Manchopper in….Edinburgh

Result: Edinburgh City 1-1 Cowdenbeath (SFL League 2)

Venue: Meadowbank (Commonwealth) Stadium (Saturday 8th April 2017, 3pm)

Att: 577

Despite always intending to visit Edinburgh on this trip, I have to be honest and say that Edinburgh City’s Meadowbank wasn’t always the intended target. In fact, when I bought the tickets to head up to the Scottish capital, my mind had been set on a different ground, namely Hearts’ Tynecastle. This was due to the old Main Stand there being due to bite the dust soon. But then I discovered that a whole ground on the opposite side of the city was soon to fall and so my sights were set on Meadowbank instead.

Having been kindly given a lift into Manchester to avoid the rail strikes affecting much of the North, I was soon on my way up to Preston, though this trip was far from ideal, with me standing for the journey, alongside one of the most annoying, arguing families I’ve encountered on my travels. Now that may sound judgmental, but if you were there…well, you’d see where I was coming from.

After a short hop up to Lancaster, I was soon heading onwards through the Northern English countryside, before crossing the border into the most Northern country of the British Isles. After seeing a number of hills and sheep, we eventually began to encounter civilisation once more, rolling into Edinburgh at just before 12.30pm. By now I was rather parched and so was keen to find a drinking hole rather quickly. Luckily, the Half Way House pub was located just outside the station, half-way up the steps leading to the old town and it was to there I set off.

Up to the Half Way House

The Scotsman. Look at that happy Saltire.

Edinburgh

The place was pretty full and decorated with a large amount of railway-themed decor. It was also really loud, with the early arrivals well into their day by now. I decided to indulge in Tennent’s, which hit the spot for the moment, but I soon decided it was time to head up to the old town for a bit of an explore. Next stop was the Scotsman and, rather unsurprisingly when you see the name, there was many an old rhyme regarding the fights for independence of years gone by. Nope. Nope. Not touching the recent stuff! Anyway, another Tennent’s was had while sitting at a barrel before I headed off up towards the castle for a spot of sightseeing.

After spurning a few other pubs on the way up, I dodged numerous tours, a floating Yoda and a Yeti before arriving in the square at the foot of the castle. It certainly was grand, but with the time now gone 1pm, I had little time to admire the architecture or history before I was heading down through Prince’s Street Gardens and past the Scott Monument en-route to the new town. Here I came across a full-looking bar by the name of Milne’s and reckoned I’d go along with the masses and plump for one in there.

Edinburgh Castle

From the castle hill

Castle from the gardens

Milne’s was a sort of privateer ‘Spoons outfit, with a decent number of ales and beers on offer. Despite this, I didn’t feel too adventurous and so stuck with Tennent’s before settling in to watch a bit of the Spurs-Watford game. After only being sat there a few minutes, a guy approached and asked if he could take the other seat. After giving no objections, we soon got talking about the game and it turned out he was a Norwegian by the name of Chris, who’d come over to Edinburgh to re-celebrate having been married there a few years back. After sharing surprise of the weather that’d greeted us and stories of White Hart Lane visits, I left Chris to watch in peace and headed off towards the ground.

With a 40 minute walk ahead, I decided I could squeeze in one more before the game. This came in the shape of the Hanover Tap, named after the road it’s located on. The Tap is your quintessential tap house bar, but I reckoned I’d stick on the lager-beer and went for the Italian Menabrea. It was pretty decent too, though I did think I’d tried it before somewhere, though I could be very much mistaken. Who knows? Anyway, pint drunk and with the clock getting ever closer to kick-off, I headed for Meadowbank. Properly this time.

Milne’s

George IV. Looks Emperor-like…

Hanover Tap

Everything was simple enough. Follow the road and take the third right. Tick. But it quickly became apparent something was awry as I found myself on Easter Road and within sight of Hibernian’s ground. Yes, I was lost. Well, not quite as I was soon directed by a kindly couple on the best way to the ground and I finally arrived, via a jog, with five minutes in hand to find a pretty large queue outside. After paying my £12 entry, I went off in search of a programme, though was soon informed by a steward that they’d gone, to the best of his knowledge. This was soon confirmed by the guy manning the shop, Kevin. Gutting!

However, Kevin then had an idea and called to another guy stood nearby at the food bar. This fella was clad out in shirt and club tie attire and assured me he’d probably be able to source one from hospitality and to meet back at the shop at half-time where I would hopefully get my hands on an issue. It later turned out that this was the City chairman, James, who’d go out of his way to find one and bring it down and I duly thanked both for their efforts in going out of their way for a sad bastard like me!

Arriving at the Meadowbank

Today’s Game

With programme issues sorted, I quickly purchased a steak pie for £2 (not bad) and headed up to the seats. The game had just got underway and the crowd looked to be in decent number for this clash between these two relegation-threatened clubs. Meadowbank itself has something of a European-feel to it. Built for the Commonwealth Games of 1970, it went on to host the Games of ’86 too, becoming the first venue to host them on two separate occasions.

Previously playing host to Meadowbank Thistle FC (now Livingston FC), Meadowbank’s all-seater Main Stand dominates the ground and is the only part of the ground in use. The rest of the stadium is surrounded by run-down concrete terracing, which was populated only by ball-boys and officials today. Also, the floodlights are pretty majestic as you will see from the pics. With that quick overview out the way, here’s a bit of background about Edinburgh City FC…

History Lesson:

The original Edinburgh City was founded in 1928 and joined the Scottish Football League in 1931. They went on to compete in the Lothian Amateur League during the years of WWII, but were only admitted to the SFL’s ‘C’ Division come the end of hostilities in 1946. Leaving the SFL in 1949, the club switched from Amateur to Junior status and played in the Edinburgh and District Junior League through to 1955 when the club ceased to exist after the council refused them a new lease on their then home: City Park.

A club by the name of Postal United FC was formed in 1966 and this club took on the name of Edinburgh City in 1986, following approval from the Social Club of the same name (and former club) to use the title. They applied to join the Scottish League in 2002 following the bankruptcy of Airdrieonians, but Gretna got in ahead of City. Applying again after Gretna’s 2008 demise, they again fell short, this time to Annan Athletic.

The indoor running track/eatery!

Between the two applications, the club went on to win the 2005-’06 East of Scotland League and became founder members of the Lowland League after the reformation of the Scottish footballing system. This proved a good move for City, as they went on to lift the league title in both 2015 & 2016 prior to them finally gaining a place in the newly named Scottish Professional Football League via a 2-1 aggregate defeat of East Stirlingshire (who I saw on my trip to Gretna this season) in the promotion/relegation play-off. City currently sit in 8th position in the SPFL League 2.

To be honest, the game wasn’t the best. Not that this came as much of a surprise, with both teams looking to give nothing away to their rival in the fight against the dreaded drop and both lacking something of a cutting edge in the first place, hence why they are in the position they find themselves in. This was highlighted by Cowdenbeath, who fairly dominated the first half, with them seeing a header go just wide and a drive from inside the area be sliced wastefully off target.

They were made to regret these misses in the 27th minute when Edinburgh’s Josh Walker’s free-kick from the left evaded everyone and flew over the ‘keeper and into the net to give the home side the lead. The kids drumming away at the rear of the stand from the beginning were given even more impetus to continue now! Interestingly, Walker has recently joined the club from Indian side Bengaluru. Hipster. I discovered that in the programme as I did something that amused me. The names of the two assistants were Mr Willie Conquer and Mr David Mc(the)Kniff. Great names lads!

Match Action

Penalty save

Cowdenbeath’s day looked to be getting better when they were awarded a penalty as the striker was bundled over in the area. Up stepped Dale Carrick, but his spot-kick was well saved by City ‘keeper Calum Antell down low to his left. That was pretty much that for the first half and at half-time, I set off back down into the concourse/indoor running track and to the club shop where James indeed reappeared with programme in hand. £2 later and it was truly in my possession. Cheers guys!

With the second half underway, I hoped there would be more to get excited about on the pitch. Alas, this didn’t prove to be the case and it was probably worse than the first half. Edinburgh had the likes of Craig Beattie up front (he’s played in two of the three games I’ve seen in the Scottish league’s now, along with playing for Stirling Albion at Berwick), but he was largely ineffective. It was pretty much the story for the rest of the players on the field too.

Main Stand action

Match Action

Edinburgh even introduce d the likes of Derek Riordan to try to secure the points, but it was to be late drama down the other end that was to liven up the day. With the last kick of the game, Kris Renton drilled the ball beyond the despairing Antell and into the bottom corner to spark scenes of jubilation from the away end and the ‘Beath players on the field. Full-Time arrived upon the resumption, with the sides sharing the spoils, but the result doing little to help either side in the greater scheme of things.

At the close of the game, I set off back towards the station, with the intention of popping in both “Malone’s on the Mall” and the ‘Spoons nearby. However, I’d completely forgotten about the Grand National running, though arrived just as One For Arthur navigated the last and streaked away from the field to take the win and send the Scots (who’d backed him anyway) wild! I decided I would have ‘One For Arthur’,though not a Guinness, sadly, (he’s apparently named Arthur after the brewer of the famed Irish beverage) and plumped for a Three Hops lager for an extortionate £5. Though it was out of a plastic glass, the party atmosphere and sun made it all the more acceptable. This didn’t go for the £4.95 Punk IPA I had in the station. The Beer House is in my bad books, so much so that I didn’t take a picture. Yeah.

Arthur’s Seat. Appropriate!

Who isn’t excited?!

A packed out Malone’s

On the train back I was asked by the guy opposite me how Macclesfield had gotten on in their game. My answer of “lost 4-1” didn’t make him too happy. Macc fan David happened to be up in Edinburgh as “tour guide” for Natalie who’d travelled over from the Ukraine. This obviously transformed from talk about the city to talk about Ukrainian football and about Shakhtar’s ground. As you do. God knows what the woman set with us must have thought about her decision!

Anyway, David and Natalie proved good company for the 3hr-plus trip back down to Manchester, whereupon I bid them goodbye as they headed onwards. As for me, a quick switch onto the buses back signalled the final leg of my journey back from the Scottish capital. It had been a great day for a first experience of Edinburgh and I truly enjoyed my quick tour of the city. I look forward to heading back soon. The game was a bit meh, but it was good to get the ground done before it’s lost. Next up is the action packed Easter weekend. The pocket doesn’t enjoy it….

RATINGS:

Game: 4

Ground: 6

Programme: 6

Food: 7

Value For Money: 8

Manchopper in….Gretna

gretna_2008_fc_crest_new200px-east_stirlingshire_fc_logo-svg

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.

Pretty cold around here...

Pretty cold around here…

Not much around either

Not much around either

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!

The Gretna Inn

The Gretna Inn

Gretna

Gretna

Gretna

Gretna

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.

This way then

This way then

Gretna Social Club

Gretna Social Club

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…

History Lesson:

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.

Gretna FC

Gretna FC

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.

Raydale Park

Raydale Park

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.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match 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.

Gretna FC

Gretna FC

Bar entrance

Bar entrance & top achievement…so far!

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.

Match Action

Off the post!

Match Action

Match Action

Andy Rodgers' calling card

Andy Rodgers’ calling card

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.

East Stirling Flags

East Stirling Flags

Tunnel vision

Tunnel vision

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….

dsc03820

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 5 (in current form)

Food: 7

Programme: 2

Value For Money: 5

 

Manchopper in….Berwick

BerwickRangersLarge150px-Stirling_Albion_FC_logo

Result: Berwick Rangers 1-0 Stirling Albion (Ladbrokes Scottish League 2)

Venue: Shielfield Park (Saturday 12th March 2016, 3pm)

Att: 502

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:

The lads enjoying the piggy antics

The lads enjoying the piggy antics

Cappy & Malc with the heroes of the hour

Cappy & Malc with the heroes of the hour

Arriving in Berwick

Arriving in Berwick

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.

Belford

Belford

Local Hero?

Local Hero?

Cappy posing at The Salmon

Cappy posing at The Salmon

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.

Back in Berwick

Back in Berwick

Our crew in Barrels

Our crew in Barrels. Note the scarf!

 

View from the Walls

View from the Walls

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…

History Lesson:

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.

Main Entrance

Main Entrance

The 2 T's: Tickets and teamsheet

The 2 T’s: Tickets and teamsheet

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.

Welcome

Welcome, with woman trying to get out the way!

Through the gate

Through the gate

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”.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

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.

Stirling fans watch on

Stirling (and Berwick) fans watch on

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

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.

Terrible pen

Terrible pen

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).

Final stop

Final stop

Farewell Berwick

Farewell Berwick

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!).

York's Punch Bowl

York’s Punch Bowl

Father & Son moment

Father & Son moment

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….

DSC01825

RATINGS:

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!