Easter weekend, hundreds of games across the UK from Friday to Monday and home from work. What a great combination. I was to take full advantage. I was also to tick off three teams on my list for the season. Starting over the border I was potentially going to see EFL League Two won by visiting Lincoln City. This was to be followed by hammering up to Ayrshire and potentially witnessing Ross County put one hand on the SPFL Championship if they were to beat Ayr United at Somerset Park. This was then to be proceeded by a stop over in the Railway Hotel in Auchinleck and a visit to the home of the most successful Junior team at Beechwood Park on Saturday afternoon. Quite the weekend ahead. Oldmeldrum to Carlisle to Ayr to Auchinleck to Oldmeldrum equates to around 565 miles and it had to be squeezed in to twenty four hours before I had plans at 19.30 on Saturday night. Ach why not
CARLISLE UNITED 1-0 LINCOLN CITY
Brunton Park, EFL League 2, 19/4/19
Due to its proximity to Scotland and its old school vibe I had wanted to take a trip to Cumbria to watch eh…… the “Cumbrians”. I have driven past Carlisle so many times over the years and pretty much every time I have I have thought, “I must head to Brunton Park”.
As I was doing my back to back at work a favour I found myself home for five weeks before doing a five week stint in Africa instead of the usual four. This meant my time home was inclusive of Easter weekend. With lower English fitba being played on the Friday and the Monday ,Carlisle were at home on the Friday to champions elect Lincoln City. This was more than doable as I did not have Wee Man over the weekend. What made the game more appealing was Ayr United were at home at 19.05 the same day. With a 15.00 kick off in Cumbria I felt a double header coming on. Then with being in Ayrshire I would be as well take on Juniors on the Saturday.
08.30 I left my Oldmeldrum abode armed with a picnic and headed for Brunton Park where Lincoln City were to win the league with a win. Carlisle on the other hand still had playoff ideas, so this was far from an end of season dead rubber. It had the makings of a good match. Turned out it was utterly rubbish without any flow, any team looking like they were to win it, with the goal coming about ten minutes from time. Mike Jones put the Cumbrians ahead with one of the only chances of the match. For what was riding on it was a disappointment.
On the positive side of things, I had a lovely pint of Theakstons Best Bitter pre match in the bar inside the Main Stand. Here I had a conversation with a couple of older guys who were extremely welcoming and more than impressed with my dedication to the ground bothering cause .This was followed by one of the best pies I have shovelled into my gob. A steak and ale delight. Forres Mechanics steak pies still hold the Golden Graeme pie award but this effort from Carlisle was a lovely and defiantly in the upper echelons of fitba snackery. Worth going to a game for if you are passing by. The third thing to add to the Brunton experience in general, there was terracing which makes life a lot better when at the fitba. (Luckily I was to get it twice in a day). Football is so much better when viewed from terracing. The unusual three peaked Warwick Road End is what I have always known Brunton Park for. Is there another stand with a similar roof in Britain? Then there was also the ceremonial placing of the stuffed fox before kick off, different but a cool old tradition. As I learned at half time the reasoning is a fox hunt (arseholes)caught a live fox that was extremely tame in the early 1900s . The fox was given to and kept at the club and was walked out before every game. As a mark of respect for Olga, on her death she was stuffed and preserved hence the laying down on the centre spot to this day. I will also add the scorching hot sun and the balmy twenty-three degrees C was also an added bonus . Bit of a damp squib of a game but a decent day out none the less.
The Aftermath – Lincoln City eventually won the league. Carlisle United failed in their playoff bid
AYR UNITED 1 – 3 ROSS COUNTY
Somerset Park, SPFL Championship, 19/4/19
With just over two hours to get up to Ayr from Carlisle inclusive of tackling the A70 which is possibly the windiest road in Scotland I was expecting to get to Somerset Park bang on kick off. After passing through towns such as the birth place of Scottish Management legend Bill Shankly(Glenbuck) and numerous Junior towns such as Muirkirk, Cumnock and Lugar where I passed Rosebank Park, home of eponymous Lugar Boswell Thistle, “The Jaggy Bunnets” the road I have never driven in all my travels took me to Ayr. Early too.
Since I was to make better time to Ayr than I thought (and to make matters even better I managed to get a parking space just off Somerset Road) this allowing time for me to have a wee wander and to my childish glee bump into Pandamonium, the fantastically named Ayr United mascot (who is a panda if you haven’t already worked it out). Obviously I got an obligatory photo. Somerset Park is on the endangered species list. It’s a fantastic old gem and the kind of old school place I love. Fitba is seriously lacking these types as clubs are replacing them with identikit usually out of town soulless glorified bike sheds which is a sad sad state of affairs. One day we will have none of these grounds. Whether its due to new builds or deaths of these fine institutions of clubs we need to treasure them while we still have the chance. Terracing check, old school Main stand check. Stands with a million stories to tell, check. It is just a fantastic ground and one of my favourite on earth
Unlike earlier where I was not totally neutral (Steven Pressley was manager of Carlisle and I cant stick him). This was different, a quality relic ground may be on show again, a league win of such was a potential again and in real terms Ross County would with a win be champions as their goal difference was plus twenty with two games to go on the Dundee side. A bit like Aberdeen at Hibs in 1980. It would be kind of won, but not factually. This meaning effectively the goal difference was the extra point needed to be crowned champions. The Staggies fans were happy come the final whistle as after a perfect hattrick from Brian Graham. I may wind up Dundee United fans now and again but its in jest. I was neutral here. I was there to finally do the fantastic Somerset Park
A good game and with decent football played. In the early minutes there were numerous half chances for both side but neither keepers were tested. On a the quarter hour mark the Highlanders were given a scare when the hosts took the lead through Calvin Miller who tapped in at the back post after some great build up play. The lead lasted until the dying embers of the half when Brian Graham popped up with a right footed effort after what looked like an initial hand ball from his team mate. Suspect goal but it counted.
Ross County doubled their tally straight after the restart when that man Graham headed the Staggies in front on 46 minutes. They were pretty much home and dry and heading back to the Premiership at the first attempt in the 70th minute when the hattrick was completed by the big striker Graham when of course he left footed in a Gardyne cross to make it a perfect hattrick. A great effort from the big journeyman. Also to be noted a great ball in from Ayrs chief tormentor Michael Gardyne who even with Grahams hattrick was my man of the match. A mouthy little shite but an effective player none the less.Unless County were to lose and Dundee United were to win by a freakishly huge score Ross County were heading back to the Premiership straight away as champions. A feat that in the past, only two teams before have accomplished. Tough league to get out of and hats off to County for achieving the sharp re-entry
The Aftermath – Ross County mathematically won the league. Ayr United lost in the playoffs to Inverness Caledonian Thistle
AUCHINLECK TALBOT 6-0 CARLUKE ROVERS
Beechwood Park, West of Scotland Cup, 20/4/19
My ‘Bot experience actually started on the Friday night. After Somerset Park I was to stay in the Railway Hotel in Auchinleck. The plan was to have a couple of pints in the hotel bar due to my late check in. After dumping my bag I was in the bar watching the end of Norwich versus someone(to be honest I wasn’t really paying much attention). What I was paying attention to was the fact the locals of Auchinleck are very friendly and brimming with local pride. They all seem to follow the ‘Bot. I have a lot of time for this considering the proximity to Glasgow. After I ordered my second pint an old geezer enquired about my accent. Once I explained I was from the ‘shire and was there to see the Talbot it opened the floodgates to people speaking. I ended up having a more beer than the quota I intended, but it was worth it due to the cracking company I was in. The highlight of the night being the old geezer who initiated the conversation at the start again wiping his memory and trying to initiate conversation by asking where my accent was from and why I found myself in Auchinleck. He must have pushed reset in his brain as I had already spoke to him for around forty minutes. That’s what double whiskies will do to you. The beers flowed, the conversations flowed and the text messages asking why the hell I would be staying in Auchinleck flowed. In all honesty it was great and the folk were fantastic with me. The fact we were locked in the pub until the early hours is testament to how good the night was. Bed came calling at two am or so I remember.
In the morning I dumped the car at Beechwood and had a wander around the town. After the previous nights clear pride for the fitba team I wasn’t surprised to see black and gold around the town. What I was surprised about was the amount of garden gates with the Talbot badge. Brilliant stuff from the locals. Junior football up my way gets thirty folk and a few dogs and not much more. Talbot are like a religion down there. This I was to find out even more so when I made myself comfy in the social club with a pint and a paper. I was immediately accosted by a long in the tooth gentleman. The old small-town mentality of “I haven’t seen you in here before?” was immediately on show and as soon as I opened my Aberdeenshire trap I outed myself. After explaining I was on a quest to see every junior team to win the Scottish Cup during my lifetime, I was bought another pint. As the bar got busier, more and more people were at me “you the big un from Aberdeen?”, “good luck in your quest, I hope Cumnock haven’t won it, you don’t want to go there” and my favourite of the day ,“I heard about your challenge, does that mean you will be here twelve times” (I wasn’t alive for their first for the record). I had a conversation with the club secretary who handed me a free pint, free programme and told me tell the gate I was to be let in for free. These sorts of gestures may sound insignificant but to a football fan like myself they are huge. Unnecessary but welcome, but more importantly they tell you a lot about the club and Auchinleck Talbot are a fantastic club from top to bottom. I had entered Beechwood half an hour early as I had spoken to the guy from the “nostalgia shop” in the bar and he asked me round for a cup of tea. This shop is full of old programmes, books, trinkets, pin badges and such like. All the proceeds go toward the floodlight fund at Beechwood. A quality wee shop where I parted with twelve quid to purchase some Scottish Premier Reviews I did not have in my collection. Half an hour of yapping and meeting numerous ex-players an ‘Bot diehards” the match kicked off. Turned out it was to be an expected exhibition match for Talbot who dominated proceedings and should have put more past Rovers who were three divisions below Auchinleck. Without trying to sound too disrespectful Carluke were lucky only to take six. But Auchinleck are the best in the land. As the final whistle went, I was wished all the best and told to come back for a “bigger” game. I have never revisited a ground from my travels to date. I did think at the time I would head back down to Beechwood Park and Auchinleck in general to take Wee Man. One of my favourite away days. People help make experiences and I couldn’t have had a warmer welcome whether on Friday night in the hotel or at Beechwood itself.
Aftermath – Auchinleck Talbot went on to win the treble of , the West Region Premier League, the Sectional League Cup, and of course the holy grail (the Scottish Junior Cup for anyone wondering). I made it up the road for my date at 19.30. I also ended back at Beechwood for the sectional League Cup final in 2019/20 season between Lanark United and Auchinleck Talbot