Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Cappielow Park (Greenock Morton v St Mirren)

After last Saturday's trip to Peterhead I stayed a bit closer to home last Tuesday. I took the train to Greenock, for the second time that day as I work in Greenock, for the annual Renfrewshire Cup 'final' between Morton and St Mirren. At least the Ton went through an actual semi-final to reach it, thrashing amateurs Moorcroft 13-0. According to Morton chairman Rae Douglas in tonight's matchday programme the amateur team played 'well and competed well.' At least that's something I suppose.

Morton and St Mirren have enjoyed a longstanding rivalry for decades and it has remained strong despite both teams not having played in the same league for over a decade. This traditional pre-season 'friendly' is always fiercely contested and never meaningless to use a pre-season cliché. Saints were poor against last year's First Division strugglers but then again I do not think anyone has been expecting an easy 2010/11 season for the Buddies. The loan deal Celtic's Paul McGowan had signed shortly before the game at least was a bit of good news. The ex-Morton player came on as a replacement for Steven Robb eight minutes before time and added a bit of spice to the occasion.

There were no goals during 90 minutes of regular time which is worrying for St Mirren as they still seem unable to find the net easily, even against opposition from the second tier. It also meant I would not be able to make my 9:31pm train back to Paisley. Expecting extra time I went to the snack van for a coffee, no pies in the away end unfortunately, just something resembling a hamburger. Then it turned out there was no extra time and the teams had already started taking penalties. When John Potter scored the deciding 4-3 for St Mirren I had lost count. As there was no extra time I could still make the 9:56pm train from Cartsdyke to Paisley. Both sets of fans were separated at the station to prevent a repeat of the ugly scenes seen in recent years.

For more pictures of Cappielow see this post.

Long queues at the turnstiles.

The Grandstand before kick-off.

The Cowshed before the start of the game.

Saints fans in the Wee Dublin End.

Quite amusing, thirteen-year-olds taunting other thirteen-year-olds: 'Fatty, gie's a wave!"

Will there be a fifth consecutive Renfrewshire Cup at the end of this rainbow?

Cappie the Cat's bizarre antics...I really had no idea what he was up to. Well-nourished cheerleaders in the background.

Saints won the penalty shoot-out.

The Cowshed after the game.

The Grandstand after the final whistle.

Fans were separated by the police at Cartsdyke station. Not much happened. Some Morton fan threw an egg...better than a brick I suppose, see this report from two years ago.

Tuesday 27th July 2010
Renfrewshire Cup Final
Greenock Morton 0 St Mirren 0 (after 90 minutes, St Mirren win 4-3 on penalties)
Morton: Holmes missed, Monty scored, Kelby missed, Tidser scored, Smyth scored
St Mirren: Higdon scored, Van Zanten missed, Brady scored, McGowan scored, Potter scored
Att: 3,422

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Balmoor (Peterhead v Montrose)

Yesterday I kicked off the 2010/2011 season with a visit to a new ground. Peterhead were taking on Montrose in the first round of the ALBA Challenge Cup, a cup competition in which the 30 Scottish Football League teams take part. The final has already been scheduled for November and the competition is usually won by one of the First Division sides vying for promotion to the SPL. Last year's winners were Dundee who looked destined to move up to the big boys last season but whose campaign imploded in the latter stages of the season.

The Challenge Cup is not the most important competition in Scottish football but SFL supporters all over the country must have been looking forward to the first competitive game since May. I know I was and I had been planning this trip for a few weeks. Peterhead, in the northeast of Scotland, is a difficult place to get to if you stay in Paisley and rely on public transport. There is no train station in Peterhead, in fact the nearest train station is 32 miles away in Aberdeen, which makes Balmoor the furthest away from a railway station of all senior football grounds in Britain.

Travelling by train from Paisley to Aberdeen is usually not cheap, an off-peak day return ticket will set you back almost 50 quid but thanks to ScotRail's Advance loyalty scheme I was able to buy a return ticket to any destination in Scotland for £25. Not only that, it was actually a ticket for two people, who could travel anywhere for said amount. Not a bad deal but unfortunately people were not queueing up to join me on a 10-hour round trip to see a third-tier side so I went by myself. A big mistake according to the conductor on the 8:41am Glasgow Queen Street-Aberdeen train. 'You should have a friend with you,' he said. I thought he was joking but no, the guy was being serious. 'The offer is for two people you should not be travelling alone, technically your ticket is not valid,' he added. This guy would have been a great source of inspiration for John Cleese. 'But I have paid the £25 and I am actually leaving you an extra seat,' I countered. The jobsworth was having none of it: 'Like I said, the offer is for two people, don't do it again.' I was not going to argue with him, who knows what this guy was capable of when challenged in the line of duty, but I was annoyed to be made looking like a fraudster. Needless to say the conductor on the 6:30pm train back to Glasgow had no problems with me travelling by myself.

Approaching Balmoor.

I arrived in Aberdeen at around 11:15 and after having bought a Red Bull Salzburg away top for a tenner at Sports Direct I made my way to The Justice Mill, one of the Wetherspoon pubs that were still on my to-do list. After a half pint of Tuborg, unfortunately all I had time for, I rushed to Union Square bus station where I took the 263 Stagecoach bus to Peterhead (£10.10 for a return ticket). After a comfortable journey of an hour and 10 minutes the bus dropped me off in Peterhead, just outside The Cross Keys, which is - yes, you guessed it - the local Wetherspoon pub. I had a beer-and-burger and then made my way to the ground, which is a 15-minute walk from the town centre.

Peterhead FC are a former Highland League side and only joined the SFL in 2000, just before I arrived in Scotland. The Blue Toon have been quite successful, winning promotion to the Second Division in 2005. Balmoor is a well maintained and fairly modern ground with modern-looking stands on both sides and terracing behind the goals. I had been looking forward to a cup thriller but Peterhead were much stronger than their Third Division opponents. David Wyness needed only 7 minutes to score his first goal for his new club. After the break the Second Division side really went to town with a Stephen McNally own goal in the 50th minute and Wyness's second six minutes later. Already described as an 'early contender for goal of the season' on Peterhead's official website was Paul Emslie's effort from about 40 yards which took Gable Endies goalie Scott Bennett completely by surprise. Martin Bavidge scored the fifth Peterhead goal from close range with 15 minutes left on the clock. I left the ground in injury time to make sure I would make the 5:05pm bus back to Aberdeen but I was able to hear (and see) the final whistle from outside the stadium.

First a quick (half) pint in The Justice Mill in Aberdeen.

Then something to eat in The Cross Keys in Peterhead.

The Balmoor turnstiles.

The modern East Stand.

The Main Stand.

The Gable Endies were unable to find the net today.

No stands behind either goal.

A female assistant referee.

I had left the ground just before the game had finished, this picture was taken seconds after the final whistle.

Saturday 24th July 2010
ALBA Challenge Cup
Peterhead 5 Montrose 0
Goals: Wyness 7, McNalley 50 og, Wyness 56, Emslie 66, Bavidge 76.
Att: 357

Friday, 16 July 2010

Love Street (or what's left of it...) Part 3

It has been five weeks since my last match visit and the first one of the new season is planned for next weekend (Peterhead v Montrose). Of course there was the small matter of the World Cup and the first time I saw my native Netherlands play in the final of the competition. The legendary 1974 final against hosts Germany took place two months before I was born and I am too young to remember the final against Argentina who were hosting in 1978. I was almost 14 when 'we' won the Euros in 1988 but the World Cup feels like another level.

This was not the best Oranje we had ever seen but reaching this year's final, after winning all qualifiers and the first six games at the finals, was a great achievement. On the BBC, and in other UK media, a lot was made of the 'brutal' play by Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong, with Alan Hansen talking about the Dutch playing in a 'cynical' way and how he was desperate for Spain to win the game after the first half. If the Dutch had won it would have been 'bad' for the game according to Hansen and Lee Dixon called the Dutch gameplan wrong as they had 'wanted [to see] an open game.' I admit that Germany v England was probably a more entertaining affair for the neutral spectator but I am glad we got put out in the final instead of the first knock-out round.

It was heartwarming to see orange-clad Scots supporting Holland in their thousands the day after the unexpected result against Brazil. Many of them were even wearing Dutch shirts showing that there is nothing sectarian about these marches as surely they all know that Catholicism is the predominant religion in the Netherlands.

However the World Cup is over now and now that we have sat through three days of 'pre-season' with Motherwell playing in a Europa League preliminary round last night, beating Breidablik of Iceland 1-0 at Fir Park, I decided to walk to Love Street after work to find out what is left of St Mirren's old stadium these days. And unfortunately it is not much that is left so I do not think I will go back to this site just to take pictures.

For pictures of the last home game at Love Street see this post. For pictures taken in February 2010 see this post and for photos taken in March 2010 see this post.

The Love Street turnstiles have not been demolished yet.

The main stand had already been demolished in February but the West (away) Stand is now completely gone as well.

This is where the West Stand used to be.

The North Bank.

This is all making way for a housing development.
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