Friday, 10 February 2012

Stair Park (Stranraer v East Stirlingshire)

I have to admit, I have not been at that many football games lately. One of the reasons is that last season I started following new ice hockey club the Braehead Clan who play their home games at the Braehead Arena. Of course I have not lost my love for football and still enjoy the thrill of visiting new football grounds but the fact that ice hockey is something my wife is into as well does make a nice change from venturing up to Peterhead, Elgin and Dingwall just by myself.

Nevertheless I still want to complete my tour of the 42 tour of the Scottish league grounds and I want to visit as many of the 164 junior football grounds as I can.

On Saturday 10th December my wife went on her work's Christmas night out, which was the perfect opportunity for me to do some overdue groundhopping. I had my sight set on Stair Park, the home of Third Division side Stranraer FC, one of four league grounds I still had to see a game at. It it fairly easy to travel from Paisley to Stranraer as there is a direct train that takes you to the town in the southwest of Scotland. There is a catch though: there are only six trains a day and only two of them take you to Stranraer without having to change at Ayr. People used to travel on this train if they wanted to take the ferry to Northern Ireland. The last remaining ferry service was transferred to Cairnryan at the end of last year however and the days of the Glasgow-Stranraer railway line surely must be numbered.

There is another bizarre catch: an off-peak return ticket from Paisley Gilmour Street will cost you £37.80. If you get one at Glasgow Central, the starting point of the line where the train leaves twelve minutes before it rolls into Paisley, you pay only £26.90. If someone can explain to me how this works please let me know! I found this out by coincidence when I was pricing train journeys but buying a ticket from Glasgow (but hopping on at Paisley) saved me £8.90. I took the 11:53am train at Paisley Gilmour Street and arrived at my destination just before 2pm.

This gave me just enough time for the obligatory pre-match pint, which I had in the Custom House, a fairly big modern Wetherspoon-esque pub right next door to the Stranraer FC Fitba' Bar. The latter may have seemed a more obvious choice but I was not sure if it was members only. After a pint of Belhaven Best I made my way to the stadium. Stranraer's home is located in the middle a public park called Stair Park, hence the name of the ground.

Stair Park is a small but tidy Third Division ground with a modern main stand, built in 1995, which holds 1,524 fans. There is also an enclosure behind one of the goals, the Town End, and a small terrace behind the opposite goal. Across from the main stand you will find the Coo Shed. This was originally a terrace only but wooden seating was added in the 1990s. A nice bit of trivia is that Stranraer were the last league club in either Scotland or England to install floodlights in 1990.

Stranraer have had a good season so far. The Blues are currently second in the table and I would be surprised if they miss out on a play-off spot. East Stirlingshire are in familiar territory, i.e. bottom of the Third Division.

True to league form, also back in December, the home team did not have any problems with the Shire. Former Rangers midfielder Stephen Stirling opened the scoring when he scored from the spot on the half-hour mark. Stirling scored his second just two minutes later as he fired an effort into the top corner from 18 yards. Sean Winter added a third one minute later, which meant the match was effectively decided. Stuart McColm beat Shire goalie Calum Antell at his near post to add a fourth before Scott Taggart fired into the far corner just past the hour mark. Substitute Moore rounded off the scoring with eight minutes remaining.

After the game I went back to the Custom House for a pint since the next train to Paisley was scheduled for 7:08pm. I arrived home at about 9:30pm.

First a pint in the Custom House... door to the Stranraer FC Fitba' Bar

Approaching Stair Park

The Town End terrace

The Coo Shed

Looking towards the small East Terrace

The modern-looking main stand

Stephen Stirling opens the scoring

Saturday 10th December 2011
Scottish Football League Third Division
Stranraer 6 East Stirlingshire 0
Goals: Stirling 30 (pen) 32, Winter 33, Stuart McColm 58, Taggart 63, Moore 83.
Att: 276

Monday, 9 January 2012

Meadow Park (Irvine Meadow XI v Livingston)

I had not updated my blog for exactly a month. One of the reasons is that I have not seen that many matches lately. I still have some pictures in the vault however which I will post in the next few weeks. I just have to make time to do it!

At the weekend the fourth round of the Scottish Cup was played and it featured a number of mouthwatering ties including Peterhead v Celtic, Arbroath v Rangers and Hearts v Auchinleck Talbot. I had not planned to see any football this weekend, also because the weather usually spoils things around this time of the year but it is now actually really mild for the time of the year. Still, the 'high winds' at Gayfield Park are never far away...

I did manage to see a third round Scottish Cup tie back in November. I made the short trip form Paisley to Irvine to see junior side Irvine Meadow XI, who qualified for the Scottish Cup as 2011 West Region Superleague winners, take on First Division team Livingston. Two season ago Medda eliminated Arbroath at this stage of the competition. Their reward was a glamour tie at Easter Road. Around 2,000 Irvine fans saw their team lose 3-0 to Hibs.

Few people expected the home side to repeat the feat of two years ago as Livingston are of a different calibre than Arbroath and it turned out that Livi were much too strong for the Ayrshire side. Marc McNulty, Livi's 19-year-old striker, needed less than five minutes to open the scoring. He added a second and a third to his tally but limped off with an ankle injury just after Rory Boulding had made it 4-0. Six minutes into the second half Kenny Deuchar scored the visitors' fifth. The home fans chanted "We're going to win 6-5" but Bobby Barr made sure it was a convincing scoreline for the West Lothian side as he scored 6-0 a minute before the end.

Not the most exciting game I had ever been to but always nice to see a packed junior ground. Highlight for many of the younger fans was probably the presence of Scotland and Everton striker James McFadden who for whatever reason decided to visit a junior club on a Saturday. I cannot blame as he probably does not get the opportunity on most Saturdays. After he was spotted by a clever local kid he was constantly signing autographs and posing for pictures and he seemed to be happy to do so for which he should be commended.

At the weekend all fourth round ties went ahead as planned by the way, even Arbroath v Rangers, which turned out to be a rather convincing 4-0 win for the Glasgow giants. Livingston had a disappointing result at home against fellow First Division side Ayr United. The Honest Men won 2-1 on Saturday and will play Falkirk in the fifth round, one week after their League Cup semi against bitter rivals Kilmarnock at Hampden Park.

For more pictures of Meadow Park see this post.

Approaching Meadow Park

The main stand

Livingston fans turned up in good numbers as well...

...and they even brought flares, which is a capital crime in Scotland

The south end...

...from where Scotland and Everton striker James McFadden was watching the game, or at least he was trying to!

Looking towards the southern end of the ground.

Some of the Medda and Livi fans were getting closer and closer to each other in the north end but four policemen managed to keep the peace.

Saturday 19th November 2011
William Hill Scottish Cup third round
Irvine Meadow XI 0 Livingston 6
Goals: McNulty 5, 26, 40, Boulding 41, Deuchar 51, Barr 90.
Att: 1,500

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Abbey Park (Kilwinning Rangers v Lugar Boswell Thistle)

When I found out that the Saltcoats Vics v Darvel match was abandoned I decided to take the train from Saltocats to nearby Kilwinning for the Kilwinning Rangers v Lugar Boswell Thistle league match. After a fifteen-minute walk I arrived at Abbey Park in time for the second half of the West Region Ayrshire District League match between the Buffs and the Jaggy Bunnets.

Kilwininning Rangers, founded in 1899, have won the Junior Cup twice, in 1909 and 1999. They were runners-up in 1910 and 1922. They won the West Region Superleague Premier Division as recent as 2004 but they have been relegated to the third tier since. The Buffs' opponents on 12th November were founded as early as 1878 as Lugar Boswell but have never won the Junior Cup, although they were runners-up in 1956.

When I arrived at Abbey Park Kilwining were already 2-1 up but Lugar appeared the stronger side at times. Although the visitors had goalscorer Krist Stewart sent off after a second booking a draw still seemed possible. Stuart Hannah's goal in the dying minutes ensured three points in the bag for the homeside although the fans did not seem impressed with the hard-fought win.

Entering Abbey Park from Church Street

The enclosure in the west end of the ground.

The north side terrace. These railway sleepers are lethal when wet!

Another look at the north side terrace

Looking towards the small terrace in the east end of the ground

Lugar's Kris Stewart was sent off after picking up a second booking

The club buildings do not look too impressive

A closer look at the south side of the park

Saturday 12th November 2011
West Region Ayrshire District League
Kilwinning Rangers 3 Lugar Boswell Thistle 1
Kilwinning: Lewis 8, Hart 11, Hannah 90.
Lugar: Stewart 10.
Att: 170 (est.)

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Campbell Park (Saltcoats Victoria P-P Darvel)

I had not updated the old blog for a few weeks because I have been busy with many things lately and adding posts to the site was not one of them. That does not mean I have stopped going to football matches so I will update you on my most recent trips in the upcoming days.

On Saturday 12th November I decided to take a train to Saltcoats to see the Emirates Junior Cup second round tie between Saltcoats Victoria and fellow Ayrshire side Darvel. This fixture had already been postponed twice in the previous couple of weeks but it seemed it was finally game on and the weather forecast looked fine. I picked this fixture as it was a relatively short trip (only thirty minutes on the train from Paisley) and it gave me the opportunity to tick off another Wetherspoon pub, the Salt Cot. I had forgotten about this pub but fellow groundhopper Stephen aka Groundhopper 2000 reminded me just in time.

I got off the train at Saltcoats at 1pm, exactly one hour before kick-off. From the train station it was a short walk to my first stop, The Salt Cot, one of the smaller JD Wetherspoon pubs I have been to but with plenty of real ales available. After I had finished my pint of Avalanche I made my way to Campbell Park, home of Saltcoats Vics and a fifteen-minute walk from the town centre.

When I arrived at Campbell Park it seemed very quiet, and I got that eerie feeling that is well known to most groundhoppers...a quick check on the Saltcoats Vics internet side confirmed that the game was off. It also mentioned that the game was supposed to be be played at Ardeer Stadium, home of Ardeer Thistle. So not only was the game postponed, I had shown up at the wrong ground as well. Unfortunately the SJFA website had the game still down as 'on' at that time and no mentioning was made of a ground switch.

It looked like I had wasted my money on train ticket but I quickly checked the Junior fixtures and found out Kilwinning Rangers were playing at home against Lugar Boswell Thistle. I decided to take the 2:35pm train to Kilwinning.

The Junior Cup tie was rescheduled to Saturday 19th November and the venue was switched to Darvel's home ground, Recreation Park. Despite losing home advantage Vics thrashed their opponents 8-0.

First a pint in the Salt Cot

The gate to Campbell Park remained closed...

Saturday 12th November 2011
Emirates Junior Cup second round
Saltcoats Victoria P Darvel P

Friday, 11 November 2011

Valefield Park (Kilbirnie Ladeside v Livingston United)

Another weekend, another Emirates Junior Cup round two match. All it takes is a bit of wind or a prolonged rain shower for a junior game to be called off. The many postponements in the juniors can be frustrating for clubs and fans but it gives me the chance to see a few matches at this stage of the competion.

Last Saturday I went to Valefield Park to see West Region Super League Premier Division team Kilbirnie Ladeside take on Livingston United, a side playing in the East Region South Division, which is a third-tier league. Kilbirnie have struggled in the league so far this season, losing seven of their first nine matches but they started as favourites nevertheless.

I got on my train at Paisley Gilmour Street and got off at Glengarnock station twenty minutes later. From this station it is a ten-minute walk to Kilbirnie's home ground. Valefield is a well looked after junior ground with two enclosures next to each other on one side and a small terrace on the other side. There is also terracing behind both goals. You can buy refreshments at the pie hut or the small licensed bar, selling drinks at the usual affordable Junior prices (I had a bottle of Miller at £1.50). I was disappointed there was no programme issued however. The weather was pretty good for November, slightly chilly but dry and sunny.

Despite the Blasties' poor league form they were much too strong for the West Lothian side, as expected. It only took seven minutes for Kilbirnie to open the scoring as Mark Seagrave's shot went in. Mathew Mclean made it 2-0 only five minutes later. When Stevie Miller converted a penalty five minutes (YouTube clip) before the half-time whistle the tie looked already over.

The home team had a good second half as well but it took them almost 30 minutes to score again as McLean added a second to his tally. Roberts scored a consolation goal for the visitors seven minutes before time.

Tomorrow I will travel to Ayrshire once more for my third Junior Cup round two match this season and it will be an all-Ayrshire affair this time: Saltcoats Victoria are taking on Darvel Juniors. There is a forecast of heavy rain for tonight but hopefully this game will not be postponed for a third time.

Entering Valefield Park

Today's team sheet

The two enclosures

The dressing rooms, pie hut and bar

Great flag

Quote from the Non-League Scotland website: 'The cheapskate supporter can find many ways of viewing games here for free, either by standing on the large hill that overlooks Valefield or by looking through the mesh fence that surrounds three sides of the ground.'

A closer look at the enclosures

The terrace in the north end

The south end terrace

The Kirkland Road entrance

Saturday 5th November 2011
Emirates Junior Cup round two
Kilbirnie Ladeside 4 Livingston United 1
Kilbirnie: Seagrave 7, McLean 12, Miller (pen.) 40, McLean 72.
Livingston Utd: Roberts 83.
Att: 200 (est.)

Friday, 4 November 2011

Portland Park (Troon v Lochore Welfare)

Last Saturday I made the 30-minute train journey from Paisley to Troon in South Ayrshire to pay my first visit to Portland Park, home of Troon FC. It is a very short walk from the local railway station to the football ground, it will not take you much longer than five minutes. You can see Portland Park on your right hand side just before you roll into Troon station if you are travelling from the Glasgow direction.

Troon play in the Ayrshire District League, a third tier division in the West Region Juniors set-up. Last week's game was a second round Junior Cup game against representatives from the East Region. Lochore Welfare hail from Crosshill in Fife and ply their trade in the East Region Central Division, which is also a third tier division.

Portland Park is a nice and welcoming Junior ground with a social club and a covered enclosure. There are a few holes in the enclosure's roof but I was kept fairly dry despite the rain that was lasing down for some time during the match. As I had had a fairly late breakfast at home I was not in the mood for trying any of the pies on sale so I cannot comment on the food on offer this time. No programme was issued on Saturday.

The game itself was entertaining although it became fairly one-sided in the second half. Jonathan Baillie opened the score for the home side after 20 minutes. Ten minutes later Troon scored their second but Lochore Welfare's Alan McDonough scored five minutes before the interval.

In the second half the rain got worse and the wind got stronger which was definitely in the home side's favour. Within the the first ten minutes of the second period Troon doubled their goal tally. Lochore could count themselves lucky that the Ayrshire forwards were very wasteful in front of Lochore's goal and 4-1 was the final score.

I am planning to see another Junior Cup tie in Ayrshire tomorrow. Kilbirnie Ladeside will be favourites against Livingston North at Valefield Park.

Entering Portland Park

The pavilion and enclosure

A small terrace in the south end.

Andy Rae's shot after five minutes went just wide.

Lochore Welfare are about to take a free kick

A closer look at the enclosure

A queue at kiosk at half-time but no pie for me today

Mascots are rare in the Juniors but they have one at Portland Park. I hear you thinking: 'Is that a good thing?'

Troon's home ground can be easily spotted from the train

The sun, and a nice rainbow, came out in the second half

Saturday 29th October
Emirates Scottish Junior Cup round two
Troon 4 Lochore Welfare 1
Troon: Baillie 20, ? 30, ? 50, ? 55
Lochore Welfare: ? 40.
Att: 120 (est.)
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