It’s all a bit academic


“Yes, vanity is a weakness indeed. But pride – where there is a real superiority of mind, pride will be always under good regulation.”

Perhaps the first time an article about football has started with a quote from Jane Austen.  But my rare football wanderings had taken me to Scotland where it was all about Pride.  Motherwell came into their home game with Celtic in 4th place but if other results went against them, they could finish in the bottom six, meaning that they would play out the final weeks of the season in the “relegation” group rather than the top six “European” group.  Sitting 15 points behind 3rd place and a Europa League spot, and 15 points above the relegation Play-off, the season is essentially over for ‘Well.  Not so for the visitors to Celtic who are just a few wins from their fifth consecutive Premiership Championship.

The whole Promotion/Relegation split for the final five games of the season has rarely led to any excitement in the Scottish game.  This season the clubs who entered the final five games in 4th, 5th and 6th had nothing to play for in terms of the title or European football, whilst those in 7th, 8th and 9th were safe from relegation.  If the concept of introducing the system was to stop a hatful of dead rubbers at the end of the season then I think it may have failed, with at least half of the league already on their sun loungers.  Still, it could be worse – they could have adopted the Belgian Play-off system which Stephen Hawking tried to describe a few years ago, gave up and published his book “A Brief History of Time”.

26341907565_0f2ae4073f_zLet me rewind just a few paragraphs and start again.  Hi! How are you?  So with Lewes already relegated, and an inevitable 2-2 draw on the cards for their home game with Staines Town (it end 2-2 as well), I took advantage of a work trip to stay on in Glasgow and “tick off” two more Scottish Premiership grounds.  Not just any old two either – two that are separated by just three miles a river, a motorway and a racecourse.  Motherwell have been an almost permanent fixture in the top flight of Scottish football without ever really having the golden period that clubs such as Dundee United or Aberdeen had had.  In fact, this May marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of their last major honour, when they won the Scottish Cup.  The absence of Rangers from the top flight had given them the opportunity to try to be the “best of the rest” and had finished runners-up, inevitably to Celtic, two seasons ago.

Thanks to those pesky people at Sky Sports re-arranging this game, I could see two games in my afternoon with nothing more than an eight minute train ride and a ten minute walk, with Fir Park my first destination for the 12.30pm start.

My train from Glasgow Central would eventually end up, some thirteen hours later, in Penzance so not one to just have a little snooze on.  Twitter told me to head for the Brandon Works, just a couple of minutes from the station, for a decent beer.  Alas, even at 11.07am, it was heaving with away fans as too were all the bars en route to the ground.  The Football Grounds Guide suggested the Fir Park Social Club next to the ground which was doing a good impression of Jessops when I arrived (i.e closed down).  I had to console myself with a new pair of football socks (£5 in the sale) and a greetings card that said “Get ‘Well Soon” before I headed into the ground.

26315943256_e18b61071e_zNot many people know that just over a year ago Motherwell manager Mark McGhee was sort-of assisting good-old Lewes FC in their quest for cup glory.  We had parted ways with our management team but had the small matter of a Sussex Senior Cup Semi-Final to prepare for.  McGhee, in his role as Assistant to Scottish National Team boss Gordon Strachan, living on the South Coast and a School run acquaintance of one of our directors agreed to help on a “let me give you a bit of my ample experience” basis – nothing formal you understand but a few pointers as to what we could be doing better.  We beat Loxwood 3-0 and that will forever see Mark immortalised as the most successful non-manager that we’ve ever had.

12 months later and McGhee is doing a fine job in what must be a less stressful environment than Sussex Non-League football.  Manager of the month for the second time in just a few months, Motherwell had more than held their own in the top half of the league, actually beating Celtic away earlier in the season.  Despite the futility of the league split in their current situation, pride meant that a top half finish was desired and that almost certainly meant needing a point, or more, against the champions elect.

My good friend Stoffers had told me prior to the games that I would “love” Fir Park and “hate” New Douglas Park.  Michael knows we well and he was not far from the truth.  Fir Park was rocking with noise as the two teams emerged.  Celtic had filled the gigantic South Stand with their voracious support, whilst the Motherwell band of hardcore fans in the corner nearest the visitors tried to raise the roof themselves.  Talking of roofs, on the opposite side of the pitch from me was the strange Main Stand, named after former captain Phil O’Donnell stand which according to Simon Inglis in his book ‘The Football Grounds Of Great Britain’, was supposed to run the full length of the pitch and the frame was built accordingly but due to a dispute with a an owner of a house beyond the corner of that ground (a dispute which the club lost) it was never completed as intended. And we thought NIMBY’s were a modern thing.

Motherwell 1 Celtic 2 – Fir Park – Saturday 9th April 2016
It was a case of what could have been as the full-time whistle blew.  The stats will show that the visitors dominated the game, with 23 attempts on goal to Motherwell’s 9, but it could have so nearly been a point apiece.  The hero and villain of the game was Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths who bagged two goals, one in each half, but missed an earlier penalty, given for a soft challenge on the promising Patrick Roberts.

25739132863_7471401bc0_zFor most of the first half it looked like Men versus Boys (as opposed to Bhoys).  Even the ultra-neutral BBC website said “Celtic lorded it early on”.  It’s fair to say that Motherwell keeper Connor Ripley was the Man of the Match, making a string of saves when Celtic threatened to run away with it.  Somehow they needed 44 minutes to open the scoring, with Griffiths finally getting his goal and then running the full length of the pitch, evading his team mates, shedding his shirt on the way to reveal a natty black sports bra thing and picking up a yellow card for his fashion show.  Pointless.

McGhee must have read to The Dossiers (surely one of the best football club nicknames ever) as they came out firing on all cylinders.  McDonald had the ball in the Celtic net on 55 minutes but a linesman’s flag denied them their goal. Five minutes later McDonald got his goal, against his old club, thumping the ball home from close range. A point was probably enough for Motherwell, but they could sniff all three.

26341900495_c604d81e8d_zCeltic’s players started to bicker among themselves.  Kazim-Richards should have seen red for his reaction to a challenge from a Motherwell player and nothing appeared to be going right for them.  The title was never in doubt – for them the small matter of a long-overdue Old Firm meeting in the Scottish Cup Semi-Final in eight days was on their mind.  However, Griffiths once again proved to be their saviour, finally beating Ripley to score the winner with fifteen minutes left.

“Well done ‘Well.  Blown it again” said a chap as we filed out of the ground.  Apparently, it now needed Partick Thistle, St Johnstone and Dundee all to lose for Motherwell to stay in the top half.  And that, as my new friend told me, was as likely to happen as “Lulu marrying the Pope”.

Hamilton Academicals 2 Dundee 1 – New Douglas Park – Saturday 9th April 2016
As you get off the train at Hamilton West you follow the path that runs along side the track to get to New Douglas Park.  You walk past Sainsbury’s which was built back in 1995 on the site of Douglas Park, Hamilton Academicals former home.  Despite the new ground having been open for nearly fifteen years, it is still only two-sided with skin-flint fans able to watch the whole game from the Sainsbury’s loading bays.  It simply doesn’t look right, and whilst the facilities are adequate for the club and its ambitions, the whole ground feels unfinished.

25739156553_1d6104a17a_zIt would be hard for even the most fanatical of fans to whip up an atmosphere here, especially in freezing cold and wet conditions but the Dundee fans tried.  After Motherwell’s defeat earlier they knew that a point could be enough for their top six finish, with Hamilton, without a win at home for six months, there for the taking.  Alas, it wasn’t until the final few minutes of this game that Dundee realised that when it was too late.

Hamilton started the brighter of the two sides and took the lead after fifteen minutes when Crawford turned the ball into the bottom corner of the net.  Ten minutes later they were 2-0 up when a harsh penalty was given against Extabeguren and Garica Tena scored from the spot.

25739155073_e114329094_zThe game wasn’t the best – in fact the most enjoyable aspect was watching the Hamilton “youths” in the main stand trying to flex their muscles with a group of stewards.  One accidentally knocked a cap off a steward and was meekly forced to go and fetch it.

Scores from elsewhere meant that Dundee now needed to win and they finally woke up with fifteen minutes to play.  The substitute Harkins scored at last with minutes to go but they needed a win rather than a draw to give them an unlikely boost back into the top six.

Alas, it was not to be and I joined the disappointed Dundee fans as they headed out of the ground, in the realisation they had nothing left to play for in the season.

Another successful mission accomplished in Scotland.  News of Lewes’s standard 2-2 draw didn’t fill me with joy but a couple of pints of Candy Kaiser in the Brewdog pub before I headed back to England soon put that right.

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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.

Montrose
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.

Arbroath
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.