Friday, 23 September 2011

Cappielow Park (Greenock Morton v St Mirren)

On Tuesday 23rd August I made my way to Greenock for the clash between arch rivals Greenock Morton and St Mirren. The Scottish League Cup second-round encounter was the first competitive Renfrewshire derby since they were paired in the semi-final draw of the League Challenge Cup in 2005. I was at that match as well, a tense affair at Love Street, which turned out to be the final Renfrewshire derby played at the old Saints ground. Both teams were unable to find the net during 120 minutes of football six years ago but the Buddies were victorious on penalties.

A healthy but strong (and sometimes not-so-healthy) rivalry has remained despite the teams not meeting each other regularly on a competitive basis. During the noughties the 'Ton dropped down the SLF divisions. The Greenock side sank as low as the Third Division in 2002 but recovered fairly quickly. By the time they returned to the First Division in 2007 the Saints had won promotion to the Scottish Premier League. Nowadays the sides usually meet in the Renfrewshire Cup final, a glorified pre-season 'friendly'. Despite its humble status the Renfrewshire Cup has quite a bit of history illustrated by the fact Morton has won it 51 times compared to their Paisley rivals' 53.

Exactly one month ago today I took the 6:20pm train at Paisley Gilmour Street train station and got off at Cartsdyke station at 6:45pm. Since I travel to my work in Greenock every day by train I did not have to buy a train ticket, a nice little bonus. The walk from the station to Cappielow Park is a short one, about 5-10 minutes. The St Mirren fans were allocated the Wee Dublin End, an uncovered terrace that has been turned into an all-seater stand by adding bench seating. With its variety of stands and terraces Cappielow is a great Scottish football stadium, similar in character to Ayr United's Somerset Park and Queen of the South's Palmerston Park. Of course, when in the presence of Morton fans I will maintain that St Mirren Park is a slick and modern SPL stadium and Cappielow is a tip...who am I kidding.

Much like the venue, the match itself was a cracker, a lively encounter between two in-form sides: after eight minutes, Gary Teal put the visitors ahead with a free-kick, my camera said 'memory full' as the ball went in, typical. Truth be told, Morton had been the stronger team so far and, credit where its due, they were not fazed by this early set-back and twenty minutes later the First Division side were 2-1 up, thanks to goals by Michael Tidser and Peter MacDonald. 2-1 was also the half-time score and Saints only had themselves to blame.

The Buddies looked more convincing at the start of the second half. Steven Thompson levelled the score 1o minutes after the interval and five minutes later, Nigel Hasselbaink's spot-kick made it 3-2 to the visitors. Steven Thompson's second came six minutes later but somehow Saints seemed adamant to do this the hard way and complacency (Lee Mair...) struck again: with eleven minutes to go Andy Jackson netted the home side's third goal. Somehow and with five men in defence, St Mirren managed to hang on to their slim lead.

In the third round St Mirren defeated St Johnstone 2-0 at McDiarmid Park. Saint will meet Ayr United at St Mirren Park next month with a League Cup semi-final berth at stake.

For pictures of a capacity crowd at Cappielow (against Celtic) see this post. For last year's Renfrewshire Cup final at Morton's ground see this post.

Terraces in the back, seats in the front: the magnificent Cowshed before the game.

The Cowshed during the game.

The Main Stand, Saints fans were allocated part of it but the majority preferred the Wee Dublin End.

The Sinclair Street End: Gary Teale is about to take the free-kick that put the Buddies ahead: 0-1.

Saints are ahead once more after Nigel Hasselbaink's penalty: 2-3.

Tuesday 23th August 2011
Scottish Communities League Cup 2nd round
Greenock Morton 3 St Mirren 4
Morton: Tidser 17, MacDonald 27, Jackson 79
St Mirren: Teale 8, Thompson 55, Hasselbaink (pen) 60, Thompson 66
Att: 4,959

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Tynecastle Stadium (Hearts v Tottenham Hotspur)

One of the Scottish grounds I had planned to revisit this season was Tynecastle Stadium in Edinburgh, home of Heart of Midlothian. I had been to Tynecastle before for an SPL match against Rangers. This was almost three years ago, before I had started the website, and I always thought the pictures I took on that day were not on par with the pictures I had taken at the other SPL stadiums. That was a shame since Tynecastle deserved better than that. I found it one of the better SPL grounds and I remembered the brilliant atmosphere as the Jambos beat the Old Firm side 2-1.

When Hearts were drawn against Tottenham Hotspur in the Europa League, I immediately decided to try and get a ticket. I had expected the home game to be staged at nearby Murrayfield, since the demand for tickets would certainly outstrip the relatively small capacity of Tynecastle. I was at Murrayfield five years ago when Hearts, who had finished the 2005/06 season as SPL runners-up, were playing AEK Athens in the first leg of the third qualifying round of the Champions League. AEK were much stronger that night and the 2-1 defeat by the Greek side flattered the men from Edinburgh. It got worse in Athens where AEK won 3-0 and qualified comfortably for the Champions League group stages. At the time Tynecastle was deemed unsuitable for European football and Hearts had no choice but to stage the home game at Murrayfield. An impressive 32,459 attended, double the amount of fans present at the Spurs game.

I had expected the home game at Spurs to take place at Murrayfield as well but it was quickly announced by the club that the glamour tie would be staged at Tynecastle. I knew the club had invested a substantial sum in making sure the ground was UEFA compliant but I thought their own ground would be deemed too small. I do not know if it was possible at all to play at Murrayfield (the Scottish national rugby team were playing Italy two days later) but I was glad the decision was made to go for Tynecastle even though it would make it slightly more difficult to get a ticket. I bought my brief online on the first day of the general sale and the match was declared a sell-out later that day.

I left work a bit earlier on match day (2pm) to give myself plenty of time to travel to Edinburgh. After taking a few pictures of the film set of the upcoming Brad Pitt zombie film 'World War Z' around George Square in Glasgow I took the train from Glasgow Queen Street. I got off at Haymarket, the station closest to Tynecastle, from where I took a bus to
Corstorphine in the west of Edinburgh to tick off a new Wetherspoon pub, The White Lady. After a curry, which arrived five minutes after my order, and a couple of pints, I jumped on the bus back to Haymarket where I made my way to the stadium on foot. Although I arrived at Tynecastle quite early I was disappointed to find out all programmes had sold out.

I had a ticket for the Roseburn Stand, which was shared with the Spurs fans, and my seat was about four rows up from the pitch, very close to the action on the park. The proximity to the pitch is one of the characteristics that make Tynecastle such a great stadium. As expected, the stadium was packed to the rafters. Some Hearts fans were optimistic beforehand, thinking they would be able to get a result at home. This was Tottenham's first competitive match of the season after all; their league game against Everton was postponed because of the London riots. Some believed manager Harry Redknapp would field a second-string team against the number three of Scotland and there was hope that Spurs may underestimate the Edinburgh side. Unfortunately for the Hearts fans, and Scottish football, neither was the case. Spurs simply blew Hearts away. My compatriot Rafael van der Vaart opened the score after only five minutes. Jermain Defoe and Jake Livermore added to the tally and after 28 minutes the tie was effectively over: 3-0 to the Londoners. There was a definite gulf in class and there was a feeling in the stands that nothing could be done against this side. Just like their fans, who even started to applaud Spurs goals and substitutes as the game went on, the Hearts players seemed a little too much in awe of the English team. The Jambos were lucky to be only trailing by three goals at half-time.

Things got slightly better for Hearts in the second half, i.e. they conceded only two goals and remembered that the purpose of football is that both teams try to score. Nevertheless goals by Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon ensured the return leg at Whiteheart Lane would only be a formality. Although the match was a disappointment in footballing terms (it was hardly a contest) the Hearts fans were in great form and a packed Tynecastle ensured a great atmosphere. I hope to be back here in the near future, the Edinburgh derby is still on my list.

For pictures of a Hearts SPL match at Tynecastle see this post.

Ticking off a new Wetherspoon pub first: The White Lady.

Approaching Tynecastle.

Mounted police in Gorgie Street.

Police had cordoned off Roberton's Bar, I am not sure if anything had happened here before I arrived.

Long queues at the turnstiles.

The Wheatfield Stand seen from outside.

The Gorgie Stand.

The Wheatfield Stand.

The Roseburn Stand.

The Main Stand.

Thursday 18th August 2011
UEFA Europa League play-off round (first leg)
Heart of Midlothian 0 Tottenham Hotspur 5
Goals: Van der Vaart 5, Defoe 13, Livermore 28, Bale 63, Lennon 78
Att: 16,279

Friday, 9 September 2011

Fullarton Park (Bellshill Athletic v Greenock Juniors)

Regular readers of my blog may have wondered what was going on as I had not updated the site for four weeks. I have been quite busy with work and there was the small matter of a fortnight-holiday on Majorca from which I returned today. I will post reports and pictures of the matches I have seen during the last few weeks in the next few days.

Four weeks ago tomorrow I decided to see Bellshill Athletic's first home game of the season against Greenock Juniors. I had seen Bellshill getting humped 7-3 by St. Roch's on the previous Saturday in a cracking game and I was wondering how they would bounce back from that. Athletic have experienced two successive relegations in the last couple of seasons and if the result at Provanmill Park was anything to go by it may be another difficult season for the team originally from North Lanarkshire. I say 'originally' since they will be playing their home games at Fullarton Park in Tollcross, the home of Vale of Clyde, from this season. The good thing for me is that it makes it easy to see another football match when I am shopping in Glasgow with my wife...

This was my second visit to Fullarton Park. I was at Vale of Clyde v Clydebank last season and somehow managed to arrive 17 minutes after kick-off. This time it was even worse: I had made a last-minute decision to visit this match and was a bit unlucky with the bus from Paisley to Glasgow city centre. I never had to wait for the number 62 from the Argyle Street to Tollcross but by the time I arrived at the ground the game had been 40 minutes old and I had missed two goals. I still had to pay the full price to get in however (£4) but was pleasantly surprised to find out a programme was issued for this game (£1). As you can tell from the pictures, the attendance was poor, I think there were about 60 fans inside the ground. When the referee blew the half-time whistle (score 1-1) I walked to the bar and bought a bottle of Miller, it was a relatively sunny day in Scotland and was going to make the most of it.

Bellshill were struggling again today but it was not as bad as the performance at Provanmill Park a week earlier. Greenock's John Carter scored his second of the day (apparently...) 18 minutes into the second half and the Inverclyde team were deserved winners, at least judging from the second half.

For the 2011/12 season Bellshill have struck a ground share agreement with Vale of Clyde.

Not many fans from either team on the crumbling terrace. Fullarton Park is not the most impressive junior ground but it is one I really like for some reason. The beers (cold and cheap) definitely help!

Not many people in the enclosure either.

Bellshill were not as poor as in the previous week.

Bellshill under pressure in the second half.

Moments before the final whistle: Greenock are hanging in there, some tempers are flaring.

Saturday 13th August 2011
Central District First Division
Bellshill Athletic 1 Greenock Juniors 2
Bellshill: Currie 17.
Greenock: Carter 39, 63.
Att: 60
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