Alright, I’ve gotten through my work week (which was only four days…which was nice!) and now I can share with you all of my football related adventures during my 3+ weeks in Scotland. I’m going to proceed chronologically because, well, that’s how it happened!
March 18: The Highland Derby, Caledonian Stadium (Inverness)
This match took place about 25 hours after I arrived in Scotland and given that the away side- Ross County in this case- is given a limited allotment of tickets I was a little concerned about getting a ticket as I would have had to go directly from Inverness Airport to Caledonian Stadium and hope I got there in time. Not a chance I wanted to take. So, a few weeks before I departed I contacted Lorraine Christie, the club’s commercial director, explained my concerns and, after we exchanged a few more emails the end result was that when I got to my B&B in Inverness on the 17th there was a ticket waiting for me. Lorraine is going to pop up again in Part Two of this post.
It wasn’t a bad match, but it wasn’t a great one either. I’m guessing that had a lot to do with the fact that Caley seem doomed to relegation at the end of the season and, well, they played like it for the most part. The 1-1 final score was probably just about right, but it sort of felt like a win for the MANY County supporters in attendance when Alex Schalk scored in the 86th minute to earn an away point for the visitors.
I should point out before going any further that most of my pictures from matches are either of the sides warming up before the match or lining up for the kick-off, and there’s a reason for that. Once that match starts I’m useless for anything other that what’s going taking place on the pitch. I’m not taking pictures, I sit away from other people because I don’t want to talk, etc.. I think it’s a holdover from coaching, always feeling like I need to be analyzing/anticipating.
While in Inverness I also took a long walk around town and checked a few more grounds off my list (I’ll be updating the Football Ground Map later this week). I visited the ground of Highland League side Clachnacuddin (above), the former site (it’s now a kind of sad retail park) Telford Street Park, which was the home of Caledonian F.C. and later Inverness Caledonian Thistle F.C. before they moved to Caledonian Stadium. I also visited the “ground” of Scottish Junior Football Association North Superleague side Inverness City F.C. in Bught Park. This requires some explanation. Their ground is not “Bught Park,” it is in Bught Park, a public park on the banks of the River Ness. Their “pitch” is called “Lister Park,” and it’s the same thing you play pick-up games on when you go to the public park on the weekend. It has fixed goals, but that’s about it.
March 25: The Angus Derby, Gayfield Park (Arbroath)
Never seen either side play, never been to Gayfield Park (or Arbroath), it was a derby match, the price was right, and it fit in my schedule- winner!
Gayfield Park is a…modest place, but it was sunny, warm, and the park is so close to the ocean that if a ball goes over the roof of the stand on the right side of the picture it lands in the water. So, nice atmosphere. The match? Welllll, Arbroath are one of the best sides in League Two (one point out of first at the moment and with a better goal differential than first place Forfar Athletic, so one way or another they may get promoted) and Montrose are just outside the playoff picture…but you’d never know that from watching the match. Both sides were decent defensively and in the midfield, but the offensive tactics were the same for both clubs- hit it long and hope a forward runs onto it. In the end, that’s what happened (though in a much clumsier fashion than you’re probably imagining) and Montrose, the visitors, came away with a 1-0.
As is always the case, there were Ross County connections aplenty in this match. Arbroath’s manager is Dick Campbell, who played for County in the Highland League days and was famously/infamously let go as manager by County in 2007 because, despite having them in first place at the time (they would be promoted back to the First Division at the end of the season), it was felt that they were not displaying enough “style and panache” in their play. Seriously, say that phrase to any County supporter and they will know exactly what you are talking about.
On the Montrose side was defender Michael Bolochoweckyj, who came through the County system, but who managed only one league match with the club- which it turns out I was at!- before moving on to a series of lower league clubs.
Oh, right, one more thing about Arbroath, this:
This is the order of “chicken and chips” I got across the street from the park at a place called the Bell Rock. Let me say a few things about it. First, unbeatable value for money. Second, all “prepared to order.” Third, delicious. Fourth, there was enough here for about 2.5 meals and I say this as somebody who has little self-control when it comes to food. Fifth, and finally, if I had finished this I would not be typing right now, I’d be dead just outside of Gayfield Park.
March 26: Scotland v. Slovenia, Hampden Park (Glasgow)
I will wrap up this first half of the post with this match, a World Cup qualifier that Scotland had to win to have ANY hope of going to Russia in 2018.
Two things about this match. First, already in second place and feeling pretty good about their prospects, Slovenia clearly came to…draw. More than that, they came to draw 0-0 and that made the match a hard one to watch, despite the fact that Scotland came out blazing and generally, even if only out of necessity, played to win. In fact, Scotland had the ball in the net within the first ten minutes but it was ruled offside. Scotland continued to press, hitting the post and crossbar so many times that I stopped counting, and Slovenia responded by “parking the bus” and fouling (five or six yellow cards to zero for Scotland). It was frustrating. Even more so because the stadium was only a little more than half full (see above)- an indication of Scotland’s dire prospects of advancing to the finals.
Any-who. Scotland continued to press forward as manager Gordon Strachan began to bring players off the bench, each of whom had an immediate impact, none more so than forward Chris Martin, who was booed when his name was announced in the 82nd minute, and promptly scored the winning goal six minutes later! It was at this point that there was mutual and spontaneous hugging by me and the people on either side of me. I don’t think we had spoken or even made eye contact prior to that moment, but in the release of tension caused by the goal we could not help ourselves!
Scotland have England (leading the group) next and if they were to win that…
End of Part One.