Friday, 18 February 2011

Murrayfield Stadium (Scotland v Wales)

A non-football post this weekend as my wife and I went to Edinburgh last Saturday to see the Scottish rugby union team play their first home game of the 2011 Six Nations Championship. Scotland were beaten 34-21 by France in their previous game but the three tries they scored against one of the usual favourites had led to some optimism in the Scotland camp. From what we witnessed against Wales however it had been another false dawn, one of many I have seen in the ten years that I have followed Scottish rugby.

The home game against Wales is my favourite of the Six Nations fixtures, because of the size of the Welsh travelling support, the atmosphere they create in Edinburgh and the idea that Scotland have a good chance of winning it although the Welsh have beaten Scotland many times in the past decade.

My wife and I had booked a room in the Apex European Hotel, which is situated conveniently close to both Murrayfield and Haymarket railway station. After getting off the train at Haymarket we dropped off our bag at the hotel and hopped on a bus to the city centre. Our first port of call, as always, was Tiles Cafe Bar, where we had a few drinks and lunch as well. We also watched Wayne Rooney score that goal against Man City and discovered that apparently everyone in Wales is a Man Utd fan. After a few Leffes we walked to George Street where we made a stop at the new JD Wetherspoon pub, the Alexander Graham Bell, before we headed for the stadium. We passed our hotel on our way to the ground so we decided to check in quickly and we found that our bag was already in our room. We were in our seats at Murrayfield just in time for kick-off.

The game itself was disappointing with a Shane Williams try giving Wales an early lead and Scotland never looking like they were able to win this match. A saving grace was our seats near the aisle and exit which made it easy to go and buy a beer now and then without missing too much of the action. The sale of alcohol is banned in all football stadiums in Scotland but the ban was lifted in other sports grounds such as Murrayfield a few years ago. In the last few years poor organisation leading to ridiculous queues at the various bars made it sound like a good idea in theory only. However this year the SRU finally got their act together and it only took a few minutes to buy a bottle of Carling (no Leffes unfortunately). Will we ever be able to buy a beer at Ibrox or Celtic Park? I cannot see it happening any time soon.

After a depressing 24-6 defeat we drowned our sorrows in the hotel bar but we will be back in good spirits again next weekend for the game against Ireland. We will have the same seats but there will be no overnight stay on 27th February.

For more pictures of Murrayfield see these posts: 2005 Heineken Cup Final, 2009 Heineken Cup Final and Scotland v England (2010).

Approaching Murrayfield from Roseburn Street.

In our seats before kick-off. That does not happen very often when we go to Murrayfield.

The West Stand.

Looking toward the North Stand. You can see some empty seats. 7,000 tickets remained unsold.

The East Stand.

The South Stand.

An empty West Stand after the game.

The North Stand.

The East Stand.

Saturday 12th February 2011
RBS 6 Nations Championship
Scotland (3) 6
Pen: Parks 2
Wales (16) 24
Try: Williams 2; Con: Hook; Pens: Hook 4
Att: 60,259

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Somerset Park (Ayr United v St Mirren)

Last Saturday I paid my second visit to Somerset Park in less than three weeks. On 20th January I had witnessed the Honest Men knocking Hibs out of the Scottish Cup. In the fifth round St Mirren came calling and this time I was in the Railway End as a St Mirren supporter. I took the train to Ayr (a 40-minute journey from Paisley) and had a pint in the local Wetherspoon's, the West Kirk, before heading for the ground, a short walk of about fifteen minutes from the town centre.

The game was made all-ticket on advice of Strathclyde Police and Saints had been allocated 2,500 tickets of which they sold about 2,300. A crowd of just under 6,000 showed up today and created a great cup atmosphere at Somerset Park. Craig Dargo scored the first goal for Saints after barely six minutes and added a second to his tally in the dying minutes of the first half. The chance of another upset by the part-timers started to look very slim until United's Mark Roberts scored from the spot thirteen minutes after the interval. St Mirren managed to hang on to their slim lead however and Dargo had a couple of chances to complete a hat-trick but manager Danny Lennon took him off fifteen minutes before time. This resulted in the Paisley contingent chanting: 'You don't know what you're doing!' but Lennon afterwards explained Dargo had started to look tired. It was a bizarre decision in my opinion but Saints are through to the quarter-final where they will meet Aberdeen at home.

For more pictures of Somerset Park, see this post and this one.

A pre-match pint in the West Kirk.

The Main Stand.

Queues at the away end.

A packed Somerset Road End.

2,500 Saints fans in the Railway End.

The Main Stand was sold out. Saints fans in the foreground.

The North Terrace.

A packed Railway End.

Mark Roberts' spot-kick ensured a tense finale.

Saturday 5th February 2011
Scottish Cup 5th round
Ayr United 1 St Mirren 2
Ayr United: Roberts (pen) 58.
St Mirren: Dargo 7, 45+1.
Att: 5,997

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Easter Road (Hibernian v St Mirren)

Every five years I have to take a day off to go to Dutch consulate in Edinburgh to renew my Netherlands passport. As my passport had already expired in January and I have a groundhopping trip to Holland booked in for April I had to do this as soon as possible and I decided to make the appointment with the consulate on Wednesday 2nd February as this date coincided with Hibs v St Mirren. This SPL game was originally scheduled for 4th December last year but it had fallen victim to the Big Freeze. This was actually my third midweek fixture in as many weeks. Unlike many fans I do not mind them, especially when they are not too far away as it adds a bit of spice to the working week.

My mate Tony, who also holds a Dutch passport, went along to Edinburgh with me but, being the smart fellow he is, decided against joining me on my visit to Easter Road. I started the day with a breakfast at the Counting House in Glasgow and we took the 11am train to Edinburgh. I had an appointment at 12 noon with a photographer in Edinburgh to have my passport pictures taken. After a twenty-minute walk to the photo studio near East Meadow Park we had to walk the whole way back again but we made a stop at McEwans Ale House in Clerk Street. We then walked to the Dutch consulate which is opposite a new JD Wetherspoon pub, the Alexander Graham Bell, in George Street, so after handing in our forms and having our finger prints taken we decided to give it a try. After one pint we moved to the next Wetherspoon's in George Street, the Standing Order. After visiting three more pubs Tony took the train back to Glasgow and I started to walk in the direction of Leith. There was still a Wetherspoon's pub in Edinburgh I had not visited so I made my way to the Foot of the Walk, which was quite a trek from the city centre.

I had one pint and then walked to Easter Road. I had visited the home of Hibernian two seasons ago and at the time sat, or rather stood, amongst the home fans in the East Stand. In the meanwhile this stand had been demolished and replaced by a new single-tier stand. This makes the ground look a lot more modern but it has taken away a bit of the character of the stadium. Last week I went as a St Mirren fan and I took my seat in the South Stand. As both teams are near the bottom of the league this game was crucial but only a few hundred St Mirren fans had made the trip to Edinburgh. It was a woeful display and it was clear that the league table does not lie. Hibs however managed to score through Derek Riordan 17 minutes after the break. By the time David Wotherspoon added to Hibernian's tally in injury time I had already left the stadium in order to make the 10pm train back to Glasgow.

For more pictures of Easter Road see this post.

A new JD Wetherspoon in George Street, the Alexander Graham Bell.

Then off to the Standing Order.

Passing the Playfair on my way to Leith. It looked like it was closed for refurbishment.

The Foot of the Walk in Leith.

The new East Stand.

The West Stand.

The Famous Five Stand.

Wednesday 2nd February 2011
Scottish Premier League
Hibernian 2 St Mirren 0
Goals: Riordan 63, Wotherspoon 90+3.
Att: 9,436

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Newlandsfield Park (Pollok v Arthurlie)

Last Saturday I made the short journey by train from Paisley to the South Side of Glasgow for the derby between Pollok and Arthurlie in the top division of the Scottish Juniors (West Region). Newlandsfield Park is easy to reach from Glasgow Central as the ground is situated next to Pollokshaws East railway station.

Pollok FC were high on my list of 'junior clubs to be visited' as they are one of the most popular clubs in the junior set-up and the fixture against traditional rivals Arthurlie of nearby Barrhead was the one I had been waiting for. I got off the train at around 1pm and the 1:45 kick-off meant I still had some time to tick off one of the two JD Wetherspoon pubs in Glasgow I had not visited yet. The Sir John Robert Maxwell is a five-minute walk from Pollokshaws East train station but the slow service in the pub, not unusual for a Wetherspoon's, meant I only had time for one pint if I did not want to miss the kick-off at Newlandsfield Park.

Pollok's ground was opened in 1928 and, according to the official website, has a capacity of 4,000. There is no seating and the large enclosure can hold 1,500. The average gate for league games last season was 507, which makes the Lok one of the best-supported junior sides. At the moment Pollok are top of the West Region Super League Premier League.

Although no official attendance figure has been released yet I estimate a crowd of 800-900 turned up on Saturday (Edit: an official attendance figure of 784 has now been confirmed). Pollok opened the score after 10 minutes when Iain Diack sent (what looked like) a cross into the goal area and the ball ended up in the net via the woodwork. The Lie then went on a frantic search for the equaliser but 1-0 was still the score at the interval. Halfway through the second half Frank McKeown headed the deserved equaliser into the net. Only minutes later however Pollok were awarded a penalty. Diack was not so lucky this time and his spot-kick was saved by Neil Parry. The game ended 1-1 each, which meant Pollok are still top of the league and Arthurlie are now runners-up, one point behind their Glasgow rivals but with a game in hand.

First things first: a pint in the Sir John Stirling Maxwell.

The gates to Newlandsfield Park.

High-rise flats overlook the ground.

The large covered terrace.

A closer look at the enclosure.

This Arthurlie free-kick did not go in.

Arthurlie scored the equaliser in the second half.

Arthurlie players do not agree with the penalty that referee Don Robertson awarded to Pollok.

Unfortunately for Pollok, Arthurlie goalie Neil Parry stopped Diack's penalty. The ball that looks like it is in the net is actually a ball lying behind the net...

Saturday 29th January 2011
West Region Super League Premier League
Pollok 1 Arthurlie 1
Pollok: Diack 10.
Arthurlie: McKeown 67.
Att: 784
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