Thursday, 23 May 2013

Three Scottish Football Grounds: Tinto Park, Benburb FC

Kickaround at half-time for Benburb's young fans.
It's three weeks now since I went to Benburb. It all seems like a dream, but then it seemed like a dream whilst I was actually there. So much history, so many bygone ghosts of matches past. The Brylcreem, the Woodbines, the laced up leather footballs soaked with freezing Glaswegian sleet...

There were around 50 fans watching The Bens v Greenock.
My second Scottish Junior match of the week, chosen because of its location in Govan, not far from the city centre, which is where I met up with my workmates afterwards. This time, it was a Central District League Division One match (effectively three levels below the Scottish Football League). There were tempting matches on at Pollok and Arthurlie on the same evening, but beers and curries were calling at 9:15...

I've never been to a ground like Tinto Park - the English FA would never allow football to be played at a ground like this. Built in the 1930s for crowds of up to 10,000, the only changes since are the trees growing out of the terraces.

One of many holes in the roof of the stand.
Around twenty rows of cinder and sleeper steps beneath a huge busted roof, extending the whole length of the pitch on the west side. Terraced steps alive with plant-life circling around the south side. More terraces literally buried beneath years of weeds on the east...

Tinto Park's overgrown South Terrace.
But its not all ancient and broken. The north side of the ground has a new, small concrete terrace, and the east side has a length of new hard standing leading to the away dugout (being Scotland, the dugouts are on opposite sides of the pitch). Extraordinary ground.

Sunset at Benburb FC.
The match was Benburb v Greenock Juniors, who had already won the league title (Benburb were mid-table). I don't remember much, and what I do remember may be from dreams or reality - I get the two confused so often. Greenock took an early lead. The Bens equalised with an overhead kick a few minutes in to in the second half. Were they The Bens? Or The Cheeky Hens? Did I mishear one of their fans call them The Cheeky Hens? May even have been The Cheeky Wee Hens....either way, what a superb nickname!

A few minutes later, and the sun is still setting!
Was I hallucinating, or did the home linesman throw his flag to the ground and refuse to carry on when a Greenock player bawled him out for not giving a throw-in? (He was right not to give it - the ball never crossed the line). The away linesman gave up soon afterwards as well, leaving the young ref to give offsides as well as everything else. He did well though.

Sat on the hump on the east side of Tinto Park at a quarter to nine.
All this, and they also produced the best programme I've seen all season! If I lived in Glasgow, The Cheeky Wee Hens would be my team, no doubt about it. I could watch match after match here and never tire of it. So much to see, so much to imagine.

There were photos of the game on Flickr, but they have been removed. The dog featured in one of the photos above is also on Non-League Dogs here. Benburb's superb website WAS here, but appears to have gone in the last couple of weeks :-(

Friday, 10 May 2013

Three Scottish Football Grounds: Castle Park, Blantyre Victoria FC

The castellated entrance to Blantyre Victoria's Castle Park ground.
Firstly, I'm lucky enough to have a job. Secondly, I'm fortunate that sometimes I get to travel to places with my work. Nowhere too glamorous! In the last few months, I've been to Bristol, Manchester, and a hotel in the middle of Leicestershire where it rained solidly for 24 hours and I couldn't work out how to open the boot of my hire car.

Watching the match from the railway sleeper terracing.
My latest assignment was for four days in East Kilbride, just outside of Glasgow. I worked hard all day long, then come the evening, it was time to party! Monday evening's party destination was a West of Scotland Cup match at Blantyre Victoria, five miles from my hotel...

The noisy youths were just beyond this cover. Smoke was dissipating at this point after they set something on fire.
The Juniors broke away from the Scottish FA in 1931 - I forget why, but I'm glad they did. Most of Scotland's best non-league clubs play in the Junior set-up (they're actually adult teams - "Junior" is just a name to distinguish them from the "Senior" clubs admistered by the Scottish FA).

The ramshackle cover.
Rules regarding ground grading seem to be non-existent at Junior level, which for someone used to the sterile, anodyne grounds produced by the English FA's overbearing ground grading rules ("Despite only having 25 regular fans, you must have a fully enclosed ground; you must have 50 seats even though no-one sits in them; you must kick off at 3pm on a Saturday and must therefore have floodlights; you must have this; you must have that, blah blah blah, or we shall relegate you forthwith..."), is utterly brilliant and made for a relaxing, fun-filled atmosphere.

The results of the raffle were displayed on this chalkboard at half-time (£10 for the winner, £5 for the runner-up).
Blantyre Victoria v Kirkintilloch Rob Roy, separated by three divisions, with the underdogs at home - it was already set to be an interesting match, but the stadium and the fans made it a night to remember! Castle Park is ramshackle, cinders and sleepers for terracing, homemade cover, patched up only when needed. The gents toilet was just a brick wall with leaves to soak up the liquid and a bright orange traffic cone for something to look at whilst doing your business.

This dog cowered when the firecrackers went off.
There were two different sized dugouts, one of which (the home dugout) wasn't used as a group of around thirty youths were standing on it during the match, including the obligatory kid with callipers, waving them in the air. The same youths set fire to something during the first half, and let off at least three firecrackers at various points. Nobody batted an eyelid. This must be normal for Blantyre, and for all I know, normal for Junior football.

Blantyre Vics in blue, Rob Roy in white - note the youths on the dugout.
The same youths were banging a drum throughout and singing and chanting and swearing loudly at the opposition. The sort of atmosphere you just don't get at Wessex League matches! The only problem I had with them was that I was a little hesitant to walk past them to take a photo of a roller at the far end of the pitch...just in case they let off another firecracker as I was creeping past. Never did get a close-up view of the magnificent rusty Beast of Blantyre (or, the groundsman's roller, as it's more commonly known).

These are all the seats I saw at the Junior grounds which I visited! If people wanted to sit down, they brought their own camping chairs! English FA, take note...
Oh, and the match? Kirkintilloch Rob Roy took an early lead, Blantyre equalised half a minute into the second half (cue pitch invasion and conga by youths), but then gave away a penalty a minute later, which Rob Roy converted. The away team then scored again a few minutes from the end to win 3-1. And then had a player sent off for calling the referee a *censored*

Brilliant night out! My kind of party!