The Perennial Struggle (East Stirlingshire)

The East Stirlingshire Football Club have an official formation date of 1881 although it roots go back a year earlier to a club called Britannia in the nearby town of Bainsford. The new club took over Randyford Park in Grangemouth Road from neighbours Falkirk who had decamped to a ground called Blinkbonny.

However, Randyford proved problematic and within months East Stirlingshire moved to Merchiston Park. The club remained at this ground until it was purchased to extend the adjacent Burnbank Iron Foundry. Shire then opened their new town centre ground, Firs Park, in August 1921. Although modest in dimensions the ground managed to accommodate 11,500 spectators for a 1968 Scottish Cup tie against Hibernian.

Life at Firs Park was never dull, in 1964 the incumbent board relocated the club to New Kilbowie Park and an ill-fated merger with Clydebank. After twelve months of litigation the Shire returned to Falkirk. During their absence the cover from the standing enclosure and the floodlights had gone to Kilbowie and local vandals had also held sway in the unoccupied ground. New lights and a replacement cover were erected before football returned to Firs Park. The small barrelled roof main stand became something of an icon of Scottish stadium architecture. Since the 1964 debacle the club has periodically considered further relocation, with Grangemouth Athletics Stadium being considered on more than one occasion.

The club played its last game at Firs Park in 2008 when the momentous decision was taken that the old ground would be prohibitively expensive to upgrade to the new ground grading criteria imposed by the Scottish League. The club signed an initial five year deal to play at Stenhousemuir’s ancient Ochilview Park while the club actively looked for a new site in the Falkirk area. In May 2014 East Stirlingshire signed a deal with LK Galaxy Sports to develop a new ground with the preferred site being the former BP Club ground in Grange Road, Grangemouth. Strangely this would mean both of Falkirk’s senior teams will have moved out of their own town to the same town.

Ochilview is one of Scotland’s oldest grounds having opened in 1890. It has been substantially modernised since 1994 when Stenhousemuir failed in their attempts to sell the ageing ground to a supermarket chain. A new main stand replaced the south stand terrace in 1995 and four years later the old “Dolls House” stand was refused a safety licence and was subsequently demolished. This side is now used for car parking and community 3G pitches and has left the stadium with a modest capacity of 3,750 and a distinctly open feel to it. The Tryst Road terrace was covered in 2004 with volunteer labour from supporters. The club has also installed a FIFA approved artificial playing surface in recent years.

Many casual fans follow East Stirlingshire seemingly annual battle to avoid the wooden spoon in Scotland’s fourth tier. The Shire have finish tenth and last of the Scottish League’s lowest tier for seven out of of the last twelve seasons, although last season they finished a heady eighth with Elgin City and Queen’s Park finishing below them. The club won the Scottish League Division C (the old fourth tier) in 1947/48. They have not won anything since.

This season has once again been a struggle for the Shire the league table shows them a point above bottom placed Elgin so today’s Scottish Cup game against Championship side Dunfermline Athletic must have been eyed with no little trepidation.

To the Shire’s credit they keep their guests from the Championship quiet for more that half and hour with some resolute defending. Dunfermline look the better side with Faissal El Bakhtaoui looking the pick of the visitors eleven. It’s no surprise that the young French/Moroccan playmaker opens the scoring with a deft finish just before half time. He doubles the visitors total just after the hour with another impressive strike.

The men from East End Park effectively seal the victory when Shaun Byrne picked up a loose ball in his own half and outpaced the home defence to score with some aplomb. East Stirlingshire’s biggest goal threat comes from the burly Ivorian striker Guy Tahin who bizarrely is only currently permitted to play in cup ties and friendlies. However, Tahin is well shackled today by Gregor Buchanan. Shire continue to press forward and suddenly reduce the arrears with a powerful strike from distance by David Greenhill, his shot finding the net via the inside of the post.

Visibly irked by conceding a goal Dunfermline take charge again and the pressure pays off when Connor Greene makes an injudicious challenge in the area and Ross Millen nets the spot kick with a cheeky “Panenka” style chip down the middle of the goal.

Although well beaten today you have to admire the indefatigable spirit of East Stirlingshire. Homeless and regular wooden spoonists they dig in week after week and you have to salute them for that.

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Sunday November 2nd 2014 – Scottish Cup Third Round

East Stirlingshire (0) 1 (Greenhill 79)
Dunfermline Athletic (1) 4 (El Bakhtaoui 37,62, Byrne 76, Millen pen 84)

Attendance: 991 (at Ochilview, Stenhousemuir F.C.)

Shire:

1. Richie Barnard (c), 2. Connor Greene, 3. Lloyd Kinnaird, 4. Michael Bolochoweckyj, 5. Chris Townsley, 6. Graeme MacGregor, 7. Andy Kay, 8. Neil McCabe, 9. Guy Tahin, 10. David McKenna, 11. David Greenhill.

Subs: 12. Billy Vidler, 14. Steven Brisbane (for 6,62 mins), 15. Martyn Shields, 16. Ross Gilmour, 17. Sean Quinn, 18. Paul Brennan (for 9,71 mins), 19. Alan Deans.

Dunfermline:

1. Ryan Scully, 2. Ross Millen, 3. Alex Whittle, 4. Stuart Urquhart, 5. Gregor Buchanan, 6. Andy Geggan (c), 7. Faissal El Bakhtaoui, 8. Lewis Spence, 9. Michael Moffat, 10. Ross Forbes, 11. Shaun Byrne.

Subs: 12. Ryan Thomson (for 10,77 mins), 14. Andy Stirling, 15. Allan Smith, 16. Chiogozie Ugwu (for 9,72 mins), 17. Ryan Williamson, 18. James Thomas for 7,72 mins), 20. Ryan Goodfellow.

Yellow Cards: Bolochoweckyj , MacGregor, Townsley, Greene (all Shire)

Gallery

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Red Light (Arbroath)

The remote Angus coastal burgh of Arbroath is famous for two reasons, the “smokie” a kiln smoked salted haddock and for the fact that the town’s football team hold the record for the biggest victory in senior football.

In September 1885 Arbroath defeated the hapless Bon Accord by an incredible score of 36-0. Arbroath forward Jocky Petrie helped himself to thirteen of the goals, itself an individual scoring record. Amazingly on the very same day Dundee Harp missed their chance of lasting fame by only racking up 35 unanswered goals against Aberdeen Rovers.

The club has the nickname of “the Red Lichties” which was derived from the red lights that were illuminated on the harbour front to safely guide the fishing boats back home.

Arbroath were formed in 1878 and initially played on a basic pitch between the sea and the railway line. It was known as the Hospital Field. In 1880 the club moved to a new site which was called Old Gayfield. It was tightly hemmed in and on one side the external wall was yards from the touchline meaning spectators could not watch from that side. The first game at the ground was against Rob Roy. However, the new ground irked mighty Rangers who complained that “the back green” they had just lost on was too small for purpose. The Scottish FA acquiesced to their demands for a replay which the Glaswegians won 8-1. Old Gayfield was subsequently enlarged with the acquisition of seashore owned by the local railway company.

The club played their last match at Old Gayfield in March 1925 against King’s Park before moving the ground around sixty yards south west. The old seaside stand was demolished and a new stand erected on the Dundee Road side of the new orientation of the ground now called Greater Gayfield. The ground was ready for the new season and 7,000 people packed in to see the Earl of Strathmore declare the venue open before a game against East Fife.

In 1949 the record attendance of 13,510 was set at Gayfield when another visit from Rangers passed without complaint. The floodlights at Gayfield have a chequered history to say the least. The first temporary set were erected in 1955 and in only their second game against Dundee United an Arbroath player caused much merriment by smashing one of the lights with a wayward boot of the ball. These were replaced with lights bought from Aberdeen in 1970 although sixteen years later they were sold on again to Eastwood Town.

Gayfield survived a serious fire to the main stand in September 1958, the alarm being raised by Partick Thistle players lodging in the hotel opposite the ground. The old stand suffered significant damage and was replaced by the present brick and concrete structure. Two of the three covers were erected in 1979 and the fabled “seaside” stand was covered a year later. It truly must be the closest football stand to the sea in the land, both Gay Meadow and Craven Cottage being merely riverside rather than adjacent to the howling, elemental and endless North Sea. The word “bracing” somehow just doesn’t cut muster.

Today’s game is played in a strong wind and fair light and Gayfield rocks to an early penalty kick which is comfortably dispatched by Paul McManus. The hosts failed to build on it though and only lead their Highland League visitors by a one goal margin at the turn around.

Arbroath double their lead when left back Scott McBride powers in an impressive header from a corner. Almost immediately after the restart there is concern for the home goalkeeper who was subject to a heavy but fair challenge. He is down for some five minutes receiving treatment and has to be replaced. As the sun sets over Gayfield it is the visitors of Nairn that push forward, Sean Webb reduces the arrears two minutes from time. There is of course lengthy stoppage time and Nairn pile on the pressure seeking to take the tie back to Station Park for a replay. They can count themselves unlucky that the equaliser didn’t materialise and the Red Lichties held on for the victory.

Gayfield is just glorious, there is no other word for it. Sweeping terraces and hefty covers built, no hewn, to withstand this unforgiving coast and its unrelenting wind, sea, salt and weather. This is visceral, primordial football not only do you have to outwit your opponent but you also have to do battle with the unpredictable elements. It’s not too glib to say this is an iconic lower league ground, ridiculously photogenic, all big skies and lucent light. I excitedly snapped photograph after photograph, until the red light indicated battery power down. This ground has a mythical feel to it, truly up there with the best grounds in the kingdom.

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Saturday November 1st 2014 – Scottish Cup Third Round

Arbroath 2 (McManus pen 22, McBride 67)
Nairn County 1 (Webb 88)

Attendance: 682 (at Gayfield Park)

Arbroath:

1. David Crawford, 2. Ricky Little, 3. Scott McBride, 4. Kevin Nicoll, 5. Aldin El-Zubaidi, 6. Mark Whatley, 7. Bobby Linn, 8. Keiran Stewart, 9. Paul McManus (c), 10. Simon Murray, 11. Jordan Lowdon.

Subs: 12. Kevin Buchan (for 9,78 mins), 14. Michael Travis, 15. Johnny Lindsay, 16. Michael Wallace, 17. Connor Birse, 18. Craig Johnstone (for 11, 63 mins), 21. Scott Morrison (for 1,71 mins).

Nairn:

20. Callum Antell, 2. Sean Webb 3. Glenn Main, 4. Michael Morrison (c), 5. Martin MacDonald, 6. Wayne MacKintosh, 7. Bradley Halsman, 8. Alan Pollock, 9. Robert Duncanson, 10. Conor Gethins, 11. Kyle Wilkie.

Subs: 1. Michael MacCallum, 12. Paul Macleod, 14. Ross Naismith (for 11,82 mins), 15. Sam Urquhart (for 9,73 mins), 16. Adam Naismith, 17. Chris Moir, 18. Matthew Murphy.

Yellow Card: Morrison (Nairn)

Gallery

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Linking Parks (Montrose)

Montrose FC were formed in 1879 and initially played on the local golf links before moving to the original Links Park. This venue was close to the current ground on Dorward Road. This venue had very spartan facilities and the club hankered after its own ground. In 1887 the club obtained the site in Wellington Street now known as Links Park having raised capital by hiring out their old pitch to travelling circuses and for grazing animals.

While the new venue was certainly a step up for the club, being enclosed meant admission charges could be levied, it was still fairly rudimentary. It wasn’t until 1920 that Links Park had any form of spectator accommodation when a small wooden grandstand was acquired from the a local Highland Games venue for a princely sum of £150.

Soon after the ground improvements Montrose were elected as founder members if the new Scottish League Third Division for the 1923/4 season. Joining them in the 16 team competition were near neighbours Brechin City. In fact aside from these two only two other founder members remain in League membership, these being East Stirlingshire and Queen of the South. Long gone are the likes of Clackmannan, Helensburgh, Dumbarton Harp, Galston and Solway Star.

Montrose finished fourth in that inaugural campaign although the competition itself would only last a further two season before being disbanded due to the financial hardships suffered by most of the member teams. For the 1929/30 season Montrose were re-elected to the Scottish League as members of the Second Division.

One of the clubs’ finest hours came in 1938/39 when they knocked reigning Scottish Cup holders East Fife out of the competition, thumping the men from Methil 9-1 on their own Bayview Park pitch. A great day indeed for the Gable Endies of Montrose, a nickname derived from the heyday of the town as a working port. The rich merchants and sea captains would augment their already ostentatious homes with a gable on the roof which would face the street as if to advertise their wealth and status, hence the name “Gable Endies”.

Links Park was further enhanced in the 1960’s when the Wellington Street end was covered with an unusual stand that was cranked at the far end. Links Park remained relatively untouched until the modern era when improvements have transformed the venue. A new 1,300 seater grandstand came first in the late 1995 followed by a 3G pitch laid in 2007 thanks to a £250,000 grant from GlaxoSmithKline. Links Park also boasts natty modern floodlights with a unusual circular configuration of lamps. These replaced the old set of pylons which had stood since 1971.

Aside from a few brief stints in the second tier, notably in the 1970’s, the Gable Endies have been used to life in the lower tiers of the Scottish League. In fact the club now begin their 19th straight season in the bottom tier and on the evidence of today it might be another long season of struggle for them. Today’s visitors are Peterhead now of Division One following play off success last season. Peterhead race into a three goal lead inside half an hour. If this League Cup wasn’t already over after that, the hosts ensured their own demise when both Graham Webster and Garry Wood were red carded for overly robust challenges.

The final whistle was greeted with much gnashing of teeth and head shaking by the majority of the 347 hardy souls in attendance. It seemed scarcely conceivable that this compact little stadium once shoehorned nearly 9,000 people into its confines for a Scottish Cup quarter final with Dundee. But then again they were undoubtedly better days for the Gable Endies.

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Petrofac Cup 1st Round – Saturday July 26th 2014

Montrose (0) 0

Peterhead (3) 3 (Rodgers 5,26, McAllister 17)

Attendance: 347 (at Links Park)

Montrose:

1. Stuart McKenzie; 2. Graham Webster; 3. Craig Bell; 4. Steven Robb; 5. Ross Graham; 6. Alan Campbell; 7. Stephen O’Neill; 8. Ross McCord; 9. Garry Wood; 10. Scott Johnson; 11. Paul Watson.

Subs: 12. Terry Masson (for 7,62 mins); 14. Danny Cavanagh (for 4,77 mins); 15. Bryan Deasley (for 10,83 mins); 16. Stephen Day; 17. Kieran Sturrock.

Peterhead:

1. Graeme Smith; 2. Graeme Sharp; 3. Steven Noble; 4. Ross Smith; 5. Scott Ross; 6. Reece Donaldson; 7. Andy Rodgers; 8. Jamie Redman; 9. Rory McAllister; 10. James Stevenson; 11. Ryan Strachan.

Subs: 12. David Cox (for 6,52 mins); 14. Jordan Brown (for 5,56 mins); 15. Ryan McCann (for 7,77 mins)

Yellow Cards: Johnson (Montrose)

Red Cards: Webster and Wood (Montrose)

Gallery

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Confidemus (Kilmarnock)

A scenic if somewhat soggy drive through Dumfries and Galloway and into Ayrshire brings forth rolling hills and pastoral land nicely portrayed in a wall mural on a house not far from Kilmarnock. The countryside eventually gives way to not unpleasant suburbia and soon into view comes Rugby Park, its blue roof supports and squat floodlights peeking almost nervously over residential rooftops.

A truly ancient club, Killie can date their formation to 1869 initially playing rugby before adopting the football code four years later when they became founder members of the Scottish Football Association. After a somewhat hermetic period playing at borrowed pitches at Wards Park, The Grange and Holm Quarry, the club moved into the original Rugby Park (on the current Charles Street) in November 1878. This ground would stage a Scotland international in March 1894 but by 1899 election to Division One meant a rebuild was necessary. The pitch was moved slightly and new stands erected. It still must have been a surprise when 11,000 attended the first game against Celtic. The Second World War was a testing time for the ground having been requisitioned by the army. Its proximity to key railway lines saw large storage tanks sunk into the pitch with fire trenches dug around them. The pitch took some considerable and costly restoration for which the club did not receive any compensation.

Nowadays the ground has a very much modern flavour to it, though retaining its quirky roof mounted pylons. Redevelopment to an all seater stadium with an 18,000 capacity came in 1994/95. Gone are the wide open spaces, Italian prisoner of war built terracing and the tiny Johnny Walker corner stand. In their place are three modern cantilevered stands, shiny, functional and in the case of the Moffat Stand (South Stand) where my ticket finds me, some what breezy and open to the elements. It does, however, afford excellent views of the action. The only nod to the past is the magnificent main stand which was erected in 1962 has been in recent time been sympathetically re-clad and looks stunning with its four roof mounted floodlight pylons. Outside of this stand a somewhat incongruous modern entrance hides a really classy reception, trophies proudly showcased to either side. Killie are one of those great clubs that embrace their history and promote it with pride and dignity.

The home side have not had the greatest of starts to a season but still covert a top six placing when the League splits into two halves for the final quarter of the season. In monsoon conditions not helping an already sodden pitch, Killie were patently shocked to be two down to Highland visitors RossCounty before the break. Neatly taken goals by Arquin and Songo’o were, however, just reward for honest endeavour in the treacherous conditions.

It would be somewhat rude to visit Rugby Park and not sample their lauded Killie Pie, and half time allows this most experienced of football cuisine consumers to sample the wares. Needless to say that “saying ay to a Killie Pie” is heartily recommended.

Kilmarnock’s club motto is “Confidemus”, translating from the Latin this essentially means “We Trust” and in their veteran warhorse forward, Kris Boyd, Killie trust and back their main man to rescue them. The clubs’ readable programme shows Boyd is now in their all time top ten goalscorers list, no mean feat given the breadth of their history. Boyd doesn’t let his employers down, reducing the arrears moments into the restart. However an equaliser looks increasingly unlikely as the elements take full control, the pitch deteriorating rapidly in the final ten minutes. A minute into the allocated four stoppage time minutes and the burly striker has a glimmer of a chance in the County box. His proficiency in front of goal has been a hallmark of his career, and he lashes home the sodden ball with some venom to the unbridled delight of a small but hardy Rugby Park crowd.

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Scottish Premiership – Saturday February 1st 2014

Kilmarnock (0) 2 (Boyd 48, 90)

RossCounty (2) 2 (Arquin 30, Songo’o 36)

Attendance: 3,372 (at RugbyPark)

Kilmarnock:

1. Craig Sansom, 5. Jackson Irvine, 2. Jeroen Tesselaar, 8. Sammy Clingan, 30. Lee Ashcroft, 29. Manuel Pascali, 36.Greg Kiltie, 28. Craig Slater, 33. Robbie Muirhead, 9. Kris Boyd, 18. Rory McKenzie.

Subs: 7. Barry Nicholson, 10. Chris Johnston (for 2,83 mins), 12. Antonio Reguero, 20. Alexei Eremenko (for 36,68 mins), 22. Vitalijs Maksimenko, 25. Michael Gardyne, 26. Mark O’Hara.

Ross:

20. Michael Fraser, 3. Ben Gordon, 28. Yann Songo’o, 8. Richard Brittain, 21. Brian McLean, 26. Evangelos Oikonomou, 7. Filip Kiss, 12. Michael Tidser, 25. Jordan Slew, 27. Yoann Arquin, 23. Graham Carey.

Subs: 1. Mark Brown, 2. Erik Cikos, 5. Scott Boyd, 10. Rocco Quinn (for 27,88 mins), 11. Melvin De Leeuw (for 25,73 mins), 15. Gary Glen, 16. Alex Cooper (for 12,65 mins)

Yellow Cards: Clingan (Kilmarnock), Kiss (Ross)

Red Cards: Kiss (Ross)

Gallery

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