^^^ After recent KSG visits to see East Stirlingshire play at Berwick Rangers, Glasgow Rangers, Elgin City and Stenhousemuir (Shire vs Clyde), there was some excitement when Arbroath - the Red Lichties - were relegated from Scottish League Div One in May 2014. A new, potentially enticing away day! Further excitement, later that month, when former Maidenhead United keeper Richard Barnard signed for the Shire! Aberdeen was suggested as our base, for a weekend away, in the hope that it would tempt Craig to join us and re-visit his old stomping ground. After the fixtures had been released - and an October date earmarked - the hotel and flights were sorted before the end of June.
^^^ A ridiculously early flight meant that we were shaking hands with Macleod (C) - whom we hadn't seen since Let's Rock the Moor, on FA Cup Final day, in May - at Aberdeen airport, shortly after 9am. A short bus ride into town (to
Union Independence Street) and then photos of Craig, outside the entrance building to his alma mater, en route to the hotel. As well as being very reasonably priced and ideally located, we were able to check-in early to our sizeable and well-presented rooms at the relatively new Hilton Garden. #recommend
^^^ Time to explore. The initial plethora of tattoo parlours, hairdressers and weirdly named businesses reminded me of Falkirk (Fair Deal Food City vs AFC Fast Food, anyone?). Not good. But we weren't wandering aimlessly. Oh no, Craig had a plan. Unbeknownst to the rest of us, we were headed to Old Aberdeen and the city's historic university campus.
^^^ #yeracksualculturebytheway. I commented that I was reminded of Harvard Yard, MA. Craig was quick to point out that King's College - top left; the third oldest university in Scotland and fifth oldest in Britain - predates it's American counterpart by nearly 150 years.
^^^ The Powis Gates, with stickers on adjacent lamppost. 'The sheep are on fire', BTW, apparently refers to a popular Aberdeen FC chant.
^^^ Into the Pittodrie Bar, just after midday, and our first Tennents of the weekend. I, for one, liked the Aberdeen FC caricatures on display. Apparently there is an old photo of Craig, sat in exactly the same spot as above, celebrating the passing - or, at least, the taking - of an exam.
^^^ Pittodrie Stadium. One of the first all-seater stadia in the UK, or so I'm told. Rather strange, in the sense that it had four very distinct stands. Superb granite facade, ruined somewhat by the view of open-air seats. The opposite end - the Dick Donald Stand - was large and imposing, but looked somewhat dated.
^^^ Interesting surroundings - high rise tower blocks in the distance; a huge cemetery with a road meandering through it; a (deserted) links golf course … and the North Sea - as we climbed up and over a grassy hill towards an amusement park and, ultimately, the city centre. Craig would regale us with a story of one memorable midweek match with Rangers, when he navigated this very pathway - in thick snow - towards the away supporters coaches ... despite the fact that he ideally should've been heading, in the opposite direction, back to his student digs! #mcbubble
^^^ Macleod (M) and I auditioning for a Scottish remake of Get Carter. Regular readers of this blog will know that I am often partial to an inappropriate paddle - sounds wrong! - when the opportunity presents itself. Not this time!
^^^ Soon after this photo - of an Inverness Caledonian Thistle sticker - was taken, we were back in the city centre. The architecture was, as Macleod (M) remarked, rather higgledy-piggledy. Much to my dismay, we passed by a massive Wetherspoons – now Archibald Simpsons, formerly the grandiose HQ of Clydesdale bank - as Craig had been recommended somewhere for lunch. The rather swish Cafe 52 initially appeared an inappropriate choice, to me, but the food subsequently served up more than justified the venue's popularity (we just about managed to get a table). Being a big fan of soups, generally, and encouraged by the fact that Craig was also going to order it, I tried the Cullen skink. And I'm glad that I did. Scrumptious.
^^^ Sight-seeing and lunch done, it was time for a pub crawl of Craig's old haunts. First up was the Prince of Wales (a bit dark and dingy, these days, although apparently the bar used to be one of the longest in the country or something), then Ma Cameron's (where the above photo was taken; my favourite pub on the crawl; cracking pints of Inveralmond Brewery's Lia Fail and Belhaven IPA).
^^^ Triple Kirks next. It seems that Craig spent most of his university career in this place! Not surprising, seeing as it was directly opposite the main entrance building (pictured towards the top of this post). We somehow got onto the topic of the 1986 World Cup. 'Where were you when Maradona handballed against England?' asked Macleod (M). 'Over there!' replied Craig, pointing just to our left. Cue a Phoenix from the Flames with Macleod (C) as Peter Shilton and Craig as the fat-arsed, drug-addled, curly-haired, cheating dwarf. Play Barry Davies ...
^^^ More culture (Aberdeen is right up there, with Edinburgh, in the 'statue-on-nearly-every-corner' stakes). Brief, one drink, visits to the Grill (busy, but not great) and the Justice Mill (Lloyds Bar) before Craig met with some mates in the College. It was (supposedly) a sports bar but would only be showing the Hamilton vs Aberdeen game, not Rotherham vs Leeds. The Macleods and I left Craig and his mates to it, if only because Macleod (M) wanted to watch Yorkshire's finest (and Leeds!).
^^^ After a brief stop-off for lard at a supermarket, then an abortive visit to McGinty's (another Leeds no-show), we settled in McNasty's. Leeds were 1-0 up when Macleod (C) and I left for the hotel, to get changed, but were a goal down upon our return. Macleod (M) headed back, following the final whistle (Leeds had lost), while Macleod (C) and I spurned the karaoke and returned to Triple Kirks to try our luck on the quiz machine. The club, upstairs, ultimately beckoned. As pictured, I was alone on the dance floor to begin with. We would lose each other, as the student population filled the place up, and I would eventually be thrown out for falling asleep whilst propped up against a pillar next to the DJ booth! TBF, it had been a very long day (5.20am taxi to the airport, following a late one at the Pondie pub quiz the night before). It was absolutely pouring with rain as I
walked swam back to the hotel. The miserable weather not indicative, though, of an enjoyable day/ night.
^^^ Macleod (C) and I were up first. Remarkable! Time to watch the 'Russia' episode of the Real Football Factories International (comic gold!), on Macleod (C)'s iPad, before breakfast in the Justice Mill and then a ten min or so walk to the station. We would pass a whole host of lap dancing clubs on the approach (all those oil men gotta spend their money on summat, I suppose!). Our train to Arbroath was busier, more expensive (£22 each) and would take longer (approx. 50 mins) than I was expecting. The sun was shining, though, and the coastal views were spectacular. Stonehaven, in particular, looked delightful. A mural at our destination depicted the Declaration of Arbroath (I hadn't heard of it either!). We were then overlooked by the ruins of Arbroath Abbey as we left the station and headed to the nearest pub (ignoring the thrice photographed sign!).
^^^ One round in the Westport Bar (nondescript; Man City vs Spuds on TV) and a couple in the Millgate, either side of this photo being taken (shocking to think, really, that we didn't actually go in the McAnchor!). All of these pubs were within spitting distance of each other; it's safe to say that you won't die of thirst in Arbroath! A ten min or so walk to the ground, as kick off approached, down the gently sloping Millgate Loan/ B9114.
^^^ Scotch pie time. The general consensus was 'not as good as Elgin, but better than Stenhousemuir'. Steak won the vote over mincemeat, but both put the overpriced rubbish served at York Road etc. into some perspective.
^^^ Reading the following, on Wikipedia, had convinced Macleod (M) and I that Arbroath at Gayfield Park was the Shire away game we wanted to attend next:
The stadium is situated on the sea front, to the west of Arbroath harbour, on the southern edge of the town. There is no other football stadium in Europe which is as close to the sea. Due to its position next to the North Sea, in winter fans can be exposed to severe cold and winds. On stormy winter days, waves beat on the walls surrounding the ground. Clearances in the teeth of the gale, let alone polished football, become impossible. Goalkeepers can find it hard to spot the ball to kick out and even then goalkicks occasionally fly out for corners. Players taking corner on the southern side were splashed by waves in February 2014. Visiting fans sometime fear hypothermia as a realistic risk attending games at Gayfield but home fans love the proximity to the action, the dramatic elemental backdrop and the natural air-conditioning – a far cry from the identical plastic boxes and pitches masquerading as 'football grounds' which are spreading like the plague.
^^^ The surroundings were actually far more compelling than the game. Shire were lacklustre from the off and two down just after the half hour mark. I don't know whether Ging Richard I (Ging Richard VI in Scotland??) could see the Maidenhead United saltire. I doubt it; his eyesight isn't what it was, if his flap for the first Arbroath goal is anything to go by! TBF, Barnard was a decent keeper for Maidenhead; apparently recommended to Alan Devonshire by Phil Parkes, he joined us as a youngster from Millwall in 2000 and made 143 appearances before signing for Aldershot Town on a full time contract. It is testament to his popularity that, after just one season as a Magpie, the Macleods and Les - the only three
brave mad enough to do it - went 'Ging for Richard' (Murdo, essentially, dyed his scalp red!) at Harrow Borough on the opening day of the 2001/02 campaign. We won 3-0; Steve 'Crocko' Croxford, Paul 'Male Model' Scott and Lee 'Porn' Channell among the goals. Those were the days! #mistyeyednostalgia
^^^ Halftime photos. The one, top left, taken in tribute to Ladderman from the Conf South forum. Craig had told me about an infamous Arbroath FC die hard who kept getting banned. It has been reported in the Sunday papers in Scotland that he would stand on a wall, to see games, and once climbed up a telegraph pole! Perhaps he now has his own ladder? That wouldn't be as weird, though, as the tannoy announcer having a strong West Country accent! Speaking of the West Country, I was frustrated to learn that the Gas were losing at home to Forest Green. Arsenal, meanwhile, were only drawing at home to Hull (and would soon be behind). The purchase of a decent Arbroath scarf, for a reasonable price of £9, would cheer me up. Somewhat.
^^^ Second half match 'action'. Arbroath - the league leaders - were in complete control, without ever having to get out of second (or even first?) gear. No-one particularly caught the eye - as Stefan McCluskey and Brian McQueen had done, for Clyde against the Shire, back in March - at least, not in a good way. One of the Shire subs had an absolute nightmare when he came on. TBF, he is likely a (very recent) graduate of a Shire youth team that has apparently excelled at their age group. The club also has plans for a new stadium, so I commend them for at least trying to go about things the 'right way' (how many times have I moaned, in the past, about Maidenhead prioritising high-priced journeymen over the progression of homegrown players and ground improvements?). The minimal Shire support were noticeably subdued throughout, however, not helped by two late-ish goals putting a gloss finish on the scoreline. Cajoled by Mad Bill - with Cars Fooked among those rolling, half-naked, up and down a grassy bank - they had been jaw-droppingly brilliant at Berwick. A case of 'ever decreasing circles', though, in the games we've been to since. I'm slowly coming to terms with the likelihood that - and Craig will say 'I told you so' - Berwick was a 'jolly boy's outing' for them and, like us at Dartford in 2011 (and, hopefully, Wealdstone this coming Saturday), far from a typical away day following. Anyway, 4-0 the final score. 614 saw it (yeah, right!).
^^^ The Gas had lost and a late Danny Welbeck goal had only just about saved Arsenal's blushes. Maidenhead, meanwhile, took the lead in stoppage time but then conceded a 92nd min equaliser at Concord, as we walked past a Signal Tower museum towards the harbour. We finally found a fish and chip shop serving the world famous - and EU protected - Arbroath smokie (or eventually serving it, at least; at one stage I began to think that they'd gone out to catch the thing only after we'd ordered it!). Macleod (C) and I tried the specialty - helped out by a scavenging Macleod (M) - sat on a bench, looking out to sea, at the ominously named Danger Point. It tasted better than I was perhaps expecting; flavourful - unsurprisingly smoky - albeit with plenty of bones.
^^^ A couple of rounds of T in the Pageant (much more welcoming than it looked; yours truly put Goldie Lookin Chain and Chas & Dave on the jukebox) between the photos top left and right. No time to stop in Danny DeVito's, unfortunately, but just enough for a (very) quick one in the Stag Inn. #whatwouldmerthrydo? Plenty of the 45 in here, BTW!
^^^ We went for a pint in Wilson's Sports Bar, upon our return to Aberdeen, before Craig called it a night (he had been in Warsaw for Poland vs Scotland, prior to this trip, so I think he was understandably knackered). The Macleods and I then headed to McGinty's - via the Justice Mill - where we would enjoy a rather pleasant and civil evening, drinking decent ale and chewin' the fat (as they would say in Aberdeen). When it was time for a nightclub we knew exactly where to go - unlike in Edinburgh - as Macleod (C) had done his homework; round the corner, down Chapel Street, to Club Tropicana. There was a massive queue outside, though, so we tried next door. The bouncer wouldn't let us in (trainers or summat). Third time lucky and into a karaoke bar called Sing City. It was winding down (thankfully). Still time, however, for me to rile a girl called Jessica (not a local, so her accent wasn't particularly impenetrable). After calling me a C-word (on more than one occasion?), she lead us down a corridor, then a flight of stairs, to a nightclub called Vogue. It transpired that all three places - the karaoke bar, the 90s club and the 80s club - were interlinked. Huzzah! We handed in our coats and promptly headed to the multi-coloured 80s dance floor, with bottles of Smirnoff Ice (Murdo's new favourite tipple) in hand. It was absolutely packed and, as Karma Chameleon - or something of similar quality - reverberated, I found myself chatting to a petite, dark-haired young lady wearing a red dress … seconds before she began trading punches with another smartly attired, good-looking female! I double-checked with Macleod (M) that they weren't fighting over me. Apparently not. As the scrap began to escalate - in intensity and in number - I intervened to act as peacemaker. About a gazillion iSpy points! Five minutes or so later, however, I was one of many open-mouthed bystanders - including the Eastern European bouncer, who shrugged his shoulders - as Lady In Red and her friends, seemingly as one and following some imperceptible signal, took off their stilettos and re-ignited the brawl (Round Two ended, in stalemate, with LIR and an opponent refusing to let go of one another's hair). Now, I’ve seen this type of girl-on-girl action before - notably a flying headbutt outside the Studio in Cleethorpes - but this was something else! Really rather unnerving. Anyhow, after (almost literally) drinking Club Tropicana out of Smirnoff Ice, we returned upstairs to collect our jackets and were preparing to leave as the place began to empty … when She's Electric by Oasis came on. Before I could ask, rhetorically, what Liam Gallagher would do (and before either one of the Macleods could answer 'get his teeth kicked in, probably'), I was bounding across the dry ice-covered dance floor. Another fight ensued - this time between two blokes - but, again, my role was that of peacemaker. As well as prompting photos with a bespectacled lassie - who's friend's boyfriend took (unnecessary) exception to some of the poses ('Dae ye want tae carry oan thes gab ootwith pal?'; 'No point, really, as I can't understand a word you're saying') - my new-fangled pacifist ways also inspired a short-lived game: Security-Generals of the UN as Scottish football teams. Macleod (C) kicked us off with Kofi Annan Athletic. I would counter with Ban Ki-Moontrose and, later, Boutros Boutros-Caley Thistle. Any more for any more?? Thought not. Earlier in the day - perhaps conscious that I'd missed out, due to illness, on our first night in Inverness - I theorised that we needed a bona fide classic night out, in Scotland, to fully justify the 'new Germany' label. This was it, or close enough.
^^^ Once again Macleod (C) and I were up first - wonders will never cease - and once again we lead the march to the Justice Mill for breakfast (I got the order right this time; LARGE). I nursed a hideous 7.5% Freak of Nature Dark IPA as Craig and Macleod (M) caught up on the Lorne sausage. A couple of rounds in the Illicit Still (reminded me a little of Waxy O'Connors in Glasgow; empty wine bottles hanging from the ceiling as part of an elaborate light fixture; QPR vs Liverpool on TV) before a photo with an SIA logo ('It's a recession proof industry,' whimpered a Dorchester Town jobsworth, one year, as we laughed at him) and a taxi, from the hotel, to the airport. One final T, then home. Montrose away, next season, staying in Dundee. After Arbroath/ Aberdeen, they have much to live up to. Unlike the Shire! Hey ho, who's in??