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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

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Dundee FC vs St Johnstone FC
Pre-Season Friendly
FT: 0-2 (May 19, Mackay 50)
Attendance: 2,172
Wednesday 13th July 2011

1. The Clubs

Firstly, I must confess to being guilty of the number one sin possible for a Saints fan to commit – I have a soft spot for Dundee FC. There, I said it. I’ve always enjoyed the rivalry between the teams and see the Dark Blues as pantomime villains as opposed to genuine hate figures, preferring to save any actual bile I might have for things like landlords and the bank. Or at least the Old Firm. I miss the derby matches when they aren’t there and look forward to them more than any other fixture when they are, games against Dundee Utd just don’t have the same appeal.

Saints and Dundee are clubs of similar size and support, run in completely contrasting ways as businesses but both seemingly destined to bounce between the top 2 divisions indefinitely. The rivalry between them stems, in part, from the closing game of the 1961/62 season when Dundee came to Muirton Park and won 3-0, a result which secured the league title for the away side whilst relegating Saints. Since then many memorable encounters have played out in both Perth and Dundee, including a 2-2 draw at McDiarmid in the mid 90’s where the visitors turned out in Saints’ away strips due to both their own kits that season being blue (d’oh!), the famous 7-2 victory for Saints on New Year’s day 1997 and the last meeting of the sides, when former (and now current) Dundee striker Steven Milne struck to all but secure the first division title for the Perth team in 2009.

St Johnstone brought a more recognisable looking squad up the A90 on this evening than the one that we saw in Arbroath, trialist Marcus Haber the only non-numbered player to start. Danijel ‘Subo’ Subotic was in attendance but didn’t feature and there was no sign of ‘Trialist Jimmy’ or the mystery winger from last week. More worrying was the absence of Murray Davidson, fuelling rumours of a possible move to Rangers.

Enough has been said about Dundee’s recent financial issues and I’m not going to bother chipping in with my ten cents here. The last time I saw them play was in November against Partick Thistle. A hard-fought 2-1 victory with Jamie Adams scoring Dundee’s late winner in one of his last loan appearances for the club before returning to Perth. The siege mentality at Dens at the time, just after their 25 point deduction, was fascinating. The atmosphere was electric though, with the fans supporting their team like champs from start to finish. The home side fielded tonight was a million miles away in terms of both personnel and spirit but with key figures Rhys Weston, Craig McKeown, Nicky Riley, Ross Chisholm and Graham Bayne all missing, it’s perhaps harsh to judge them off the back of a one-off match.

2. The Ground

Dens Park falls into the category of ‘cut ‘n’ shut’ grounds that are, sadly, becoming increasingly rare creatures these days as teams like St Mirren, Falkirk et al move off to pastures new and identikit. Refurbishment in the 90’s has left Dens with a strange blend of the old and the new. Behind each goal sits a modern all seater stand in the style found at countless stadiums around the country. A  seated covered enclosure, affectionately known as The Derry, runs along half of the South side of the pitch. The most vocal supporters are usually found there, although tonight only the Bobby Cox and Main stands are in use. The latter, a bizarre dog-leg shaped structure where the Saints fans are housed this evening, is a relic from a bygone age and a lovely, if completely impractical, example of form over function.

Dens Park, Dundee

Our view was almost comically poor, with the roof of the stand and a couple of pillars teaming up to make an ordeal of enjoying the game. The leg room allowance was ridiculous too but we managed to relocate to seats at the top of one of the staircases where this wasn’t a problem before it got too busy. Entry was ten pounds with a half price concession for kids and OAPs. Gate prices for Season 2011/12 will be £19 for adults, £10 concessions.

3. The Game

The match kicked off in very clement atmospheric conditions, which have made me seriously reconsider my anti-summer football stance, although there wasn’t an awful lot to write home about in the first half. The Saints midfield knocked the ball about nicely and carved out a couple of half-chances early on while Dundee’s attacking threat came in the form of Steven Milne. The former Saint almost pounced on a couple of moments of defensive shakiness but failed to get a shot off either time. The deadlock was broken midway through the first half when Stevie May turned in a towering Marcus Haber header at the back post following a Sean Higgins corner from the right. A Jorg Albertz-esque free kick effort from Saints’ Callum Davidson was the only other first half event to get the Perth fans out of their seats.

St Johnstone almost added a second right at the start of the second but Marcus Haber saw his square ball turned behind by a defender before Sean Higgins could get a touch. Minutes later, however, the lead was doubled and the game effectively killed off as Morris and Higgins teamed up beautifully to set up right back Dave Mackay who took a touch before finishing tidily from inside the box. I’m pretty confident it’s in no way biased to call it a goal Barcelona would be proud of!

St Johnstone goalkeeper Peter Enckelman wasn’t tested until midway through the second half, the Finn holding well from a powerful header by Dundee’s trialist centre half. Multiple substitutions by both sides followed and the game petered out, Dundee worked hard to carve out opportunities but lacked the killer instinct they’ve shown in recent years. Saints came close to adding a third when substitute Jamie Adams lost his marker to get on the end of a free kick but sent his first touch of the match a yard wide. The only other real talking point was, what looked to us like, a blatant handling of the ball outside the box by Enckelman which riled the Dundee fans behind the goal.

4. The Banter

As mentioned in article 1, St Johnstone v Dundee is a fixture I love, thanks in no small part to the heated and entertaining exchanges between supporters – although as this was the first time I’ve attended it as a friendly it was an odd experience, like in Back to the Future Pt II when Marty goes to the parallel 1985 and everything looks familiar but is all wrong. The large St Johnstone support was great to see, especially given the ‘boycott 6p in the pound FC’ attitude of a lot of our number. The home turn out was disappointing by comparison and the two empty stands and relative positioning of the home and away supports killed any chance of an atmosphere.

As Mssr Lambert was unable to make it on the night I was accompanied by our mutual pal, Johnny, who is a great guy to watch a game with and a good time was had despite the lack of atmosphere and terrible view. Attempted chants of traditional away-end-at-McDiarmid-Park anthem ‘What a Shitey Home Support’ from the Saints fans raised a smile, as did Derek McIness’ stint as a stand in ballboy. There was a definite ‘still got it!’ twinkle in his eye as he raced after a stray ball in his traditional matchday attire of shorts and boots!

5. The Verdict

An enjoyable evening in the Summer sun. From the display on offer Dundee supporters might have a lot to worry about for the coming season, and will have their work cut out if they want to be title contenders in the notoriously competitive first division. St Johnstone look a lot more creative in the final third than they did last term which is heartening, although the team fielded tonight is unlikely to be the first choice 11. If Marcus Haber signs he looks like he will be an important part of the team this year. Our biggest problem last season was a lack of goals, hopefully Haber and/or Subojtic could be an answer to this.

McIness opted to start Haber out wide on the right, in a similar fashion to that which striker Colin Samuel was often utilised last season, before shuffling the formation a bit and playing him as a more out-and-out centre forward for the last 20 minutes or so. Seventeen year-old St Johnstone substitute Liam Caddis looks pretty handy and I hope to see some more appearances off the bench from him this year.

Not a classic game of football by anyone’s standards but following season 2010/11 I will happily accept anything that features a St Johnstone goal!

Mike Lennie

Dundee website: www.dundeefc.co.uk
St Johnstone website: www.perthstjohnstonefc.co.uk

Arbroath FC vs St Johnstone FC
Pre-Season Friendly
FT: 0 – 2 (Craig 46, Moon 89)
Attendance: c. 750
Monday 4th July 2011

1. The Clubs

Although we don’t see ourselves purely as a St Johnstone blog, we would have been hard pressed to pick a more Saints-centric tie to kick off our adventures – no less than seven of those lining up for tonight’s hosts have also previously turned out for the Saints, with Josh Falkingham even continuing to train full-time with the Perth side.

Although St Johnstone achieved a second consecutive eight-place SPL finish and an appearance in the semi-final of the Scottish Cup (albeit making a painfully limp exit) last season, the club also picked up the dubious distinction of being the lowest-scoring league side in the country. A mass clear-out of strikers followed, along with the loss of out-of-contract defenders Danny Grainger (off to Hearts) and fans-favourite Michael Duberry (Oxford United).

Season 2010/11 saw Arbroath player/manager (and former Saintee) Paul Sheerin guide the club to an instant return to SFL2, winning the SFL3 title and in turn securing the club its first senior honours in its 123-year history. The club will now be looking to consolidate in the second division and possibly push on further.

2. The Ground

Gayfield (no sniggering at the back) is located on the outskirts of Arbroath, next to amusement arcade/living 1970s time-capsule Pleasureland and backing onto the North Sea. It is this latter feature that I imagine makes the ground a tough place for opposition teams to visit during the winter months (i.e. pretty much the whole of the Scottish football season). [EDIT: I’ve been reliably informed on twitter by my friend James, of the exellent Tales From the Pigeon Stands, that Gayfield holds the honour of being the closest league ground to the sea in the UK!]

Arbroath vs St Johnstone, Gayfield Park, 4th July 2011

The ground has a single seated main stand, facing out towards the sea, and terracing running around the remainder of the pitch with a ‘pigeon stand‘ on each side offering some protection from the elements. We were free to move around on the terraces to try out a number of vantage points, or just stare wistfully out to sea.

We drove from Dundee and found the ground easy to locate. Parking was on the waterfront. Entry was £8, however this was for a friendly – the Arbroath FC website states that 2011/12 league games will be £12 for adults. Being an evening match we had both dined before leaving, so didn’t join the lengthy queue for the catering concession located round the back of the main stand.

3. The Game

The game itself, I think it is fair to say in my limited experience, was relatively typical pre-season fare. Although Scottish football has seen the shortest close-season in recent memory, both sides looked rusty in the early stages. Saints started with new signing Carl Finnigan (ex-Falkirk) and a trialist (one of six listed on the team sheet) upfront and only one of last seasons regular defensive line-up (Dave Mackay) in place.  All the same, the game was competitive (if scrappy) with Saints’ Kevin Moon coming closest to breaking the deadlock late in the first half, his chip over Arbroath keeper Darren Hill unfortunately rebounding off the bar.

The second half started brighter for Saints with substitutes Sean Higgins (ex-Dundee) and Stevie May combining to set up Liam Craig for the opening goal. Arbroath continued to exact pressure, with a mazy run from Sheerin and a number of saves forced from St Johnstone keeper Peter Enckelman, though ultimately it was Kevin Moon who got a second and final goal for Saints in the dying minutes of the game.

4. The Banter

Both sets of fans were quiet on the night. Mike got plenty of amusement out of the fact that the linesman on our side of the ground looked no older than 14. My personal highlight came late in the second half when your humble correspondent got a touch of the ball – a stray clearance looked to be heading out into the terraces until I brought it nonchalantly back under control with a beautiful first touch … though unfortunately the following poorly taken short pass back may have invoked the disdain of Saints’ young midfielder Liam Caddis. That or he was confused why the ballboy was bigger than him and on the wrong side of the fence.

5. The Verdict

Ultimately it’s a little unfair to make judgements on either side in a pre-season friendly, especially the first one. I’m a little haunted by our excitement about Cleveland Taylor on his Saints debut at Forfar last pre-season, and with so many new faces and trialists a cohesive team performance is not always likely. That said, it was good to see Callum Davidson back in a Saints shirt. He looked lively, covering the length of the pitch from left back and at one point making an opportune run up the left after switching places with Craig, who had been driven back but ultimately couldn’t get the ball to Davidson. Trialist striker Danijel Subotić looked promising and was subsequently invited to participate in St Johnstone’s subsequent friendlies in Ireland  against Drogheda and UCD.

Arbroath look like a strong, physical, side who are comfortable playing together and more than capable of holding their own against full-time opposition. Sheerin has brought in some new faces, including former Scotland midfielder Brian Kerr, but appears to have been able to keep the core of last season’s succesful side together. I look forward to returning to Gayfield once the season is underway to see Arbroath in league action.

Michael Lambert

Arbroath website: www.arbroathfc.co.uk
St Johnstone website: www.perthstjohnstonefc.co.uk