Part Two starts on a down note, but stick with it because after that it gets better, and better, and better!
April 1: Ross County F.C. v. Partick Thistle F.C., Firhill Stadium (Glasgow)
As I mentioned in a post that appeared while I was on my vacation I was excited to finally get a chance to visit Firhill, home of Partick Thistle F.C.. Not because I have any special interest in the park or in the club, but because it is about an 8 minute walk from the guesthouse that I stay in every time I visit Glasgow- which is multiple times on each visit to Scotland.
That was about the end of the “good stuff” on this match day. The match was not a good one- the first half was especially poor. The second half got off to a good start when Craig Curran put County ahead 1-0, but within a few minutes two bad defensive lapses allowed Partick’s Kris Doolan to bag a brace and certain parts of the normally kind-hearted County support were calling for the heads of County manager Jim McIntyre and assistant Billy Dodds.
April 3: Victoria Park, (Dingwall)
So, back to Lorraine Christie! During our email correspondence about getting a Highland Derby ticket into my hands Lorraine offered to take me on a “behind the scenes” tour of Victoria Park on the day before the match against Dundee F.C. (see below). Naturally, I took her up on the offer.
I had a similar tour of the “facilities” on my first visit to Ross County some 15+ years ago- the visit that made me a Ross County supporter. To say that things have changed would be an understatement of staggering proportions. Here are the physical changes that have taken place since that first visit:
I could probably make this list twice as long, but you get the idea. It also gave some credence to the comments that new players have made about the facilities/amenities at Victoria Park matching or exceeding many of those in the SPL and in the lower leagues in England. In short, impressive.
When the tour ended in the club shop, Lorraine pointed out to me that the home and away tops were on sale, I mentioned that I’d already bought an away top, but, hey, since we’re on the subject, anything you’d like to tell me about next year’s home top? Much to my surprise, she said, “Yes”! Now, I don’t want to “burn” a source that I’ve just made so I’m going to give you a little info and you can piece together the rest of it, okay?
Just before I left for Scotland Ross County published three different shirt “concepts” via social media and invited fans to have their say- I refer you here for the details. The result of the feed back that County received was that “Concept A” was out and concepts “B” and “C” finished in more or less a dead heat. So, what did County do? They combined the best parts of each! Specifically, they picked one of the shirts (was it B, or C? I’ll never tell!) and added the details that people had liked from the other top. The end result is a winner and I think it goes as far towards pleasing everyone as is humanly possible. I will be buying one the minute they go on sale.
Revealing the new top, however, was only the first surprise Lorraine had in store for me!
As we were saying our good-byes Lorraine said to me, “We’d like you to be a guest of the club tomorrow night.”
My initial thought was, “Did I just get a free ticket?!” It turns out that I had set my sights far, far to low. Here’s how the evening- which was my first night match at Victoria Park- played out:
At six o’clock I showed up at the Players’ Entrance and told the security officer, “I’m on the list.” Seriously, I actually got to say that! I was given my ticket (which I didn’t use- see below) and then directed to the “MacLean Suite” for a buffet dinner. Before I continue, I should mention that, apparently, 6:00pm is the time players need to be at the park for a 7:45 kick-off, so that meant, “Oh, hey, Alex Schalk! Good evening, Andrew Davies! Hi, Craig Curran!” That was pretty cool.
Anyway, I got to the MacLean Suite, found my table (complete with personalized place card!), met my table mates (one of whom drove me back to Inverness after the match so I didn’t have to wait for the bus/train. Seriously, these people…), enjoyed some appetizers, leafed through the match program, took a look at the team sheet (delivered to each of us as soon as the manager had finished it), and then stepped up to the buffet.
Here’s all I’ll say about dinner: The main course was venison casserole. It was delicious, but, um, you know what the club’s mascot/nickname is, right? I dunno, I guess I’ll just call it an “interesting choice.” The food, though, from appetizers to dessert was great- first class.
Just as we were finishing our desserts, Lorraine happened to be talking with us at our table when the club chairman, Roy MacGregor walk through on his way to the suite named for his family. Much to my surprise, Lorraine called him over, introduced me (and filled the chairman in on how I had become a County supporter), and he proceeded to pepper me with questions for about five minutes before giving me this and making me promise to get in touch with him when I come over in 2019:
He actually offered to introduce me to the managerial team during this visit, but as I was leaving for Glasgow the next morning and flying home the morning after that, well, it didn’t happen. I’m not ashamed to say that I was a little star struck. This profile from a few years ago might help to explain why. Once I came back down to earth it was time to head to the stands, but before that could happen one of my table mates had a question, “Where’s your seat?” I handed over my ticket and got, “No, no, you’ll sit with us” as a response. Here is where I sat:
If you look at the lower right-hand corner of the picture you’ll see a glass partition that I can only imagine is called an “anti riff-raff” barrier to keep those who actually have to pay for their tickets away from us better people. I’m not sure how my actual seat could have been anything other than great, but it was nice to sit with the people I shared my meal with and just in front of the press rows- who, by the way, were hilarious to listen to. Apparently they take turns paying attention to the match. Every time there was a goal, yellow card, substitution, etc. you’d hear a chorus of “Who was that? What was the time?”
Oh right, the match! County won, 1-0 on a dubious PK call. It was, shall we say, a “make-up” call for a CLEAR penalty a few minutes earlier (and a second yellow/red on County’s Jim O’Brien for diving…which he didn’t), so I don’t think Dundee can have too much to complain about.
Also, we got a free pie at halftime, so that was nice.
Hmm…was there anything else football-related that happened on my trip? Well, there were these!
If you are of a certain age you know that there were two “off-pitch” sneakers that marked you as a hip player of the beautiful game “back in the day.” They were the Adidas Gazelle and the Adidas Spezial. That I remember I owned three different pairs of Gazelles (red, royal, and green) and a pair of Spezials (green) over the years. What you see above is the Adidas Gazelle “Primeknit” (look it up!) These are, as the cool modern kids say, “fly.” I have red laces for them too, but I’m starting with the white ones. Adidas also released a very limited edition of the Spezial Primeknit a few years ago, but they are only available on the secondary market at this point and, frankly, I don’t have that kind of money!
Anyway, as at least two of you out there know I’m a bit of a closet “sneakerhead” and when I saw these at JD Sports in Aberdeen at the very beginning of my trip I thought to myself, “I will do whatever I have to do to make sure I leave Scotland with these.” So, as soon as I was back in Glasgow I went to the JD Sports flagship store, confirmed they carried them, and then spent basically two and a half weeks saying, “Hmm…if I do that/go there I might not have enough money for the Primeknits…”
So I have them and I am happy.