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Monthly Archives: October 2011

So, the big (non Old Firm soap opera) news in Scottish football is that, after much speculation, St Johnstone’s highly regarded manager Derek McInnes and his assistant Tony Docherty have agreed to take over at Championship side Bristol City. As St Johnstone supporters we are sad to see them both go but wish them both luck. With McInnes having guided Saints to the SFL1 title and re-established the club in the SPL after a 7 year absence, as well as regular strong cup runs, on one of the tightest budgets in the league, it was only a matter of time before he would move on to the next challenge.

Today’s events leave Saints at somewhat of a crossroads. When a manager is sacked, a complete change in approach is usually desirable to help cut out the rot. However when a manager moves on during a successful spell, some level of consistency must be desirable to maintain the momentum. With Docherty having followed McInnes south, the option of appointing the apprentice is removed.

There’s a case to be made that this season’s squad may be Saints’ strongest since that which finised 3rd in the SPL in 1998/99 and went on a European adventure the following season, all achieved under the watch of Sandy Clark who came to the job in similar circumstances to the present after Paul Sturrock was lured away to Dundee United. While I usually give little heed to superstition, it would be nice to experience a similar situation again!

Sturrock, McInnes and his predecessor Owen Coyle all shared in common a number of attributes: little or no managerial experience, but plenty of drive and ambition. Much has been made of chairman Geoff Brown’s success in bringing through young, inexperienced managers with good contact books (a necessity at Saints!), the popular expectation is that this will be the route taken again – though I have fears that this luck may run out eventually. That said, experience is no guarantee of success, and an untried or unkown quantity seems more exciting than the usual names that will be in the mix now that we’re a managerless SPL club rather than a managerless First Division club.

So, while names like Jim Jeffries, Jimmy Calderwood and John Hughes are being thrown into the mix, it’s the more “left-field” (and sometimes fanciful) names that are more interesting; current players Jody Morris and Callum Davidson, club legend and current Arbroath manager Paul “Peanut” Sheerin, Cowdenbeath player-assistant Colin Cameron, Brechin boss Jim Weir, Wigan assistant Graeme Jones …all the way to Rangers veteran Davie Weir (mates with McInnes? likely to want to go into coaching?) and Gary McAllister. Frankly, the media lists look like a combination of usual suspects, wishful thinking and a scan of the We are Perth forum.

Interesting times, but there’s still regular business to deal with. Saints travel to local rivals Dundee United on Saturday, with the Tannadice side on a dip of form and questions hanging over the future of manager Peter Houston. Hopefully the current situation at Saints won’t impact on an excellent chance to register a first league win over the Arabs since our return to the SPL – Saints late collapse in the two teams last encounter, surrendering a 3-1 lead to draw 3-3, is still a sore memory. Jody Morris and youth coach Alec Clelland are reported to be in temporary charge for the fixture.

Goodbye and good luck, Del and Doc. Thanks for everything!

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Arbroath FC vs Cowdenbeath FC
Scottish Football League Second Division
FT: 1 (Falkingham 57) – 1 (O’Brien 19)
Attendance: 857
Saturday 1st October 2011

1. The Clubs

This is the first second division match I’ve been to in my eighteen years of regular football attendance and we’d have struggled to pick a more exciting prospect to mark the occasion. Newly promoted Arbroath were sitting two points ahead of newly relegated Cowdenbeath at the top of the table, both teams only having lost once so far this season.

I always find it hard to take in a game without at least half heartedly picking a team to back but this one was a tough choice. Cowdenbeath are one of the perennial underdogs of Scottish football. They have possibly the dodgiest home ground in British, if not World, football and are essentially financed by the stock car racing events they share said dodgy home with. This sort of thing appeals to me massively and, being from Fife, I tend to look out for their results.

The Red Lichties on the other hand are managed by one of the best players ever to put on a St Johnstone shirt and although the man himself, Paul Sheerin, was ruled out of this game through injury there were no fewer than six ex-Saintees (Josh Falkingham, Stuart Malcolm, Mark Baxter, Steven Doris, Kieran McAnespie and Gavin Swankie) in the starting eleven.

I ended up remaining neutral and the fact I thoroughly enjoyed the game despite a lack of vested interest is testament to it’s quality. Mike on the other hand made no secret of his pro-Arbroath stance.

For further reading on all things Cowdenbeath FC I heartily recommend Ronald Ferguson’s excellent book, Black Diamonds and The Blue Brazil.

2. The Ground

The trip was our second to Gayfield since we started this blog although visiting the place for a competitive match was an experience far removed from the pre-season friendly we attended earlier in the year. A healthy crowd just shy of 900 attended providing an atmosphere that, while not totally electric, was better than the typical ‘Morrissey’s stag-night’ experience of watching St Johnstone at home.

Having endured the North Sea chill at Gayfield on our last venture up (in the height of Summer no less) we were relieved that a bizarre little Autumn heatwave took the sting out of this one. I still shudder to think what this place must be like in January.

We opted to stand with the 80 or so travelling Blue Brazil (or, as they were in their away kits for this game, Brazil) fans for the first half before switching to behind the Cowden’ goal with the home support for the second.

We’d read about the traditional half time exodus to Tutties Neuk (a pub just across the road from Gayfield) in Doug Johnstone’s novel, ‘Tombstoning’ and it turns out that this actually happens. Being respectable and dignified young men however (ahem) we shunned this tradition in favour of a leading brand of carbonated orange soft drink served warm in paper cups. When the ground filled up again for the second half the symmetry had completely changed. The previously packed North terrace now home to the away fans with the Arbroath support mostly relocating to the ‘Pleash End’
The lack of segregation seems alien after becoming accustomed to the over-stewarding of the SPL, especially since these fans are as vocal and passionate about their teams as any other support, and goes to show that people will for the most part generally behave themselves when left to their own devices.

The overall consensus of Gayfield from two visits is that it’s a tidy little ground with decent facilities.
Adult entry this season is 12 pounds.

3. The Game

To use the oldest cliché in the big book of footballing clichés, this was a game of two halves. Cowden’ were all over Arbroath in the first forty-five, keeping the ball on the ground the away side looked sharp and came forward with pace. Their link up play and off the ball movement were excellent and this pressure was almost rewarded with an early goal, Greg Stewart sending a header wide in the 7th minute. A bizarre Groundhog Day style period followed where Cowdenbeath managed to completely waste about six corners in a row, only to somehow win another.

The Fife team eventually did get a corner to pay off when in the 19th minute Marc McKenzie’s inswinger from the left wasn’t dealt with properly and, after a bit of a stramash in the box, Thomas O’Brien turned to steer the ball low into the right hand corner from close range.
Arbroath came into the game a bit more after the goal but failed to give Cowdenbeath keeper Thomas Flynn a real test. Steven Doris had their best chance but shot wide from the edge of the box after springing the offside trap.

Arbroath set up for the free kick leading to the equaliser.

Arbroath set up for the free kick leading to the equaliser.

The Red Lichties came out all guns blazing after the break and the crowd started getting behind them. The equaliser came 12 minutes after the restart courtesy of two former St Johnstone men. Gavin Swankie’s free kick from twenty yards rattled off the post, the goalkeeper’s back and the post again before falling for the onrushing Josh Falkingham to stab home from about 3 yards.
Despite a number of chances neither side managed to get a winner, Arbroath came closest nine minutes from time but Stuart Malcolm headed weakly straight at Flynn.

4. The Banter

A ‘Vuvuzelas are banned from this stadium’ sign above the turnstiles on the way in set the tone for what was a pretty fun wee trip. Spotting Cowdenbeath chairman Donald Finlay QC (we weren’t close enough to tell whether he was singing…) enjoying a half time cigar with a fan added a surreal twist while the icing on the cake was Cowdenbeath player-manager Colin Cameron losing his rag in the second half. His suggestive hand gestures in response to his parentage being called into question causing a fair amount of delight amongst the home support.

Enjoyment of the match was enhanced by both sets of fans making a noise disproportionate to their numbers and the Arbroath fans have some pretty funny songs. A version of Gary Glitter’s ‘Hello, Hello, It’s Good to be Back’ reworked in homage to a famous local fish delicacy was my personal favourite. Also worth noting is a Montrose-baiting version of the ‘Noone Likes Us We Don’t Care’ song.

The overall atmosphere was really convivial and aggro free with supporters getting behind their teams rather than on their backs.

5. The Verdict

I’m slightly ashamed to say that my expectations were far surpassed in terms of footballing quality and atmosphere. I’ve never seen a competitive match at this level before but it’s something I will be investigating a lot more in future. For pretty much half of what we usually pay to watch Saints we got an end to end game of football in front of a healthy, noisy crowd. And we got to stand up while watching it, can’t argue with that!

The always tight first division is about as closely run as a league can be so far this season but if this game was a fair reflection on how Arbroath and Cowdenbeath play on a weekly basis it’s not too far fetched to foresee them holding their own with the likes of Dundee, Hamilton et al.

Michael Lennie

Arbroath website: www.arbroathfc.co.uk
Cowdenbeath website: www.cowdenbeathfc.com