971-72 is enough to make any football lovers eyes widen with intrigue. Furthermore, the club achieved these feats in front of tens of thousands of supporters at Somervell Park. Whilst these numbers have dwindled for a multitude of reasons, the history and success of Cambuslang Rangers is forever emblazoned in Scottish Junior folklore. ‘The Scottish Junior team of the 20th century’ is a title that no-one can take away from them.

Presently, The Wee Gers compete in the West of Scotland Conference ‘B’ and appear to be taking to the ‘senior’ set-up well. Even after pulling the club out of any league action during the COVID-19 pandemic and the financial troubles in the last few years, Camby have pulled through. They currently lead the division and have already scored fifty-two goals in the league before today’s visit from Carluke Rovers. With the Rovers dwindling towards the wrong end of the table, the ‘Lang went into the game in confident spirits.

The Journey

I primarily work in Cambuslang but have never been round to see a game at Somervell Park until today. After picking up my guest for today’s entertainment, Cambuslang is easy enough to get to. A fifteen-minute jot down the M74 took us to the park and ride just down from the town’s main street. From there it’s an easy five-minute walk to the ground and is simple enough to find. I appreciate grounds like this where it is deep within the heart of the community it serves.

Facilities

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Billy Drummond immortalised

Somervell Park has been the home of Cambuslang Rangers since 1904. Over one hundred years’ worth of football has been played on this hallowed ground. Punters have seen league titles won, cup parades, horrible defeats, and calamitous relegations all in the one place. The place oozes of history and has a very old-school feel to it.

Some of the architecture surrounding the pitch itself does appear to be very dated. A blue wall runs around the outskirts of the playing field and could do with a little touching up if truth be told. To be fair, I feel it adds to the older feel of the ground and is by no means horrible to look at. The grandstand itself is fairly large for the number of supporters in attendance and suits its purpose well. On the back end the walls are painted nicely with a perfect rendition of blue and white branding – representing the club’s primary colours.

On the far side of Somervell Park stands an adjoining bar named ‘Legends’ with a high perched veranda overlooking the pitch. It looks incredible and is a near-perfect idea that allows supporters to watch the game from a viewpoint, pint in hand. A fair few supporters took up this opportunity and looked to be having a good time of it too. The fan zone idea is something I have a lot of time for.

However, the area that touched me the most in this famous ground lies within the grandstand itself. Named ‘The Billy Drummond Stand’, it immortalises a young supporter who sadly lost his life in October of 2020. In the middle of his stand lies an amazing dedication to the young man with a large photograph, a heart-warming poem and plenty of flowers at its base. It is the thoughtful things like this that epitomise the football community. Cambuslang Rangers have taken the time and effort to showcase care for their own and have ensured that this young man’s memory marches on. Full credit to the club for this.

Somervell Park scores a handy 3.5/5.

Atmosphere

A rough estimation would say that there were between 150-200 supporters in attendance for today’s match. Understandably, the soggy conditions may have caused a few more to stay at home but it’s fair to say the atmosphere was pretty quiet. A mixture of supporters old and young gathered under the shed to occasionally shout encouragement or applaud when something positive occurred for Camby. I imagine the camaraderie would have been a bit louder up in the beer garden. I’ll know for next time… 2/5.

Quality of the Match

After an impeccably observed minutes silence, Cambuslang immediately pressed from the offset. A superb ball out to the wing allowed Gary Giffin to control the ball impeccably and deliver a superb cross into the box. A rising header by ‘Lang striker Scott Williamson was saved well by Carluke ‘keeper Dean Wilson. The Rovers stopper was brought into action twice more in quick succession. He saved a decent drive with his feet from Jay Nelson before denying Williamson once again. However, he had no chance with Camby’s opener. A superb driven effort by Tony Stevenson glided across the wet turf and flew into the bottom corner. A well-deserved opener for The Wee Gers despite Wilson’s efforts.

Cambuslang continued their high pressure and held nothing back against a Carluke defence struggling to grasp any possession. A good ball in from the right by midfielder Ryan Stewart found Williamson who smashed the ball through the legs of Wilson. It was three-nil very shortly after. A brutal mistake at the heart of Carluke’s defence allowed a Cambuslang forward to snatch the ball in the area. He dribbled away from the onrushing ‘keeper before squaring the ball to Gordon. He swept the ball home with ease to net his first of the season. It got even worse for the Rovers just before half-time. A corner swung in was met by a looping header from John Gemmell. After his effort hit the crossbar, Williamson comfortably dispatched the rebound. A riot of a first half in which Camby controlled with ease.

Half time: Cambuslang Rangers 4-0 Carluke Rovers

The home side started the second half in the same manner as they ended the first: in full control. A few decent saves by Wilson in the Carluke goals and a couple last-ditch challenges the only thing stopping ‘Lang from increasing their lead. This was until a good through ball for Williamson produced a terrific snapshot toward the bottom corner. That concluded the striker’s hat-trick and meant he had scored 31 goals in 17 games this season. Those are incredibly impressive numbers.

If things weren’t already difficult for the away side, they were about to get worse. Dillan Duddy got himself sent off from what I presumed to be dissent, although I could be wrong. Regardless, Carluke were down to ten with an impossible mountain to climb.

Shortly after a Camby effort was cleared off the line, some slack defending allowed the home side to pass ball around the edge of the box. The resulting strike from Ryan Stewart made it six-nil. Carluke fell apart afterwards. After strong battling in the middle of the park, a through ball was played through to Camby substitute Gordon Dick. With not a single defender anywhere near him, he slotted the ball away to make it seven. Then, literally from kick-off the exact same scenario repeated itself. A defence cutting through ball to Dick gave him all the time in the world just inside the box. The forward attempted an audacious flick over the onrushing keeper, which amazingly fell into the net. A fitting finish to say the least given ‘Lang’s performance this afternoon. I think it’s fair to say the away side were glad to hear the final whistle blow.

Full time: Cambuslang Rangers 8-0 Carluke Rovers

I think it’s clear to see why The Wee Gers are top of Conference ‘B’. They played some fantastic football and did not seem to be bothered in the slightest by the wet and soggy pitch. Their intricate passing and moving from the midfield created a multitude of chances going forward. The Camby back line must also be applauded. They controlled the game superbly and never once looked threatened by the away side’s attackers. Every league challenger needs a powerful defensive line, and Cambuslang have just this.

Despite Carluke’s mostly disappointing performance, it’s worth nothing that Dean Wilson had a good game in goals. He made a string of important saves toward the beginning of the match and can count himself unlucky regarding the quality of Camby’s finishes. On another day he may have been what Carluke needed to take something from the game.

Usually, I’m not a fan of complete walkovers like this. One team being massively better quality than their opponents can often bring a rubbish game to watch as it’s so easy. However, on this occasion I was massively impressed with Camby’s play. They played some slick football and took control of the game from the off. It was superb to watch at times. For this reason, the game scores 3/5.

Pricing

Standard pricing for this level of football. We paid £6 for entry and witnessed eight goals. Can’t really complain too much can we? 5/5.

Final Score

Cambuslang Rangers end with a final score of 13.5/20. A reputable score with plenty of potential for more in the future. I really enjoyed my experience at Somervell Park and hope to return at some point. I imagine when I do so, The Wee Gers will be in the Premier Division at the least. I wish both teams the very best for the rest of the season. I’ll be in Carluke for a game there soon…

– Connor

Anything and Everything – Pollok FC – 02/10/2021

The cult classic grandstand

Background

Pollok FC are undoubtedly one the biggest names in the Scottish Junior game. The Glasgow Southsiders have a humungous reputation surrounding them and regularly attain attendances of 700+ at Newlandsfield. Naturally, a large following provides major pull for players and Pollok have been naturally successful as a result. With three Scottish Junior Cups to their name and a host of other silverware, ‘The Lok’ can flex these achievements wherever they go. Former junior sides are becoming more mainstream as days go by. A wonderful short film from BBC Scotland’s A View from the Terrace showcased Pollok to a national audience and captured the community essence of the Southside club.

A mass of notable players have worn the instantly recognisable black and white stripes, with international names and Scottish Premiership winners a plenty. Robert Prytz, Bobby Collins, Andy McLaren, Fraser Wishart, and the legendary journeyman Chic Carnley to name just a few. I’ve seen worse 5-a-side teams down Glasgow Green.

Currently, Pollok play in the West of Scotland Premier Division and sit high and mighty in second place behind today’s visitors Auchinleck Talbot. With there only being a couple points between these two junior heavyweights, an absolute cracker of a game was surely on the horizon. Talbot are a massive name themselves, but I’ll save their history for when I travel down Ayrshire way.

The Journey

With work taking me to Glasgow city centre for the morning, my journey was a bit shorter than it usually would be. After taking the motor from Kings Street’s ridiculously pot-holed ridden carpark, the venture southside began. It was absolutely heaving with rain, making the already busy roads an absolute slog to get through.

Eventually I managed to park in one of the many side streets beside Newlandsfield and walk the casual five minutes to the ground. The rain was torrential, heavy and miserable but I was here and buzzing for the experience.

Facilities

Newlandsfield is astonishing. The mesmerising grandstand is in clear view as you walk through the turnstiles and looked fantastic even in the pouring rain. The programme stand and merchandise hut greet you as you enter the ground, with a cheery gentleman gladly taking my £1.50 for today’s programme.

As I walked around back of the goals to get to the sheltered stand, I couldn’t help but turn and just admire where I was. This was a ground with mountainous history and a loyal support who turned out in their droves every single week. It really is a superb setting for football. I walked around and got my fill from the Pie Hut as I passed. Again, terrific service from those inside the shop. Opposite the stand stood a small embankment that I can only assume is mostly reserved for away fans. On a warm summer’s day, I can imagine this being a fantastic viewpoint. On today’s miserable occasion, probably not. Umbrellas a plenty were on show. The pitch also stood out. Unbelievable effort from the grounds staff.

In my opinion, there are only a couple of things I’m not a fan of in Newlandsfield. The stand itself is a bit spider-webby and was showing its age. I’m sure a quick power wash and paint job would allow this magnificent structure to glow as it rightly should. I’m also not particularly keen on the makeshift outdoor toilets behind the stand. Literally pissing in the wind in the pouring rain is not an experience I’d choose to take up again. I’ll let them off through. Newlandsfield has more than enough to stop me complaining about petty things like this. I love it. It gets a score of 4/5.

Atmosphere

The biggest crowd of my travels so far were in loud voice. With Pollok’s huge fanbase and Talbot’s droves of away supporters, the atmosphere within the ground was fantastic. I enjoyed the tunes playing from the stand’s speakers and the pumped up feel for the contest they provided.

Naturally, as events perspired during the game the atmosphere matched the mood on the pitch and with such a large crowd, the noise level only rose. As we’ll find out soon enough, the Pollok support had plenty to be acrimonious about as the game went on. It felt like a game of football that you’d see in the higher reaches of the SPFL. It sounds daft, but I find that the way crowds react to their team winning corners to be a big part of this feeling. Pollok’s fans certainly roared when they received those opportunities.

One aspect I will always love about lower league grounds is the freedom they give the bairns. As soon as half-time hit, they stormed the pitch to fire strikes into the home team’s net. Imagine being 10 years old and firing a rocket of a free kick into the top corner in front of 1000+. What a feeling. Plenty of kids splashed about in puddles and really gave the community feel to the stadium. This really raises the positivity within the club. Again, 4/5 sounds fair.

The Travelling Talbot Support

Quality of the Match

We’ve finally reached the juicy part, and what I assume you’re reading this for. Strap yourselves in troops, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Talbot started strong and had a chance from the offset. A chipped ball onto the chest of Bryan Boylan gave him time and space to execute a cracking half-volley. Jordan Longmuir in the Pollok goal appeared to have it covered as it flew past his near post. It was Pollok however, who scored the first goal of this topsy-turvy encounter. A cross swung in from ‘Lok’s left was directed to the back post. Andy Leishman in the Talbot goal came for it but instead of catching the ball, he attempted a one-fisted punch away. It had me reminiscing of the time Rangers goalkeeper Cammy Bell attempted that goal-line punch against Motherwell in the Championship play-off at Fir Park. The result was much the same. Leishman got It all wrong and the ball fell to Adam Forde. He comfortably swept the ball into the net to give Pollok the advantage.

Pollok could have had a second swiftly after. A huge stramash in the box resulted in Leishman saving two close range efforts and the Talbot defence blocking a further three. I have no idea how the ball didn’t nestle in the net. However, after a poor Pollok free-kick it was Talbot ruing a missed opportunity. A belting counterattack saw a superb cross field pass from Boylan into the feet of fellow striker Jamie Glasgow. His shot produced a cracking save from Longmuir once again.

As the weather eased up, the game was only getting started. Pollok received a penalty after a presumed push in the box from someone in the Auchinleck defence. Ryan McGregor stepped up but initially saw his penalty superbly saved by Leishman, who tipped the strike onto the post. Unfortunately for the Talbot ‘keeper, McGregor comfortably side-footed the rebound into the net. Two-nil Pollok.

Now, this is where the game begins to get a bit messy. After a soft second booking for a foul in the middle of the park, Pollok’s Evan Horne was sent off. Harsh for me. Talbot took advantage straight away and received aa penalty of their own. I genuinely don’t know why the penalty was given as I couldn’t see over the number of heads I had to peer over in the grandstand. Regardless, Jamie Glasgow stepped up and halved Pollok’s lead in the process. Literally two minutes later, Glasgow had a second. He took the ball for a run on the left, cut inside on the edge of the box and fired a superb strike into Longmuir’s bottom corner. A lovely goal to bring Talbot into the driving seat. They could have had a third shortly after. A long pass forward was controlled expertly by Boylan who put the ball on a plate for Willie Boyd. His low shot was saved by the extended legs of Longmuir and fired over the bar to end the action to a truly amazing first half.

Half time: Pollok 2-2 Auchinleck Talbot

McGregor celebrates Pollok’s second

Despite having a man less, Pollok started the second-half the better team. Their pressure and bravery going forward was rewarded with another penalty. That’s three penalties overall in the game for those of you not keeping count. McGregor stepped up again and dispatched the spot-kick into the top corner. A tremendous strike to give the score line advantage to Pollok once more.

Now, this is where the game gets REALLY messy. A cross in from Talbot’s left was ushered out at the back post by Pollok’s David Brownlie who received a sore one to the ankle in the process. Amid the process of the defender receiving treatment, he was subject to a few shouts from the naturally impatient Talbot fans behind the goal. Brownlie’s reply to one particular fan’s shout of “hurry up there’s nothing wrong with you” got him into a bit of bother. Apparently, saying the words “fuck off, you prick” to a supporter can get you a red card. I didn’t know this, and neither did the rest of the Pollok players, staff, and supporters. I’ve never seen anything like it and was genuinely confused by the ordeal. Brownlie received his marching orders and Pollok were now down to nine. A shocker of a decision if you ask me.

The man in the middle further put himself in the spotlight five minutes later. If Pollok’s job wasn’t hard enough already, it was about to get increasingly more difficult. For what I presume to be a raised arm in an aerial challenge, goal scorer Adam Forde was given a red card. I’ve never seen a team with eight men before during a live match, but I was about to. I don’t know if the referee was aided at all by his linesmen throughout the game, but you’d think they’d want to save him from any further embarrassment.

Pollok were incredibly admirable for the remaining fifteen or so minutes. They defended superbly as a unit to force Talbot into continuous cross balls. Only one of these crosses reached the back post, where a header was amazingly saved by Jordan Longmuir. Talbot piled on the pressure, and it eventually told. A low ball in from the left was flicked goalward by substitute Graham Wilson and provided Talbot an equaliser with five minutes to go. With fingernails being bitten all around Newlandsfield, Longmuir produced an outstanding couple of saves to ensure Pollok walked away with a point. He scooped an effort off the line before flying through the air to push a longer-range effort over the bar.

Full time: Pollok 3-3 Auchinleck Talbot

Well, where do I start with this? Pollok will have gone to bed last night with a whirlwind of thoughts. They were outstanding throughout the game and will feel furious with today’s referee, who denied the Southsiders the three points. Nevertheless, Pollok battled admirably and will rightly be proud about taking a point from the league leaders. I’d expect ‘Lok to push Talbot all the way for this years Premier Division.

In fairness to Talbot, they are not in control of the officials. They were on the end of some shoddy decisions themselves, which included two penalties. In addition, they can only play and score against what is in front of them. They’ll feel disappointed to have only scored once against eight men but relieved to at least come away with a point. Auchinleck looked incredibly dangerous going forward and I fully expect them to maintain their position at the top of the table.

I can give nothing but a 5/5 for today’s game. It had literally everything you could possibly want as a neutral. What a day to be alive.

Pricing

I paid £7 entry, £1.50 for a programme and £2.50 for food and drink. £11 for six goals, three red cards, three penalties and a heap of controversy. There truly is no better value in Scottish football than the lower leagues. 5/5.

Final Score

They may not lead the WOSFL Premier Division at the moment, but the Southsiders fire straight to the summit of the Scottish Football Adventures League Table with an amazing score of 18/20. An unbelievable experience that I will never forget. I’ll be back to take in another game at Newlandsfield in the future and cannot wait for it. I wish Pollok nothing but the best and pledge to see a game in Auchinleck at some point this season.

– Connor

Only Team in the Village – Whitehill Welfare – 25/09/2021

A perfect day for football.

Background

Whitehill Welfare are somewhat of a sleeping giant in Scottish lower league folklore. As the most successful club in East of Scotland League history, Welfare have sixteen league titles to their name. The claret and white trophy cabinet is chock full of cup silverware too. Not bad for a team in small village Midlothian. As of 2013, they joined the newly formed Lowland League as one of their founding members, where they stayed until relegation in 2019.

Presently, Welfare ply their trade in the East of Scotland Premier Division alongside a host of lower league mainstays. Welfare currently sit second bottom of the division, with only lowly Newtongrange Star propping the Ferguson Park side up. It’s an old cliché to say that a club are too big to be relegated, but unless The Welfare get their act together it slowly becomes a stark reality. As a Hibs fan, I know this all too well…

Their challengers for this mild Saturday afternoon – Linlithgow Rose – were sitting in the higher reaches of the league heading into this contest. A huge name in the junior game themselves, The Rose were hoping to continue their decent league form and add three points to their current total.

The Journey

Having grown up in Midlothian, the vast majority of my family live and breath in this reach of Central Belt Scotland. Coming from Dalkeith, a short but bustling drive through Bonnyrigg and the surrounding countryside brought me to the quaint village of Rosewell. Famous for Rosslyn Chapel, where Tom Hanks and co filmed a few scenes of The Da Vinci Code, Rosewell’s historic feel is paramount throughout the village. I parked up on the main road and left gave myself a few minutes stroll to Ferguson Park.

Facilities

Ferguson Park is a hidden gym embedded between a row of houses on the main street. After cutting through a small alleyway, the signs for Whitehill Welfare were clear as day. The fact that Ferguson Park is so close to daily life in Rosewell brings an obvious sense of community to the club. The ground is literally a stone’s throw away from a lot of places in the village.

Upon entering the gates, a tremendous sense of openness greets you. There is plenty of space to stand or sit whilst chatting nonsense about what life has brought you that particular week. A small seating area sits parallel to the food and drink van where specialised pies were on sale today. I’d have been silly not to have tried this steak, haggis and peppercorn sauce creation. I was not disappointed.

A small but lovely lounge was available for punters to get pre-match pints and watch the snooze fest that was Chelsea v Man City in the EPL lunchtime kick-off. Friendliness oozed through the place as I chatted with a couple of older gentlemen who spoke honestly about The Welfare’s season so far.

Ferguson Park has a couple of small, seated stands available with one covered and another exposed to the elements. It has everything you need to watch a game of football at this level, with some added dedicated benches and disability seating for those who require it. Furthermore, the pitch looked outstanding and would put a few SPFL sides to shame. I feel a score of 4/5 is fair.

Home and away fans together by the embankment

Atmosphere

As mentioned, a very friendly atmosphere among punters became clear from the off. The Welfare loyal shouted beads of encouragement throughout but were ultimately outshone by the band of travelling fans from Linlithgow. A mixture of supporters old and young gathered on the embankment behind the dugouts to watch the encounter in relative peace and harmony. Friendly patter aside, It was a relatively quiet affair on show. I enjoyed the real local feel to the ground. Old pals gathering round to catch up and take in the game together. I’ve a long way to go but I can see myself in this limelight in thirty or so years. 2.5/5 is a fair reflection in my eyes.   

Quality of the Match

After feeling each other out for the first ten minutes, Welfare showed themselves to be much the better side for the opening exchanges without creating too much going forward. They certainly did not look like the side languishing at the base end of the league. This was until a flurry of chances came Linlithgow’s way. A slack pass in midfield allowed Mark Stowe on Linlithgow’s right to cut inside and play an intricate pass to Alan Sneddon outside the 6-yard box. His shot was saved well by Musa Dibaga in the Welfare goal. Dibaga was called into action thirty seconds later as a parried strike was deflected for a corner – with the resulting delivery being blazed over from close range.

The Welfare conjured their first chance of the game after good play on the left. A decent delivery by Liam McCardle was headed over at the back post by a frustrated Bob McKenzie. Whitehill were beginning to mount serious pressure as Aaran Laidlaw stormed through on goal. A last-ditch challenge by Rose captain Gary Thom preventing the striker putting the home side in front.

Linlithgow struck back quickly with a superb driving run by Thomas Halleran. After skipping past three Welfare defenders, his low shot struck off the inside of the far post and nestled safely in Dibaga’s arms. The Rose would not be denied for much longer though. After decent play in midfield, Stowe struck a laser-pointed effort from twenty-five yards. The drive found itself in the bottom corner and pushed Linlithgow into the break a goal up.

Half Time: Whitehill Welfare 0-1 Linlithgow Rose

After an unexceptional first fifteen of the second half, the game completely sprung into life. A good save by Dibaga denied Sneddon before chaos erupted soon after. Linlithgow found themselves through on goal again with a last-minute challenge from Blair Tolmie bringing The Rose striker down just outside the box. For me, a foul and a booking would have sufficed. The referee and near-side linesman had other ideas. A straight red card was shown to Tolmie, much to the disbelief of the Welfare support, players and dugout. The decision appeared harsh to me, but then again who’d be a referee?

As expected, Linlithgow strutted the remainder of the game. After more intricate play in midfield, Alan Docherty found himself on the far side of Welfare’s box. His ball across was finished comfortably by Sneddon to give The Rose a two-goal lead. With Linlithgow playing much of the game in Whitehill’s half, I moved myself behind the home side’s goal to gain a better view of their passing game. This was displayed superbly, with a strong passing move resulting in left-back Cammy Thomson hitting the far post.

Whitehill were struggling to get out of their own half by this point, with Linlithgow taking full control of the affair. Musa Dibaga took it upon himself to produce a goalkeeping masterclass for the remainder of the match. A header was superbly pushed over, a one-on-one effort was parried wide and a brave stop at the feet of Docherty just the key highlights of his second half. Without him, Welfare’s afternoon could have been incredibly miserable.

Full Time: Whitehill Welfare 0-2 Linlithgow Rose

Given the controversy of the red card, Welfare will feel aggrieved by Saturday’s result. They played well up until the sending off and can take confidence into their next match with this in mind.

Linlithgow are towards the top end of the league for a reason and really strutted their stuff against ten men. A 2-0 score line flattered the home side in the end, with an inspired goalkeeping performance keeping the tally down. I feel as though a score of 2.5/5 is fair, given how much the red card thwarted the afternoon’s entertainment.

Pricing

I paid £7 entry to Ferguson Park, a good price for a Premier Division match. The pie and coffee I had at the match was a fair price too and well worth it. There can no complaints with the pricing at this level. 5/5.

Final Score

Whitehill Welfare achieve a final score of 14/20 for Saturday’s game. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Ferguson Park and the friendly atmosphere it brought.  I hope to be back soon to see a resurgent Welfare team push their way back up the league.

– Connor

Friday Night Lights – Cumbernauld Colts – 17/09/2021

Background

Friday night football: A reward for everyone putting in their graft during the week. Any game under the floodlights is special, but a Scottish Cup tie under those bright beams is something different. A one-off contest that could have significant rewards for the clubs involved. Everything is laid bare. Two teams going toe to toe to make a nationwide name for themselves. We all love the magic of the cup, and it’s fantastic to be able to witness it in person once again.

Cumbernauld Colts are a relatively recent addition to the Scottish football pyramid. Founded in 1969, the club competed in the Caledonian Amateur Leagues until their induction into the Lowland League in 2015. The Colts have since been a mainstay in the 5th tier, parading around mid-table most seasons. The club won the Lowland League Cup in 2018, making it the lone piece of silverware in The Colts’ professional league cabinet.

Despite a lack of professional history within the club, The Colts are well known in the local area. Colts in the Community is an outreach programme created by the club to provide community-focussed activities to schools and disadvantaged areas in North Lanarkshire. Football is a language Scotland is fluent in, and it has become an expectation for Scottish clubs to provide these services to those who need it most. Cumbernauld Colts are no different, and I’m sure the town is better off for it.

With the club providing terrific off-field services, I decided to see what they about on the park. The Colts were taking on Buckie Thistle in the Scottish Cup First Round. The Cup provides huge opportunities for lower league clubs to make a name for themselves. A few good results could mean exceptional financial windfalls and significant public exposure. Early round knockout competitions usually showcase a free-flowing and entertaining spectacle. I was hoping for this exact scenario.

The Journey

With the rain pouring down in the early evening I was thankful for Cumbernauld not being a huge distance away. After picking up my guest for tonight’s entertainment, a simple saunter down the M73 brought us to highlands of North Lanarkshire. Broadwood Stadium is located a short distance outside the town but impossible to miss. The lights beamed and could be seen from a distance away. As we entered the winding road down towards the ground, I was delighted to see the car park pretty full – indicating a decent attendance from both sets of supporters. Cup fever was upon us.

Facilities

Broadwood is far and away the largest stadium I have entered whilst on my groundhopping adventure. The purpose-built multi-use ground was built in 1994 and currently hosts two football clubs. As well as The Colts, Clyde play their SPFL League One home games at Broadwood. Interestingly though, despite The Bully Wee playing two levels higher and ‘Clyde FC’ being plastered across the seating, The Colts are the primary license holders of the stadium. The first electronic screen of my travels was also well-received.

Three full stands surround the artificial pitch. Behind the goals on the right-hand side is wide open, with a North Lanarkshire Leisure building proudly displaying itself for all to see. I imagine that building must be full of dents from wayward strikes at goal. I enjoy the aesthetics of Broadwood. It’s simple and more than large enough to host the events it does. I often wonder whether players enjoy playing in genuine stadiums or in tight and compact junior grounds. Answers on a postcard.

A very basic food and drink stand met us as we walked into the ground level of the main stand. Two hard-working members of Colts’ staff had proudly displayed and readied a multitude of teas, coffees, Bovril and hot food. With Broadwood often being described as one of the coldest grounds in the SPFL Pyramid, it’s no wonder these drinks were ready to go. A bar lounge upstairs was readily available to enter for a different vibe to the stand or tea-room. It feels traditional for Scottish Cup games to have a lounge open for both sets of supporters to get together. It also takes me back to my boy’s club days of eating my weight in sandwiches the home team had prepared for Scottish Cup Day. I like Broadwood and feel that it holds good stature in the Scottish game. I would be interested to attend a Clyde match soon to compare any differences. On this occasion I feel a score of 3.5/5 is a fair score.

Atmosphere

I often expect cup games to have a better atmosphere than a bog-standard league encounter. With plenty on the line, tempers flare and patience can deteriorate quickly. It often makes for better entertainment on the pitch.

I was delighted to see a sizeable crowd brought down from Buckie. It takes a huge level of loyalty to travel the 246 mile (according to Google Maps) round-trip on a Friday night to watch a first round tie. They were in good voice too. A few songs were sung, and shouts thrown here and there. The Colts also brought a good crowd with plenty of encouragement for the home side noticeable throughout the game. It was clear to see the patter flowing between both sets of supporters in the ground too. Even with so much at stake, football is only as serious as you make of it. This was a cup-tie atmosphere, and we were here for it. 3.5/5.

Quality of the Match

Buckie came into this match in decent form and find themselves 3rd in the Highland League table. Cumbernauld on the other hand had already lost 8 league games this season and lingered in the lower reaches of the Lowland League.

The away side started the far brighter. They dominated play from the off and showcased themselves as a good passing side with plenty of attacking impetus. A few early chances saw a deflected close range from Andy MacAskill fly out for a corner. The resulting set-piece was well-worked and produced a smart save from Alex Marshall in the Colt’s goal. Buckie should have taken the lead after a whipped free kick was headed wide by Kyle MacLeod. A wasted opportunity from a guilt-edge free header.

The Colts had their first real opportunity of the game with Ewan Macpherson striding down the left-hand side. His eventual strike rippled the side-netting, much to the frustration of his unmarked team-mate on the 18-yard line.  Buckie regained control thereafter and wasted yet another opportunity. Some superb play down the right resulted in a driven cross being fired through the Colts defence. The home side could only watch in relief as the ball smashed off the post at the far end.

Half time: Cumbernauld Colts 0-0 Buckie Thistle

After some vocal grumbles from the Buckie support, their team continued their domination early in the second half. Sam Urquhart fired a decent strike just over the Colt’s bar, with the away side wondering if it was going to be one of those dreaded nights.

Their fears were becoming a reality shortly after. A pacey run from Macpherson cut through the Buckie defence. After beating 2 or 3 defenders, he was taken down on the edge of the box. Craig Murray produced a scintillating strike to fire the ball in the far corner of the Buckie net from the resulting free-kick. A fantastic strike. Not so sure about the knee slide on the AstroTurf through.

Buckie’s shock didn’t last long though. The much-needed wakeup call produced a startlingly quick comeback. A good cross in from Buckie’s left was flicked on well, leaving Kyle MacLeod free in the Colt’s box. There was no way he was missing this one as he swept the ball home to give the away side the momentum once more.

Normal service resumed. Buckie continued to apply pressure into the depths of the match. A poor pass in the Colt’s midfield gave Buckie the chance to break. A good ball into the feet of Scott Adams could only result in the midfielder’s strike coming off the wrong side of the post.

Cumbernauld produced the last half-chance of the contest. A surging run by Stephen O’Neill pushed the Colts forward. His cross-come shot evaded everyone as the ball trickled across the by-line. A frustrating end for the home side with a chance to win the game.

The game began to peter out with long-balls being fired in both directions. There was time for a few crunching tackles and on-field arguments to liven proceedings though. Unfortunately for both teams, heated arguments and petty shoves don’t count towards the final score.

Full time: Cumbernauld Colts 1-1 Buckie Thistle

Buckie will naturally feel frustrated about their performance here. The away side had countless opportunities to bury the game in the first half alone. Some poor finishing and a lack of clinical composure allowed The Colts into the contest. However, they will feel they can take tonight’s hosts up to the highlands and finish the job.

I was impressed by Buckie’s Jack Murray in central defence. His towering presence controlled any aerial threats coming Buckie’s way. He also seemed to enjoy a stroll into midfield and proved his intricate ball control skills along the way. I’d be interested to track his career path and would expect him to be playing at a higher level soon.

Cumbernauld Colts may also feel aggrieved with this result. After taking the lead against the run of play, they will be disappointed to lose the lead so quickly. Despite being second-best for the majority of the game, The Colts will travel to highlands next week with the belief they can take something from the game and push Buckie all the way.

Overall, I enjoyed my time watching this contest. The loudest crowd of my travels so far, a decent storyline on the park and a real cup-tie feel around this match are all positives in my book. A possible lack of finishing quality only added to the tension. I believe a score of 3/5 is fair.

Pricing

Tickets for this Scottish Cup tie came to £8. A big cup-tie between two decent teams with plenty on the line is well worth this price tag. Food and drink also came to fair prices for a game of football. As previously mentioned, I feel any game below League 2 will achieve 5/5 for pricing. The Colts are no different. 5/5.

Final Score

Cumbernauld Colts finish with a final score of 15/20. A very enjoyable experience at a cracking ground, a decent game and good company.

I wish both teams the best of luck with their cup replay next week and for their respective league seasons. I will be back at Broadwood at some point for an experience of Clyde FC.

– Connor

Holm is Where the Heart is – Clydebank FC – 04/09/2021

Background

Clydebank are a club reborn. Their history in the in last forty or so years has been a rollercoaster to say the least. The club are a phoenix, rising from the ashes of the Clydebank FC best known for competing in the old Scottish Premier Division with raucous matchdays at Kilbowie being the norm. After severe and long-winded mismanagement, Clydebank found themselves without a home and bought out by a consortium from Airdrie who moved them to the North Lanarkshire town.

The current Clydebank were formed in 2003, with their debut season coming in 2003/04 in the West Region structure of the Scottish Junior system. Their success since then has been well-versed. A loyal following of 1000+ supporters a game watched their club climb the ranks and reach the final of the Scottish Junior Cup in 2009. The Bankies may have fallen to Auchinleck Talbot that day, but the fans had their club back. The only way was up.

On Saturday, I decided to see what the club were up to in their top of the table clash against Pollok FC. Both teams were riding high in the West of Scotland Premier Division and a highly competitive fixture was on the cards. Clydebank were unbeaten in the league going into the game, with an expectant Holm Park waiting for them.

The Journey

This was my longest journey so far, which seems pathetic considering it’s only a 35-minute drive away. I had finally broken the barriers of Lanarkshire and entered the unknown wilderness of West Dunbartonshire. A saunter across the M74, past the SECC and down past Yoker brought me to Holm Park. I swiftly parked across the road from Yoker train station and strolled the 10 minutes or so to the ground. Easy journey, easy to find, easy days.

Facilities

Clydebank currently groundshare Holm Park with Yoker Athletic. As you approach the ground, both clubs’ badges are proudly displayed either side of the entry gate. Holm Park has recently undergone some improvements, which are clear to see. The small stand on the right-hand side looks decent for what it is, and the embankments on both sides of the park allow a towering view of the game. I’ve always enjoyed an old-school feel to a ground, with supporters allowed to stand and gather with their pals at matches. The embankments provide exactly this and facilitated the ability for an atmosphere to gain traction.

A steakhouse on wheels around the corner meant plenty of food and drink options were available. As someone who doesn’t eat a lot of meat, I opted for chips & cheese. No complaints from me. The toilets were a welcome sight, having had to hold my desires at Caledonian Braves the week before. A flag in the corner waving Clydebank colours was also on display. It might seem daft, but I genuinely appreciate small things like this. Showcasing your brand is part of football and for clubs in Tier 5 or below, it’s important.

Overall, I really like Holm Park for what it is. There is enough room to feel comfortable, but it’s tight enough to provide a fiery atmosphere. I believe a score of 3.5/5 is suitable.

Quality of the Match

Pollok started the game on the front foot and applied pressure from the offset. However, a comfortable save for Jamie Stevenson in the Clydebank goal was all they could muster in the first five minutes. The Bankies started slowly but had the first big opportunity of the game. A clear dive outside the Clydebank box was waved away by the referee and resulted in a quick and incisive break-away. A lovely through ball found it’s way to Hamish McKinley. His chance was squandered by what looked like an important save by Jordan Longmuir to divert the ball past the post. The referee gave a goal-kick, with Clydebank’s momentum slipping away as a result. Pollok gained the lead shortly after. Good play down the right-hand side resulted in a precise pass to cut open the Clydebank defence. Pollok striker Josh Weir smashed the ball in from an acute angle to give the visitors a well-worked lead.

They almost doubled their advantage with a looping volley towards goal. An airborne Stevenson produced a very aesthetically pleasing save, holding the ball well. Another good chance for the away side went array after a free header was nodded wide of the post. With four bookings between the teams in quick succession, Pollok ended the half strongly in a fiery contest.

Half time: Clydebank 0-1 Pollok

The second half started with heated intensity. Pollok had a good chance when Josh Weir saw his near post effort uncomfortably saved by Stevenson. Weir’s rebound across goal was cleared off the line by the Clydebank defence, who lived to see another day. Soon after, chaos erupted. What looked to be a strong but fair challenge on the edge of Clydebank’s box allowed the ball to be played forward to Hamish McKinley. With the Bankie’s striker in on goal, the referee blew his whistle. The crowd exploded. To make matters worse, Frazer Johnstone was shown his marching orders for an apparent ‘off the ball’ incident, after the referee discussed it with the linesman at length. The home side were now a man down after being on the verge of equalising.

The home crowd did not have much time to regain their breath as the hosts looked to be playing better with ten men and saw this as a ‘nothing to lose’ opportunity. A good ball swung in from Clydebank’s left saw Adam Hodge free at the back stick. His uncontested header soared over the bar seeing a huge opportunity squandered. The match swiftly began to turn into a basketball match with quick breaks at both ends. Pollok’s Josh Weir blasted a strike over the bar from close range before a fantastic save by Longmuir denied Clydebank a forceful equaliser. Jamie Stevenson had another good save to make as he tipped a low, driven shot round the post. Clydebank’s final opportunity to rescue the game came with minutes to go. A huge scramble in the box was eventually cleared by a desperate Pollok defence who wiped the sweat from their forehead.

Their reward came a minute later. Clydebank’s gaps at the back were penetrated with a swift counter-attacking move. Adam Forde found himself cutting in on his left foot before sweeping the ball past a diving Stevenson. A lovely finish. With almost the last kick of the ball, Pollok had doubled their advantage and officially killed the game.

I feel as though this game was decided on very fine margins. Pollok deservedly lead at half time. Their constant pressure was telling, with their midfield controlling the engine room. Clydebank came back strong after the interval, and if it wasn’t for the sending off, I wonder if they’d have been able to roar back into the contest.

Full time: Clydebank 0-2 Pollok

Overall, I saw a highly entertaining encounter. Plenty of bookings, tackles and heated on-field debates provided ample fuel for the proverbial fire. Two well taken goals, an even contest and a highly debatable red card gives this match a strong 3.5/5.

Atmosphere

Holm Park provided the biggest and loudest crowd of my travels so far. Hundreds of supporters from both clubs poured in and quickly filled the embankments up with excitement and expectancy. With these two clubs being some of the largest names in the junior game, this size of crowd is hardly surprising. Supporters of all ages were present, further representing the history the clubs bring to the Scottish game.

I’m not sure if there’s a huge rivalry between Clydebank and Pollok, but the game certainly played out like one. A heated encounter saw late challenges, a multitude of bookings and the aforementioned red card. Naturally, with such high stakes, the crowd added an intense atmosphere as these events took place and provided the noise that we’ve all craved during the COVID months. 4/5.

Pricing

I paid £7 for this experience, and it was worth every penny. Although this level of pricing is relatively the same throughout the Premier Division, it felt like a steal due to the size of both clubs and the importance of the game. I also paid £4 for my chips & cheese, which I honestly have no comparison for. The vast majority of clubs in Tier 5 and below will receive a score of 5/5. Clydebank are no different.

Final Score

Clydebank score a high 16/20 to push them up towards the higher places in the Scottish Football Adventures League Table. A thoroughly enjoyable experience that opened my eyes to just how much history and loyalty Clydebank FC have. I’ll be back one day.

– Connor

Ambition – Respect – Community: Caledonian Braves – 22/08/2021

Caledonian Braves v Vale of Leithen @ Alliance Park

Background

Caledonian Braves are a club that have a unique story in Scottish football. Originally born as Edusport Academy, the club sanctified the idea to bring young French students to Scotland to combine their studies with football. The club joined the Scottish football pyramid in 2011 and the only way since has been up. After promotion to the Lowland League, the club had a revamp and looked to spice up their model.

The Braves emerged as a club run by the fans. An online initiative named ‘Our Football Club’ gained traction and allowed members of The Braves’ online community to have the opportunity to make decisions for their club. According to their app, The Braves have over 800 members from 30 different countries involved in these decisions after paying a light membership fee.

After having a brief chat with a few lovely gentlemen at the gate, they shared stories about how they had become disillusioned with football and following their respective ‘mainstream’ teams. They described how Edusport and later Caledonian Braves would pique their interest and bring them back to the beautiful game. They also shared how the club’s ethos on youth, development and community was a clear selling point from them. They’ve never looked back.

The club set up shop at Alliance Park, a ground located on the banks of Strathclyde Loch in Lanarkshire. With a full youth set-up and many community-based outreach programs, The Braves are hoping to tell a story on the park as well as off it. I took a visit on Saturday afternoon to watch this chapter write itself in their Lowland League fixture against struggling Vale of Leithen.

The Journey

Public transport has been my best pal over the last week. Car troubles have forced me to get back to my roots of sitting beside strangers on buses and trains and soaking in the ‘atmosphere’ of babies crying and people casually watching ‘Cash in the Attic’ aloud on their phones (true story!).

Work commitments took me to Hamilton for the morning and early afternoon, where afterwards I took a doddle round to Strathclyde Park. Thankfully the weather played nice as I avoided what felt like an unnatural amount of goose shit on the pavements. Anyone who’s ever been to banks of Strathclyde Loch will know the feeling! There wasn’t too much to slow me down though and I reached the ground with plenty of time to spare.

Facilities

Alliance Park looks a decent set-up. As you walk into the gates you are immediately greeted by the state-of-the-art artificial pitch with traditional lower league fencing surrounding it. To your right are the two small but handy stands which came to my rescue when the rain started to fall. The entire ground looks to be decorated in Braves themed merchandise with positive messaging to boot. One particular banner behind the goal read ‘Ambition. Respect. Community.’ I like it. It sends a clear message about the goal of the club and what they wish to build. A grass pitch is attached on the far side which I can only assume is for training and used for academy games

As far I see could see though, there wasn’t anywhere to get any food or hot drinks nor was there a toilet facility anywhere. Can’t imagine Alliance Park would be any fun to visit in December after breaking the seal at the pub beforehand. It seems standard to have these facilities available at most WOSFL games, and so it’s strange to see a club in division above without them.

However, with the club having the ethos it has, a clearly dedicated fanbase and a great idea behind them, I can see the Braves finding the need to expand Alliance Park when necessary. There’s certainly welcome room for it. I feel a score of 2.5/5 is fair.

The stands at Alliance Park

Atmosphere

With the rain falling, spectators flooded into the covered stands. There appears to be a nice feel to the club, with supporters chatting positively about the team’s performances and a few individuals who have sparked impressive displays. There were plenty of youth team players in attendance to grasp the feel of one day progressing up the Brave’s ladder. A few members of the Vale of Leithen committee joined us in the stands to take in spectacle about to take place and chatted with a few home fans. As the players began to enter the field of play, a very low-key but excitable feeling emerged. The supporters were expecting to see The Braves triumph against a side stuck to the bottom of the table without a point to their name.

One aspect of the atmosphere that caught my attention was the positivity towards the opposition. Some Braves supporters actively encouraged the Vale of Leithen players if they performed something amicably. Although you would most likely not see this a mile up the road at Fir Park or New Douglas Park, a little active encouragement for the struggling outfit your team were playing was nice to see. Again, a score of 2.5/5 seems right.

Quality of the Match

The Braves started well. Their crew of baby-faced assassins seemed to surge forward in waves against a Vale side who couldn’t keep up. A superb run from midfield saw Rhys Armstrong play the ball out wide to Cameron Breadner but was fouled in the process. To his credit, the referee played a fantastic advantage to allow the winger to fire the ball across the box. The ball found its way to left-back Jamie Walker who slotted the ball home to give The Braves the lead after five minutes.

Minutes later, a similar move brought a smart close-range save from Chris Peden in the Vale goal. The Braves pushed on and created a flurry of good chances. A header just over the bar and a shot off the post from forward Cole Starrs the pick of the bunch. The home side were well on top and got their just-rewards before the break. A fabulous corner from Armstrong found Jack Duncan who cannoned his header off the crossbar and down over the line. A deserved second for The Braves. Half time soon approached with the score line at 2-0. I genuinely don’t know if Chris Henry in The Braves’ goal touched the ball with his hands during the first period.

The second half got underway with the home side continuing their dominance. A shot that flew high and wide by Luke Main being all they could muster in the opening minutes. However, a nice ball threaded through the Vale defence found Cole Starrs who comfortably rounded Peden and slotted home. 3-0, and The Braves were cruising. The Vale midfield were finding it increasingly difficult to match their opponents’ quick feet, bursting pace and electric acceleration. The home side were playing with a lot of flair and freedom, and the score line was showing it.

The game appeared to peter out slowly afterwards. The Braves rarely had to get out of second gear and saw off any attacking threats Vale of Leithen had to throw at them. A real lack of attacking impetus seemed to be the away side’s problem. Their defensive sloppiness didn’t help either as a slack pass allowed Armstrong to feed Walker for his second of the game.

Vale’s afternoon was summed up when they managed to win a free kick in an immediately threatening position. Their best chance of the game though was ballooned over the fence and didn’t stop rising. Anyone who wishes to find a good early Christmas present for their football daft child just needs to search Strathclyde Loch. A comfortable 4-0 win for The Braves was the final result.

I loved watching The Braves on the attack. Their youthful, free-flowing attacking football proved too much for a Vale side who were chasing shadows for much of the game. Rhys Armstrong may as well have played the game with a cigar in his mouth and still would have played immensely. His set-piece deliveries, tantalising footwork and expansive vision created numerous chances for his team. A very impressive performance. Jamie Walker at left back also had a superb game. He consistently patrolled his side of the park and made bombing runs with and without the ball. He looks a player with a big engine and a lot of talent. A special mention must go out to midfielder Gavin Lachlan. As the most ‘senior’ member of the Braves squad at only 29, he seemed to pop up everywhere. He intercepted stray passes, played positive balls forward and was a consistent presence across the park. Every club needs a player like Lachlan to do the unattractive side of the game, and I thought he was fantastic on this occasion. The Braves sit comfortably mid table after this win, and I would expect their style of football to push them further up the league.

As a spectacle, I thoroughly enjoyed this match. The Braves played some magical football and gained plenty of plaudits from the side-lines in the process.  I would love to come back and see them play against stronger opposition and see how they fair defensively. That day will come. Overall, I was treated to four terrific goals and some of the best football I’ve seen all season. A score of 4/5 seems fair.

Pricing

The Braves are the first team on my travels to offer free entry. Their only request was to download the club’s app on your phone. I felt like this was an incredible idea. It builds interest through social media and sticks to the club’s online community background. The app itself Is easy to access, simple to use and provides mountains of information. There is even a streaming service to watch club games live if you’re unable to make it to Alliance Park. I really hope to see more clubs provide initiatives like this.

The Braves also accepted donations, which I gladly gave. 5/5 is no question.

Final Score

The Braves end with a score of 14/20. I had a great time watching this fledging young side and sincerely wish them all the best for the future. In years to come, we may see other clubs using the bricks Caledonian Braves have used for the foundation. Community spirit and youth development are at the height of the club’s agenda, and it’s something we all love to see.

– Connor

Eight Goals and Not a Lot Else – Gartcairn FC – 04/08/2021

MTC Park on a sunny Wednesday

Background

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.

The Journey

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.

Facilities

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.

One of three stands at MTC Park

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.

Atmosphere

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.

Pricing

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.

Final Score

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).

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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Scenery, Pints and an Ice Cream Scoop – Lanark United
24/07/21

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Moor Park in the sunshine

Background

On a sunny Saturday afternoon, I made the trip down to the ancient market town of Lanark to take in some local football. Lanark United were taking on Wishaw in the West of Scotland Football League Conference ‘A’ and I was interested. According to my ‘research’ on Wikipedia the town has produced several Scottish footballing talents that includes Walter Smith, Rab Douglas, Stephen McManus, Henry Smith and Stephen Pearson. Not a bad five-a-side team to be fair. Funnily enough, I learned that Hamilton Accies icon Dougie Imrie started his career with Lanark United and his grandfather Hamish is still involved with the club. Potentially good pub quiz knowledge.  The Yowes may feel like they could do with a few of these players with Wishaw coming to town. Wishy had banged in five unanswered goals in their first outing of the season and came to Moor Park on a high.

The Journey

I set off at around 12:50 to drive the forty or so minutes to Lanark. The drive was lovely. South Lanarkshire’s countryside is a thing of beauty. Constantly rolling hill peaks, endless seas of green and the odd village dotted about here and there gives a very relaxed feel. I drove through the town of Lanark’s opponents as well as Carluke. Both looked equally nice in the basking sunshine. I passed the shores of the gleaming Lanark Loch before parking my car just outside the gates of Moor Park. I understand not all my travels will be in such fortunate weather as we enter autumn and eventually winter but for now, it is hard not to enjoy my surroundings. I was in high spirts.

Facilities

Moor Park is a lovely wee ground. It has everything you need and a bit extra for a club of this size. As soon as you enter you are greeted with a newly painted, unique looking refreshments stand. Although I didn’t delve in any this time around, the guy in the small compartment he called a hatch seemed to be having a great time. Straight ahead was the rear end of the two main stands. One long silvery, metallic looking structure was sat next to a much smaller, bright blue enclosure. They both looked appealing, especially in the melting sunshine. Everything was blue, white and recently painted. A clean and clear brand was obvious and a  nice touch by the club. A small beer garden was set up just to the left-hand side of the gates. I thought this was excellent as not only does it offer a more adult alternative to the food and drink options, but it also gives off a very relaxed and community feel to the ground. Punters can sit down, debate and drink in the very same arena where they’ll be viewing their local team. A pint or five would have gone down a treat in this weather, but my drive back home suggested otherwise. The scenery surrounding the ground is spectacular. Up upon the small embankments located around the stadium it is clear to see the rolling hills spread neatly across the horizon. For the level of football the ground hosts, Moor Park is impressive. It scores 3.5/5.

The Match

A cool breeze rolled through the ground as Lanark United kicked us off. From the get-go, The Yowes looked nervy at the back with Wishaw playing a high pressing game. It seemed to be working too, as Wishy controlled the possession in the opening exchanges. A few pot shots at goal were all they could muster up though and were gathered easily by the goalkeeper. Lanark had a few digs of their own, but their time on the ball was limited. They were forced to hit long balls for much of the half which were easily dealt with by Wishaw’s towering centre-halves. However, The Yowes had the two best chances of the game in quick succession. A misplaced pass by Wishy’s no.5 set Lanark on their way. Some good running down the left-hand side led to a strike being dealt with by the Wishaw ‘keeper. As his striking partner was free in the box, a simple lay-off could have seen United go a goal up. Wishaw continued to dominate possession, but it was Lanark who should have gone ahead (again). This time the ball was squared after another excellent drive down the left. No.10 somehow managed to scoop the ball over the bar when it seemed much easier to score. A real sitter. This was a major let off for Wishaw who had ridden their luck with these chances. Despite the away side’s further control of the game, the first half ended goalless.

Wishaw flew out the traps in the second half. A through ball was played with Wishy’s no.11 chasing. His pace was good enough to get to the ball before the onrushing goalkeeper to slot the ball away. Lanark responded quickly. The Yowe’s no.9 made a decent run into the box and floated a delicate cross into the box. However, Wishy’s goalkeeper got an important touch to divert the ball away for a corner. Wishaw’s no.11 was having a stormer of a half. He made an excellent, jinking run into Lanark’s box with his shot hitting the side netting. Subsequently, United’s goalkeeper went off injured for reasons I have not learned of yet. Nevertheless, The Yowe’s replacement was a young, slight goalkeeper who was perhaps waiting on the results of his Higher English exams. He had a good opportunity to impress. Lanark were becoming more comfortable with the pace of the half and created a few half-chances. However, their final ball never seemed to be good enough and composure never seemed to be acquired. The home crowd were up when a superb strike was bravely blocked for a corner. A resounding excited groan was vocalised – a sound that has been desperately missed in grounds up and down the country. Hilariously though, and in true Scottish football style, the crowd was punished for this crime of enthusiasm. From the resulting corner the ball was gathered well by the Wishaw goalkeeper. His early throw set his team off for an expert counterattack. Superb link up between Wishy’s no.7 and no.9 resulted in the latter slotting the ball off the far-post and into the back of the net. A tremendous finish which granted the visitors a two-goal buffer. That’ll show the Moor Park crowd for getting excited. The game looked dead and buried afterwards. Wishaw controlled the ball well and looked incredibly comfortable. Lanark pushed to reduce the deficit but were unable to properly test their opposition. Wishy held on and the points headed up the road.

Lanark will feel this was a missed opportunity. Had they taken their chances, the match could have been a very different outcome. They were unable to keep up with Wishaw’s high press and were forced to lump long balls towards two significantly smaller strikers in comparison to Wishy’s centre backs. No.9 had flashes of pace but was unable to deliver a good final ball. The story of the day for The Yowe’s forward line. They appeared very passive and appeared to let their opponents control the ball. The baking sun would not have helped their constant running when Wishy knocked the ball side to side. If they are to challenge in Conference ‘C’ improvements must be made.

Wishaw on the other hand were impressive in most areas of the pitch. Their sitting midfielders controlled the tempo and allowed their more create forward line to drive forward and create problems for the Lanark back line. No.11 was noticeably outstanding in the second half. For a smaller player he shrugged off challenges and caused The Yowes significant problems with his agility and quick feet. A performance to be proud of. Wishaw’s back line in general were fantastic. They dealt with every aerial threat with ease and looked very comfortable on the ball. Their no.5 is a very tall and powerful figure who would send shudders down the spines of any incoming striker.

Overall, despite a lot of this game being possession based there were some very exciting moments to ponder over. A clearly dominant team, two excellently worked goals and an ice cream scoop of a sitter made my trip to Lanark worthwhile. A good game for a neutral to watch. 3/5.

Atmosphere

I appreciated the feel-good, casual feel of Moor Park. The up-beat music playing over the background, the relaxed environment of the beer garden and the positive mood of the supporters brought this out well. It was easy to tell that Lanark United has a positive influence on the town. On a sweltering, sunny day like this the public came out in a decent crowd to support their local team. I have a feeling I’ll be seeing this semi-regularly on my travels and I’m staunchly in favour of it. There wasn’t much of an atmosphere during the game though. I felt the ‘day-out’ feel contributed to this as the supporters didn’t seem to be truly invested in what was happening on the park. Plenty pints were shared and hearty laughs had, but no real care for the team’s performance. 2.5/5 seems fair.

Pricing

Again, I was treated to a decent game of football and wonderful scenery for the bargain price of £6. I feel as though this level of pricing will become a common theme for divisions below the Lowland League/Highland League. It brings no complaints from me. Although I didn’t partake in any refreshments buying, they looked fairly priced and around average for a club at this level. 5/5

Final Score

Lanark United finish with a very respectable 14/20 and slot right into second place in The Scottish Football Adventures League Table. It’ll be interesting where clubs like Lanark and Bellshill end up when I eventually travel to clubs higher up in the SPFL pyramid. For now, The Yowes make do with the proverbial silver medal. I hope my next journey also features some Olympics-style entertainment.

– Connor

Fresh Beginnings – Bellshill Athletic
21/07/21

Rockburn Park on a glorious summer night

The Journey

On one of the warmest days of the year I took a saunter down to Rockburn Park to take in the WOSFL Conference ‘A’ tie between Bellshill and Lesmahagow. Having moved to the Lanarkshire town just last year, I’ve been curious to attend a game during my time here. With COVID-19 kicking the life out of the hospitality sector and ruling public gatherings as a big ‘no-no’, my visit has had to wait. However, today was the day! A swift 40 or so minute walk from my flat was the beginning of my journey.

Facilities

From a distance, it would be difficult to tell exactly where Rockburn Park is. It’s located in the off-centre of a housing estate on a small embankment with the park being surrounded by fences which are covered to deny sneaky pundits viewing matches without paying. The outside doesn’t look very impressive or indeed appealing.

Once you enter the gate though, it’s a lovely little ground. A newly structured but unfinished clubhouse greets you on the right-hand side as you enter and the pitch beckons straight ahead. After talking to some home supporters before the game I learned the original clubhouse and changing rooms had been burned down in an arson attack by “arsehole neds” as one gentleman put it. As tragic as this was for the club – the community took control and raised thousands to begin rebuilding the structures. English club Bridlington Town continued the unbelievable generosity by donating their old-clubhouse and offered to send it north for free. In the middle of a global pandemic, human kindness shone through. Despite the in-progress state of repairs, the clubhouse was open for refreshments and the changing rooms appeared more than operable from the outside.

Rockburn Park itself is admittedly one of the smaller grounds I’ve attended. Only two sides of the pitch are accessible to supporters with a tightly packed runway flowing down the length of the park. On a busier day it may have been a sweatbox due to lack of space but thankfully today was not that day. Beside the clubhouse lay a small, open area of grass for children and younger people to play on. This really gave me the feeling of a well-run, community-based club that welcomes all to its matches. Families were present all around the ground.

On a whole – for a club who’s main facilities have been decimated in the last year it is hard to criticise what the club have in the short time of rebuilding. The small, intimate ground works perfectly fine for now and has an almost unique feel to it. However, if Bellshill Athletic have aims to grow and advance up the Scottish football pyramid an expansion or move is required. I feel as though a score of 2.5/5 is a fair reflection of Bellshill’s situation at the moment.

The Match

After an impeccably observed minutes silence, the start of a thoroughly entertaining 90 minutes began. The Gow’s defence didn’t seem to settle in too well with uncertainty looming over the back four. Shortly after Bellshill’s No.9 seemed to be caught offside for what seemed like the 78th time in the first half, they took the lead. A lofted free-kick was thrown into the box with No.11 being able to loop the ball over the The Gow’s stranded goalkeeper. The away side hit back swiftly though with Lesmahagow’s no.8 nodding in from a poorly defended corner. After some flying tackles and heated on-field debates – Bellshill’s No.7 fired a rebounded effort into the top of the net to regain the lead. The post saved Bellshill just before half time after a well struck effort from Lesmahagow’s no.9 (who could’ve and maybe should’ve had a hat-trick in this game) to ensure The Hill went into half-time 2-1 up.

Bellshill started the brighter of the two sides in the second-half. After more rough tackles and blatant shithousery, skirmishes in the middle of park ensued. Tempers were starting to flare and boiling point was hit when Bellshill’s no.7 was sent off for a raised arm in an aerial challenge. A silly mistake to make from a player who was easily a standout member of the squad. Bellshill would have to play the remaining 35 minutes or so with ten men. However, The Hill did not sit in. They drove up the park and after some good work down the left, No.9 poked in a goal that was deserving of his work ethic for the night. Lesmahagow pushed back and had some fantastic chances to reduce the deficit but the finishing touch did not appear to be manifesting itself. Despite this, The Gow received a bizarre lifeline. From a corner, Bellshill’s No.8 produced the most blatant hand-ball I think I’ve ever seen. Imagine a Diego Maradona/Luis Suarez hybrid from Lanarkshire. No.3 swiftly dispatched the spot kick, and the game was on. Lesmahagow pressed for an equaliser but it was no use. The game seemed to flicker out before their very eyes. The Hill defended superbly and thoroughly deserved to hold out for the full-time whistle.

Bellshill will feel delighted with this result, especially after losing a key-man so quickly in the second half. They did not look too troubled with 10-men and had it not been for the hilarious penalty incident could have seen the game out with a two-goal cushion. Despite finishing the game with 124 offside decisions against him, No.9 was a stand-out for me. His consistent running and tricky footwork proved to be a lot to handle for The Gow defence. Special shout out to Bellshill no.4 and captain who I thought had a superb game before being subbed off. He acted in a sort-of quarterback role where he pinged passes out wide to his wingers and fired balls into the feet of his strikers. An excellent performance all round. Despite it being incredibly early days in this league, I would expect The Hill to do well in this division.

Lesmahagow will naturally feel disappointed with this. However, they should not be too deflated. They created more than enough chances to win the game and, on another day, would have. Their forward line seemed to lack the composure required to slot the ball into the net. I felt No.7 was a fiery character who clearly has talent and ability. A good performance. Lesmahagow’s no.3 also stood out. The left back defended his area of the pitch superbly and may feel aggrieved to be on the losing side. There will be some positives to take from his match. After two defeats in two games though, The Gow will have to pucker up their ideas if they are to challenge in this division.

Overall, I was treated to a five-goals, a red card, a bizarre penalty and plenty of hard-hitting challenges. What’s not to love?! It warrants a score of 4.5/5

Atmosphere

A warm, sunny mid-week game will always bring out a good number of people to come out and enjoy themselves. I thoroughly enjoyed having conversations with supporters and immediately felt welcomed by those who I spoke with. It is clear to see the positive influence this club has on the community. A family-friendly feel was present. A grass area for children to play on and plenty of youth team players in attendance to watch the first-team further backs this up. With fewer people in attendance at semi-professional level it can naturally be difficult to encourage fans to provide a bit of energy and flair. Ultimately, fans and supporters can add to the atmosphere of a ground and despite a few shouts and cries, there was no real energy surrounding the support. The community spirit of the club and the supporter’s sheer friendliness lifts this score up to 3/5.

Pricing

I’ll make this short and sweet. I paid £6 for a game of this quality. Six. Pounds. That’s a bargain and perhaps daylight robbery. The food and drink were also reasonably priced and lived up to the high standard of the entry fee. 5/5. No question.

Final Score

It’s a strong start to the season. Bellshill finish the night with a fantastic 15/20, pushing them to the dizzy heights of The Scottish Football Adventures League Table. Granted, they are the first team I have visited this season but a worthwhile achievement nonetheless! I will return to Rockburn Park at some point to continue my interest in the club. I wish them all the best for the rest of the season.

– Connor