Friday, 5 September 2008

Ending on an august note

First published in Sons View, 30 August 2008, Dumbarton -v- East Sirlingshire

Okay, I’m about to indulge in some football sentiment about today’s opponents, so before I go any further (and run the risk of an Apache Army search party being set on my trail!), let me make it quite clear that what we want at the end of this afternoon is three more points for Dumbarton and a hatful of goals to our credit.

That said, I wish East Stirlingshire the best of luck this season, apart from when they face the Mighty DFC. For while it’s undoubtedly been tough for Sons supporters in recent years, we haven’t yet endured the ignominy of being dubbed “Britain’s worst football team” – the sub-title of journalist Jeff Connor’s 2005 best-seller on the Shire, Pointless.

Last season, East Stirlingshire saw out their final game at Firs Park with a 3-1 victory over Montrose. This, together with Dumbarton’s away draw against Forfar, meant that they avoided finishing bottom of the Division Three for the first time in six years. The result also meant that they did not trigger the suspended SFL punishment of being made associate rather than full members of the League.

As Shire manager Jim McInally said at the time: “"You can see how much it meant to people at the club when they celebrated as they did. When you think about it, finishing ninth in the league is nothing much to celebrate. It's understandable given what this club has been through, but we have come here to deliver much more.”

That determination spells out just why Dumbarton cannot afford complacency today. Last term, our home record against East Stirlingshire was solid. In December Sons ran out 3-1 winners, ending a lamentable seven games without a victory. It was also the first time that two Dumbarton players had been on the score sheet together for sixteen games.

Then on our last home game of the season, Wee Craigie’s first goal in four years ensured that Dumbarton would avoid the wooden spoon themselves, leaving the Shire rueing the winds swirling round the Rock that day, and needing one last haul (and a further favour from the Sons) to consign Forfar to the foot of the table.

It was far from glorious for DFC, but much better than those grim four days in August 2007 which saw us lose two away games at Firs Park and concede seven goals, first in the League and then in the Challenge Cup.

Those defeats formed part of a stretch when the Shire won six games in a row for the first time since their 1968-9 season. This afternoon Sons have a chance to put yet further distance between August indignity and our current attempts at rejuvenation.

As we know well at Dumbarton, since we are proud to be the first Scottish club to form a supporters’ trust (keep those Sonstrust membership forms coming in, by the way!), fan involvement is crucial to the identity and success of a team. After discussions going back to season 2001-2, East Stirlingshire’s supporters followed our lead in July 2004.

On limited resources, they have now happily secured 10 ‘A’ shares in the club, while trust committee member Tony Ford has been officially registered as a member of the Board of Directors.

Apart from ‘Shire TV’, today’s opponents have one other curious distinction among SFL minnows. They remain massive in Norway. At the time of writing, the ‘Norwayshire’ website and fan club has nearly 6,500 subscribers, making the Shire third only to Manchester United and Liverpool in the country’s popularity stakes. A few of their Nordic hardcore and a television camera even made it over for that Firs Park farewell.

It remains to be seen whether this icy enthusiasm will weather the loss of popular defender Carl Thywissen, who took his leave in July 2008 after four years with the club. It was his appearance in Scotland, together with global publicity around the Connor book, that galvanised the ‘Norwegian Army’.

All of which might well be water off a White-billed diver’s back as far as our own Apache Army are concerned (that’s among the top five bird species to be spotted in Norway, by the way). But they may still be interested in adding the following chant to their repertoire: “Dere er Soldat i forkledning?”

Roughly translated, this means, “Are you the Warriors in disguise?” Answers on a postcard… and enjoy the game.


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