The Business End of the Season
With the (eventual) completion of the top and bottom six fixtures for the Scottish Premiership announced last week and the Scottish Cup semi-finals concluding at the weekend, we are now well and truly into the business end of the season. For the managers and players, there are differing thoughts that preoccupy the mind: triumph, fear or stagnation. And the fans feel this too.
Up and down the country, football fans are wondering whether or not their team will lift that hallowed piece of silverware; whether or not they’ll avoid relegation or the play-offs where they have to fight for their survival; or whether their season will meander out to mid-table mediocrity in which they already have one eye on where their annual pre-season jaunt will be. However, what is most pertinent is that certain teams come good at this end of the football calendar. There’s always that one team who have had a pretty average season, seem to be knocking on the door of relegation (or a top 3 finish) then bang! they hit top form exactly when it is needed.
Again, with no SPFL fixture at the weekend for us, we went to watch one such team: Shotts Bon Accord. A far from glorious season in the West of Scotland Super Premier League, the BA have found themselves flirting with relegation all season. However, in true Shotts fashion (no oxymoron intended there) they have, in recent weeks, dug deep and gathered points when it’s mattered most. A few weeks ago, Shotts found themselves 2–0 away to fellow strugglers Kilbirnie Ladeside only to come back and draw 2–2. Then, Shotts came up against the might of Irvine Meadow — who have topped the league for most of the campaign — and triumphed in a 1–0 victory. This was followed by a trip on Saturday there to the third team that makes up the triumvirate of play-off candidates, Arthurlie. And there was no chance we were going to miss it.
As usual, we met up in Glasgow Central around midday to catch the train south to Barrhead. We had two new additions to the squad as our mates Gary and Frazer joined us for the day. However, Frazer missed his connecting train and decided he would meet us in Barrhead (more about that later). The train only took around 20 minutes; or in our terms, one full can of Tennents. As the train pulled into Barrhead, the sun was out and it really was a cracking day for a game of football.
As mentioned in our last article, we pride ourselves on our ability to navigate our way to either a football ground or a pub — especially when it seems most unreachable. However, Dunterlie Park (Arthurlie’s ground) seemed to completely elude us for some reason — so much so that Frazer managed to be in the ground before us, despite getting a later train! For many seasoned Junior fans reading this, you will be wondering how this is possible considering it is directly next to the train station and you can see it as you pull into the station. Despite this, we headed up the main street only to realise our mistake and hastily turn back. I think the sun had gone to our heads.
We paid our £5 through the old-fashioned entrance to the ground and met up with the somewhat bemused Frazer. Dunterlie has a real nostalgic feel to it and certainly looks like a proper Junior ground with mainly terracing around the park and a decent sized enclosure running along one side of the ground. There was a healthy crowd inside the ground and a fair few Shotts fans dotted around too. However, since Saturday I have come to realise (through the Junior forum on Pie and Bovril) that Arthurlie’s crowds have actually dropped in recent weeks. Hopefully they pick up in the next few weeks as the games become even more crucial.
The first half saw Shotts take control and go ahead thanks to a Gary McStay goal near half time. The highlight of the first half, however, had to be the near fatal message that the Arthurlie announcer had to relay to the crowd. In fear of missing the ding-dong battle that was about to occur between these two play-off rivals, some people had decided to park directly outside on the street opposite the turnstile. No big deal, right? Wrong. It turns out the East Ren Parking Police (this is not their official title) were out in force and the announcer was wasting no time in letting the crowd know. The only problem was it seemed like he was reading it off the back of a fag packet. And it was written in hieroglyphics. Either that or he was filling in for the usual announcer and he was improvising as he went along. Probably the latter. Anyway, he did a sterling job. However, this was not enough as the Tannoy came into play once more and the crowd were now warned that ‘They’re outside. They’re at your cars right now. You really better get a move on and shift your car or you will get a ticket.’ I think a swift ‘get yer arse in gear’ would have sufficed but this was East Renfrewshire after all. Incidentally, we had now grown accustomed to strange interruptions during a Junior football match. On the previous Wednesday night we took in Pollok vs. Petershill at Newlandsfield and with the game tied at 0–0, a Pollok player went to fire a shot at goal only for a hilariously indiscreet horn to be blasted from a fan behind the goal. It was like South Africa 2010 all over again.
One would think this poor man deserved a rest at half-time but no, he was called into action one final time to deliver the hammer blow to all fans: the kiosk had run out of ALL hot food. We were devastated by this. Still, at least we never had a parking ticket.
As I touched on before in the previous article, it truly is the small things like this that make Junior football so enjoyable and endearing. It also exemplifies the work that goes on behind the scenes where everyone connected to a club can be expected at some time to chip in.
On to the second half and Shotts were on top again and the win was sealed through a McStay penalty and some fine saves from the ever impressive Gary Whyte in the BA goal. As the final whistle sounded we were delighted with the 3 points but it was clear there was a growing feeling of discontent among the home support as the reality of being dragged into the play-off hit home. Regardless, we sauntered round to the ‘1874 Club’ to find a pleasant wee woman who was willing to stay open to allow us to take in a post-match bottle of beer and look at some of the old Arthurlie photos on the wall. If you’re looking to recreate that youthful sense of boozing in your pal’s dad’s 6x4 shed then the ‘1874 Club’ is for you. All joking aside (although it really was the tiniest boozer we’ve ever been in) the hospitality was great and we appreciated the woman staying open for us. We did inquire about Arthurlie’s Social Club and made our way for that. However, en route we stumbled upon ‘Ferenezes’ and thought we’d wander in. It wasn’t the best pub despite the decent jukebox so we made our way out after a solitary pint.
With one eye on the time, we decided to head up the Main Street instead of the Social Club for a pint and found ourselves going in to ‘Rumours’ — simply because it has the same name as the only nightclub in Shotts. We received a warmer welcome in this pub compared to the last but we were warned that ‘the tunes’ may come on later as the bus arrives back. We had already sussed what type of pub it was beforehand but like I said we received a warm welcome and a cold pint so we couldn’t be happier.
The day drew to a close and the only regrets we had was the fact we never had time for a pint in ‘The Brigg Inn’ opposite the station or Arthurlie’s Social Club. However, with 3 points in the bag for Shotts we merrily made our way back to Glasgow.
Again, Shotts Bon Accord, like so many other teams, had shown their mettle when it matters most. They seem to have a knack of turning it on in key games — think back to the Scottish Junior Cup Final of 2011/12 when they defeated the odds by overturning Auchinleck and more recently last season when it seemed like promotion had slipped out of their hands only to beat Kirkintilloch Rob Roy over two legs and secure their place in the top flight. Furthermore, for some Junior teams, this time of the season can inevitably be the most arduous part, particularly if they have fortunately endured a cup run or unfortunately experienced poor weather throughout the year. With this in mind, some teams are therefore forced to play three times a week (Monday, Wednesday and Saturday) and the theory of ‘turning it on’ at the right time becomes even more intense.
Looking further afield, this sense of finishing strong was highlighted in that unforgettable end to Wigan Athletic’s 2011/12 season where they won their last 7 out of 9 games and avoided relegation despite occupying one of the bottom three spots for most of the season. Moreover, in line with the top flight league in the West of Scotland Juniors, the Scottish Premiership will also see three, maybe four teams contest the dreaded play-off place in the coming weeks.
So, as we approach the part of the football season where you really do earn your corn, clubs the length and breadth of the country will be going through the motions. Players will be wondering if they’ll have a contract next season; managers will be wondering if they have a squad; chairmen will be frantically trying to balance the books; but one will thing will remain the same no matter how ominous the situation may seem and that is the position and enthusiasm of the wonderful people that we call Scottish football fans.