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
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