Manchopper in….Glasgow (Celtic FC)

Result: Celtic 3-2 Partick Thistle (Scottish FA Cup 5th Round)

Venue: Celtic Park (Saturday 1oth February 2018, 12.15pm)

Att: 24,191

Following on from my first of my dual birthday weekends at Hallam’s “World’s Oldest Football Ground” at Sandygate, this second Saturday saw a continuation of what is becoming something of a tradition it seems. After visiting Gretna the year before – for the border village club’s game with East Stirlingshire – this time I had my sights set on something a little more sizable. A ground known by many monikers, be it Celtic Park, Parkhead or indeed “Paradise”, it is still the largest in Scotland and, as such, once the chance came up to visit for the Scottish Cup’s early kick-off, it was an opportunity that couldn’t be passed up.

Having amended the travel the previous week (after our original 3pm plan was put on the back-burner), blog regular Dan had our tickets sorted out and so all that was left to do was catch the 7.15am train North of the border. Heading up through the snow-capped hills of Cumbria and the Lowlands, we rolled into Glasgow Central at just before half-past ten. A short journey down into the bowels of the station then allowed us to catch the service over to Bridgeton, a 15 minute or so walk from the ground and, at the price of just over a solitary pound for me, it was a no-brainer.

Not long after our exit from the station, Celtic Park loomed into view, dominating the surrounding area. As such, this allowed us to avoid getting lost – as is usually my want to do and, as a result, set our sights on a couple of pre-match pints to soak up the atmosphere the Celtic faithful were offering up. Of course, the ground was far from a sell-out for the game itself, but there was still a more than decent amount of fans out and about to give a feel of what it must be like when it’s turned up to eleven at capacity. This would be confirmed later on in day when we were told we needed to return for a European game by a lad in one of the bars we visited on Gallowgate on our walk back. More on that later!

Arriving into Glasgow

Arriving at Parkhead

The Celtic Way

Anyway, after a quick stop-off for a few pictures at the ground and a programme purchase (£3.50), our first stop was due to be the Celtic Social Club but upon discovering you had to pay some sort of fee to gain entrance, in addition to the fact it was already packed out, we decided it wasn’t really worth it and instead backtracked on ourselves, visiting the Real McCoy which sits in the shadow of the Lisbon Lions Stand. Again, this place was full but offered just enough space to accommodate us as we indulged in our first Tennent’s of the day, as Dan was (in my view thankfully) spurned in his quest for Carling. No, I’m not letting it go yet, Daniel! At a little over £3, there was no complaints with that. As it turned out, our fruitless traipse over to the Social Club had cost us the time for a second and so we stuck on a sole drink for now, safe in the knowledge we had a good four hours to spend enjoying the Gallowgate hostelries after the game!

As a result, upon finishing our pints here whilst watching some of the nuts skeleton bobsleighers in the Winter Olympics on TV, we headed round to the far side of the ground and the Jock Stein Stand, where we’d be watching the game from today. This involved us passing by a stand selling away team merchandise, something I can’t say I’ve ever come across at a game before and the drum, that I guessed was to provide the beat for the Celtic ‘Green Brigade’ fans, being prepared for its duty. Eventually we made our way back past the statues of, firstly, Billy McNeill, lifting aloft the European Cup, then Jock Stein, Jimmy Johnstone and club founder, Brother Wilfrid who guard the Main Stand.

Real McCoy

Celtic F.C.

On the concourse

Upon entering, I reckoned I’d be best served heading straight for some food and was soon in possession of a Scotch Pie (£2.70). From there it was out into the stand and what a view we had! Directly behind the goal and around three-quarters of the way back in the bottom tier, such seats gave us a great view of, not just the game, but also the expanse of the Celtic Park stands. Not too long after we’d taken our seats and I’d devoured the fine pie, the sides were making their way out onto the field of play, with the ‘Green Brigade’ in the safe-standing area (which I’d completely forgotten existed until the previous evening) providing the vast majority of the noise today. Of course, this was briefly put to a stop by the sombre minutes silence for Liam Miller, who passed away the previous evening at the age of just 36. As a Manchester United fan myself, it obviously meant a little more than usual too. RIP Liam.

Celtic Park is, as I’ve already alluded to, a very impressive and pretty vast ground. The largest stadium in Scotland, it holds a capacity of just under 60,5oo and dates from 1892. It is the second ground to have been known under the Celtic Park name, after the original Park was left by the club in 1892, after a four-year stay, following a large increase in rent. The North (which extends over the cemetery it backs onto), Jock Stein and Lisbon Lions are all of the same size and form a three-quarter, fully enclosed loop which includes the corner sandwiched between the Lisbon Lions and North Stand that houses the safe-standing area. The Main Stand is the oldest remaining stand in the ground, originally dating from 1929, and is a fair bit smaller than its counterparts. However, it does host executive boxes and TV gantry.  As for Celtic’s history, this may take a while….

History Lesson:

Celtic Football Club was founded in 1887 by Brother Wilfrid, with the purpose of helping to ease the poverty within the Irish population of East Glasgow, partly inspired by the earlier formation of Hibernian for the Irish immigrants residing in Edinburgh. The name Celtic was chosen to reflect the club’s dual Irish and Scottish roots. The club’s first official match was played in May of the next year, a friendly contest vs perennial enemies Rangers which ended in a 5-2 victory for Celtic. Since then, they have gone on to win the most major honours of any Scottish club, totalling one hundred and three.

In 1889, Celtic reached the final of the Scottish Cup, this being their first season of entering the competition, but lost out in the final. After becoming a founder member of the Scottish League in 1890, they would rectify the Cup defeat in the 1892 final, thrashing city rivals Queen’s Park 5-1 to lift the Cup and record the club’s first major honour. After finishing league runners-up in that same year, the club won the Scottish League title for the first time in 1893. They have never played outside of the top division. They would then follow this up with three Division 1 titles before the turn of the century, these coming in 1894, ’96 & ’98. 1905 saw a fifth title attained via triumph in a title play-off with Rangers at Hampden Park, Celtic coming out on top to snatch the silverware from their rivals.

Brother Wilfrid, Jock Stein & Jimmy Johnstone

That success began a run of six successive titles for the club as they dominated the Scottish League through to 1910. Incidentally, the Bhoys also won two Scottish Cups during that time, in both 1907 & 1908, with the latter securing Celtic the honour of becoming the first Scottish club to secure the league and cup “double”. 1912 & 1913 saw Celtic finish as league runners-up before four further titles spanning the wartime seasons of 1913-’14 to 1916-’17 arrived at Celtic Park, a run which included an impressive 62 matches unbeaten through November 1915 & April 1917 A 15th title arrived in 1919 to round off another decade of success for the Bhoys.

The 1920’s & 1930’s saw a slight dip in league form (if you can count runners-up as a dip), with Celtic recording just a further four titles over the two decades, these arriving in 1922, ’26, ’36 & ’38. After the outbreak of WWII, Celtic would compete within regional wartime leagues, which proved unsuccessful, though the club would add May 1945’s Victory in Europe Cup tournament trophy to their honours list. Defeating Arsenal, Manchester United and Hibernian to win 1953’s Coronation Cup (a celebration tournament for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II), Celtic built on these tourney successes to achieve more domestic silverware. A Scottish League (the top division then known as the ‘A’ Division) and Cup double was won in 1954 and both 1956 & 1957 saw the club lift the Scottish League Cup for the first couple of times, the latter seeing them hammer Rangers 7-1, which remains a record in a domestic British cup final.

1957 also saw the ‘A Division’ renamed as Division One, but Celtic began a small period of decline, which resulted in legendary boss Jock Stein replacing a British goal-scoring record holder in Jimmy McGrory (550 goals in 547 games)in the hot-seat. Under Stein form took an upturn once more and after reaching the European Cup Winners’ Cup semi-finals in 1964, the club went on to win nine consecutive Scottish League titles from 1966 through to 1974, which equalled the then World record. Of course, this period is well-known for Celtic’s historic 1967 European Cup triumph, in which the side, which would come to be known as the “Lisbon Lions” would overcome Inter Milan by 2-1 in the Portuguese Capital, becoming the first British side to do so. That night’s side is famed for them having all been born within 30 miles of Glasgow. They added to their fabled moment that same year by winning each of the other competitions they entered: the League, League Cup, Scottish Cup and Glasgow Cup, though would lose out to Racing Club of Argentina in the Intercontinental Cup the following season, playing in the tournament as a result of their European triumph.

Old-school gates

This began a run of decent success for the club in Europe which saw them fairly regularly reach the latter stages of the European Cup. A quarter-final appearance in 1969 was followed by a runners-up placing the next year as the club were defeated 2-1 by Feyenoord at the San Siro. Two further semi-final appearances in 1974 & 1976 though, outside of a 1980 run to the quarters, that was that for Celtic’s challenge in the latter stages of the competition. After the 1974 title win, 1976 saw Celtic placed in the new Premier Division upon re-organisation. This did little to change Celtic’s on-field fortunes, though, with titles in 1977, ’79, ’81 & ’82 following in pretty short order. After missing out on the 1983 title on goal-difference, 1986 saw Celtic instead benefit from the goals as they won that year’s title by the same ruling, recording their 34th title in doing so. Their 35th followed in their centenary year 1987-’88 (along with a Scottish Cup to secure another double), but this would be their last time as champions of Scotland for a decade.

After falling away from the top two positions for the majority of the 1990’s, and seeing receivers brought into the club, businessman Fergus McCann took over before the club was declared bankrupt, ending the club’s existence as a (somewhat) family run entity. the latter part of the decade saw the Bhoys begin to recover their standing, finishing runners-up in both 1996 & 1997. 1998 saw the club return to the top of the table, preventing fierce rivals Rangers from achieving ten titles in a row, whilst also lifting their 10th League Cup. However, they were soon usurped again in the league table by their cross-city opponents, further runners-up placings in both 1999 & 2000 rounding off the millennium.

The new millennium saw the Bhoys once again become the dominant force in the country, lifting the new Scottish Premier League title in 2001 & 2002, the former seeing the club lift a domestic treble of League, League Cup and Scottish Cup, which gave Martin O’Neill the honour of being only the second Celtic manager to do so after Jock Stein. 2003 saw double disappointment as the club lost out on the title on goal difference for the second time and also were defeated in the UEFA Cup final by FC Porto, after extra time had been forced by a Henrik Larsson brace in Sevilla. Gordon Strachan replaced O’Neill as manager in 2005 and also won the title (and League Cup) in his first season before going on to successfully defend it in each of the next two seasons, becoming the third Celtic boss to do so. They also reached the Champions League knock-out stages in 2007 & 2008, a rare foray into the latter stages of Europe’s “premier competition”.

Bill Shankly’s mural…

…and Jock Stein’s own version

After being beaten to the title by Rangers for the next three seasons (despite Celtic having recorded an SPL record victory, 9-0 over Aberdeen in 2010 and winning the 2009 League Cup), Rangers’ financial issues and eventual back-room reforming saw them drop to the bottom tier of the Scottish League and allowed Celtic to gain something of a monopoly on the league in recent years. Under Neil Lennon, 2012 saw the title return to Parkhead and the following season saw a SPL & Scottish Cup double recorded, along with a memorable 2-1 win over Barcelona in the same week as the club’s 125th anniversary celebrations and duly qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League. 2014 saw a hat-trick of titles attained, with this season seeing ‘keeper Fraser Forster set a record 1,256 minutes without conceding a goal in a league game but at the season’s end Neil Lennon departed the club and was replaced by Dutchman Ronny Deila. Two titles followed in 2015 & 2016, along with the 2015 League Cup, before Deila left at the end of the season and was replaced by current boss, ex-Liverpool manager and clear “You’ll Never Walk Alone” enthusiast Brendan Rodgers. In his two completed seasons, Rodgers has lifted both League titles (2016 & 2017), the 2017 Scottish Cup and both the 2016-’17 & 2017-’18 League Cups, completing a hat-trick of titles for the club last season.

In total, the club have won 37 Scottish Cups, 17 League Cups and 48 Championship titles alongside their European Cup success. They have also added many minor, obscure and wonderfully named honours. These come in the form of: 29 Glasgow Cups (now a youth competition), 26 Glasgow Charity Cups, the Glasgow Football League title in 1899, Inter City League in 1900, two North Eastern Cups (1889, 1890), the British League Cup in 1902, Ferencvaros Vase in 1914, the 1918 Navy and Army War Fund Shield, the 1938 Empire Exhibition Trophy, the 1951 Saint Mungo Cup, the 1967 Alfredo di Stefano Trophy, the 1968 CNE Cup of Champions, the 1974 Drybrough Cup, the 1977 World of Soccer Cup, the 1981 Feyenoord Tournament, the 1989 Dubai Champions Cup, the 1999 Brandy Cup, 6 Jock Stein Friendship Cups (2006, ’07, ’08, ’09, ’10 & 2016), the Translink Cup in 2009, the 2009 Wembley Cup, the 2010 Fenway Football Challenge, the 2013 Dublin Decider and the 2017 Dafabet Cup.

Two tickets to “Paradise”

With current Celtic coach, the Hoops & Scotland legend Danny McGrain (as the guy next to us informed me) taking his seat just behind us, this Glasgow derby clash got underway a few minutes after the scheduled 12.15pm kick-off time. But it soon made up for that lost time when, just over two minutes in, James Forrest broke the deadlock for the hosts. Following an initial blocked Moussa Dembele shot (whom I last saw in u21 action for Fulham no less), Forrest arrived at the back post to stab the ball beyond Partick Thistle ‘keeper Tomas Cerny.

Cerny was picking the ball out of his net again eight minutes later and once again it was as a result of Forrest’s boots. This time, however, the goal was a little more impressive! After picking the ball up on the half-way line, the attacker continued forward for a good twenty yards, completely unopposed, before jinking past one challenge, turning inside from another and firing a pin-point finish inside Cerny’s right-hand upright. A fine goal and one that created a number of “What a goal!” exclamations from those around us in the Jock Stein’s padded seats!

From there, you’d have been forgiven for thinking it was going to be a regular Celtic procession through to another home win and a place in the Scottish Cup’s 6th Round. I certainly did! However, the game continued at pace and chances continued to come along at regular intervals, though Celtic were certainly still enjoying the upper hand on their Fruit Salad-esque (the sweets, that is) coloured opponents. Forrest almost secured himself his hat-trick within the first quarter-hour, but was denied by a smart stop by Partick’s Czech stopper.

Match Action

Partick on the attack

Match Action

But the Bhoys’ seemingly serene progress encountered a bump in the road shortly afterwards when an inexplicable mistake by centre-back Jozo Simunovic saw his back-pass run straight into the path of Kris Doolan and the veteran striker, making his 350th appearance in Thistle colours, finished smartly, lifting the ball over and past Dorus de Vries, whose first real encounter with the ball was to pick it out of his net. This goal gave the visiting Jags, and their small band of away fans sat in the corner of the Lions and Main Stand, some hope and they began to enjoy a spell of dominance towards the end of the first half and, although they didn’t really threaten de Vries’ goal during that period, they definitely succeeded in shaking up the nerves of some in the stands if not those on the pitch. Half-Time arrived, with the Hoops heading in with a slender advantage but, seemingly, somewhat on the back-foot.

Come the start of the second half, Celtic had regrouped and began to impose themselves on Partick once more. Early chances for the likes of on-loan Chelsea youngster Charly Musonda went begging before the Scottish champions and defending Cup winners restored their two-goal advantage and, this time, Forrest was not to be denied his trifecta. Receiving the ball into feet off the now partially dyed-blond haired Scott Sinclair, Forrest controlled, turned on a sixpence to evade a number of defenders before absolutely hammering his effort beyond Cerny, whose dive began once the ball had already hit the net. Three-one and surely game over this time?!

Goal Celtic! Forrest celebrates his hat-trick.

Match Action

Cerny keeps out a free-kick

This prompted some early second-half changes for Thistle, which included the introduction of Hearts loanee, the former Wigan Athletic man, Conor Sammon, whom Derby apparently latterly signed from the Latics for over £1 million a few years back. However, it was to be Celtic who really ought to have extended their lead into an unassailable one when Scott Sinclair found himself through and with only Cerny to beat – although admittedly under pressure – he could only poke the ball into the grateful arms of Thistle’s custodian.

This, along with the introduction of the….”ordinary” Celtic sub: winger Odsonne Edouard, enabled the visitors to press on and they got their reward for their persistence with six minutes remaining when Sammon collected the ball just inside the right-hand edge of the box and proceeded to fire a low half-volley across de Vries and into the far side-netting. A fine finish and Thistle and their backers up in the stands felt like they still had a sniff of remaining in the hat. Indeed, they almost pulled off a remarkable recovery when, with pretty much the last action of the game, they fashioned a move down the left from where Chris Erskine delivered a superb ball across the six-yard box. ‘Keeper de Vries couldn’t quite come for it and so it looked for all the world that Ryan Edwards, arriving at the back-post, was going to complete a memorable comeback. But, somehow, Celtic’s Kieran Tierney managed to block the ball from hitting the net, enabling the Dutchman to claim the ball on his goal-line.

That was that and last season’s treble winners scraped through in unconvincing fashion against a very game Thistle side who bowed out with many a positive to take from their showing. Also, a shout for de Vries who, upon the Celtic players’ lap of appreciation post-match, handed his shirt to a young lad in the front row. He won’t be getting lost any time he wears it!

Celtic’s players thank the ‘Green Brigade’

Post-match posing

From there it was time to head out and experience the Glasgow drinking holes this side of the city. It was my first real visit to the city and so I had no real expectations, nor experiences to call upon, so it really was a case of heading out with a clean slate. First up was the Turnstile Bar which, you may be unsurprised to hear, is near a set of the old turnstiles which still stand roadside, along with two old gates one bearing “Boys” and the other “Girls”. A nice bit of tradition in an increasingly modern setting, though I guess it won’t be long until a complaint is put in….but I’m not going into that!

The Turnstile bar had live Irish folk music on and was decked out in a large assortment of Celtic stuff. Tennents in here set back more than the £2 I saw advertised outside (boo!), though maybe I misread it. Either way, it wasn’t exactly bank breaking, the pint coming in at around £3.50. Dan finally got Carling, ending his withdrawal symptoms that caused him to almost nod off during the first half! After opting not to partake in the offering of some sort of green shots in test-tube-like containers being brought around the pub by a couple of the staff,  we headed off back past the ground and onwards to Gallowgate, where we’d slowly work our way along and back towards Central Station.

Turnstile Bar

Drover

Wee Man’s Bar

After a longer walk than initially expected, we finally arrived at the initially rough-looking, Drover. However, once inside, the pub has a far more grandiose appearance than you would expect considering its protected windows and what have you. The Tennent’s in here was fine too and, at just £3, represented the cheapest pint of the day. No complaints to be had, though we soon had to continue onwards, though when I say onwards I actually mean a few doors along. Here is found the Wee Man’s Bar, which Dan had earlier said was a must visit, on account of his fondness for the saying from his time living in Glasgow longer back than he cares to remember! Further Tennent’s was had whilst standing alongside none other than Celtic legend Henrik Larsson! What was Larsson doing in here you may ask? Well, ’twas nothing more than a picture.

With the light now beginning to slowly subside, we continued on and past the place that was enabling us to be suitably watered, the Tennent’s Brewery. Here we found the historic Hielan Jessie, a pub with two legends attached to it, with both referring to Jessie. One has her as a rousing figure during the Indian Mutiny in Lucknow whilst a soldier’s wife (the barracks formerly stood opposite the original pub), whereas the other states she was the soldier’s favourite “entertainer”. Whatever she was, at least she has something named after her that still keeps numerous people happy and a further Tennant’s was enjoyed in here, despite my first one coming out as flat as water. It was changed without issue, though, so no problems there. Next up and just over the road stands the Hoops Bar (which you may be unsurprised to hear is also Celtic based) and this was to be the next place to be popped in. It was in here that the meeting I mentioned earlier with the Celtic fan occurred and, though he told us his name, it escapes me by time of writing. It seemed as though we’d only just made it in time for a pint, though, as it soon looked to be approaching closing time and so we quickly polished them off before heading out and to our final drinking spot just a short walk away; the haunted Saracen Head. Wooooooooo.

The Hielan Jessie legends in full!

Hoops Bar

Saracen Head rounds off the Gallowgate crawl

The Saracen Head was definitely the most traditional we visited on our route in my opinion and was definitely the quieter and more laid-back place we’d been in too. As such, it was a bit of a shame that our visit was all too brief, with us having only 15 minutes or so before we had to depart and make our way back to the station for our train back. Four hours had passed in a flash and it was time for us to leave Glasgow, which had decided to give us a lovely dose of rain on which to part ways. Cheers.

Arriving just in time for our train back, we got straight on and headed back to Manchester. All went well and rather quickly, with me falling in and out of consciousness and regular intervals, with my previous night’s lack of sleep well and truly catching up with me. Anyway, all connections were made with the programme proving a smart purchase (as if I wasn’t going to buy it) with it being a good companion for my hour’s wait back in Manchester, once Dan and I had headed off our own ways.

So there we have it. Celtic Park is done and what a great day it was. The game was far more competitive than expected and the ground was great to visit and, although the atmosphere was of course lacking, it gave enough to show how it can be on the “big game” capacity days. Glasgow’s Gallowgate area was fine, if unspectacular, too and so there’s no complaints to be found from me. Other than Dan’s insistence on Carling that is….I’ll stop there before I go on a rant! Next up is a return to the competition’s equivalent South of the border and to one of the highest grounds (if not the highest) in England….

RATINGS:

Game: 8

Ground: 8

Food: 8

Programme: 8

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Edinburgh (Murrayfield)

Result: Heart of Midlothian 1-0 St. Johnstone (Scottish Premiership)

Venue: Murrayfield (Saturday 21st October 2017, 3pm)

Att: 18,534

Having only fairly recently delved into the delights of the Scottish leagues, it’s all still a bit new to me in terms of grounds and games I’ve seen North of the border. One ground I hadn’t considered being a “tick” any time soon was Murrayfield, known for being the home of the egg-shaped ball game in Scotland. But, when it became apparent that the new main stand at Tynecastle wasn’t going to meet its scheduled opening date, the announcement of a few Hearts fixtures being played across the way certainly peaked my interest. Indeed, it was an opportunity not to miss and so I was off to the Caledonian capital for the second time this year, though Tynecastle still evades me, following the diversion to Edinburgh City’s Meadowbank in April and now this change of venue. Will it ever happen?!

Onto the day at hand and an early-ish start was undertaken, with me catching the quarter-to-nine train from Manchester through to Edinburgh’s Waverley station. Once here, I would be meeting up with Sheridan (of Stadium Trotter fame), his mate “Skinner” (perhaps of some fame I’m ignorant to) and Rob (of Warrington Town fame). Having changed through Lancaster and onto the Virgin Train carriage that would take me up to Edinburgh, the final two-and-a-quarter hour trip was undertaken without much issue, bar a slight delay outside Haymarket whilst in the shadow of Tynecastle Park’s shiny new construction and the towering stands of Murrayfield. Tease.

Eventually, we were on the move and I headed out onto the streets to find the group of lads who gave me the standard meeting point of a ‘Spoons. Despite having been given point-to-point directions by Sheridan on how to find them, I still managed to turn the wrong way and get lost, though this mishap did at least allow me to experience the famed Scotsman’s Steps. This may seem a fabricated case of getting lost, but I can definitely confirm it wasn’t! Eventually, I found my way to the ‘Spoons, spotted the lads and joined them as they headed off on a sight-seeing tour of the city’s attractions.

Scotsman Steps & equally famed Scotsman Bins.

Portuguese Cannon

Looking out over Edinburgh

After a spot of this at the combined Nelson’s Monument & National Monument site with the fine views out over the Firth of Forth (which prompted some artsy photo opportunities, especially in Skinner’s case) and the City, which Rob likened to both Colne and Runcorn, I had to leave the guys to their devices and head back down into the city where I would be meeting Dan off the train. Of course, I couldn’t just wait around in the station and I was feeling a little dry in the throat, so a few visits to the local watering holes were in order too. First up was the Inn on the Mile which proved a costly stop-off with the pint of Hop House in here setting me back the princely sum of £4.95. I guess that’s somewhat fitting, considering it is on the Royal Mile after all!

After polishing off the pint in there, it was time to brave the drizzle and head up towards the castle which was still bringing me closer to the ground. After another case of trying to avoid all the strange sights and sounds around the area (today included a guy cosplaying as the mythical half-man, half-horse creature I can’t remember the name of, a person “floating” while holding only a stick and a “Braveheart”-inspired warrior), I eventually found my way down a level and to the Last Drop pub, notable for being the apparent site where the condemned would stay prior to their hanging. However, today’s welcome was far more warm and I came away with a Tennent’s (£4.50), whilst waiting for Dan to arrive (though I’d later learn he’d taken a page out of my book and taken a wrong turn, requiring a taxi to save him).

Inn on the Mile

Heading to the Castle

Last Drop

Eventually, Dan did come into view and we decided to have our one and only pint in the “Smallest bar in Scotland”, Biddy Mulligan’s. Though this may have been true and some stage in the hostelry’s history, it certainly isn’t the case now, the small doorways hiding a large, sprawling interior.  Unless I’ve gone wrong and ended up in the wrong pub, which is a distinct possibility with me, of course! It was, however, a very popular drinking spot on this day and so another pint of Tennent’s was had before the trip over to the ground was upon us. An aborted walk and a short cab ride later, we arrived at the turnstiles of Murrayfield. Tickets scanned and programme bought (£3.50), we headed through the outdoor concourse and past the clock tower, before climbing the stairs up to stadium level. Here, the ground opened up in front of us and it was quite the sight.

Murrayfield dates from 1925 (1995 in current form) and is two-tiered all the way around, though only one stand was in full use today (the East Stand we were in, with the opposite West and South side hosting the remainder of the home support. Indeed, the latter’s upper tier also played host to a large flag, declaring in a foreboding manner “Blood doesn’t show on a Maroon jersey”. The travelling St. Johnstone fans were located opposite, behind the right-hand goal.

Arriving at Murrayfield

Going up…

As well as Hearts, Murrayfield was played host to both Hibernian and Celtic with both Edinburgh clubs having welcomed Barcelona to the ground in pre-season games. Celtic, meanwhile, played at Murrayfield whilst their Celtic Park home was busy hosting events in the Commonwealth Games of 2014. So before we get into the second of the planned trio of Hearts matches at the venue this season, here’s a brief history of the Jam Tarts, the full one will be saved for the (hopefully eventual) trip to Tynecastle Park. Sorry to disappoint…

History Lesson:

Heart of Midlothian F.C. was formed in 1874 by a group of friends from the Heart of Midlothian Quadrille Assembly Club. In short, a dancing club. After brief stints at the Meadows, Powburn and Powderhall, the club has played at Tynecastle (the name deriving from the Tynecastle Tollhouse at the entrance to the grounds of Merchiston) in the Gorgie area of Edinburgh since 1886 and have won the Scottish Championship on four occasions (1895, 1897, 1958 & 1960). Hearts have also finished as league runners-up on a further fourteen occasions and lifted eight Scottish Cups (1891, ’96, 1901, ’06, ’56, ’98, 2006 & 2012) along with four Scottish League Cups (1954, ’58, ’59 & ’62).

The period between the 50’s and ’60’s was the most successful in the club’s history, with the Jambos lifting seven trophies during this period. 1958 also saw Hearts become the third Scottish (and fifth British) side to compete in European competition. The highest point of their Euro campaigns came in 1989, when they lost out in the UEFA Cup’s quarter-finals to German giants Bayern Munich by 2-1 on aggregate.

Mascot geeing up the crowd

Alongside the above “major” honours, Hearts have also won numerous other competitions throughout their history, including two second-tier league titles in 1980 & 2015. They have also won, in the past, two Edinburgh Football League titles in 1895 & ’96, seven East of Scotland League titles (1897, ’98, ’99, 1900, ’04, ’05 & 1906), the Inter City Football League in 1902 & 1903 and a couple of further cup honours in the form of two Festival Cup triumphs in 2003 & 2004. Last season saw Hearts finish up in 5th place in the Scottish Premiership.

The game got underway and, if I’m honest, this will be a short “match report” due to the fact that VERY little happened during this contest, despite a bright opening to the game from both sides. Despite this, St. Johnstone soon appeared to be content to settle in for a draw and Hearts began to seize what initiative there was, with Kyle Lafferty & Christophe Berra both going close with headed efforts.

However that really was where the action ended during the first half, with both sides seemingly unable to find their targets with the more expansive pass attempts and, on occasion, the more simple of tasks. Dan and I both began to resign ourselves to a goalless game, with one looking highly unlikely between two evenly matched sides. One interesting sidenote, though, was Prince Buaben – an ex-Trafford FC Reserves player who was (apparently) scouted by Dundee United. Dan remembered seeing him play at the Manchester club, though I missed his initial time South of the border.

Match Action

Match Action

Tangent over and onto the second half which didn’t have much to do to improve on the first. Be that as it may, it only just managed it. Jamie Walker was instrumental in what chances were created by the Jambos, though that cutting edge seemed to still be lacking. The contest continued on towards its final fifteen minutes, with little to get the excitement going. Until Lafferty popped up.

The experienced frontman picked up a weak, wayward shot from distance, controlled and turned before firing in a low effort that was deflected beyond the rooted Alan Mannus and into the bottom corner. Nil-nil averted (though only for a further three days as it turned out) and we celebrated just as much as those around us who had a far more partisan viewpoint!

Close

Celebrations

Match Action

The next action came with the last kick of the game and it was the home side who had the chance to add gloss to the scoreline, that would have definitely made the game seem far better than it was. Walker again was the creator, triggering a counter attack against the outnumbered St. Johnstone attack and sub Harry Cochrane ran onto it, advanced into the area and hit a rasping drive that beat Mannus, but crashed against the upright and clear. This was the signal for the ref to end the game and give Hearts the points they deserved over the ninety, as I hardly remember a chance the visitors mustered.

Heading back out the ground, we met back up with the group, which now included the late addition, Gibbo, and we were headed for the Tynecastle Arms for a final pre-train pint (for Dan and myself, anyway). Dan was entrusted with getting us there, having lived in this area of Edinburgh briefly a number of years ago, but it soon became apparent we were not on the right track and we eventually ended up in the interestingly name Foxy Fiddler, just around the corner from Haymarket station. A big bonus was the fine Blue Moon being available on draught, and a drink costing less than £4 was highly welcomed.

Heading back out of Murrayfield

Our feelings on the game summed up….Beer!

Soon enough, it was time for us to depart and having bid goodbye to the entourage who were mostly staying on for the Hampden semi-final the next day, Dan and I headed for Haymarket where we’d board our train through to Manchester, just the three hours away….

Eventually arriving at just before half-nine, it was a short wait for my connection before getting home nicely in time for the F1 quali in Austin. On that note, how to sum up the day. Well, it was good to spend it with a group this time and to meet the Southern contingent! The game was, sadly, very poor and I’d have probably been more disappointed had it been played at the Jambos’ regular home. The fact it was at Murrayfield, though, did lessen this feeling of angst. So that’s Scottish ground #4 done (though one was Berwick, does it count Scots?) and having done Edinburgh twice now, I feel like I’ve neglected another stronghold. Glasgow next, anyone?

RATINGS:

Game: 3

Ground: 7

Food: N/A (all outsourced food trailers)

Programme: 9

Value For Money: 5

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!