Monday, 20 July 2009

Cliftonhill Stadium (Albion Rovers v Celtic XI)

Today I visited my second new ground of the new season, Cliftonhill Stadium in Coatbridge, Lanarkshire, home of Scottish Third Division side Albion Rovers. Today they were playing a Celtic reserve team, led by Neil Lennon for the first time, for the (apparently annual) Jock Stein Friendship Trophy. The Wee Rovers had never won this pre-season cup and today was not their day either even though they came close this time. There was a no crowd segregation and the Celtic fans, who were in the majority, created an excellent atmosphere.

From Glasgow Queen Street it is only a 20-minute train journey to Coatdyke station and from there it is a 10-minute walk to Cliftonhill. The ground can be accessed from Main Street only which I did not know at first so I starting looking for the entrance when I noticed a couple of guys walking up a hill in Albion Street from which it turned out you have an excellent view of the pitch. Obviously I did not mind paying the £5 to get in but there were some good photo opportunities.

The first half was quite entertaining but the second half was a right bore and there were no goals so a penalty shoot-out was required to decide who would win the 2009 Jock Stein Cup. After 16 penalties Celtic won 5-4, meaning that for seven players the pressure was already too much which does not bode well for the new season I suppose, considering the irrelevance of this match.

The Main Stand seen from outside the ground. It is possible to watch the action on the pitch without having to pay admission.

These are the only turnstiles in use nowadays.

The club shop remained closed and has remained closed now for a while by the looks of it.

The covered terrace opposite the Main Stand does not seem to be in use anymore.

No stands behind either of the goals. Some freeloaders can be seen in the background.

Also here some non-paying supporters.

The Jock Stein Friendship Cup

The Main Stand seen from outside the ground after the match.

The Albion Street Terrace seen from outside the ground. It is starting to get overgrown and I cannot imagine this terrace in use again any time soon.

Another picture of the Main Stand, this time taken from behind the roofed terrace. The Celtic players can be seen celebrating winning what surely is not the most important trophy of the season.

Monday 20th July 2009
Jock Stein Friendship Cup
Albion Rovers 0 Celtic 0
Celtic win on penalties 5-4
Att: about 1,000

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Ochilview Park (Stenhousemuir v Falkirk)

Yesterday I kicked off the new football season with a visit to Ochilview Park to see Stenhousemuir take on Falkirk for the Stirlingshire Cup. This all took place in the village of Stenhousemuir in, you guessed it, Stirlingshire.

I took the train from Glasgow Central to the village of Larbert. The train journey took only 20 minutes and from Larbert station it was only a ten-minute walk to the ground which, as of last season, is now also home to East Stirlingshire FC. The ground is, as you would expect, fairly small with only two stands. The Tryst Road Terrace is a roofed terrace at one end of the ground. This stand housed the Falkirk supporters last night, although it is my understanding that there is no segregation in place at most Stenhousemuir home games. The Main Stand is a fairly modern all-seater stand. It is now called the Norway Stand as it is sponsored by a group of Norwegian supporters (yes, Norwegian supporters).

The game was quite entertaining, even though Falkirk fielded a team consisting mainly of youth players. Andrew Stirling opened the score for Stenhousemuir after 17 minutes. Craig O'Reilly then made it 2-0 to the Warriors six minutes later before Paul Sludden scored for the Bairns after another 6 minutes. Three goals after less than an hour played is of course not bad but unfortunately none of the players were able to find the net in the 60 minutes that were to follow.

All in all an entertaining night and I was able to do it on a budget, £5 to get inside the ground and the programme was free. Also, because I was working that day there was no time to go to the pub so a very cheap night indeed. I will have to go back soon to visit an East Stirlingshire game.

Turnstiles leading to the Norway Stand.

The Tryst Road Terrace after the game.

The Norway Stand after the game.

The Norway Stand seen from inside the ground.

The Tryst Road Terrace housed the Falkirk Fans who showed up in good numbers despite the fact that there was no mention of this game at all on the Falkirk FC website.

No stands on the other side or other end of the pitch.

Tuesday 7th July 2009
Stirlingshire Cup
Stenhousemuir 2 Falkirk 1
Stenhousemuir: Stirling 17. O'Reilly 23.
Falkirk: Sludden 29.
Att: 701

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Leicester Tigers v Leinster (2009 Heineken Cup Final)

On Saturday 23rd May 2009 Murrayfield Stadium staged the final of the biggest club competion in world rugby for the second time, only four years after Toulouse lifted their third Heineken Cup at Murrayfield. Since 2005 the competion had grown even bigger and had seen three sold-out finals in Cardiff, Twickenham, and again Cardiff. Before it was even known what teams were going to compete in the final the public allocation of 45,000 was already sold out. I had bought my tickets the previous summer as I did not want to miss out on this after I had attended the 2005 final and because I wanted to make sure I would get the cheapest tickets, £10 dearer than the last Edinburgh final but still excellent value at £25.

The teams who were in the final, Leinster of Dublin and Leicester Tigers, were attractive sides and I was looking forward to this one. Because of the time I had spent in Leicester I was supporting the Tigers today. The Irish fans outnumbered their English counterparts and were much more vocal. The game itself was another tight affair, just like in 2005, however this time no extra time was required. Eventually Leinster won deservedly 19-16 and lifted the Heineken Cup for the first time, the third Irish side to do so after Ulster in 1999 and Munster in 2006 and 2008.

Another successful final was staged at Murrayfield but surely many Scottish supporters who were attending must have had mixed feelings. When will either Glasgow or Edinburgh appear on this stage? Edinburgh finished in second place in the Magners League, three points above finalists Leinster but still their best performance in the Heineken Cup is a single quarter-final appearance in 2004. This is a grim statistic and Glasgow's record in the competion is even worse. And even if Glasgow or Edinburgh were to reach a European final how many supporters would they take to Dublin or Paris, or even Cardiff or Twickenham? It is hard to imagine the same numbers that followed Munster and Leinster turning out for either Glasgow or Edinburgh in the near future no matter what the occasion.

The Leinster fans outnumbered and outsong the supporters of England's most popular rugby club.

The Tigers players collecting their runners-up medals.

These guys looked a lot happier.

Unlike 2005 there is now a zero-tolerance policy towards pitch invaders at Murrayfield.

Of course people still try to make it on the pitch, probably after having consumed too much of the main sponsor's most popular product...

...which led to amusing scenes for the rest of us.

Saturday 23rd May 2009, Murrayfield
Heineken Cup Final
Leicester Tigers 16 Leinster 19
Att: 66,523

Stade Français v Toulouse (2005 Heineken Cup Final)

On Sunday 22nd May 2005 the tenth edition of the Heineken Cup final was staged in Scotland for the first time. The only appropriate setting in Scotland for a rugby event of this magnitude is of course Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh, the home of Scottish rugby. The Heineken Cup is the Champions League of rugby union, a competition in which the best club teams in Europe battle it out to be crowned the best club team in Europe. After the humble beginnings in 1995 (when no English or Scottish clubs participated) the Heineken Cup has evolved to become the biggest club competition in world rugby.

The two teams in the final were Stade Toulousain, commonly known simply as Toulouse, and Stade Français. I had bought the tickets for this final months in advance and when it turned out that the two teams participating in it were both from France I was slightly disappointed. I had hoped to see at least one British or Irish side in the final to increase the chance of a sell-out final. Also I feel it is never a good thing if two teams in a European final, whether it is in rugby or in football, hail from the same country. The atmosphere is different, and also I feel it is less appealing for the neutral viewer. Moreover I had wanted to see one of the bigger teams in European club rugby I had never seen in the flesh, like Northampton and particularly Leicester Tigers.

I need not have worried. Although the final was not sold out, a respectable attendance figure of 51,326 was by no means an embarrassment for the organisers. Especially the Toulouse fans created a magnificent atmosphere. Toulouse is a city in the southwest of France, very much rugby heartland, and their supporters were as loud and colourful as the most partisan football fans. The Parisians who rooted for Stade Français were a lot quieter.

As always when I go to Murrayfield I had gone for the cheapest tickets. The difference in price for different sections of the ground is staggering and the dearer tickets usually cost about three times as much as the cheapest ones. The £15 tickets I had bought were perfect for me. We were close to the vocal Toulouse fans and we started supporting Stade Toulousain more and more as the game went on. The game was a thriller without any tries but plenty of suspense. After 80 minutes the score was 12-12 (after a late Toulouse penalty) so extra time was required. It remained a kicking game in extra time and another penalty and a drop-goal were enough to earn Toulouse their third Heineken Cup trophy.

The blue-clad Stade Français fans in the opposite corner.

The partisan Toulouse fans luckily were in our corner.

Winning the Heineken Cup for a third time sparked joyful scenes.

The Toulouse players celebrated in our corner.

Note the many blue Stade Français flags but I did not notice any nastiness between the two sets of supporters.

Sunday 22nd May 2005
Heineken Cup Final
Stade Français 12 Toulouse 18 (AET)
Att: 51,326

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Rangers v Falkirk (2009 Scottish Cup Final)

Newly-crowned Scottish champions Rangers were taking on Falkirk in the final of the Homecoming Scottish Cup. Falkirk had only barely avoided relegation by beating Inverness at the Caledonian Stadium so Rangers were odds-on favourites to win the double.

Although St Mirren had lost the semi-final of the Scottish Cup to Rangers I was not going to miss out on the final so I cheated: I went as a Falkirk supporter. It was a lovely warm day at Hampden and days like this do not come along very often at the national stadium, at least not when I am there. The game was good too, surprisingly good. I had not expected this after the disappointing semi-final. There did not seem to be much belief amongst the Falkirk contingent that the Bairns were capable of winning their first Scottish Cup since 1957 however this had not rubbed off on the players.

During many spells of the game the boys from Falkirk were the better team however they were not able to find the net. That is not something you can say about Nacho Novo: he came on as a substitute and scored the winning goal seconds after. It turned out to be a beauty when I saw it on the telly later that night because I had missed it: I was waiting in the ridiculously long queue at the food stand.

Falkirk never gave up but they were not able to pull one back so Rangers completed a league and cup double to the delight of their supporters.

The Falkirk fans.

This is not what Hampden normally looks like.

The Rangers fans outnumbered the Bairns fans about 3 to 1.

The players coming onto the pitch.

Falkirk gave Rangers a good game but were unable to find the net.

The Rangers players celebrating their cup win.

Saturday 30th May 2009
Rangers 1 Falkirk 0
Homecoming Scottish Cup Final
Novo 46.
Att: 50,956
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