Malcolm Dawson writes……the hiatus that defeat in the F.A. Cup brings may see many a Sunderland supporter washing the car, trooping around IKEA or spending the afternoon down the boozer watching a succession of matches with Serbian commentary, via the pub’s dodgy box. But not the intrepid Peter Sixsmith whose need for live sport takes him ground hopping for footy north of the border on Saturday and to the wilds of West Yorkshire to see two former great sides of the Rugby League world where Batley took on the mighty Featherstone Rovers. Well at least defeat to Burnley means we didn’t have to suffer defeat to Lincoln City and it gives us the chance to read Pete’s report of his trip to compare and contrast the Premier League experience with that of Scottish Division Three.
ANOTHER WEEKEND AND NO MISERY
It has long been noted that I like International and FA Cup weekends because it usually means that there is a week’s break from the abject misery that is the lot of a Sunderland supporter. It allows me to visit obscure grounds and add ticks to my lists of stadiums and towns that are deemed worthy of a visit. I will have plenty of opportunities to do this in March as we either have no games (11th and 25th) or we are entertaining the nation on a Sunday (4th).
February 18th threw up a blank as the FA Cup progressed without much interest being shown on Wearside so that means only two Sunderland games on a Saturday in six weeks. And they wonder why fans are disillusioned with the game.
Edinburgh City were targeted for this Saturday. They were the first team to rise through the Scottish Pyramid system in 2016, beating perpetual strugglers East Stirling in a two legged play off and taking the Stenhousemuir based club’s place in SPL Division Three – joining such luminaries as Annan Athletic, Elgin City and Montrose . East Stirling went the other way to the Scottish Lowland League where they line up against Gala Fairydean, Hawick Royal Albert and East Kilbride, the home of Gregory’s Girl. (Ed’s note – if you do pub quizzes you will still get asked the question in which town do East Stirlingshire play their home games and get the answer Falkirk. Pete of course is correct as for almost a decade now the ‘Shire have had to play their home games at Stenhousemuir.)
City play at Meadowbank Stadium in the east of the capital, a stone’s throw from Hibs home at Easter Road. City do not appear to be serious rivals to the Hibees although the SPL seems to think that it is a sound idea to have both at home on the same day. Not this Saturday though. The Green and Whites were in Kirkcaldy drawing 1-1 with Raith Rovers while city rivals, the maroons of Hearts, were doing the same with Inverness Caledonian Thistle. No doubt Ladbrokes, sponsors of Scottish football, would have given you good odds on all three Edinburgh clubs having the same score. With 89 minutes gone at Meadowbank, that bet was filling the sponsors pockets. City were hanging on for a much needed win and then……….
I took the train from Darlington, travelling first class and enjoying the sights and sounds of the East Coast Main Line. Saturday First Class is not great. You get coffee and a muffin, but the days of the fried breakfast are long gone. In the 80’s a breakfast was sausage, bacon, egg, potatoes, tomatoes, mushrooms, fried bread and lashings of tea. Now it’s a soggy cake created by a celebrity chef who presumably has never eaten the bloody thing. British Rail knew how to treat their passengers. On Virgin we are mere customers.
A pleasant walk ensued along London Road and I partook of a very pleasant lunch in a café in Easter Road (Polentoni for anyone ever down that way) before I popped into The Artisan Bar for a pint. Faced with three hand pumps, I chose a fine pint of Orkney Dark Island and settled down to watch the second half of Burnley v Lincoln City featuring The Man You Love To Hate, Mr Joey Barton. The Mag sat on the stool behind me thought that Barton was persecuted by referees and that he was a much maligned figure and that Benitez should sign him in the summer.
This was after his pantomime collapse in response to Matt Rhead brushing past him and before he scratched another Lincoln player across the face. After that incident, the discussion between Mackem and Mag became more heated until a regular suggested that we “shut the f*** up.” Lincoln’s goal was welcomed by the majority of punters who appeared to have the same feeling for Barton as JK Rowling does for Piers Morgan.
Meadowbank was 800 yards away from The Artisan, a casual stroll past the Meadowbank Retail Park. The stadium was built for the 1966 Commonwealth Games and was used again for the 1982 ones, after a refurbishment paid for by Robert Maxwell and the Daily Mirror Pension Fund. It has seen better days. The stand is quite impressive – a large cantilever construction but that is all there is. No terracing and nothing opposite to look at if and when the football becomes dull. The crowd, a decent 346, was scattered throughout the stand with the sensible ones a long way away from the wee lad banging the drum.
The game meandered on. City went in a goal up at half time through Josh Walker who pounced on a clearance and rattled in a beauty from 25 yards. Montrose came out for the second half looking for the equaliser and had to wait until a minute from the end when Cammy Bannatyne hooked the ball past the despairing dive of Andrew Stobie to grab a point for the Links Park team.
Disappointment for City until they heard that Cowdenbeath had lost, which keeps them two points and one place off the bottom. I feel their pain.
The ride back was pleasant although dry as no alcohol was allowed on board between Edinburgh and Newcastle much to the frustration of the three ladies from West Cornforth sat over the aisle, who wanted to continue birthday celebrations down the east coast.
And so, I am planning where to go on March 4th and 11th. AFC Fylde is a target but they are away on both dates so it may be back to Scotland and some junior football.
Now that is football in the raw, believe me.