“There are two seasons in Scotland: June and Winter”
That quote, from Billy Connolly, rang in my ears and through my chilled bones as Danny Last and I alighted from the train at Arbroath on a cold Saturday lunchtime. Few people ever make the journey this far north on a Saturday, let alone one in mid-December with the temperature fighting to break the zero barrier. Frozen pitches had already decimated the Scottish Football League programme, but they are made of sterner stuff in Angus-by-the-sea and there was never a doubt that Arbroath’s clash with Stenhousemuir wouldn’t go ahead.
The first rule about visiting Arbroath is that you are not supposed to mention THAT match. The second rule is you are not supposed to mention the fact that the ground is located next door to a certain body of water, and the third rule is that never, ever ask what a Lichtie is.
Alas the sheer beauty of the train journey along the edge of the Firth of Forth makes you forget where you are and you sort of lose your senses. Well it was either the beauty of the haunting North Sea or the Tennent’s we were drinking. So allow me to introduce you to Arbroath with a few facts.
1. Arbroath was the home of Dr Neil Arnott, one of the most revered people in the porn industry although he probably doesn’t know it. On a family holiday to Magaluf back in the 70’s, he filled his Dad’s lilo up with water “for a laugh” and created the waterbed, the most used prop from the early years of mainstream pornography.
2. James Chalmers is another famous ex-Arbroathian. it’s because of him that the Queen used to get a good licking thousands of times a day as much nowadays…for he invented the adhesive postage stamp.
3. Arbroath is the home of the Smokie. Salted, dried and then smoked haddock that is unique (and protected) to the town…As part of our pilgrimage north we had vowed to seek out the best Smokies in town.
Oh sod this..let’s talk about Gayfield Park, Arbroath FC and THAT game back in 1885. The home of The Red Lichties, named after the red light that used to guide ships home, and rumoured to have inspired the song Roxanne which Sting wrote which watching the Angus derby here in 1977 and was concerned that if Lighthouse keeper Hamish Roxanne turned it off, ships would no longer find their way home.
The ground is the closest football stadium to the North Sea, one long throw away from floating on the tide all the way east to Aarlborg in Denmark, which means its freezing in July, let alone a Saturday in Mid December. I mean who would be mad enough to watch a game here at that time of the year. Step forward Danny and myself. Yep, it had snowed up here for the past few days. Yep, half of the Scottish Football League clubs had called their weekend games off some 48 hours previously. And yep is was a long way up north, but this was to be our warm up game for the Dundee derby.
So what about THAT game then? Let me take you back to 12th September in the year of our Lord 1885. Queen Victoria is still sitting on the throne in London and has been distinctly unimpressed by the action on ITV’s FA Cup highlights show. Andy Townsend is once again confusing his false nine’s with his man in the hole and football fans are all urging him to get on his penny farthing and disappear into the pea souper. She flicks over the channel and finds a preview show for the Scottish FA Cup. The “game of the day” is from Arbroath where the Red Lichties were taking on Bon Accord in the Scottish Cup.
The away side, weren’t actually supposed to be playing in the competition at all. In fact they weren’t even a football team. The invite to take part in the cup should’ve been sent to Orion FC but the postman, distracted by his pocket transistor popped it through the letter box of Orion CC, who were a football club. Just like an invite to the Playboy Mansion (have I told you I’ve been there?) it would have been rude to decline, so they cut up their cricket pads to use as shin pads and headed down the coast for the game.
History shows us that the final score was 36-0 which was a world record score in a first class game. Add to this that the referee actually disallowed a number of home team goals because he couldn’t see if the ball went over the line. At the other end the Arbroath keeper sheltered under an umbrella eating a Smokie.
What are the odds of another game on the same day just a few miles Way potentially topping that feat? Whilst Arbroath’s result saw them on Record Breakers (“Dedication, woah, dedication”), Dundee Harp had put 35 goals passed Aberdeen Rovers. Or did they? The referee in that game actually recorded 37 goals, but the Dundee Harp secretary who phoned through the result had apparently missed two goals in all the excitement and so the then World Record score of 35-0 stood for approximately 3 minutes.
So back to the present day. We wandered through the town, Smokie in one hand, can of McEwans in the other to blend in. We eyeballed DeVito’s Night Club for later, hoping to swing a fast shoe with Danny himself as we wandered the coastal path to the ground, passed Sting’s red light no less. Pleasureland was in full swing (the indoor amusement arcade and not a German style palace of adult entertainment) and we were tempted for a quick game of Time Crisis but instead we headed across the road to Tuttles Neuk Inn, which I understand is Angusian for Turtles Neck.
The bar was rammed. Thanks to their astonishing draw away at Celtic Park in the Scottish Cup last week, tickets had been on sale across the road for the forthcoming replay. Add in a smattering of “Stone Island” here for the Dundee Derby no doubt and we had to fight our way to the bar. In the space of a few days Christmas had come early for the Lichties.
We skipped across the road with fifteen minutes until kick off, hardly able to contain our excitement at visiting Gayfield Park. Twelve pounds (just £12!) saw us pass through the portal and within minutes we had a Bridie in our hands standing slack-jawed as we took in the view. To paraphrase my daughter Lolly “Oh My God”..
Arbroath 2 Stenhousemuir 2 – Gayfield Park – Saturday 8th December 2012
On the way up to Scotland Danny told me about his dream. Not the one featuring Holly Willoughby, or the one with the bath full of Harveys, but the one where he had a bet on Stenhousemuir scoring a late equaliser to secure a 2-2 draw. The reason he mentioned it as we passed a bookies earlier in the day was to see if I thought there was any hope of that happening. Of course I said “not a chance” and to put his tenner back away. Oh how we laughed at that at 4:45pm.
A bumper home crowd of nearly 650 had braved the freezing conditions and soon had something to cheer about as Steven “Dot” Doris thumped the ball home from the edge of the box. It was hard to take your eyes off the action on the pitch, despite the fact that we between us had managed to take over 200 pictures of the amazing setting sun over the North Sea. How on earth any of the players managed to stay focused I do not know. The home side nearly took the lead in the final moment of the half when a free kick was bent around the wall but struck the inside of a post.
The second half saw the Stenhousemuir keeper emerge with white tights on, prompting Danny to remember those famous scenes of Leatherhead’s Keith Deller (he meant Weller of course) from the 1970’s Tanner’s cup run. Who can blame him though (the keeper not Danny) as it was proper freezing out there. Stuart “Malkie” Malcolm fired the home side into the lead when a free kick caused all sorts of panic in the away defence and it looked like there could only be one winner. But Danny’s prophecy came true as in injury time Stewart “Keano” Kean poked home from close range after Arbroath failed to close down Smith on the flank.
We did offer to stay behind and help put the covers back on the pitch but Dundee was calling. A swift half in the Westport, followed by the worst chips with gravy had put us in a drinking mood. Our fifteen minute train journey back to the metropolis was livened up by the group of Arbroathie Hotties who decided the best way to be inconspicuous on a train full of football fans was to wear as little as possible. After all, it was only minus three by the time we got back to Dundee. Positively balmy for this time of year.
“Gentlemen. To bed, for we leave tomorrow at noon for the Dundee derby”.
More pictures from the game can be found here.