WHITLEY BAY (Hillheads Park)

The last Saturday of the month brings another leg on the road to Wembley and another jaunt up north on the A1 to the seaside town of Whitley Bay for their FA cup match against the tigers of Hyde United. When the draw was made this, to me anyhow, looked the most interesting of ties as “the bay” are doing well in their league (the Northern league) whilst Hyde are struggling in theirs (Conference North). There may be three leagues between them but this had the whiff of an upset.

The ground was pretty easy to find as it located directly behind an ice rink on the edge of town and, because the ice rink is so well signposted, you can’t really fail to find the ground! However priorities have to be made and you can’t go the seaside and not have walk down to the seafront and sample some fish ‘n’ chips, so it was a case of whizzing past the ground and heading off in the general direction of the North Sea. I have to admit the food did not disappoint and it was one of the best pieces of cod I’ve sampled in a while. Can the day get any better? You bet it can!

After returning to the ground and parking up, it was time to enter Hillheads Park for the main event. It was £7 to enter and a further £1 for a programme. The welcome was warm as people connected to the club stopped and had a chat to you. They were genuinely pleased that we’d come all this way to watch the bay. It’s the little things like this that make you feel appreciated. I’d never get that a welcome like that at Goodison, I’m afraid.

The ground is simple enough with a big main stand and a covered terrace next to it. The other three sides of the ground are terracing. On having a look at the pitch, the first thing that hits you is how wide the pitch is. It’s massive! I suspect that in these parts they like old fashioned wing play and indeed that it how the game would be won.

Whitley Bay came out of the blocks like an express train and hit Hyde with a double whammy that left them two goals down within 5 minutes. Paul Chow found the bottom corner of the net after just 3 minutes. From the kick off the ball was intercepted and passed out wide to man-of-the-match Chris Moore, who cut in and shot past the keeper. It was more or less game over after 25 minutes when a Moore cross was headed home by Rob Livermore.

The travelling Hyde supporters were not amused and indeed when a ball went out for a corner kick one fan hurled it back at the Hyde player and asked for some pride in the shirt. The Bay could have added to their tally before half time but it was Hyde who came closest when Chris Simm hit the post. Perhaps it may have been a different story if that had found the net.

The second half continued where the first had left off with Whitely Bay continuing to push forward, however Hyde did manage to pull a goal back on 65 minutes when a Chris Lynch diving header reduced the arrears. However any hopes of a comeback were dashed when Neil Tolson was sent off a couple of minutes later for calling the linesman a f****** c*** and towards the end of the game Karl Munroe was sent off, again for foul and abusive language.

The fact that Hyde finished with only nine men should not detract from Whitley Bays performance which was simply magnificent. All in all, a thoroughly entertaining game of football, which was well worth the long trip north. It will be interesting to see who the Bay draw in the next round.

Saturday 27th September 2008
FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round
Whitley Bay 3-1 Hyde United
Attendance: 364

AYR UNITED (Somerset Park)

After recovering from the night before, it was a quick trip down the A71 and the second leg of the Scottish double. Destination today was Somerset Park, home to Ayr United and their clash with Brechin City, 1st v 2nd. It had all the makings of a cracker and the sun was beating down too. The omens were looking good!

This was another straight forward ground to find as it is more or less opposite the racecourse as you enter the town. You can see the floodlights peering above the houses. After parking up, it was a chance to walk around and savour this gem of a ground. I purchase my programme (£2) and, disappointingly, again, there were no badges on sale, but at least they had a shop! After (literally) blowing away the cobwebs over the turnstile entrance, I pay my £12 and enter the arena. This is a truly old fashioned ground in every sense.

There is only one side of the ground that has any seats and that is the main stand. The other three sides of the ground are terracing. It has been the home of Ayr since they were founded in 1910 and apart from the signs of age this ground, probably, doesn’t look any different from the day it was built. It currently has a capacity of 12,128. The record attendance for Somerset Park came against Rangers in 1969 with 25,225 people attending on the 13th September 1969. It is one of the largest capacity stadiums outside of the Scottish Premier League but only 1,597 of the total capacity are seats. It is due to be sold off for housing and a new ground built on the outskirts of town.

After placing myself high on the open terrace, i stood back to watch an entertaining game of football. Brechin made the early running in an end-to-end game but probably shaded the first half hour or so. It was no surprise when they took the lead when Gary Twigg headed home unmarked from a corner to send the travelling 28 fans into raptures. However, Ryan Stephenson equalised for Ayr just before half time when he hit home a 25 yarder into the bottom corner.

The second half continued in the same vein with the game flowing and both teams had their chances. Ayr dominated the possession and tested the Brechin keeper with a series of long range efforts. However, Brechin always looked dangerous on the break and it was Twigg who missed a chance to wrap up the three points right at the end when keeper Stephen Grindlay made a point blank save, which, in all honesty, should’ve been converted. A draw was a fair reflection of the game and a point was enough to ensure Ayr were top of the league come 5pm

So that was another Scottish weekend over and thoroughly enjoyable it was too. I vowed I wouldn’t get into the Scottish ground hopping but it becoming increasingly harder not to. Until next time!!

Sunday 21st September 2008
Scottish Football League Division Two
Ayr United 1-1 Brechin City
Attendance: 1,317

St MIRREN (Love Street)

A theme that seems to be running through quite a few of my visits this season is that of grounds that are soon to be gone. So it was with this in mind that a chance occured to visit two grounds that will/may be no more by 2009. St Mirren was already in mind as they are due to move in January 2009 so it was a case of trying to find a suitable Saturday before then. When, because of a race meeting, Ayr’s game versus Brechin was moved to the Sunday it was no contest. This would be the weekend, as St Mirren were home to Falkirk. A hotel in Glasgow was booked and it was north I headed (no clich├ęs about taking the high road!)

Love Street, the home of St Mirren, was pretty easy to find as it located just off the M8 near Glasgow airport. Arriving in good time meant parking in the street near to the ground was also simple enough. Walking around the stadium it was difficult to understand why the club is moving. The ground looked more than adequate for the needs of club. However, the ground has been sold off to clear debts and (shock! horror!) a supermarket is to be built in its place.

I was disappointed to find that there was no club shop at the ground, so I could not get hold of a badge. It was then off to the ticket office where I purchased my ticket (£18) for the North Stand. This proved to be as hassle free as the lady in the ticket office suggested it would be. When I phoned earlier in the week and asked would there any danger of there being no tickets available she just burst out laughing! After purchasing a programme (£2.50) it was a quick walk into Love Street itself and the entrance to the North Stand. This is where most of the St. Mirren fans appear to be heading to as well. To get into this stand you have to walk up a large ramp, which stretches from the turnstiles over the corner and into the back of the stand. It is a large seated terrace stretching the length of the pitch. It was then a quick trip to the serving hatch to purchase a bridie (£2.40) and well worth the price it was too!

It was then a case of taking your seat, or at least a seat, as nobody appeared to be sitting where they were supposed to be. Nevermind, this suited me as my ticket had an obscured view behind one of the posts! It was now a chance to have a look at the ground it its full glory. The Main Stand is very basic with only a seated section on the top level. It doesn’t run the length of the pitch, only a section on the halfway line. This stand is the smallest and looked the oldest of the four. The stand is behind the goal at one end of the pitch and would appear to be the best view in the ground, yet this is the away end, which today houses a small pocket of Falkirk fans. At the other end is the Family Stand, which is seated terrace with a cantilever roof. Also, behind that stand, in the corners, are remnants of the old terracing which were curved and gave a tantalising glimpse of the ground before redevelopment. It was easy to imagine the bowl shaped ground with big banks of terracing filled with the fans cheering on “the buddies”.

Anyhow, back to the game and quite frankly it was crap (I do seem to be having a bad run of late) and possibly one of the worst games I’ve seen in recent times. Admittedly 10th v 12th in the league table was never going to be a classic but even so you expect something to happen, but nothing did, in the first half anyway. It was goalless at half time. I don’t know what they put in the half time cuppa but the second half kicked off and within two minutes Falkirk took the lead. A cross was whipped in and headed home by Graham Barrett, with the goalie rooted to the spot. This lead didn’t last and two minutes later a silly handball by Kevin McBride gave away a penalty and Billy Mehmet tucked it away to level up. However that was the end of the thrills as the game reverted to the malaise of the first half as both teams settled for a point.

Despite the poor game it was brilliant to get a chance to visit Love Street and to see a match before it is no more. All that remained was a quick trip back up the M8 into Glasgow and off into the city for a couple of beers...................hic!!

Saturday 20th September 2008
Scottish Premier League
St Mirren 1-1 Falkirk
Attendance: 4,134