I admit I have a soft spot for Arbroath but I’m not sure exactly why. Perhaps it’s borne out of sympathy for a club who have won precisely nothing in their 132 year history, play at a ground on a beach called Gayfield and are decked out in horrible maroon strips. The one claim to fame, and to be fair it is a spectacular one, is that they hold the record for the biggest victory in world senior football – 36-0 against Bon Accord in 1885. However even that record was very nearly usurped by Dundee Harp who won 35-0 the same day and even Arbroath admit that could have been more had the Dundee referee not lost track of the goals scored.
On a grey, drizzly winter morning we took off in the rather battered and bruised Vectra toward the North-East for a match between two sides struggling near the bottom of the second division. Arbroath had recently lost three players to Forfar including influential midfielder Barry Sellars and had several others out through a combination of injury and suspension. Their opponents Peterhead were still optimistic for promotion in the second half of the season and had recently acquired veteran Barry Wilson to help with their challenge at the top.
We arrived early at Gayfield and after the customary photo shot we polished off some fantastic steak pies and bovrils as the fans slowly began to drift in. The game started at a good pace with both sides playing with attacking intent. After just one minute we lost our first ball of the afternoon when an Arbroath clearance drifted out the park, over the path and into the North Sea never to be seen again. 11 minutes in and Peterhead, somewhat against the run of play, took the lead with a simple set piece play, David Ross heading home from a corner. Arbroath quickly responded when David Winters, playing as a trialist after being released by Livingston, scrambled home after a dangerous corner.
Arbroath were in the ascendency but the game was to change entirely in the 23rd minute when the home side struggled to clear their area and the ball hit a prone Keith Gibson on the line. Despite the players protestations the referee immediately pointed to the spot and sent the defender off much to the home support’s fury. Barry Wilson kept his cool and comfortably slotted home to put the away side back in front. If that was bad for the home side then things got worse ten minutes later when Peterhead won an extremely dubious free kick some ten years outside the box which Martin Bavidge headed in. For the remaining 15 minutes of the second half Arbroath continued to try and apply pressure but were undone with some poor final balls and increasingly embarrassing officiating. One decision in particular which rightly riled the home crowd was a free kick decision where the ref pulled the ball back ten yards despite a clear slide mark on the pitch where the tackle occurred. The Arbroath players complaints were only rewarded with a booking for dissent.
At half time the Arbroath and Peterhead fans took it in turns to switch ends so they could see their sides attacking them. Arbroath came out again with some purpose but Peterhead were well marshalled by their captain, the rather rotund Bobby Mann. We had held some debate in the first half whether the big Peterhead defender had managed to lose some weight since we last seen him at Clyde but on closer inspection it was clear the man had enjoyed his Christmas turkey dinner, and probably his family's too. Despite being markedly out of shape, the defender put in an accomplished performance with excellent passing from the back.
The game was effectively over as a tie in 56 minutes when a sweeping Peterhead move down the left found Nicky Clark unmarked in the box to nod in. The game died immediately and we spent the remainder of the match surviving the sweeping rain and dropping temperature as Arbroath huffed and puffed but never really threatened again. Before we began our journey home I had to continue with a family tradition and stop off at Peppo’s at the harbour for a delicious fish supper. Despite the drizzle, the cold and the disheartening home defeat I will still find myself back at Arbroath one day.
Journey - 6
Pie - 10
Bovril - 7
Ground - 7
Game – 5