Terraces stained wi memories afore
Twa old friends gather again
Reminiscin o better days never more
Pie for a pound and nae wonder
Bovril melting chatterin lips
As the boys revel in fitba banter
The tannoy cracks and crackles
Announcing sides who will take to battle
Acclaim for those who score not yon wha tackle
Oot they come to sporadic applause
Not quite peak condition
But still willing to fight for a cause
The ba shakes nervously on its spot
Fearful o the battering it’s about to endure
Play doon the slope, take any advantage we got
The wind howls in frae the Northern Sea
‘Hook it’ is cried, the ba is lost
Driftin oot to watter, a Gerrard I decree
The game rages on, the away lot get one
A disputed penalty, they cry haw ref ya bam
And quickly it’s o’er, the first half is done
They grumble and gripe and fair complain
Aboot a dodgy ref, their team’s malaise
An how to beat the Mann, that immovable stane
50-50 draw, 40 quid is the prize
Or a bottle of voddie
To wash doon the pies
It kicks aff again, the hame side chasing
The ba goes in but called affside
Their fans are raging
But as the rain joins the wind in blawing yer face
The boys are spurned on by ref’s dodgy display
Corner, yes it goes in, back in the race
Now we have a game on
Twa teams scampering and harrying wi an awfy haste
‘Just launch it’ they cry
Ach but it goes to waste
Its aw over, nae glory for either
The fans applaud the 22 fighters
Final abuse for the ref, that useless wanker
And they drift away into the cold of night
Wi plenty of moaning and grumbling
About their team’s plight
And for aw the griping the lot of them say
A mair loyal bunch ye couldnae face
Fir they would never want to swap a fitba day
In case Chris didn't make it clear, we had a blinder of a final weekend. Articles in both the Herald and Sunday Post gave us all something else to add to our scrapbooks; whilst a return appearance to BBC Scotland's Footloose was great fun. Everyone was a little more relaxed after the nerves of our first appearance, and we could (and quite happily would, given half a chance) have blethered on for hours.
Afterwards, Stuart Cosgrove was more than hospitable: happy to share tales from Scottish football and plant ideas in our heads. We walked out into gorgeous evening sunshine still babbling incoherently. Little did we know it was all about to get even sillier.
Half-time at Starks saw the terraces rising in unanimous applause at the return of club legend Ronnie Coyle - back at the ground for the first time since he started a dreadful battle with Leukaemia. We were immediately as one with the faithful as we saw him succumb to emotion at the rapturous support from the stands.
What we weren't expecting next was for the announcer to also invite us onto the pitch. Measured against the achievements of the other man called onto the turf, we were quite obviously 'not worthy'. With that in mind, it was still a mind-blowing experience to savour - even if it did pass in something of a daze. Another reminder of how great a community, and how wonderful a welcome the smaller clubs in Scottish football can provide. Indeed, that same spirit was on show at the end of the game when the club graciously sent the beaten Staggies fans on their way with the best of luck for their Cup Final.
I know it sounds silly, but we really would like to thank a number of people for their support over the season.
Can I have my Oscar now please? Right, that's it. Couple more bits and pieces to follow. And of course, a Groundhoppers special to commemorate (one way or another) the missing team - Oxford United. We ride again on May 16th if our Scottish Cup Final invites don't show up - whilst it's a little off-piste, we nevertheless hope you'll stick around and share in a little more of our adventure.
Best of luck to everyone for next season, and hold on tight those of you who still have terror and tension to come. Staggies, Arabs, Blue Brazilians, Wasps and everyone else with playoffs and finals still to endure - my thoughts in particular are very much with you.
Well that’s it. 42 grounds, 5778 miles, 109 pies, 12 red cards and 119 goals. 9 months of skooshy cheese, terrifying mascots and snow blindness. From that glorious opening weekend of warm sunshine and excitement to the crushing ferocity of a winter that didn’t really abate until March - we done it the hard way. The snow of Aberdeen in December, the high winds and rain of Arbroath in January and the sheer grey coldness of East Fife in February will live long in the memory as pivotal moments in the mission, the moments when we knew if we survived those we could survive anything.
In all honesty the adventure had been threatening to peter out over the last few weeks with a run of mediocre matches but everything came together for an unforgettable weekend finale. It all began on Friday with an excellent article in the Herald of our exploits which was followed in the evening by a second appearance on the Friday night football radio show ‘Footloose’. After the show we had the pleasure of Stuart Cosgrove’s company for an hour or so in the BBC bar where we discussed all things football. It was a wonderfully surreal start to the weekend and heightened all the more when Jamie came face to face with presenter Catriona Shearer, a girl whom it’s fair to say he has a soft spot for.
We woke to a rather grey and drizzly Saturday morning but headed off in good spirits in anticipation of the final match. Once off the M8 the drive was rather pleasant as we wound our way down country roads through Auchertool to the ground on the outskirts of Kirkcaldy. After the customary photo shoot outside the stadium (where we were oddly again recognised) we took our seats armed with the final steak pie and Bovril of the season.
Stark’s Park is an oddity of a ground. There are two impressive enough stands – both single tiered and all seated – which are situated behind either goal. In addition to that there is the small railway stand which was unused except for a cameraman and a couple of ball boys. The main stand on the other side is a wonderful relic from a bygone era. It doesn’t even run half the length of the pitch but with its L shape it corners two sides of the pitch. The South Stand in which we were seated was adequately filled with Rovers supporters who had endured a heavy fixture schedule in recent weeks and were looking to see out a successful season in style. Their opponents Ross County still had a Scottish Cup final to look forward to.
Just five minutes in Raith took the lead with a simple goal – Armstrong heading home from a well placed corner. County tried to strike back but were thwarted by goalkeeper Gary O’Connor who saved from Steven Watt and Scott Morrison. The mercurial Gregory Tade looked bright and he nearly doubled Raith’s lead but his shot flashed wide. However the home side did double the lead on the half hour when Johnny Russell slipped the ball home after a blocked shot and just five minutes later he was on hand again to give Rovers an emphatic half time advantage. Inbetween the goals County could've got themselves back into the game but for a horrendous miss from Garry Wood whose header from 3 yards out hit the bar.
At half-time I, along with Kieran and Jamie, got to live out something you dream about as a kid when we were unexpectedly invited onto the park to take the applause of the supporters for completing the mission. It was a fantastic gesture by the club and to be applauded on by nearly 2,000 fans was such an odd feeling but a heart-warming one nonetheless. After a picture from the club photographer we re-took our seats for the second half. County came quickly out the traps and pulled one back thanks to a stunning low free-kick from Morrison and in truth they should've clawed the margin back even further but for some wasteful finishing. In a wonderfully open match Raith looked to kill them off and eventually did with 20 minutes left when the superb Russell grabbed his hat-trick with a powerful header.
It was a thoroughly entertaining afternoon and could've easily ended up 7-4 or more. As the final whistle blew the County side were wished all the best for their upcoming big day and left the Raith players to take the deserved prolonged applause from their delighted supporters. We slowly made our way out the stadium and the realisation kicked in – it was all over. 9 months and 42 games later we had reached the end of our fantastic journey and it was ended in wonderful style. We have many people to thank and reviews to write but that’s all to come. For now me and my two friends can enjoy the satisfaction that we have done it – though what we do now with our Saturdays remains a mystery.
It’s been a helluva ride.
Journey - 6
Pie - 9
Bovril - 8
Ground - 6
Game – 8
The penultimate fixture of our Groundhopping adventure and it all seems to be meandering towards its conclusion rather than providing the exciting finale we hoped as teams fates are decided in the leagues. Today was a dead rubber fixture with hosts Montrose, firmly rooted at the bottom of division three, playing Livingston who we saw being crowned champions a week earlier. Our final guest Groundhopper was Matt and he was happy to drive us up to Angus in his rather luxurious 4x4, a slight step up from the Vectra.
Despite an alarming mishap when the sat nav temporarily re-routed us through a rather more unsavoury part of Dundee we arrived in Montrose in time for a pre match pint before the kick-off. The town itself is rather picturesque; a short walk past some well maintained gardens took us into the bustling Market Street where we stopped off in the Market Arms for a drink. The pub itself was rather raucous for a Saturday afternoon with several folk cheering on Man Utd’s win over Spurs. Links Park Stadium consists of just one all seated stand which covers around half of one side. There is also a covered terracing behind one of the goals which is rather odd in that it is set back some way from the pitch and doesn’t quite run the full length of it. The team play on a synthetic surface.
It was clear on arrival that the Livi fans who had made the journey were there purely to enjoy the fact they were no longer part of the division. The teams emerged to the rather bizarre sight of two small flares from the away end and rather more muted applause from a weary home crowd. The game never threatened to be a classic and with very few chances created, the highlight of the first half was the Livi fans telling Kieran in no polite terms to place his camera somewhere south on his body. The champions did make the breakthrough just before the break when Rafele de Vita crossed for Andrew Halliday to lot home.
Livingston stepped up a gear in the second half and put a further four past the beleaguered home side. In truth Montrose were horribly culpable of their own downfall with at times non-existent defending. Halliday grabbed a second with de Vita, Paul Watson and Keighan Jacobs completing a season of misery for the Angus side. The game itself may have been a poor encounter but it was livened up somewhat with both sets of supporters engaging in song on a sunny afternoon. So it all comes down to one last trip to Kirkcaldy, one last look at Gregory Tade and one last pie n Bovril. That is until Oxford get their day out in Wembley in May.
Journey - 6
Pie - 1
Bovril - 7
Ground - 5
Game – 3
When one thinks of a title win you imagine last day drama, unexpected heroes, pitch invasions from ecstatic supporters and fireworks as the team triumphantly take the plaudits for a hard earned triumph. Unfortunately our trip to Livingston for their 3rd division clincher against Berwick Rangers didn’t quite tick those stereotypical boxes. Instead they huffed and puffed before ultimately stumbling over the line with a dour goalless draw, not that their fans cared too much.
Livingston’s promotion ends another rather odd chapter in their recent history as just 9 months ago they found themselves in liquidation and facing extinction. However thanks to the then owner Angelo Massone finally selling up the club was saved albeit demoted to the 3rd division by the SFA. This season they threatened to waltz away with the title only to begin stuttering as it drew towards its conclusion. Actually finding the stadium amongst the labyrinth of roundabouts in Livingston was something of a challenge and on arrival at Almondvale Stadium we had to pay a ridiculous £5 car parking charge. That, coupled with over-priced pies and bovrils, were obvious albeit unwelcome signs that this is a club who don’t really belong in this division.
The stadium itself, a 10,000 all seater arena with three stands joined together and the large main stand set apart, is impressive and we sat in front of a 100 or so of Livingston’s most fervent supporters who seemed in vociferous mood at the outset. The match itself, after a brief early flurry of pressure from the home side, settled into a rather stodgy affair with Livi playing some nice football in midfield but looking rather toothless up front. Raffaele De Vita, Livingston’s Italian striker, came closest with a drive parried by the goalkeeper but Berwick slowly began to come into the game and gave the home side a massive fright ten minutes before the break. Paul Currie raced through and saw his shot parried by Roddy McKenzie before Keaghan Jacobs followed up with a block to keep it level. McKenzie was to go on to have a big say in the afternoon’s proceedings.
The second half was tight, tense and tedious. With the game seemingly meandering to a dull draw and more importantly the title for Livi there was to be an unexpected moment of drama at the death. Livingston’s Paul Watson handled in the box with just a minute left – penalty. However McKenzie produced a brilliant block to secure his side’s promotion to division two. It was an odd sight at full time as the Berwick manager was the one delightedly punching the air at his team’s unbeaten record against the champions and reminding the home fans as such. In response to the claims his side had struggled against part-timers this season Livi manager Gary Bollan angrily retorted: "I've been hearing all the bullshit of other managers". On this evidence they may find life in division two as equally challenging.
Journey - 4
Pie - 5
Bovril - 5
Ground - 6
Game – 3
Our final midweek game and our most dangerous trip yet – deepest darkest North Lanarkshire for a 1st division relegation battle between Airdrie and Raith Rovers. Thanks to the horrendous winter Scotland had endured both sides were dealing with a fixture pile-up; Airdrie having played just two days earlier and Raith facing 5 games in 10 days. Indeed Raith were coming into the game on the back of a Scottish Cup semi-final tie against Dundee Utd at Hampden. It was only natural therefore to assume they may be a little hungover from their big day out but one wasn’t expecting them to so horrendously punch-drunk that they would put Oliver Reed at a free bar to shame.
Having survived the drive through an apocalyptic town called Calderbank we arrived at the eccentrically named Excelsior Stadium just in time for kick-off. Airdrie United emanated in 2002 from the ashes of bankrupt clubs Airdrieonians and Clydebank and have endured a topsy-turvy early period with promotion, relegation and unlikely league survivals. The stadium was built for Airdrieonians in 1998, a 10,000 seater consisting of four one tier stands in a pre-fab style similar to St Mirren. We opted to sit amongst the Fifers in a taped off section of the main stand, the only one that was open which gave it a somewhat eerie atmosphere.
Airdrie found themselves one up after just five minutes when Thierry Gathuessi gave a corner away and from the resultant melee in the box John Baird swept the ball home. It was clear from the outset that Gathuessi, formerly of Hibs and Inverness Caley, was having one of those nights that would live long in the memory for all the wrong reasons. Continually losing possession, unable to complete basic passes and forever horribly out of position his night lasted all of half an hour by which point his own fans had turned on him and his manager had no choice but to take him off. To be fair to the lad Raith boss John McGlynn could’ve easily hooked any of his eleven on the park.
The second half saw little change. Indeed if anything Raith got progressively worse as it went on and Airdrie doubled their advantage when a slack Stephen Simmons pass let Baird through again to round the keeper and slot home. Simmons then had a chance to redeem himself but blazed horribly over from just five yards out, a symptomatic moment of his entire performance. Airdrie were coasting by now and Richard Waddell slammed home a 3rd late on after some more shambolic defending. Credit to the few Raith fans standing proudly near the end chanting ‘4-3, we’re gonna win 4-3’ but they must be worried with so many games still to play their first division status may well slip away.
Journey - 4
Pie - 5
Bovril - 2
Ground - 5
Game – 2