Result: Gretna 2008 0-3 East Stirlingshire (Scottish Lowland League)
Venue: Raydale Park (Saturday 11th February 2017, 3pm)
Att: 70 (approx.)
Following on from the previous weekend’s trip to the North East and to Gateshead FC, the second of my self-allocated birthday weekends would see a trip up to Scotland for the first time football-wise. Having said that, I have already had the anomaly of watching Berwick Rangers play in one of their Scottish campaigns despite being located within England of course.
Having said I was going to Scotland, it was only just the case, with Gretna sitting pretty much directly upon the border between the two conjoined nations. Regardless it is geographically within the most Northerly of the British countries and there’s no disputing that. Well, unless Scotland leaves at some point, but OH BOY we aren’t getting into that on these pages, oh no!
With tickets booked a fair way in advance (New Year’s Eve in fact), I headed off into Manchester during the formative daylight hours of another fresh February morning where I was to meet up with Dan in Piccadilly station for our carriage up to Preston. Upon eventual arrival, I met with Dan within the already bustling concourse before heading up to the outside platforms for our fine Northern service.
After an uneventful 45-minute trip, we arrived into Preston whereupon we had a further 20-minute wait for the train up to Carlisle, our next intermediary stop. Already on board said train was blog regular Paul, whose own blog has gone missing for the moment despite me pestering him to get it going again, and he kindly had a can of Coors each waiting to accompany us on our journey Northwards.
Bar a strange guy opposite us eating an egg sandwich, before deciding he didn’t like the smell and poisoning us slightly by unleashing a full can (it seemed anyway) of deodorant all around himself, this journey too had little to report apart from us getting too excited by the viewing of Lancaster City’s fine Giant Axe ground, along with the sighting of a North Lancashire League ground on the way up. It’s not sad. After a quick search (yes, really), the latter turned out to be the home of Galgate FC. The more you know.
Soon enough we were arriving into Carlisle and straight onto our connection up to Gretna via ScotRail’s very own pacer fleet. A home from home. There wasn’t too much time to get comfortable, however, as the short hop to Gretna Green station takes just over 10 minutes, after which we disembarked to be met with….an A-road, a Guest House and very little else but a bracing wind.
After being questioned on where a shopping centre was (we didn’t know and were pretty surprised there was one here), we exited said station to find ourselves heading towards the large shopping area that, indeed, wasn’t a figment of imagination. More pleasingly to us, however, was the discovery of a Sports Bar! This, from what we could figure out, is pretty much the only ‘pub’ in the near vicinity of the ground (and the two at the ground), and a drink was much needed by this point, as was a warm-up!
A quick drink each in here saw us quickly bore and decide to head to the ground nice and early to secure a programme. After heading through what I presume was the original town-centre, the three of us arrived at a large sign confirming our arrival on Dominion Road and pointing us in the direction of Raydale Park. We each bought a programme from the lady on the turnstile who looked rather bemused by us and one other gentleman heading up to get a prized bible before back-tracking. Sadly, it wasn’t really worth the effort £2 for nine-pages, though it’s full-colour and I’m not one to moan about overall programme quality too much anyway. It’s a souvenir, nothing more and less likely to go walkabout than a badge I figure.
Bloody hell there’s been a fair amount of negativity on here so far hasn’t there?! Time for a bit more positivity I think and the Social Club outside the ground definitely helped in that regard. The beers were cheap (under £3 a pint) and with Paul and myself both on “birthday” celebrations, we decided to plump for a pre-match Jäger too…for warmth purposes, of course. Anyway, the Tennant’s lager in here was good stuff and we all indulged in it as the clock wound its way around to 3pm.
After heading back across the windswept, expansive car-park at the former SPL ground, we arrived back at the turnstile where we handed over our £6 for entry and received a free teamsheet to go along with our programme. This would mean I could easily find out the name of a player who will forever be held in folklore between us from this point forward, but more on that later.
Raydale Park is a funny ground, in the ways of its many quirks. The dominant, newer stand that sits to the rear of the ground, behind the far-end goal sits rotting and unsafe to use, though one steward seems to draw the short straw every match and has to try to survive the doomed structure. The far touch-line is home to a roof-less standing area, with the structures here still standing forlornly. The small, all-seater stand that sits nestled alongside the bar houses the only covered spectators area in use nowadays, with the near end goal off-limits, due to it being just a large expanse of unused grass. The food hut sits in the same building as the dressing rooms, strangely. It definitely has that Millmoor feel to it, but is far less eerie, probably owing to its lesser size. Anyway, as for Gretna 2008…
The first Gretna Green Football Club can be traced back to the 19th century, but by the time the 1920’s came around, the team had been confined to the annuls of history. This left the area with no team until the more famed Gretna FC was founded in 1946 by servicemen returning from war. They initially joined the Dumfries and District Junior League for one season before heading into the Carlisle and District League and beginning their stay in the English leagues.
They remained here, bar one season, until 1982 when the club became founder members of the Northern League’s Second Division. They were immediately promoted from the new division and went on to achieve back-to-back title wins in 1991 & ’92, the latter of which resulted in Gretna’s promotion to the Northern Premier League. During their time in the NPL, Gretna became the first Scotland-based club to compete in the FA Cup since Queen’s Park in 1887, taking Rochdale to a replay in 1991. Indeed, I saw them play at Trafford during their time in the NPL prior to their move into the Scottish system.
After a failed application to return to Scottish Football in 1993, they were successful in their second attempt in 1999 and took up a place in the Scottish Football League, taking the place of Airdrieonians. Following the takeover of the club, Gretna improved markedly on the pitch, winning Divisions 3, 2 & 1 in successive years between 2005-2007 as well as being runners-up in the 2006 Scottish Cup Final (losing to Hearts on penalties) after they became the first ever third-tier club to make the final.
As a silver-lining, the club ended up in Europe as Hearts had already finished as SPL runners-up and qualified previously for the Champions League. As such Gretna became the first third-tier team from Scotland to qualify for Europe and took a spot in the UEFA Cup, but lost out in qualifying to Derry City. 2008 saw the club forced to play at Motherwell’s Fir Park due to ground grading issues at Raydale Park and following a struggle on-field, the combination of rising debts and the withdrawal of funds, illness & eventual death of the club owner the club eventually entered into administration in March 2008 and were relegated later that month prior to folding in the close season.
The folding of the club led to the formation of phoenix club Gretna 2008 who were accepted to the East of Scotland League and initially played their games at the Everholme Stadium in Annan. This was a short tenancy though, as Gretna returned to Raydale in 2009 and have remained there ever since. After winning the EoS League Division 1 in 2011, the club spent two seasons in the Premier Division before going on to compete in the new Lowland League after becoming founder members in 2013. Last season saw the club finish up in 10th place.
The game got underway and, well, it was rather underwhelming early on. Dear me, this blog has been one large moan overall hasn’t it? But don’t worry, dear reader, things will be picking up…immediately! With eight minutes played, the deadlock was broken and it was the man who was to achieve legendary status within our small ranks who was to break it.
East Stirling’s right-winger, Andy Rogers, ran onto a fine ball and proceeded to converge on the home custodian before lifting a lovely chip over his head, the ball dropping neatly under the crossbar to give The Shire the lead they needed to keep any pressure on the league leaders East Kilbride.
However, Gretna weren’t going to sit back and accept defeat and began to really take the game to their visitors who, of course, had been relegated from the Scottish League 2 at the end of last season. This first spell of pressure ended with Robb McCartney forcing visiting ‘keeper Jamie Barclay into a decent stop, tipping his effort over the bar and into the stand where the steward was pressed into action.
By this point, we’d decided to head for some food early on and I plumped for a Scotch pie. After digging in and finding the, at point then still unknown, filling good, Dan then exclaimed that it was Haggis. Now, I’d never had Haggis before and probably would have steered clear if I’d have known just on the basis of hearsay. But it was wonderful and a fine mistake. Plus it was only a quid, so no complaints there, great stuff!
Back on the pitch and it was East Stirling’s turn to almost net with Gretna GK Dan Armstrong making a good stop himself following a clearance off the line moments before. But then came a lifeline for the hosts as Scott Norman was bundled over in the area for what looked a clear penalty. The referee was of the same opinion and pointed to the spot. Up stepped McCartney but again Barclay was more than his equal, pulling off the save and keeping his side in the lead at 0-1.
That was pretty much it, though, in terms of first-half action as the game died off somewhat and the break saw us head inside the bar. Whilst in here, we (well, Paul) got talking to some fans from The Shire who provided us with some outspoken opinions on ownerships etc. before it was time to head outside, though not before I, somewhat prophetically predicted that FC United wouldn’t win their home game with Chorley despite being three-up at the break.
Once outside, minus one of our number as Paul had decided to go all part-timer and remain inside with a second pint, Dan and I walked around to the rear of the ground to take a couple of pics. It was here that I got intrigued by a flag from East Stirling bearing “Cardiff” on it. I thought this was strange and got talking to the fella with it (who I later found out was named Martin) and he told us he travels up from South Wales at least twice a month via London on the sleeper coach to watch The Shire play, as he once read they were the worst team in the League of Scotland and decided to watch them instead of previous beau Cardiff City. Now that’s dedication!
Martin had even brought his grandson up with him to experience his first Shire game. Now, not only does the young man have some hipster football supporting credentials under his belt, but also a hipster name: Zico. Definite “Football Hipster in Training” right there I’d say. All he needs now is to add a Qatar vs Northern Ireland in Crewe-esque fixture to his CV and he’s all set!
After leaving the two to get behind their side, Dan and I got the go-ahead from the steward in the stand to head around to the uncovered side of the ground. From here we witnessed some further fine ‘keeping from the Gretna gloveman as he firstly denied Rodgers with his legs before he showed good hands to hold on impressively to a fizzing drive from distance. He was given some aid by the uprights, though, as both Rodgers and Connor Greene hit the woodwork within seconds of each other. You felt a second Shire goal was coming.
By now I’d roused Paul from his chair in the bar to join us and he was thankful I did as it was then that Rodgers became a hero. The winger picked up the ball on the flank and cut inside before unleashed a drive that flew comfortably over the bar and into the stand. Nothing impressive there you may think, but as the ball impacted the roof of the stand it hit one of the lights fastened to the roof, knocked it off and left it swinging there for the rest of the day! Oh, he then netted no more than 30 seconds later too, taking advantage of a wind-affected(?) goal-kick to race clear and finish easily.
Just a few minutes later and it was game over as the highly impressive Rodgers chip over the Gretna defence sent David Grant clear to repeat Rodgers’ first strike and seal the points for the high-flying visitors. Full-Time arrived with little else of note to speak of and so it was back to the bar before heading back to the station via a farmyard-straddling pathway and underpass.
After a while Martin and Zico joined us at the station but not before Dan’s coughing had him getting offers of possible resuscitation off the woman stood next to us who assured him she was a nurse and knew what to do. That may have been more unnerving that she felt the need to tell him! Anyhow, after a quick chat with the long-travelling Welsh pair, we boarded our train back to Carlisle where we bade farewell to them and headed for a final drink together in the Cumbrian city.
Upon our arrival, it quickly became apparent that the police were out in force for the visit of Blackpool earlier in the day. Luckily, it seemed we’d dodge the travelling Tangerine army who had so alarmed them and Paul was shortly celebrating with one officer as he saw Sadio Mané put Liverpool two-up at home to Spurs. He wasn’t too happy fairly shortly after as The Griffin pub we were in sacrificed the game for Wales-England in the Six Nations despite it being on every other TV too. As it was, he didn’t have too long to wait for his train and he soon left us behind as he headed for Merseyside.
As for Dan and myself, we had a further half-hour before our simple journey back to Manchester via Wigan. A nice, easy journey. Or at least it should have been! All was going well until our arrival into Preston where we were told that, due to some delay for one reason or another, the train crew was delayed and we should really head for the train to Birmingham instead. It was lucky we took this advice as, if we hadn’t, by the time we’d left Wigan after a 20-minute delay in Preston ourselves, our original service bound for Euston was STILL THERE.
As it was, there was little real trouble for us as our crew luckily weren’t too delayed and the train from Wigan was on time, so all went well and nice and easy. After bidding goodbye to Dan when back in Manchester, the short hop home was completed with a fitting ending. As we set off from Manchester, a rather rowdy group in front of me were attempting to get a train-long Mexican Wave going. In their pursuit of this, someone got too excited and somehow smashed a light on the carriage’s roof. Andy Rodgers may have started a trend….
Ground: 5 (in current form)
Value For Money: 5