Saturday, 23 August 2008

Looking for a silver lining

First published in Sons View, 23 August 2008, Dumbarton -v- Stenhousemuir. SFL Division Three.

Last weekend Dumbarton sent a successful raiding party south of the border to claim three valuable points from a 2-1 win over Berwick Rangers. This week it’s home duty again and a visit from Stenhousemuir. But the challenge of adding to our tally and moving further towards a hoped-for promotion push remains the same.

As ever, history shadows the Sons’ quest for glory. Though the true national identity of what was once Scotland’s richest port has been a long-standing source of dispute, the English imposed their ownership on Berwick in 1482, after it had changed hands through force and political intrigue more than a dozen times.

That fact, together with the Borderers’ loyalty to the Scottish Football League since their election in 1951 (the year Dumbarton won the St Mungo Festival of Britain Quaish against Ayr United on 6 August), meant that when the Sons finally took the Second Division title in 1971/2, on the threshold of our famous Centenary year, it was an English team they had to beat in order to do so.

During that momentous season, Stenhousemuir proceeded to take the points from our encounter at Boghead with a 2-1 victory early on in what proved to be a jittery start to a finally triumphant Sons campaign. We certainly don’t want to concede like that today, but if an exchange could somehow be negotiated for the Champions crown, few of us would turn the deal down! Not that football ever offers success on a plate quite like that.

Doing a quick calculation the other day, I figured that in my own cross border footballing activities (which proceed in the opposite direction, since I’ve always lived south of Birmingham), the Warriors are the team I’ve seen most often in Scotland other than the Sons – if only because, quite unintentionally, my periodic visits to Boghead and the Rock have coincided with theirs more than any other side.

I’m taking it that the results of those particular games I’ve witnessed, a series of defeats and one draw, are no useful omen for what will occur on the park this afternoon. Both sides crave success, but for Sons’ hungry new blend of youth and experience, it’s a chance to record an all-important first League victory at the Rock this season. This is an opportunity that, hopefully, we will not spurn.

The last time I saw Stenhousemuir at the Rock was a year ago in what could justifiably be called a bit of a comedy of errors, though I’m absolutely sure that no-one sitting around me was laughing. As it happens, our opponents’ hometown is also the birthplace of actor James Finlayson, who played the foil in many classic Laurel and Hardy movies. That’s one duo we won’t be planning on emulating this afternoon.

Stenhousemuir’s own history is not exactly covered in magic dust. A recent compendium of the game cruelly describes them as “one of the least successful teams in Scottish football history, despite some stiff competition.” That said, they’ve had a few cup-tie glory days, including a substantial victory against Aberdeen in 1995. Way back in 1903, they reached the Scottish Cup semi-final for the first and only time, losing out 4-1 to Rangers, who went on to win the trophy themselves.

Two years after that we have records of the first League encounters between the Sons and the Warriors, with Dumbarton triumphing 4-0 and 4-3 home and away, respectively. However, it wasn’t until the1922-23 season that Stenhousemuir started to become regular opponents of ours.

One game against Stenny we’d all definitely like to forget (though thankfully, few of us will have recalled it in the first place!) was a 7-0 away drubbing on 5 March 1927. Not for nothing were the late ’20s and early ’30s known as the era of depression!

Then again, that was also the season that Dumbarton first formed a supporters’ association to begin to invest in the future of Club, an idea transformed in an altogether more determined direction with the advent of the Sonstrust in May 2001, to give you and me a direct stake in helping to re-write Dumbarton’s history yet again.

There are clouds that have silver linings. But you usually have to sew them yourself.

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