Sunday 2nd January 2022 3pm – Scottish Football League Two – Ochilview Park, Stenhousemuir
The early kick-off at Dumbarton and the access to a car meant there was an option of a second game of the day, albeit one where the first few minutes may have to be forsaken. With the criteria of wanting to visit ground number 32 (of the current 42), the options open within a 45 minute drive of Dumbarton were Clyde vs Queens Park, Alloa Athletic vs Falkirk and Stenhousemuir vs Stirling Albion, in that order of closeness and travel time.
With both Clyde and Alloa Athletic averaging well over the 500 mark I took the plunge and bought a ticket for the former simply as it was the quickest to get to. Naturally, that was the first game postponed, 24 hours prior to the game due to COVID in the Queens Park camp, by which time all the tickets for the Alloa game were sold out too (which was cancelled on Sunday morning due to COVID in the Falkirk camp). And so, I would be heading to the Central Lowlands of Scotland for a first ever visit to Ochilview Park.
For those who are looking for the home of The Warriors of Stenhousemuir, then look no further than behind B & M and Tim Horton’s Coffee & Cake drive through as you head eastwards out of the small town centre. It is a two-sided affair, with a steep 8 row Main Stand that runs straddles the half-way line and a decent covered terrace behind one goal, which means views for most fans tends to be of a car park or the 3G cages behind the far end goal. Five gold stars though for the impressive turnstile block, which look as if they have been transported from the 1950s.
In COVID times, with every game being ticketed, you can’t move between the two areas – in fact for this game it seemed that Stirling Albion had been allocated the terrace, with the home fans in the main stand which included what I will refer to as the Stenhousemuir Under Fives. A group of 20 or so very young teenagers (and younger) who to their credit, spent the whole game jumping up and down, singing and supporting their side. Taking inspiration from the Italian Tifosis, rather than Ultras who they probably want to be seen as, they had all the gear on (Henri Lloyd, Stone Island and Nicce), albeit in Large Boys size.
The opening goal, scored by Tam Orr from an excellent cross from the right hand side saw the “youths” light the flares and wave them around until “the scary man” came purposely walking towards them. They soon put it out but then were faced with one of the club staff, an elderly lady who obviously knew a few of them and threatened to “tell your Mums” which soon had them back in order.
Half-time and some reviving home-made soup whilst the similar aged group of Stirling Albion fans tried to goad the youths across the perimeter wall. “We will see ya afta”, said one of the Stirling fans, pointing at no one in particular. It certainly brought back a few memories from football in the 1980’s.
Despite some pressure on the Stirling goal, the home side couldn’t find that second goal that would have killed off the game. Instead, the visitors scored twice in little more than two minutes to turn the game on its head. First up Tappings fired home a superb header from a free-kick from the right hand side. All good except Tappings plays for Stenhousemuir. I hadn’t seen a headed own goal like that since Iain Dowie’s effort for West Ham at Stockport County back in 1996.
Two minutes later and a long ball from the back saw Flanagan just get a foot to the ball before being hit by the Stenhousemuir keeper and the ball looped up and bounced on the line and high into the net. The goal sent the Stirling youths running down to the corner of the terrace in what at first appeared to be an attempt to get into the main stand enclosure but it seemed it was just an attempt to buy the last of the delicious soup.
With three minutes to go Stenhousemuir went down to ten as O’Reilly received his second yellow, the eight card of a competitive match for what seemed to be an offence as simple as looking at the referee in the wrong way. It mattered little as the away side saw out the final attacks and took all three points.
Whilst the away terrace cleared, as I walked back to the car, the Stirling youths were ready and waiting in the car park of Tim Horton’s, iced buns at the ready. “Ten minutes and I’m leaving without you” said one Dad as he walked passed his son, who pulled his hood up and pretended he didn’t know him..”and if that happens then your Mum will ‘ave us both”…