Arbroath FC vs Cowdenbeath FC
Scottish Football League Second Division
FT: 1 (Falkingham 57) – 1 (O’Brien 19)
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.
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.