"As for Maidenhead, the conga (which was amusing) aside, quite a strange bunch really – some the oddest chants I've ever heard at a football match" ~ localboy86, Amber Planet forum, 26th April 2015

Sunday 23 June 2013

Away Day Diary: Elgin City 3-2 East Stirlingshire (04/05/13)

As previously mentioned on this blog, we planned not one but two trips to Scotland (both involving East Stirlingshire) as we journeyed in sweltering heat to watch Wealdstone vs Met Police at Ruislip. on the very first day of last season. This particular one - the latter: a long weekend in Inverness via Glasgow and incorporating a game at Britain's most northern football league ground  - was viewed as the pièce de résistance. At least as far as I was concerned. Expectations were high, though, going by our earlier visit to Glasgow.

Needless to say, though, an eventful weekend - another one - was had. So much to mention, in fact, that details of the following ...

  • Thursday night in Glasgow ("Hold up, you've got double French in the morning ... How old are you?!")
  • The morning after (featuring a Celtic FC onesie and the explanation as to why I was bestowed - by a greasy spoon worker - with the moniker 'Mr Glasgow')
  • The train journey - through the Highlands - to Inverness
  • The subsequent rain-soaked pub crawl (including 'Summer Nights' on karaoke and inadvertent, cousin-on-cousin violence)
  • The 'sights and shandies in the sunshine' Sunday stroll around our host city

... will all have to wait for another (life)time.

Instead, I'll concentrate on the game. Well, the day of the game, at least! The match was a big one - particularly for the home side; they needed to win and make up an eight-goal swing to pip Berwick Rangers to the play-offs. That sounds like a huge ask, but Berwick was playing against the Champions at Ibrox, whereas City hosted a team with a minus 48 goal difference! Not unusually, bottom-of-the-table-but-not-going-anywhere Shire had nothing to play for but pride. Would the awe-inspiring Dave 'Mad Bill' McSweeney be 'so prood of ye' at the final whistle, as he had been at Ibrox in March? Would he even be in attendance? Of course. Surely he would. Wouldn't he?

^^^ TBF, I thought it a possibility - for a time - that I wouldn't be there. Whilst Craig and the Macleods (sounds like a band) were braving the heavy rainfall on Friday night, dashing from back street boozer-to-back street boozer, I was in our room at the Thistle Hotel watching Not Going Out (apt) with a hangover-cum-stomach upset. I felt better come the morning (all the final day matches kicked off early, incidentally, as Rangers were on ESPN again). However, I wasn't anywhere near 100%, as illustrated by my decision not to purchase a pie, as we stopped off at the Morrisons superstore (complete with flooded car park) en route to the station. After passing the Highland League grounds of both Nairn County and Forres Mechanics, during our 40 min train journey, we arrived at our destination in time for a pre-match drink or two. My first pint of Tennants Ice Cold stayed down. That was a welcome sign.

^^^ The White Horse on Elgin High Street was the pub we frequented; a fairly typical (in a good way) Scottish boozer complete with bolted-down tables, a dog, heavily-graffitied toilet cubicle door, etc. Nb. This particular venue was chosen at the suggestion of a couple of Shire fans that we'd followed from the station ... 

^^^ Cars Fooked and Brian McKendrick Junior! Craig's face probably says it all! TBF, these two gents had left Edinburgh at an ungodly hour. Fair play to 'em.

^^^ After an interesting Shire-dominated conversation in the pub, it was a short walk - through an underpass and past Elgin Town Hall, a supermarket, and the job centre - to Borough Briggs.

^^^ "Would you like a Scotch Pie with your brown sauce?" They really were excellent. We had two each.

^^^ Inside the ground, believe it or not! The pressure - as manifested by a (relatively) sizeable 750+ crowd - seemed to play on the home team's nerves, and, despite them twice taking the lead, it was the Shire who were making the best use of the remarkable playing surface. They would, justifiably, go in level at half-time. Furthermore, one of the equalisers was pure comic gold: a goalmouth scramble resulting in a ricochet sending the ball rolling towards the line - in ultra slow motion - as the floored Elgin keeper flapped around like a baby seal suffering a seizure whilst trying to body pop! 

^^^ The Shire go crazy! Sadly, no sign of Mad Bill. More on that later ... 

^^^ The sun came out as we swapped ends at half-time. It's worth mentioning the playing surface again as it was better than some grounds on opening day, let alone the final day!

^^^ What a photo!tractor, a Tesco Extra, a 'no frills' York Road-esque gents plus the Duke of Gordon Monument in the distance ("Yer actual culture, innit"). About 1,000 iSpy points in one go!

^^^ Second half. Elgin - resplendent in black and white shirts, black shorts and red socks - remained second best, despite (or because of?) their far greater need for the points. Shire's seemingly young and lightweight team played some pretty but ultimately toothless football, however, and it was clear to us (if not everyone else) that they would lose to a late goal, which they did.

^^^ To a man, though, the Shire players applauded - and also came over to shake the hands of - the travelling support, most of whom had come on a free supporters coach (or minibus). Chairman Tony Ford and other board members would also thank us for attending as we filed out of the ground in front of the main stand. We would buy a scarf for the Anchor before heading back to the town centre searching for refreshments.

^^^ We ended up in the Thunderton House Hotel, supposedly where Bonnie Prince Charlie had stayed - ill with a feverish cold - for 11 days in March 1746. Here we: watched Ronnie O'Sullivan finish off Judd Trump at the Crucible, debated our least favourite Soccer Saturday pundit (Phil Thompson, surely?), and marvelled at the dexterous air guitar-playing skills of the inebriated but harmless and happy, hat-wearing gentleman sat alongside us at the bar.

^^^ CF and BMJ hadn't accompanied us to Thunderton House. As the departure time of our return train fast approached, I thought that they would miss it for sure. More fool me. As experienced away dayers, it should've come as no surprise when they sauntered up with just seconds to spare. I would write that they looked rather nonchalant [French, from Old French, present participle of nonchaloir, to be unconcerned] but - as clearly indicated by their intermittent chanting throughout the game - they hate France, so I won't.

^^^ Craig, Macleod (C), and I nabbed the last of the on-train lager. As such, we would soon bear witness to the inaugural meeting of the SWC (Shire Wine Club). The diminutive CF, it would transpire, is also a fan of FC Halifax Town ("Oh oh oh oh, makes me wanna dance!"), and so he was delighted to learn of the Shaymen's 2-0 win at Guiseley in the second leg of their Conference North play-off semi-final.

^^^ During the taking of this photo, back in Inverness, a passer-by stopped to ask if we really were from Maidenhead. He was from Egham. Small world. German flag - incidentally - was in honour of the Shire's former Freiburg midfielder Philipp Zufle. Previously a language teaching assistant at Dollar Academy, Zufle has apparently returned home to Germany this off-season. As such, the flag is now redundant. Then again - and as aforementioned - they do hate France, so ... 

^^^ Guts out for the Shire! For obvious reasons, I'd have preferred to spare the GMOSC readership the eye-watering sight of this abomination of a photo, but I know that the Macleods wouldn't let me get away with leaving it out. My punishment, I suppose, for missing the previous night's pub crawl. Fair enough. This bar - Gunsmiths on Castle Street - was incidentally the scene of Macleod (M)'s John Travolta impersonation. "She was good. You know what I mean?" CF and BMJ would politely ditch us shortly afterwards. Let us think about that for a moment ... 

^^^ Next up - after a quick bite to eat - was The Auctioneers, a Belhaven pub on Church Street. To begin with, it was more than decent. We guffawed at Watford's third-choice keeper gifting Dirty Leeds a win and thus condemning the Hornets to the lottery of the play-offs. Later on? The lights went down, the RnB music went up, and it seemed ill-fitting short skirts (red ones) became compulsory female attire. Time to go!

^^^ After a couple of rounds in the tiny Market Bar - much maligned by Macleod (P), but unfairly so if our visit was anything to go by - we had a brief stop in the local Wetherspoons (the King's Highway). Stupid coloured drinks time, so Macleod (C) and I enjoyed a bottle of Hooch each. I've recently seen Hooch in a few places, so I presume it is making a comeback. I do hope so, as I love it! At this stage, I was also lovin' the Elgin City scarf. Black, white and red. MUFC Ltd take note! (PS. What's up with my hand in this photo?!)

^^^ Renowned nightspots Hootananny and Johnny Fox's were heaving, so we didn't spend long in either. The Macleods suggested 80s club Vinyl (where they had ended up the previous night). I'm glad that they did, as it is my kinda place! Here we would pose for photos with fellow tourists, guzzle cheap bottles of VK, raise our arms aloft to cheesy anthem-followed-by-cheesy anthem on the multi-coloured dancefloor, and attempt to persuade a hen party from Aberdeen to cheer the #### up!

^^^ "Don't fancy your's much!" While their outfits suggested they had made an effort, their general demeanour indicated that they'd rather not have bothered. TBF, we'd probably looked similarly miserable earlier that afternoon when it had become apparent Mad Bill wasn't in attendance at Borough Briggs. A Shire game without him is akin to an Oasis gig without Noel Gallagher. Or perhaps more pertinently, a Maidenhead United game without Macleod (M) ;-)

CF and BMJ informed us that Bill's daughter, Sophie, is another who no longer attends every game. She is currently boycotting home matches at Stenhousemuir's Ochilview Park after an unsavoury (no pun intended - I have no idea what their burgers taste like!) altercation with a steward (who sounds like a total Rasher). They tried to discourage us from attending the home of their local rivals moving forward, as we had been intending. Our plans for next season were then thrown into further disarray earlier this week when the 2013/14 itinerary was released. Stirling Albion away - a fixture we had also earmarked - is scheduled for the August Bank Holiday and Thursday 2nd January, neither of which will work for us.

Back to the drawing board, then. That said, the Scottish Third Division only has ten teams. And so Shire's opponents next season will be Albion Rovers, Annan Athletic, Berwick Rangers (been there!), Clyde, Elgin City (tick!), Montrose, Peterhead, Queen's Park, plus the aforementioned Stirling. Hardly a mouth-watering contingent. That - coupled with the fact that the Shire has struggled of late (to put it mildly) - means it's no surprise that only ultra die-hards like CF and BMJ regularly travel to away games. Therefore, I was very interested to read recently that: pending the formation of the new Scottish Professional Football League, play-offs between the bottom division and the Scottish Lowland Football League and Scottish Highland Football League are planned to commence at the end of season 2014/15.

Every fan surely wants their team to play at the highest level possible. However, it is not much fun stuck in a division - whether above a club's natural level or not - with little or no realistic chance of promotion or relegation, especially when the away days you have to look forward to are repetitive and unappealing.

Coincidentally (ha!), next season's Conference South fixtures will be announced on Friday 5th July. I am (mildly) interested in when Maidenhead will play the likes of Concord Rangers (yes, I know they're Canvey Island's second team), Gosport Borough, and Whitehawk (been there before, but an away day in Brighton should not be sniffed at). That's about it.

Craig recently stated that we needn't feel it necessary to count him in for any future Shire-related trips, as he doesn't have the same "romantic view" of them as us. (Unsurprising, seeing as Elgin was his Shire debut; he's only ever seen them sans Mad Bill.) Despite this, I hope the rest of us are willing and able to find the time next season for another visit north of the border (Perhaps Peterhead via Aberdeen at the beginning of March?). Regardless, I will be sure to purchase - upon release - the 2013/14 Shire 3rd kit, sponsored as it will be by a charity close to my heart.

Of course, there's also fancy dress to prepare for - wherever that may be (not Basingstoke again, please!) - plus Goldie Lookin Chain's 10th Anniversary Tour, which will take on a greater significance if the football fixtures continue to underwhelm.

Anyway, enjoy what's left of the summer, because football will soon be back!

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