Our Marathon Man takes on Loch Ness

Brian Parish choses Scottish Premier League football over his beloved Dagenham & Redbridge….but for more reasons than just a decent pie.

Last year, I jetted off to Toronto to run a marathon that turned into a bit of an ice hockey fest as well. Attending two games over the course of three days could definitely be marked up as “ambition achieved”. Last year though, I had the holiday from work to be able to fly across the Atlantic for an eight day trip for running and hockey. This year though, having spent a fair few days visiting Olympic Park for various sporting events, I am a bit lighter in the holiday allowance than I was twelve months ago, so I have looked closer to home for my marathon trip.

Having done a bit of research, I came up with a trip to Inverness for the Loch Ness marathon. A few people from my running club had completed it, and it sounded like a good idea, so back in March, I signed up, booked my flights, and sorted out the hotel.

Of course, signing up for a trip like this meant that I also needed the fixture list to be kind, and therefore needed Inverness to be at home the weekend I would be in town. Not only that, but I needed them to be playing a league game that I could get a ticket for.

With all of the Rangers stuff going on over the summer, when the fixtures did appear with “Team 12” included, I didn’t know what to think; whether the list would be re-done, or whether they would stay as originally announced. The original list had Inverness at home to Dundee United on the marathon weekend, so I kept a watch on the fixtures. When this was confirmed, I bought my ticket and so the day before running another twenty-six miler, I finally get to go to my first game in Scotland.

Inverness Caledonian Thistle was a club born of a merger between two clubs that had over a century of history each. Thistle FC (formed 1885) and Caledonian (1886) joined forces when the Scottish league was expanded from thirty-eight to forty clubs in 1994. As with many mergers between clubs, this did not go down well with the support of both teams, but at least it bought the Scottish Football League to a region of the country that had (by the looks of things) only encountered them when the Scottish Cup came around. Having spent half of their first season playing home games at Aberdeen while their original stadium was made ready for the SFl, they eventually got back to the capital of the Highlands in January 1994, and beat Dunfermline in their first game back. Continue reading

Tonka Toy

In 1979 West Ham United shocked the footballing world by signing Scottish teenager Ray Stewart from Dundee United.  At the time there was no Sky Sports, no Internet and fortunately no TalkSport.  There wasn’t even Radio 5 to carry this breaking news.  It was the Evening Standard in those days, with the reporters being given the tip off for a breaking story and then filing it before the Fleet Street elite could get their hands on the story.

So on a wet day in early September nineteen year old Stewart stepped off the train, on one of his first ever trips south of the border.  The transfer fee was huge – £430,000.  To put it into context the record transfer fee in English football was just £500,000 eight months previously.  Whilst Trevor Francis had become the first ever million pound player in February 1979, only a handful of transfers had been for more than £400,000.  And here was the relatively conservative West Ham United splashing out a ridiculous sum on a teenager who had played less than 50 games in the Scottish Premier League.

Stewart would go on to make over 430 appearances over 11 years for the Hammers, and was the cornerstone of the most successful period in the club’s history.  But the reason why he will always be a legend for the East Enders was his crashing left foot that led to 84 goals for the club and one of the most famous penalty styles in football which has been often copied but rarely been as deadly.

Just 24 hours after he signed for the club he watched his new team from the bench in his Burtons suit, shirt and tie lose 2-0 to Watford at Vicarage Road.  He was on the coach back up north to Barnsley for the League Cup 2nd round 2nd Leg game  three days later, and four weeks later in the league game at Upton Park versus Burnley he scored his first penalty in a style that left most of the 18,327 fans starring in disbelief.  He picked the ball up, carefully placed it down, with the valve pointing goalwards, turned, took a dozen steps back in a straight line.  He then focused purely on the ball and where he was going to hit it.  None of this “looking the keeper in the eye” business.  He ran and struck the centre of the ball with all of the power in his body, both feet off the floor in a type of skip as he followed through.

The fans went mad for his approach.  In that first season he scored an amazing fourteen goals, making him the club’s second top scorer, and averaging nearly a goal every three games.  He was a full back.  Most were penalties, some literally game changing.

On the 8th March 1980 West Ham hosted First Division Aston Villa in the FA Cup quarter finals.  This was Ron Saunders Villa who a year later would go on to win the title.  They arrived in East London with a reputation for tough defending and fast counter attacking play with the exciting Tony Morley on the wing, and Gary Shaw up front.

The game was goal less, heading towards a replay at Villa Park when West Ham got a corner.  The ball was delivered in the box and an arm went up in the air.  It was hard to see if it was Alvin Martin or Ken McNaught’s but the referee deemed it the Villa man and pointed to the spot.  One kick separated West Ham from the semi-finals and Stewart stepped up, showing no sign of nerves and smashed the ball home.

He blotted his copybook in the Semi-Final at Villa Park against Everton though, showing the rash side of his play when he was sent off in the first half for fighting with Brian Kidd.  Fortunately he served his suspension long before the final against Arsenal where he won his first honour as a player.  In fact, Stewart has the unique distinction of being the only West Ham player to win the FA Cup who wasn’t English. That is quite an amazing stat when you look at football today.  Three FA Cup finals spanning sixteen years, with thirty one players used, and thirty were English.

In 1980/81 he was an integral part of the record breaking West Ham side that waltzed to the Second Division Title as well as reaching the European Cup Winners Cup Quarter Finals.  He scored nine goals in sixty appearances, only missing one game all season. He was a fans favourite and in the days when the word “Marketing” was as foreign to football clubs as a Bosman or Sepp Blatter and the club often rolled him out to shamelessly promote products that fans lapped up.

If there was any ever doubt about his composure it came on the 14th March 1981.  The venue – Wembley Stadium.  The Twin Towers.  West Ham United, from the second tier of English football against the mighty Liverpool, League Champions, who would go in to win the European Cup later in the year. After ninety minutes the game was goal less.  Both teams had chances, but a betting man would have put his house on Liverpool to triumph.  In extra time the first moment of controversy.  With just two minutes remaining a corner is cleared by Phil Parkes.  In the process Sammy Lee is knocked to the floor.  The ball falls to Alan Kennedy and the full back finds the back of the net from distance.  BUT Lee is lying in the penalty area, obstructing Parkes view.

However, the referee is Clive Thomas.  A man who controversy follows around and he deems that Lee is not interfering with play.  West Ham take heart from the injustice and launch one last attack.  A corner is sent in and Alvin Martin rises the highest and sends an unstoppable header into the top corner of the net.  A hand rises and stops the ball but not that of Liverpool keeper Ray Clemence.  It is Terry McDermott, and try as he might, Thomas cannot do anything but award West Ham a penalty (he does however fail to send off McDermott).  The clock has now stopped at 120 minutes and one man stands between Liverpool winning the cup.  Ray Stewart.  Twenty one year old Ray Stewart.  The hopes of thousands of fans on his shoulders.  He steps up but instead of smashing it home he calmly slots the ball down the middle of the net.  West Ham live to fight another day, losing the replay some three weeks later at Villa Park.

The following season in the top division Stewart plays every game, scoring thirteen times, following it up with double figures in the next few years, maturing and being rewarded with ten international caps.  In 1985/86 he played in possibly the greatest West Ham side, the one that ran Liverpool and Everton until the last Saturday of the season for the title and claiming an amazing 84 points.  Stewart’s contribution came into its own in the unbelievable run in in March and April which saw West Ham have to play seventeen league games in just fifty six days – a game almost every three days.

He scored a goal (not a penalty) in the amazing 8-1 win versus Newcastle United, and actually gave the ball to Alvin Martin when the Hammers were awarded a penalty so he could complete his hatrick.  A week later his late penalty sees off Manchester City and then just two days later(!) in front of a season best 31,121 West Ham come from behind to beat Ipswich Town with Stewart again netting a high pressure late penalty winner to take the Hammers to second in the table.

His last season at the club was in 1990/91.  With young Steve Potts and Julian Dicks breaking through into the team he found his chances limited, deciding to move on to St Johnstone after 345 games and 62 goals for the Hammers.  Ironically Dicks modelled his penalty style on Stewart and himself went on to score 50 goals in 260 games for the Hammers – a strike rate almost comparable with the master, Ray Stewart.

When I was in the playground as a young teenager all I wanted to be was Ray Stewart.  When it came to taking penalties with the tennis ball, the Stewart approach used to ensure the keeper would be quaking in their boots at the thought of that small ball thundering towards their face.  For that reason alone, we salute you Ray, you are a true legend of the game.

Photos with thanks to Steve Bacon and Newham Recorder from West Ham United programme archives.

A brief distraction….

I never like to miss an opportunity to see a new ground so when worked posted me off to Aberdeen for a few days on business I carefully studied a map to see where I could sneak a ground or two in my travelling time. 

So for your enjoyment please find my tour photos below.

The club’s halcyon period was the mid 1970s when, under manager Alec Stuart, Montrose reached third place in the old First Division (one below the Premier League), and were a feared and respected cup side. In the second round of 1974-75 Scottish Cup, Montrose recorded their largest victory when they beat Vale of Leithen 12-0. The club won their first and only championship under the guidance of Iain Stewart in 1984-85, as they triumphed in the old second division. Relegation followed in 1987 as the part time club found themselves outgunned in a league largely consisting of full time teams. Under co-managers Doug Rougvie the former no-nonsense Chelsea full back Montrose won promotion to Division One in 1991, but were relegated after one further season in the higher league.

Montrose have spent the vast majority of their recent history in the relative obscurity of the Third Division. At the end of the 1994-95 season, they were promoted to the Second Division after finishing as runners up in the Third Division. However, the team’s first attempt at this higher level was not successful, and they finished bottom of the table and faced a quick return to the Third Division.

The club have remained at this level ever since, and have achieved little success in the league. Their most notable recent success was a surprising 5-1 win away at Second Division side Forfar Athletic in the First Round of the 2004-05 Scottish Cup.

Links Park is one of the few grounds in Scotland that can boast a new generation artificial playing surface. They are also one of the nicest clubs in the league to deal with. The stadium is a 10 minute walk from Montrose stadium which is located next to the inner bay. Simply walk up the hill into the High Street and take a right hand turn into John Street which becomes Union Street. The stadium is visible as you enter Links Park.

They were founded in 1878 and currently play their home matches at Gayfield, Arbroath, Angus. They play in maroon strips, and are nicknamed “The Red Lichties” due to the red light that used to guide fishing boats back from the North Sea to the burgh’s harbour. Arbroath share an old and fierce rivalry with local neighbours Montrose

Their most notable achievement is that they hold the record for the biggest victory in World senior football, when on 12 September 1885 they beat Bon Accord 36-0 in a Scottish Cup match with a further goal disallowed for offside. Jocky Petrie scored 13 goals in that game, also a record as the most goals by a single player in a British senior match. By coincidence, on the same day in another Scottish Cup match, Dundee Harp beat Aberdeen Rovers 35-0.

The team has had mixed success in recent years. In the 1996-97 season they hit the bottom of the Scottish senior football standard as they finished bottom of the Third Division. However, the following season they were promoted to the Second Division against all expectations. They spent three years at this level before winning promotion to the First Division – arguably the club’s greatest achievement in recent history. They finished 7th in their first season in the First Division, 13 points clear of relegation troubles, which was rather impressive for their first ever venture at this level. However, in the 2002-03 season, the team struggled badly, and finished bottom of the table, 20 points adrift of penultimate side Alloa Athletic. In the 2003-04 season, Arbroath narrowly avoided back-to-back relegations, as they escaped the drop on the last day of the season. In 2004-05, however, there was no such escaping, as a 3-0 defeat at Dumbarton on 30 April 2005 condemned them to the Third Division for next season.Arbroath finished 4th in Division 3 but went on to win the end of season play off and thus were promoted again to Division 2.

Arbroath’s ground Gayfield Park is the closest to the sea in Britain, a neat and picturesque old-style ground exposed to the elements, with terracing on three sides and enclosed stands on all four sides. On stormy winter days, waves can be seen beating on the walls surrounding the ground. Clearances in the teeth of the gale, let alone polished football, become impossible. Goalkeepers can find it hard to spot the ball to kick out and even then goalkicks occasionally fly out for corners. Throw in the ubiquitous seagulls and, in clement weather, the rides on Pleasureland next door, and Gayfield offers a unique, bracing and surreal spectacle with wonderful views when the game pales.

To reach the stadium turn right out of the stadium and take the right hand bend and follow this down to the sea – the stadium is straight ahead of you and is a ten minute walk at best.