Montrose 2 Peterhead 0

Wednesday 22nd December 2021 – Scottish League One – Links Park, Montrose

On Monday the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon announced a series of restrictions that would take effect from the 26th December. One of the measures was a restriction on crowds of 500 or more at “live events” which would effectively complete disrupt the festive period of football north of the border. The Scottish Premier League moved quickly to re-arrange their games, including the Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee derbies. But the Football League games would remain, meaning the clubs would have to work quickly on maximising attendances whilst complying with the restrictions.

For most clubs playing in the fourth tier in Scotland, 500 is way above average but as you move up the leagues you can see where this will be an issue. League One Falkirk, for instance, average nearly 3,500 and would have to put measures in place for their festive fixtures (whilst they could only have 500 in the seats, they could welcome many more into their bars to watch a live stream of the game). In fact only one club playing in the third tier averaged less than 500 but with the bumper crowds at this time of the year, even they (East Fife) would have to consider how to handle their gates.

Montrose sit in the middle of the average attendances in League One, with 582, but there was nothing average about their season so far, coming into the final game before Christmas clear in second place and five points behind leaders Cove Rangers. There’s nothing more motivational for the Gable Endies (named after the wealthy houses owned by Merchants in the 18th and 19th century) this season than seeing their rivals from just down the coast Arbroath sitting top of the Championship, enjoying their best season for many-a-year.

Their final game before Christmas just happen to fall on a spare night before Christmas. The Caledonian Sleeper just so happened to pick up at Montrose station at 10:26pm and would get me back into London before the annual silly o’clock pick up of the Christmas turkey from the butchers. That was my early Christmas present to myself. Happy Christmas Stu and off I went.

An afternoon in the Vault City Taproom in Edinburgh provided the necessary protection from the elements. Unsurprisingly, it was cold, wet and very misty but with one of the older 3Gs in Scottish football, there was never a doubt about this game, bar the given COVID-19 risks all around us.

At 7pm the town centre was deserted as I made my way from the station. Perhaps the locals had all got football fever and had already headed to Links Park? It appeared not (in fact there was 2 shy of the soon to be imposed limit) but they missed a treat, the home side closing the gap on Cove at the top to just two points thanks to goals at either end of the game, Steeves scoring in the eighth minute from a corner, Blair Lyons neatly finishing in the 75th minute. Captain Ballantyne departed in third minute of injury time after a second yellow but it made no difference to the performance and end result.

Scottish football below the Premiership does have an English non-league feel. The crowds, the swapping ends at half-time (at most grounds), the Bovril and pies, the club volunteers who wear a dozen hats on a match day. COVID can bruise football but it can never batter it into submission. They sit proudly in their local communities, playing an integral part in the local economy and whilst the restrictions will hurt, they won’t drive any clubs to the wall (just yet!).

It was to be a long, long journey home but it had been worth it. Nothing beats the smell, the sound, the taste and the sight of football, especially on a cold winter’s night 500 miles from home.

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