Tuesday 24 March 2015

Scottish Lowland League Hop - Saturday

On the second day of the hop I woke a while before my 7.30 alarm. I had a lovely bath and got dressed before going down for breakfast. We had to wait about 10 minutes, as the service was really slow for the buffet bar with nothing getting filled up for ages. It was partly due to a large group of private school kids staying in the hotel, they got down before us and scoffed the lot. When it did come, it was well worth the wait though. My favourite bit was the square sausage which I had 3 of and were exactly the sort of thing I was after when I thought of Scotland.

After breakfast I returned to my room for a short while I realised I'd forgotten my shaver and so I took up the hotels offer of a free one, which they brought to my room for me. By the time I'd had a shave it was time to go off for another days football. I was one of the first on the coach, and had to wait quite a while. It seemed as if a fella who looked a bit like Harry Potter and his brother were always last on the coach, but they can be forgiven for their slackness as they were really nice blokes. 

VALE OF LEITHEN FC were established in 1891, making them one of the oldest clubs in Scotland. They became full members of the Scottish FA 6 years into their existence. They have had some great moments in the Scottish Cup since they first entered in 1920. This included the biggest game ever to be staged at their ground when Scottish giants Hearts visited in 1962. In front of 3700 fans they hit the bar in the opening minutes, but sadly for them their illustrious neighbours ran out 5-0 winners. Their best every victory came in 1976 as they destroyed Eyemouth United 16-0 in an East of Scotland League match. They joined the newly formed Highland League in 2013 and at the start of the game were sitting 11th,  2 places above visitors Preston Athletic who were 13th.


After around a 90 minute journey through some nice countryside we got to the ground. There was still over an hour to kick off and so I went to a cash machine to get some money out. There were not many pubs open but I wasn't really in the mood for drinking so I looked around some shops instead. I saw some lovely dogs around and the town was very laid back and pleasant. I got myself some Irn Bru and cakes for later on before getting back to the ground at 11.30.

I went on and got some pictures while I waited for the game to start. It was a fairly decent contest, not as much quality on terms of passing football but there were more chances. The visitors opened the scoring just before half time when the keeper was lobbed but there had been ample opportunities for both sides in the first half.

The second half was a bit more conservative as Preston Athletic elected to have what they hold. Even so they had the better of the play and doubled the lead on 57 minutes with a low shot from inside the area. They continued to be the better side and hit the bar with a shot from the edge of the area. Vale of Leithen had a couple of chances to reduce the arrears but they were not taken. There were not as many in attendance as last night, but it was still a healthy attendance of 312.

VICTORIA PARK is a ground set in amongst beautiful scenery with rolling hills all around. The covered accommodation is all on one side and I reckon you could get a few hundred in there. There is additional terracing on this side while the rest of the ground is open standing. There is no bar at the ground but a small range of food is offered. A couple of pieces of club merchandise - a scarf and a badge are available for purchase upon request.


SELKIRK FC were formed in 1880, making them the oldest club on the Scottish Borders. They went through tough times in the post war 1920s and only the visits of Celtic, Hibernian and Queen Of The South prevented them from going bankrupt. The Second World War caused problems too and it wasn't until 1946 that the club was revived. Further hard times were to follow, but their heydays soon arrived in the 1970s as they picked up no less than 10 trophies between 1973 and 1978. They came back down to earth with a bump though, as the 1980s bought financial hardship and a record 20-0 defeat to Stirling Albion in 1984. This proved to be a bit of a turning point though as they gradually got their money issues sorted. They moved to their new ground, Yarrow Park at the start of the new millennium and joined the newly formed Highland League in 2013. At the start of the game they were near the bottom in 12th place, with their visitors Spartans in 4th place.

It took half an hour to make the journey to my next game at Selkirk. When we got there I went in and headed straight for the bar. There was a great offer on - bottles of Magners for a quid. Though they were only small ones, that worked for me and over the course of the afternoon I consumed 4. That deal set the tone for the day, or at least the tea bar. I had curry, rice and a naan for £2 which was decent enough. The Scotch Pie was brilliant for a quid and was amongst the best pies I have ever had. The home made Malteser cake was delicious too and was fantastic value for 50p.

As for the game, it was a decent encounter.  Selkirk were the better side in the first half and they hit the bar which was probably the closest anyone came despite lots of chances for both sides. The second half continued in much the same way and it was the home side that took the lead on the hour mark with a close range finish. This seemed to turn the game around, waking Spartans up and they were soon pushing for an equaliser. It was another close range finish that saw them level things up on 85 minutes with another close range finish after pinball in the box. They continued to push for an away win, but despite them hitting the bar it was just not to be.

YARROW PARK is one of the nicer grounds in the Highland League and another one that is really scenic. The most interesting part of the ground is an open wooden terrace done out in modern wood. It goes up quite high, so a nice view can be had from it. I guess it could hold around 500 at a push. The only covered area is a metal type one, decked out in around 150 blue tip up seats. The rest of the ground is open flat standing. As mentioned above, the bar is great value and the catering is amongst the best I have seen at a football ground, which is a good job as it seemed quite a way from anywhere.


For the third and final game of the day it was a short 15 minute journey to Gala Fairydean Rovers. We swapped navigators on the way so we had Chris instead of Laurence. They had 30 copies of a book called Stramash to give away, which followed the exploits of a Scottish Groundhopper. To win one we had to answer questions about groundhoppers mishaps. Primarily they were about a hopper called Martin Bamforth, star of Swedish TV  when he went on a Groundhop and was interviewed by their TV Network. While he might be a household name in Gothenburg, Malmo and Karlstad, he is famous,y known on the Groundhopper circuit for an error he made one summer.

Looking at the fixtures he noticed that Hibernian had a UEFA Cup game at home. So he merrily drove his way up to Scotland, an exceptionally long drive. He got there and found a deserted ground and a highly confused groundsman who was wondering if he had missed his teams great run into Europe. It turned out that Mr Bamforth had been a bit wide of the mark and had mistaken Hibernians, bitter rivals of Hearts for the Maltese team Hibernian. He also had a number of mishaps, and I won a book for knowing about the time he went all the way to Scandanavia to see a game, only to miss it all after oversleeping on a short nap and waking up an hour after the game had finished.

We got to the ground around 6pm with an hour to go before kick off. I headed straight away for the bar to have a couple of pints and watch the West Ham v Sunderland game. Some hoppers stopped in town to go to the Wetherspoons. I decided against it as we were told we would miss the game but I regretted it as there was nothing special on in the club bar, just Kopparberg and Magners. They had a decent cafe but I was still full from my earlier indulgences.

I didn't really see much of the game to be honest. I was busy collecting my prize when the first goal went in, that gave Stirling University. For the home equaliser I was in the bar and only saw the  ball hit the back of the net and the celebrations. I was busy talking to some fellow hoppers at the time, Chris Garner who was nicknamed the 'Garner Monster' by Laurence for the duration of the trip was informing me of all the smaller grounds/pitches worth visiting in the Bucks area. I was also chatting to some other Oxford fans who had yet again lost on the afternoon of the hop. Back in the ground I had also chatted to John, a Leicester fan who I knew well. I saw the goal in the final minute, or at least the last part of it as the ball flew over the home keepers head to give Stirling University a welcome and deserved win, given the balance of play.

During the evening my phone battery had bitten the dust after all day use. Luckily my iPad was still gong strong for the 75 mile journey back to East Kilbride. I had a good chat to the Oxford fans again and as we neared our hotel a little sing a long was had to some of the songs on the radio. When we got back to the hotel, most of the group went back to the bar for a pint. I considered it, but after noting that the TV did not have BBC1 +1 I opted to stay in my room and watch the last part of Match Of The Day. It had been a tiring day and I fell asleep around half midnight.

NETHERDALE is another pitch that has been converted into a 3G surface, meaning that you can be assured of the game being on whatever the weather. The ground is mainly open hard standing, although there is a huge main stand holding around 800 which is elevated and offers great views of the action. The tea bar is excellent and although the bar does not have the best range of drinks it does have sports TV and is decorated with nice pictures from the clubs short history. They were only founded in 2013 for the start of the Highland League. They also have a range of merchandise but it tends to be on the more expensive side, for example £12 for a wooly hat.

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