Result: Berwick Rangers 1-0 Stirling Albion (Ladbrokes Scottish League 2)
Venue: Shielfield Park (Saturday 12th March 2016, 3pm)
I’d never been to a Scottish game before. This needed to change. The club that would change all this? Berwick Rangers, the English Scottish club would have the honour for this first experience.
Having been planned for months in advance, the trip was largely based around Trafford fans Cappy and Malc. The latter would be taking some ashes with him to scatter in a small village in the outskirts of the far North East. As such, an early start on Saturday morning saw me take advantage of my Dad’s kind offer of a lift to Piccadilly station and after picking Cappy up along the way, we arrived easily in time for the 7.25 service up to York.
Malc joined us from Huddersfield after Cappy had been sorting out managerial stuff for his junior side who had a big game this very day, yet Berwick took precedence of course! After a rather uneventful first stage which largely consisted of talk regarding football and funerals (that normal combination), we arrived in York where, lo and behold, we met a Berwick fan on the platform. As you do.
Now, somewhere between York and Newcastle, Cappy’s travel version of “Pass the Pigs” made its appearance. For those of you who aren’t aware, the game consists of throwing a pair of small pigs (not real) and claiming points dependent on how they fall. I didn’t know what to make of it at first, but once I’d won a game I was a fan!
With the pigs still in full flow upon arrival in the Toon, a group of lads joined us totally unaware that they were about to partake in some pig-throwing madness. The game was a hit with them too, so much so that one of the lads was quite taken with the amount of detail shown upon the little figures. Eventually, we began to pull in towards Berwick station and we handed our table over to the lads for their continued trip up to Edinburgh for the Six Nations game. Unfortunately, I don’t remember any of their names now, but here’s the squad photo:
So, we arrived into Berwick with one Scotland Rugby fan exclaiming his disbelief “Why the fuck are you getting off here? I thought you were having a good weekend?!” This didn’t add hope to us, but Berwick seemed ok enough as we travelled on the bus the 11 miles or so south to the small village of Belford. Our first spot pub-wise was the Black Swan which seemed to be being renovated. “We’ll be open at 1 though!” said the enthusiastic/over confident decorater-cum-landlord. With this seeming unlikely, we headed over the road to the Blue Bell Hotel where Cappy and I had our first tipples of the day, with Malc adding to his earlier cans….
The Blue Bell was a nice establishment, with friendly staff on hand and it was something of a shame that it was a rush about in some ways. But with Newcy Brown finished off it was down the road for us, while Malc and his cousin Brian, who’d also joined our journey in Newcastle, headed to the churchyard to commit the ashes. They weren’t going out of the train window as it flew past the old house then! The Salmon pub was our second stop where we had only 15 minutes or so to waste before the bus back to Berwick. The barman in here was a Gateshead fan and after sharing some brief stories about a few different things to do with football, we rushed out and to the bus stop for the bus. It was only £5.50 one way. For a bus!! Jeez…..
Eventually and still rather unhappy about this pricing up here, we arrived back in Berwick and outside the Leaping Salmon, Berwick’s Wetherspoons, though I did seem the only one to be quite happy about this! Though it was in the restrooms in here that Cappy received the news that his side had won their game on penalties after a five-all draw. The Eagles soared….Sorry.
Anyway, the short stop in the ‘Spoons proved a good one as we met further fans for Berwick, but once again they weren’t from the town. Nor were they even close. They were from Slough. Mental! After a very quick chat, more discovering of Berwick awaited and so the lads all headed for the chippy were they weren’t particularly impressed with the pricing here, with a fish only costing just short of £6. A now slightly intoxicated Malc was more vocal in his protests, but being a born again Christian, it was always going to be nicely put.
Eventually, we headed up to the city walls and to a point overlooking the old border viaduct we crossed heading into Berwick on the train earlier. But, with Seagulls circling and dropping their loads on a number of occasions, I was itching to get out of their way and this was accentuated when one let go just feet from me and my head. I was gone then and luckily the rest weren’t far behind as we headed to Barrels which Cappy had had recommended to him. It was a good recommendation too and I had a can of Punk IPA whilst watching some of France-Ireland.
After a last stop off in The Brewers’ Arms, a pub on the main street through the town centre, we hopped in a cab for the short-ish drive to Shielfield Park which sits the other side of the viaduct and the River Tweed itself. Upon arrival, we had complimentary tickets waiting for us, thanks to Cappy’s faux pas earlier in the week. I won’t embarrass him here though, but it did involve bidding for hospitality for a midweek game without realising the date…. On that note…
Berwick Rangers FC was officially formed in 1884. Their first game was against The Royal Oak and Berwick won via a goal and two tries….
After spending some early years in the North Northumberland League (where they won one title in 1897) & the Border League (one title in 1899), the club joined the SFA in 1905 and joined the Scottish Border League and then the Border Amateur League three years later. After WWI, the club joined the East of Scotland League a new league formed to, in part, replace the Border League and managed two league championships (1928 & 1947).
After being refused entry to the North Northumberland League on numerous occasions, Berwick eventually changed tack and went for the Scottish League Division C (North & East). In 1955, this division was disbanded and the clubs placed in a larger Division B, renamed Division 2 the next year. Berwick Rangers have competed in the SFL ever since.
After a Nomadic existence, the club settled at Shielfield Park in 1954 and reached the Scottish League Cup final in 1964, where they lost to Rangers. However, they were to gain revenge three years later by knocking them out of the Scottish Cup. After winning Division 2 in 1979, Berwick suffered a steady decline, despite winning two East of Scotland Shields in the 1980’s (’81 & ’84 to be precise), and were even locked out of Shielfield Park for a time.
The club eventually found its feet once more and missed out on promotion to Division 1 in 1994 only due to league restructuring. Relegated to Division 3 in ’97, they returned to Division 2 in 2000 but again suffered the drop five years later only to narrowly miss out on bouncing back immediately via a play-off defeat. 2007 saw Berwick return to Division 2 as Division 3 winners but were relegated again straight away.
After hosting Rangers’ only league game to be staged in England in their history in 2012, Berwick managed a 1-1 draw but they remained in what is now League 2 and currently sit in the lower mid table.
So, with comp. tickets in hand we headed through the turnstiles just as the teams were emerging from the dressing rooms. With no pointless handshakes to endure we were soon underway and no sooner had I bought a programme than I heard the crowd getting excited, turned around and….GOAL!!!! 24 seconds in and the Borderers of Berwick had the lead! The big #9 Blair Henderson, who doesn’t look a natural footballer if I’m honest, bundled the ball in from a couple of yards to give lowly Rangers a great start to the game. Though, to be honest, this was as good as the game got in terms of chances for the next 88 minutes.
We headed round to the terracing on the far touchline where we found ourselves amongst the travelling Stirling fans. After a good chat about the team and fans with a few young lads, a couple of things became clear. 1. They weren’t very happy with the manager. 2. They had Craig Beattie up front though he looked a bit out of sorts today and 3, they weren’t fond of one of their fellow fans who was termed something along the lines of “…a bit of a tw*t”.
Back on the field, Berwick largely dominated proceedings but nothing was really created, the half chances that were were blazed over. Just before the break, I headed round to the Main Stand for the facilities and to get some actual fresh chips from the food truck that was parked in the ground (they were amazing for £2.50, definitely up there with food of the season! But it was the news I was about to receive which was to really amaze.
I had heard a small raising of voices from the far side as I headed round, but I thought nothing of it. It actually turned out that the Stirling fans and their ‘keeper were having a right verbal ding-dong while the game was still going on, with many expletives shared out by all accounts which just seemed utter madness to us, though of course we’re not party to all which takes place up in Stirling. Despite this, it remained 1-0 at the break.
With nothing to note during half-time bar Malc finding further far flung fans “10 from Gateshead and one form Poland!”, the second half was soon underway and we headed for the Main Stand and past the hospitality areas were people (including the Mayor of Berwick apparently) were enjoying “Ladies Day”. The game still struggled to really come to life, though there was a great chance for Stirling when a cross-cum-shot found sub Moses Olanrewaju at the back post, but Jonny Fairbairn came across to deny his shot on the line, the centre-back with a quite brilliant block.
This seemed to spur on Stirling and they began to push on hard against the Berwick back-line which had, to that point, defended with little issues, with ex-WBA and Swansea man Beattie being kept quiet. But, with added time to play, Albion were on the charge. Goalkeeper Kevin Walker pulled off a pair of good saves to deny two headed efforts, the latter one was superb. But he was beaten from the resulting corner, only for defender Brian Martin to sacrifice himself on the line and palm away the goalbound effort. The red card duly arrived and the Stirling fans were in raptures.
Up stepped Sean Dickson, only to horribly fire the penalty miles over the crossbar and as he stood in disbelief at his terrible attempt, the Rangers fans gave back the cheers and the jeers. Full-Time arrived shortly after, with Berwick hanging on to their early goal and achieving four clean sheets in a row, a fact I was aware of as their twitter put it out there pre-game and seemed very excited by the chance! This also meant Rangers went five unbeaten; a good time to hit form.
As for us, Cappy and I rushed to the Black and Gold alongside the ground, and I recommended Kopparberg to him, which he agreed later was a good choice to clean out the many ales from earlier. Being in the Black and Gold also meant we could congratulate Berwick’s #3, Callum Crane, on his game as he was quite brilliant from start to finish. It also turned out he and his team-mate who was stood with his mum, were on loan from Hibs, so keep an eye out in future, looks good. It was also rather amusing seeing some of the players carrying kit out the changing rooms, considering the level.
Eventually, our cab back to the town popped up and we managed to get a driver from Coventry (Coventry!), who told us about some of his experiences of Berwick and the origins (as he’s aware) of the term “Sent of Coventry”, apparently due to the locals ignoring the prisoners of the Civil War. You see, football tours are both informative and historic in equal measure!
After a stop off in the Crown Hotel opposite the station for a final drink, we bid Berwick farewell and headed back South, via York, though the conductor on the train wasn’t too happy that we had to go via York due to a delay. That and the fact that Cappy was meeting his Dad (shhhh).
Anyway, Malc’s cousin left us en route and we continued on into Yorkshire. Upon arrival in the White Rose’s county town, we headed over to the Punch Bowl ‘Spoons where Cappy’s dad was waiting to meet us after travelling back up from Norwich vs Man City earlier. With them not wanting to stay in the Bowl, they headed straight over the road to the Windmill. I thought it rude not to partake in a bit of Spoons hopping, though, and had a quick half of Coors (eventually) before heading over to join them.
The Windmill was a decent little place to spend our last hour in York before our train back to Manchester, though I was beginning to hit the wall in terms of staying awake by this point. Malc, though, was still going strong and was now taking delight in tormenting a woman sat near us and saying how nice she was on numerous occasions (this after he’d already upset the Striling bench back at the game!).
Eventually, we had to leave and were soon on the train back to Oxford Road, though this train also meant we had the misfortune of coming across one of the biggest knobheads ever known to walk the Earth. After joining the train the stop after, I heard him say people from Leeds were a waste of oxygen and just being on a rhetoric on just how great he was, the personal pick being he was “Too good for this Earth”. When he was getting off Malc said he looked a bit like Ed Sheeran to which the knob said “I said I’d punch the next guy who said that”. Of course, he didn’t, though he almost got HIS just desserts, shall we say!
With that action over, Malc left Cappy and I at Hudds and it was onwards in relative quiet home, though with a couple behind his agreeing on just how much of a dick this guy was, as well as a couple of ladies pretty much murdering his character when we got into Manchester. But for us, this was the end of our long trip and after a quick hop over the platforms to our local stopper, we headed for home. A great day with great people, but a more local destination calls for next week methinks. And hopefully no Ed Sheeran lookalikes….
Game: 4- Not great, but the last few minutes was decent.
Ground: 6- Nice ground, though the speedway track keeps you distanced from the action.
Fans: 6- No reasons.
Programme: 7- A decent issue, with some fairly interesting bits.
Food: 10- A first 10! Glad I saved money on the chippy now!!
Value For Money: 8- A pretty poor match, but the rest of the day easily covered that. Top stuff!