On the final day our our Groundhop to Scotland I awoke at 6.30 am, having had 6 hours sleep. Looking on my phone I saw that there was an hour to go until Match Of The Day, the first half of which I had missed last night. Knowing that breakfast started at 7, I got my skates on, got freshened up and got down to the restaurant a few minutes after it started. It was a lot quieter than last time but I was most disappointed to see that the square sausages had been replaced by normal ones. I made the best of what was there having a sausage, 3 bacon, 3 eggs, 2 tomatoes and some beans. I also grabbed some fruit to take back to my room. I arrived back at 7.20 and waited for MOTD to start. Not having seen the scores from yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was an entertaining 4-3 win for Spurs against Leicester with Harry Kane getting a hat trick for my fantasy league team. After I had seen what I had missed last night, I got my things together and went to meet the rest of the hoppers where we got on the coach for the first game of the day.
DALBEATTIE STAR 2-1 EDINBURGH CITY
We arrived at the ground at around 10.50. Some hoppers decided to walk into town, but I thought I'd go straight to the ground . I showed my ticket to get in, and went to the Delbeattie Star Merchandise stall where I bought a pen for £3. It was a little bit overpriced but I had not bought something at the majority of games. I then went to the stall next door and bought a book on East Yorkshire Groundhopping for £3. Though it was over 10 years old, it was one of my favourite areas for football and it will be a good read. I then went to the bar and got myself a can of Strongbow for £1.80 and drank it whilst chatting to my fellow singers from last nights coach. Talking of that, after our terrible serenade on the coach home last night, the radio had been conspicuous by it's absence.
Making a slightly more pleasant noise were the bagpipes band that were playing on the pitch pre match and who gave a real good feel of the culture of the country. As did the Scotch Pie that I got from the tea bar. Groundhopper Laurence warned against it's dubious meat sources and although I wondered why the dog that had been highly visible on Friday and Saturday was suddenly nowhere to be seen, I wasn't too perturbed. Whatever minced meat it was, it was very nice and it had a decent spicy kick to it. I consumed 4 of these naughty but nice delicacies over the weekend and enjoyed every one. The only downer to this day was the lack of decent mobile phone signal, rendering Internet access impossible as they hadn't upgraded the mast since about 1997.
At least it gave me the chance to concentrate on the game though. There was a raised stand at the ground with space for around 200 but I decided to remain on ground level, albeit while moving around. Edinburgh City were protecting an unbeaten run this season, having won 18 of their 20 league games. They had even been crowned champions on Friday night and as such were given a guard of honour by the home side as they came onto the pitch. Horne side Dalbeattie Star were smack bang in the middle of the table in 7th place.
Even so they belied their lowly position by making a flying start and were in the lead within 2 minutes. Their number 9 Jack Steel made a good run, got away from the defence and slotted neatly past the keeper. This was just part of a bright opening period that could have seen them get more. As the half wore on however, the visitors showed why they are top of the league and put considerable pressure on the hosts . This eventually told just before half time as Dougie Gair finished from the edge of the area.
The second half started in the same fashion, with the champions dominating. Dalbeattie Star were not going to give this game away easily though and they had spells of domination before game settled into an enjoyable end to end game. The majority of the hoppers, at least by my reckoning were on Dalbeattie Star's side, at least I was anyway. This was not born out of malice or anything, I just wanted to see something out of the ordinary happen to say 'I was there' I got my wish on 77 minutes when Lewis Sloane converted a penalty to put the home side 2-1 up. Edinburgh City were not happy losers though and they put plenty of pressure on, even having the ball in the net on 81 minutes before the header was ruled out for offside. It had been a pulsating encounter for the 400 strong crowd, and it was certainly my favourite contest of the Groundhop, as well as being the most notable result.
It was a fairly short 20 minute journey to the next game, though it would have been a lot quicker had a slow tractor not hindered us for most of our journey. We were further delayed as we had to drop a load of people off at the brewery where they were having a tour. Even so, we arrived in good time, with around 35 minutes to go until kick off. My first stop was the club shop where I got a really nice pen for £1.50. I then made my way to the real ale bar where over the course of the day I consumed 3 pints of Westons Family Reserve. Though it was one I had before, it was still a long time since I had it, and it was excellent value at £2.50 a pint. It also helped relax me while I talked to various people, including someone who was at Winterton Rangers up in North Lincolnshire, someone from Stafford, a Bromley fan and a reader of this very blog (who's name escapes me at present) and his mate Clive.
The ground more resembled a ground that you would see in the English Non League than any of the previous venues. There was a small stand holding around 200 and although the rest of the ground was uncovered it did at least have hard standing most of the way round and floodlights. A good range of club merchandise was available and as well as the real ale bar there was a small club house and various stalls selling food.
As for the game, we had been a bit starved of goals this weekend, and with 5 in this match, it was as much of a goal-fest that we were going to see. The hosts opened the lead on 7 minutes with a great low drive into the bottom corner scored by Struthers. It was soon all square though as 5 minutes later, another low shot from Yeoman went in off the post. A close-range finish from Donley restored the home sides lead just before half time as he took advantage of slack defending from a corner. It was a deflected shot on 61 minutes when Aitken equalised. 20 minutes later the students took the lead for the first and only time but that was enough to win it. Threave Rovers misery was compounded 4 minutes from time as they had a player sent off for violent conduct. As so often happens the initial bad tackle went unpunished, but the retaliation saw him get his marching orders when he was the victim initially.
It was a long old journey back down South, though we had at least done some of it on the way today's games. It had been a good weekend but a lot of people were tired and a fair few of those were feeling the effects of the excellent imbibing facilities in Castle Douglas on the last leg of our trip. Therefore it was quite a subdued atmosphere as we made our way down through the Lake District and back towards home. I had already decided against a trip back up to Norton United tomorrow, not sure that my health or my wallet could survive it, as I decided to use at least some of my week off to recuperate.
I spent a lot of the time on the way home typing my blog and going through my options for the week fixtures wise. Cradley Town looks to be favourite if Anwar can make it on Wednesday, if not the leading candidate is Lewisham Borough. We had a boring 45 minute stop at Stafford services because the driver needed to take a break by law, and to be honest, he certainly deserved it after putting in some big hours this weekend.
The last part of the coach journey seemed to drag, even so, I passed the time by catching up on Youtube videos and continuing to play on my Football Manager game as I continued my quest for glory with Tonbridge Angels. Eventually, we pulled up in Uxbridge around 1am, with Laurence driving me back to ASDA. It was lucky I didn’t just jump in a Taxi as on the journey home I realised I only had £8 in my pocket which would not have covered my fare home. Eventually, after drawing some cash out and paying £12 for the 6-mile journey home I was back home at 2am. I came home to an unpleasant surprise as the speeding ticket I thought I had got on the way back from Brentwood finally came through. Just as I was thinking I had got away with it as the 2-week window was closing, it came through. I wasn’t in the least bit pleased with this sneaky practice but it was not going to take the shine off what had been a highly enjoyable and well organised weekend with some great like-minded people.
THE SCOTTISH LOWLAND HOP AWARDS
BEST GAME AND TEAM PERFORMANCE: DALBEATTIE STAR for their excellent 2-1 win over champions Edinburgh City (good luck in the promotion playoffs lads) who win a highly entertaining contest.
BEST GOAL: The last minute goal by STIRLING UNIVERSITY that flew in over the keepers head at Gala Fairydean Rovers.
BEST FOOD: SELKIRK by some distance, a large range of delicious and good value food was on offer and they must have done well as I saw plenty of hoppers tucking in
BEST DRINKING: The real ale bar at THREAVE ROVERS was very good and also did cider too, all at £2.50 a pint. It was also the only one where we were trusted to watch the game with a pint and despite what the authorities believe it was a pleasant and convivial atmosphere.
NICEST SCENERY: Several contenders here, but I have settled on Vale Of Leithen for the rolling hills around the ground. In short, this means a reward for each host club, and fits in with my thoughts that I will have superb memories from each of the places that I have been to over the weekend.