Saturday, 25 March 2017



Once again it was another Saturday north of the border. The big attraction was the chance to get to a couple of games in one day as there was another game taking place later in the evening.

After consultation with the other members of my travelling party we opted for Musselburgh Athletic v Broxburn Athletic as our aperitif. Musselburgh is 6 miles east of Edinburgh so for the second time in a week it was a journey up the A702.

After the events of earlier in the month when rain scuppered our planned game in Scotland, there was no danger today as the sun was beating down and East Lothian was bathed in glorious sunshine.

Founded in 1934, Musselburgh play at the Olivebank Stadium which has a a large covered enclosure on one side and concrete terracing on the other. There is a grass bank behind one of the goals but this is not in use for spectators but a few, including myself, did walk around to take a few snaps. The snack bar was doing a roaring trade in stovies but had gone by the time I got served so I had to make do with a pie, not that I didn't mind that!

At the start of play Musselburgh were 12th (out of 16) whilst Broxburn were in 6th position. The home side could probably do with picking up a few more points between now and the end of the season but it was the visitors who consolidated their position, coming from behind to win 2-1. The game was a typical end of season affair but was entertaining enough.

Declan O'Kane gave Musselburgh the lead after 17 minutes when he found space in the area to guide the ball into the corner of the net. Despite a few efforts from Broxburn, the home side held on to be leading at the break.

The second half began with the visitors on the attack and on 47 minutes they were level. Alexander Nimmo headed home and, despite the valiant efforts of goalkeeper Kieron Renton to claw the ball away, the officials agreed the ball had crossed the line.

Broxburn went ahead on 52 minutes when Kieran Anderson smashed home a free kick into the top corner from 25 yards. A superb strike. Musselburgh had late chances to snatch a point but Broxburn held on to secure the victory.

After leaving Musselburgh, it was a journey down to the Borders where Hawick Royal Albert were entertaining East Stirlingshire in a Lowland League clash, which kicked off at 7pm in the evening.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

East of Scotland Qualifying Cup Final (Oriam, Riccarton)


I was drawn to an historic occasion today as Scotland hosted a first ever senior cup final indoors. The Final of the 2017 Football Nation Qualifying Cup took place under the roof at the Oriam.

Oriam, which is Gaelic for gold, is Scotland's brand new national performance centre for sport, based at Heriot-Watt University's Riccarton campus in Edinburgh. The Scottish Football Association and the Scottish Rugby Union both use it as their new training facility.

The idea for the centre was first proposed in Henry McLeish's report into Scottish football and this venue was built in the mould of St George's Park, England's development centre at Burton-upon-Trent. Costing around £33m to build it is hoped that "a more technically proficient type of footballer" comes through to play for the Scottish national side.

The pitch is fully synthetic and the dimensions are supposedly same as Hampden Park. The arena is fully air conditioned and it was actually quite chilly watching the game. There are 500 seats for spectators, which are down one side of the pitch but they are raised above playing level so you are looking down on the action. It is a decent view from the seats. However, considering it was a major cup final, the atmosphere was very sterile. It all felt very strange indeed. 

The East of Scotland Qualifying Cup dates back to 1897/98 when Raith Rovers won the inaugural competition and it was set up as an eliminator competition to the East of Scotland cup, where the winners of the Qualifying cup had a chance to pit their wits against Scottish league sides such as Hibernian and Heart of Midlothian.

Over the years the so called big teams have withdrawn and now the winners of the Qualifying cup are playing for right to play either Edinburgh City or Berwick Rangers. Indeed, Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale have already beaten Berwick Rangers in the semi-final of East of Scotland Cup before they have actually played the qualifying final!

East of Scotland League, and 2015 winners, Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale were taking on Lowland League, and seven times winners, Spartans. Both teams are doing well in their respective leagues so a tight encounter was anticipated.

Arguably Spartans held a slight advantage as they play all of their home games on a synthetic surface but it was Lothian Thistle who dominated the first half proceedings. They took the lead after 9 minutes when John Sherlock's cross sailed over everyone and into the back of the Spartans net.

This come moments after Chris Townsley had crashed an effort against the Lothian crossbar and not long after they almost equalised but the woodwork again rescued Lothian as Alan Brown's effort came back off the post. Lothian had chances to extend their lead in the opening half and would come to rue those missed opportunities.

The Spartans must have had a half time roasting as they looked a yard faster in the second period. After 52 minutes they were level when Jack Beesley's cross was turned home by Scott Maxwell. As he scored, Maxwell collided with Lothian 'keeper Kevin Swain and there were some worrying moments as he lay there motionless before eventually getting to his feet.

He had fully recovered and by the 64th minute he was crossing the ball for Ross Allum to fire home what proved to be the winner. Lothian Thistle had late chances to force extra time but Spartans held on to take the cup back to Ainslie Park.

A worthwhile trip to the Scottish capital but I am not sure I would want to watch football in this type of environment on a more regular basis.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

ARDEER THISTLE (Ardeer Stadium)


Another surprise today
was the availability of
a programme. An
excellent read and
clearly a labour of love.
Today was a long planned trip north of the border, with an intended stopover in Penrith en route home, in order to have a wee drink with a motley crew of fellow groundhoppers.

Penrith has been our rest stop every time we return from Scotland and it has been a long standing joke that, due to the large number of pubs in the town, we should book a hotel and have a night on the ale.

When, last year, one of our party was diagnosed with cancer it was decided that once he was back on his feet after surgery then the time would finally be right to have that night out in the town.

It was also right that it was his call for which game would be the afternoons entertainment. However, the atrocious wet weather that had battered the country overnight Friday into Saturday certainly threw a spanner into the selection process.

Prior to setting off, the unanimous choice of game was Maryhill v Linlithgow in the Scottish Junior Cup, but that bit the dust (for the third week in a row incidentally) so an alternative had to be sought. As we crossed the border into Scotland we still had no firm idea of where we were heading.

Reading tweets from various clubs in the area it seemed that the Ayrshire coast had avoided the worst of the deluge so, after consultation between the various hoppers heading up the motorway, it was decided that Ardeer Thistle was the destination of choice.

Once a town in it's own right, Ardeer now forms part of the town of Stevenston and was famous for the manufacturing of explosives. Established in 1871 by Alfred Noble, he of the Noble prize, the British Dynamite Factory employed 13,000 people at its peak but has long since closed.

The company became part of ICI in the 1920's and the Ardeer Stadium was the company's recreation ground and was home to the now defunct Ardeer Recreation FC. In the 1970's Ardeer Thistle moved into the vacant ground and it has been their home ever since.

Formed in 1900, this is Thistle's second home in the town. They moved here because their original Ardchoille Park home suffered from vandalism, effectively leaving them homeless.

The Ardeer Stadium is another fine example of a Scottish Junior ground with a small piece of cover and vast open terracing. I have said it many times, you just don't get grounds like this south of the border as the health and safety brigade would probably have a fit!

The club compete in the West Region Ayrshire District League, which is the third level of this regional set up.

Today Ardeer were hosting Whitletts Victoria just two weeks after they last played each other at Dam Park, where Ardeer won 3-2. Whitletts are in the hunt for promotion, lying in second place at the start of play, whilst Ardeer are ensconced in mid-table. A victory was probably of greater significance for the visitors.

Both teams went for it from the off with chances at either end but the first goal didn't arrive until the 36th minute, triggering a spell of 5 goals in 18 minutes.

A Ryan Morrow penalty (pictured left) gave Ardeer the lead before he doubled their advantage just a minute later with a fine strike from outside the box.

In the 41st minute Whitletts were awarded a penalty of their own and Tony Balfour duly converted (pictured right).

Right on half time though the Whitletts defence failed to clear the ball and, as it fell loose in box, Lee Munro smashed it home.

The game was effectively over in the 54th minute when David Henry headed home a superb cross to score Ardeer's fourth. The pace of the game dipped after this though Ardeer had chances to extend their lead.

Whitletts did reduce the deficit in the 84th minute when Niall Kennedy fired home the rebound after his initial penalty was saved by Paul McGann (pictured right).

In stoppage time, Whitletts' Munya Mbanje was sent off for retaliating to a bad tackle and, in the melee that followed,  Ardeer's previously substituted Jack Robertson was also 'sent off' for running onto the pitch and appearing to aim a punch at a Vic's player. An unsavoury ending to a very fine match.

The players observe a minutes silence prior to kick off for
former Ardeer physio Sammy McKee, who passed away recently.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

MTK BUDAPEST (Hidegkuti Nándor Stadium)


After days of travelling, admiring the sights of Vienna and Bratislava, I finally arrived in Budapest for the weekend, so naturally a nearby game simply had to be found!

I plumped for the local derby between MTK and Honved at the Hidegkuti Nándor Stadium, was officially opened in December 2016. The new ground is built on the site of the Hungária Körúti Stadion, which was completely demolished in 2014.

The original ground was inaugurated in 1947 and was famously used in the 1980 cult film "Escape to Victory" when the likes of Pele, Michael Caine, Bobby Moore and Sylvester Stallone played on the hallowed turf. Indeed pictures of Pele at the old ground were flashed up on the big screen before the game, in a montage of images from the past.

Nándor Hidegkuti was a famous player for MTK and Hungary. He scored a hat-trick at Wembley in 1953 as the 'Magical Magyars' thrashed England 6-3 in a game which changed the face of football in the English game forever.

The new ground has a capacity of just over 5,000 and is two sided. The seats are the ones of varying shades to create the illusion that the ground is full. However, apart from when Ferenvarcos come to visit, this is always unlikely to be the case.

All the fans, including the away fans who are caged into two blocks, are on one side of the ground and the curved roofing creates the impression of being in an indoor arena. It is a straightforward ride from the city centre on metro line 3, alighting at Népliget, then an easy 20 minute walk (or 5 minute tram ride) from there.

As this was a local derby, I had to obtain a fancard, which was easily done at a cost of 500 Forints. I went to a ticket office based in the city centre and they sorted out both fancard and match ticket (a total cost of around £8). I was extremely lucky (ahem) to find a craft beer bar contained within the same building. Well it would have rude not to!

Magyar Testgyakorlók Köre Budapest, to give the club their full name, were formed in 1888 and are one of the most successful clubs in Hungarian Football. They have won the championship on no less than 23 occasions, but the last of these came in 2008 and since then the club has fallen down the pecking order, even being relegated for the first time in 2011.

The club bounced back at the first attempt but have finished no higher than third in the league. MTK played Europa league football in 2015 and 2016 but failed to get past the qualifying rounds.

The game was played at a decent tempo but it was Honved who had the majority of possession in the opening period. They had the best of the few chances created. Honved eventually made the breakthrough in the 49th minute when Davide Lanzafame turned the ball home from inside the six yard box.

However instead of pushing on, Honved allowed MTK back into the game and they were awarded a penalty in the 61st minutes, Sándor Torghelle dispatching the spot kick. Torghelle's joy didn't last long as he was shown a straight red card for a foul five minutes later.

To their credit MTK didn't sit back and kept going forward. The game was ebbing and flowing when in the 78th minute Honved were also awarded a spot kick, for something spotted by the goaline official, and Marton Eppel stepped up to score what proved to be the winning goal.