Back on a beautiful sunny day in early August, four (thats right, four) earnest young Groundhoppers visited Ochilview on the opening weekend of a wonderful football journey. Fast forward six months, just three of them have soldiered on with the finishing line in sight and find themselves back at the home of the only two clubs who ground share in Scotland East Stirling and Stenhousemuir. In the halcyon days when we were last here St Mirren overcame East Stirling 6-3 in a bizarre league cup match, a win which triggered a fantastic run to the final itself against Rangers. Today it was a 2nd division tie between the ground hosts Stenhousemuir, languishing in the lower half of the league, against Cowdenbeath (them again) who were trying to cling on to the coat tails of leaders Alloa.
The day didnt start too well for myself, as we trudged along the roadworks labyrinth that is the M80 we listened to Celtic blow a two goal lead and further dent their hopes of a league title. However with the sun out I quickly forgot about our defensive deficiencies and looked forward to game number 31 - although expecting another nine goal thriller in front of a packed house may have been asking for too much. The pre-match pie and Bovril was tastier than we remembered although Kieran perhaps correctly pointed out that our standards may have lowered somewhat after 6 months of the varying cuisine quality we have endured. Despite Sean having long since quit the Groundhopping mission he was there in spirit in the form of Cowdenbeath defender John Armstrong who struck a remarkable resemblance. However the similarity ended there as Armstrong turned out to be quite a competent footballer.
The match began at a good pace with Stenhousemuir pressing the away side hard but failing to create any real clear cut opportunities. Cowdenbeath did look more dangerous in attack but their forays forward were rare in occurrence, striker Gareth Wardlaw coming closest. The game turned in the Blue Brazils favour when Stenhousemuirs Pat Scullion received a second booking just after the restart for reasons only known to the referee and linesman presumably for abusive language (something with which the 400 or so punters berated the officials with for the remainder of the game). Cowdenbeath briefly threatened to utilise their numerical advantage and Stenny keeper Chris McLuskey pulled off a stunning save from a close-range Paul McQuade effort. Despite dominating possession they failed to create any further clear cut chances as the home side doggedly sat in and tried to hit on the break. Indeed they could've snatched an unlikely three points but their final ball let them down and when they did get a clear sight of goal they failed to properly test goalkeeper David Hay. With just seconds left on the clock Stenhousemuir's Paul Quinn found space and raced towards goal only to be cruelly chopped down by Kenneth Adamson. He deservedly saw red but the resultant free-kick sailed high and wide and that turned out to be the final action.
So after 93 goals in 30 games we finally came unstuck with our first goalless encounter but Stenhousemuir deserved a lot of credit for their second half performance with just 10 men. Next stop, sadly, is Ibrox
Journey - 5
Pie - 8
Bovril - 8
Ground - 3
Part 2 of the double header opening weekend. The half hour journey to Stenhousemuir was somewhat more muted given the previous night's social activities and on arrival the town appeared a little underwhelming. However that was just a taster for Ochilview Park itself. Firstly we were a little disappointed that our guest our honour for the day couldn't angle for a concession ticket given his height but in truth it would've been hard to explain the bald napper.
Behind one goal was the away end which St Mirren fans had ably inhabited. The main stand occupied another side although given our viewing position it was blocked by a wall. The other 2 sides... well not much to report there I'm afraid. Across from us there was a social club which looked about as welcoming as Gary Glitter at a kids party and a police hut which appeared to be older than the stadium itself.
The general consensus seemed to be that the pre match pie and Bovril was an improvement on yesterday's and indeed the pie stall staff must have been unaware of the mass following the Buddies were bringing as the hot food quickly ran out. The game itself was extraordinary in that there was very little football played yet somehow still ended up 6-3 to St Mirren.
Paisley was on course to win £100 with his coupon if the Buddies won and after 16 minutes his beloved team had duly delivered with 3 quick goals, all from Billy Mehmet. However his smugness soon turned to a concerned smile, then a little bit of fear followed by a trouser filling panic as East Stirling somehow clawed it back to 3-3 with 10 minutes still left of the 1st half. Some sort of parity was restored when Mehmet struck yet again on half time.
To be fair the 2nd half could never match that drama and in truth it was awful. 2 further goals, including another for Mehmet, put St Mirren 6-3 up and through to the next round leaving their fans a little bewildered with what to make of it all. To top off a great weekend we had a roast dinner at Nicola's and a lovely peaceful drive home in the evening sunshine with the other two asleep in the car. Overall a cracking start to our epic journey.
Journey - 5/10
Pie - 6/10
Bovril - 7/10
Ground - 3/10
Game - 6/10