Back Park, Caithness AFA League 2, 16/6/22
Entrance – £0
Attendance – 61
Pie – Coffee, Twix free
Pint – £3.10 Castletown Hotel
Castletown Football Club
Founded – 1900
Nickname – The Quarrymen
Honours – CAFA 1st Division-1989 .CAFA 2nd Division-2007. Steven Cup – 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2018
Random Fact – Manager Tom McKenna used to ply his trade as a player in the South African Premier League for Ama Zulu
Caithness on a Thursday night for an amateur game. That is taking things to a new level in terms of getting about watching fitba. Especially given what level this is. Castletown from my Garioch abode is the equivalent of crossing the border into England. It’s as far north as Gretna is south. But a bit of escapism from real life was needed tonight and with no Wee Man in tow such a trip was possible.
There is a lot to be said for driving A96/A9 in the sun while the the telecaster laden rock n roll delights of the Georgia Satellites provide a perfect soundtrack. The journey up to Caithness is on two rubbish roads traffic wise. It only takes one tractor or one arse doing 45mph and it can add serious time on to your journey. However with the tunes going and the sun beating down the journey wasn’t as grueling as it could have been. Yes it took ages but the scenery of the A9 with the views at the Mound, the Berridale Braes , also complete with views(better going south), the Beatrice Alpha sitting rotting in the Moray Firth and the wilderness between Latheron and Thurso its a great drive aesthetically. This was only the beginning of one of the best fitba days oot I have had to date. Castletown FC seems like a very random place to be on a Thursday but with no Junior and nobody else needing to see me it was a get away from stewing in the house. Let me tell you it was well worth visiting the Quarrymen. With half an hour to spare on arrival I did the needful and went for a pint and was welcomed by the locals into the bar like one of their own. Check and Charlie especially who had a good old yap with me about all things local fitba and the North Sea. Fine mannies and the conversation could have went longer if not for the fitba across the road. It was here that I learned that Pentland United are the furthest team north on the mainland. This answering a question I head in my own head on the way up as Castletown must surely be in the top five most northern in the country. Something I will need to look into. One thing is for sure Back Park is the most northernmost i have visited to date taking the crown from Wick Academy.
To Back Park and anyone who walks will have the same first observation……the pitch. What a surface this is, I would say the best I have seen in non league in all my travels. Its stunning. Perfection. As I watched the warm up I was approached by club chairman Kevin McKay. From here we spent the entire game together talking about the club and its ambitions to Scotland being shite. A very sound bloke and a top man as will be pointed out later. The match was between top and second with the hosts three points ahead. The first half only had one team in it and it was Thurso and in all honesty they should have had the game in the bag come half time. Attacking wise they were streets ahead of Castletown who lacked anything going forward. The Swifts however looked dangerous every time the attacked. Kevin Cairns was causing no ends of issues for the home defence with his runs onto inch perfect balls from Dari Lamborena. The diminutive forward should have scored early as he ran through leaving centre half Harris in his wake but he shanked his effort wide. A huge let off for Castletown. Again Cairns was fed a superb pass from Lambonera and he only had keeper Robertson to beat but once more he fluffed his lines. Third time was a charm when he found himself clean through on goal after some suspect defending this time making no effort with an easy finish. The Swifts continued to thread great balls through and dominate the game against a team who really struggled to get going and were in honesty totally flat and far too quiet. Castletown did have a couple of half chances both falling to Jack McKechnie who firstly fired an effort slightly over the bar from twenty yards. His second effort was an audacious forty yarder after spotting Sinclair at the edge of his box, but unfortunately for the midfielder the ball went just past the post. But it was Swifts who had the ball in the net next and it was Cairns again on hand to finish again after another through ball split the defence. These balls were causing no end of havoc at the back. 2-0 and the men from Thurso who were looking good for the three points. But McKechnie halved the deficit before half time when he struck a twenty five yard free kick into Sinclair’s bottom right corner. I heard complaints about the wall positioning from some other punters but the wall didn’t jump. It was strange to see. Not one of the four attempted to block or get off the ground. A soft goal to give a way. McKechine almost equalised on the half with another long ranged effort but again it flew just over.
HT 0 v 2
Half time saw me invited into the clubhouse where a coffee and a blether with Kevin was had. It was interesting to hear the plans for the club. There is ambition there for sure. But promotion to League One is essential in order to bring in a higher standard of player to match ambition. I was also told a bar is being installed in the clubhouse and was shown all the old memorabilia, photos and framed newspaper cuttings that will fill the walls in the bar. It was a good history lesson on the club, including the fact that groundsman Robbie Keith has been doing it for 51 years. Incredible servant and what a job he is doing. But back to to Kevin had given me was beyond anything I had encountered before anywhere and he went even further and gifted me a pennant, tracksuit top and a bottle of malt. An unneeded gesture but a gesture I am very thankful for and will not forget. Another great part of this Castletown adventure and a story to tell to seel the club to people. An invite was also thrown in for when the bar is up and running next season for my old boy and me. Beers and fitba. It’s as if the club know my dad and me. The greatness of the trip was upped in the second half as Castletown turned up making this far less one sided than the first half and they had an early chance when Shane Kennedy was through but Sinclair was up to the task of stopping his effort. Castletown looked as if they had been given a rocket at half time and seemed a team transformed. The next chance fell to home man Greg MacLeod who skipped past a couple of defenders, as he looked to pull the trigger his team mate and namesake Connor MacLeod nicked the ball off his toe and failed to do anything with it which clearly irked Greg and punters on the sideline. The punters were even more disgruntled when from this Swifts went straight up the park and scored. Rory Taylor was on hand to head past Robertson who should have kept it out. The keeper seemed to watch it as if he was seeing it past the post but it went in the bottom corner. An uphill struggle looked on the cards for the hosts. The question was would the stuffing be knocked out of them and they would lose all momentum they had built up in the second half? A half in which they were the better team. Thurso came right back into the game and that man again Cairns ran through on to yet another through ball but struck the bottom of the post, the striker could have had a hattrick or more on the night and buried the hosts on his own. Castletown grabbed a second not long after through Kennedy. Full back Lewis Sutherland swung in a ball that looked too high for Kennedy but he some how managed to tee himself up with his chest and managed to lob Sinclair from around the penalty spot. The keeper could only have been a yard off his line. A cracking finish and goal of the game. But as soon as Castletown got their tails up they had to deal with a kick in the nuts when arguably their best player on the night Greg MacLeod was sent off and unjustly if you ask me. A fifty fifty ball was there to be won with Swifts substitute Ambakadermo, both players went in high, studs first and as high as eachother. MacLeod saw a straight red and Ambakadermo got away with it Scot free. Surely it was either a booking each (which would have seen MacLeod go anyway as he had been booked) or no action each. The referee had made himself known in the first half with his over exuberant stamping of authority and a poor decision like this was no surprise at all. But it was what it was and the Quarrymen’s lead at the top of the league looked in jeopardy. But no, it didn’t seem to affect them and they were again the better team in the half. Centre half Ben Murray should have equalised when he connected his head with a corner but got his aim wrong and sent it out the park from five yards. The home side continued to dominate the ball and eventually found an equaliser, albeit it very fortuitously. A ball was played into the Swifts box and was cleared to the eighteen yard line and into the back of a Swifts midfielder. The ricochet took the ball back into the box straight to Kennedy who tapped into an almost unguarded net. A flukey build up but they all count. The ten men had done it late on. Surely at two down they would have taken a draw, then again when seeing MacLeod walking they would have taken a draw. But they weren’t settling on it and pushed for a winner and they came close with the last action of the game. From a set piece Murray again sent the ball over the bar with his head. The referee blew his whistle ending this entertaining match between the leagues best two teams. I suspect Castletown will be a lot happier with the out come. A couple of interesting observations. There were no long hoofball type balls played all night. It was all on the deck. Also there was some serious youth on show and Thurso’s right back who had a solid game was only 15. His team mate and fellow full back was just as good and couldnt be that old either. Good to see.
After the game I went back to the clubhouse with Kevin for more chat before the long drive home. This time it included player/manager Tom McKenna. I had to ask how he ended up playing in the South African Premier League. In short, free agent(after leaving Airdrie), moved to SA(because of love) and chanced his luck with a trial with the Durban club which was successful. A time of his career he loved. I can bet nobody in the CAFA has ever played in the SA Premier League before or ever will. As I was ready to make an exit back to the car, the half time offer of coming back was again mentioned. I will absolutely be taking this up. The club are ace if you ask me. The towns people seem so too and the welcome I received was second to none. Why would I not want to go back. Sometimes the most last minute and most random ideas are the best. This is one of those ideas. More than worth the time on the road. If you are ever in the Thurso area , get to Back Park. A truly fantastic place to take in a game.