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Learning Lessons with the Accies – 01/10/2022

Background

Originally known as Cadzow, the town of Hamilton has a long history that has seen it become the eight biggest settlement in Scotland. William fitz Gilbert, a Scottish nobleman who was also governor of nearby Bothwell Castle ceded the protective structure to King Robert the Bruce after the Battle of Bannockburn. Gilbert had originally supported the English but changed allegiance to Bruce after the victory in 1314. As a reward for his switch in loyalty, he was gifted a large piece of land in the historic county of Lanarkshire. Over time, this piece of land became an ever-growing town, eventually named Hamilton after the family of the same name. They still hold major parts of land in the town to this day.

History aside, Hamilton has been the birthplace and hometown to a multitude of Scottish football superstars. The likes of Jock Stein, Barry Ferguson, Davie Cooper, Craig Brown, Steven Fletcher, Paul Hartley, Paul McStay and Phil O’Donnell all have a connection with the town. That’s not a bad seven-a-side playing and management team.

Since 1874, the town’s primary football club come in the form of Hamilton Academical. Created off the back of the Hamilton Academy team, they are still the only professional club in British football to have originated from a school team. They have been a mainstay in professional Scottish football since shortly after their formation; only a brief spell in the 70s breaking their continuous run. In their early years, the club finished runners up in the Scottish Cup twice; losing to Celtic 2-0 after a replay in 1910 and 2-1 to Rangers in 1935.

In the last twenty or so years, this club has spent time in almost all levels in the current SPFL.  After an inability to pay their players in the 1999-2000 season, the club were docked fifteen points; enough to see them relegated to the third tier. However, the direction was only upward from there. They won the league the next year and gained promotion to the SPL in 2008. They spent three years in Scotland’s topflight before relegation in 2011. Despite this, they did receive significant praise and monetary gain from their focus on youth development. This was exemplified by the sales of James McCarthy and James McArthur to Wigan Athletic.

I really did not like The Accies come 2014. After a relegation play-off against my beloved Hibernian, they beat Hibs 2-0 at Easter Road and won the subsequent penalty shoot-out, forcing me to watch Championship football for the next three years of my life. I disliked Accies for an embarrassingly long time as a result, only for it to dawn on me that the Championship years ended up being exactly what Hibs needed at the time. I’m not sure I’d have seen that famous day in May had Accies not sent us down…

Today, Hamilton are playing in the Championship themselves. After a seven year stay in the Premiership, Accies were relegated back to the second tier; a league in which they are still trying to find their feet again. After a mediocre 6th placed finish last term, new manager John Rankin will be hoping to be the person who take them back to a better place. However, they sit 8th after 7 games, and with pre-season league favourites Dundee coming to town this afternoon, things do not look to be getting any easier.

Facilities

Commonly known as New Douglas Park, Hamilton’s home ground since 2001 has been through a series of various alias’ due to sponsorship reasons. For easiness, I will be referring to the venue as simply NDP.

The ground is a very basic layout, with two red and white stands making the bulk of the attractions. One of these elongated structures run along the touchline; hosting the home supporters with a similar but shorter stand sitting behind the goal for travelling fans. An unused gazebo-type structure sits on the opposite touchline. It looks like a decent wee place to plonk yourself down, but it was unfortunately out of use for today’s fixture. I quite enjoy the layout of NDP. It has spacious walkways and several layers of steps up to the seating areas.

The food and drink stands are situated on these walkways, and while there is loads of space to queue, I can’t see many people standing outside to wait while it’s pissing down with rain. I found it odd that the concession stand I bought from only accepted cash. The vast majority of clubs in tier 5 and below I’ve visited in the last 18 months have taken card, so why can’t this happen in the second tier?

The artificial surface is often criticised, especially when Accies were in the topflight. However, I feel it played quite well and didn’t impact the pace of the game whatsoever. It allows Accies to use the pitch for training and youth games which provides a handy cost-cutting opportunity.

Overall, I feel NDP serves its purpose well in Scotland’s second tier. It is fairly modern, clean and spacious. I felt as though I would have had a wonderful view of the action no matter where I sat. Although there are much stronger venues in the SPFL, I can’t have too many qualms with Hamiton’s home. 2.5/5.

Atmosphere

Hamilton are currently averaging just under 1,500 in attendance figures for the 2022/23 season so far. People outwith Scottish football might look at this and wonder why a town of 55,000 can’t muster higher interests in their local football team. The answer to this is a simple and easy one. Glasgow’s big two have always had a consistent grip on support in the west (and most other areas of the country), which diminishes a larger local fanbase. It will always be difficult for towns in a stone’s throw distance away from Glasgow to grow this support. I don’t even think it is anyone’s fault, it’s just the way it is in Scotland.

Regardless, I was fairly impressed by the energetic atmosphere that I witnessed at NDP. It was certainly interesting to take in the atmosphere from the home end as I had only been a part of the away crowd in fixtures involving Accies and Hibs. The club had supplied a few local boy’s clubs with a wealth of tickets for today’s match. I was sat at the far end of the home stand close by to this huge gathering of young supporters. They chanted and shouted for the majority of the game, bringing smiles from supporters and substitutes alike. Even if these boys have prior loyalties to other clubs, they certainly won’t forget their trip to NDP with their pals. Hopefully some of them return on a regular basis. Their chant of ‘Dundee’s in the mud, in the mud’ will be ringing through my ears for the foreseeable future.

Dundee brought a decent crowd down from the City of Discovery and provided a good level of noise throughout. Naturally, their noise level rose and quietened as specific parts of the game transpired.

Overall, I don’t feel the NDP atmosphere was half as bad as what people make out. The young team certainly helped, but there was enough noise to justify a score of 3/5.

Quality of the Match

With the bucketing rain clearing up, Accies got the game underway. It took fifteen minutes of teams feeling each other out for the first real chance to muster itself. A Dundee corner played out to Paul McMullen saw the winger take a touch and curl a cross to the back post. His effort found the head of captain-for-the-day Jordan McGhee, whose effort was saved and held well by Acccies ‘keeper Ryan Fulton.

McGhee almost turned provider himself soon after. Some good play in the middle allowed McGhee to drift out to the left and play a well-aimed cross towards winger Lyall Cameron. His header flew over the bar after applied pressure from the Accies defence. A good chance, nonetheless.

The Dee were not allowing their hosts any chance to leave their half. Their pressure almost told midway through the first forty-five. Lyall Cameron became centre of attention as he latched onto a wonderful one-two, before expertly firing the ball into the far corner. A good finish from a lovely piece of play. Dundee were deservedly a goal up.

Hamilton’s only real effort in the first half fell to full-back Matthew Shiels. His drive from the edge of the box was easily held by ‘Dundee stopper Adam Legzdins. John Rankin’s side would have to be a lot better to get anything out of this game.

Half Time: Hamilton Academical 0-1 Dundee

Wishing to end the contest early, Dundee immediately pressed for a second. A cross from the right from Paul McMullen found Lyall Cameron once more. His point-blank header was blocked well by Fulton, with the ball eventually falling to Jordan McGhee at the edge of the box. However, his strike flew just over the bar.

McMullen was involved once more ten minutes later. After Dundee broke well, Cameron played the winger in on goal, but his strike inside the box was blocked superbly at the last-second.

Then, Hamilton began to push. The introduction of Fulham loanee Jean-Pierre Tiehi changed the game, with the big man’s physicality and good touch causing problems for the visiting centre backs. A wonderful through ball saw Tiehi in on goal for Hamilton’s first big chance. However, Legzdins rushed out well and blocked the striker’s effort with his foot.

Dundee went close once more. Zach Robinson worked space on the right of the box well and played a wonderful low cross to the back post. Lyall Cameron (once again) almost had his second, with his tight-angled shot coming off the side-netting.

The Accies pushed back but were rueing their luck when forward Andy Winter drilled a strike from twenty-five yards. The direction was good, but the height was just off. The ball smacked off the top of Legzdins’ bar to bounce over.

The equaliser continued to evade the hosts. Some great build-up play found Lewis Smith to the right of Legzdin’s box. His low cross was inches from meeting Tiehi’s foot, but the ball was cleared out of the ground by the Dundee defence.

With two minutes remaining, the points were won and lost for both sides. Firstly, a corner by Steve Lawson was met at the front post but flew wide. A big chance that looked a certainty to go in if directed goalward. Then, with Accies pushed up, Dundee found a chance to break. The ball found its way to Luke McCowan who smashed the ball past Fulton to finish the game with the last kick of the ball. Football is a brutal game sometimes. The erupting Dee supporters didn’t care.

Full Time: Hamilton Academical 0-2 Dundee

The Accies will be disappointed with this result for a number of reasons. They were essentially non-existent up top in the first half, allowing Dundee to press forward and create opportunities. Ultimately, they were punished by slack passes and a lack of intensity going forward. However, I feel the introduction of Jean-Pierre Tiehi was a light at the end of the tunnel. His hold-up play and physicality will cause problems for defenders in this division. I’m sure they will be okay this year.

On the contrary, Dundee will be delighted with their ability to defend and counter-attack. They took their two goals well and created a number of chances in both halves. I was impressed by winger Lyall Cameron. He was involved in most opportunities Dundee created and took his goal in his stride. He looks a real talent for the Championship.

Overall, this second-tier game contained two well-taken goals, an entertaining second half and some decent individual displays. Relative to the level, I feel this deserves a 2/5.

Pricing

For this second-tier match, I paid £20 for entry. While this is a common price for this level, I think it may be slightly overpriced given the quality often seen on the pitch. I have seen plenty of more entertaining games below the SPFL, with prices never exceeding £8 entry. However, professional clubs have professional levels of upkeep and for this reason I can understand a £20 standard entry. It is what it is. 3/5.

Final Score

Hamilton Academical finish this visit with a final score of 10.5/20. They lie bottom of the TSFA League Table, but that by no means is a complete negative. The vast majority of my visits this season have been superb. On another day, I could have witnessed a high-scoring, dramatic affair. Maybe next time.

– Connor