Saturday, 27 December 2008

A chequered past

First published in Sons View, 27 December 2008, Dumbarton -v- Elgin. The match was postponed and replayed on 10 March 2009. Two programmes were issued.

It seems only two shakes of a linesman’s flag since the season began, but here we are anticipating the last home game of 2008 already. By the time you read this, Christmas will be a receding memory, and the New Year celebrations will be on everyone’s mind. Let’s hope it’s a convincing display with good goals and three points to take away this afternoon, so that dreams of promotion in 2009 remain a realistic prospect.

Our friends from the north, Elgin City, are no strangers here at the Rock, since they did the honours of providing our inaugural opposition at the newly opened Strathclyde Homes Stadium on 2 December 2000. The famous ‘fish eye’ photo of the first ever SHS goal, part of a 3-0 Sons victory, is the screen saver on my home computer at the moment. Sadly I missed the match, as I was somewhere near Lake Geneva on a work trip at the time. Tough life, eh?

That historic game was notable for another reason, too. It was the first ever visit to Dumbarton from the Black and Whites following their accession to the Scottish League that year alongside Peterhead. Later in the same season Sons won again 2-0 at the Rock. We also beat Elgin 4-2 in the first round of the Bells Challenge Cup in August. But in order not to seem too mean-spirited, I assume, we gifted them their first home victory as well, again by two goals, on 30 September 2000.

No such generosity is needed this afternoon, at least not in a footballing sense. In all other ways, a day out at the Rock will prove as warm, welcoming and enlightening as ever, I’m sure. Back in this year’s August sunshine, Sons made the journey to Borough Briggs and came away with a share of the 1-1 spoils. Since then, the City have had a pretty miserable season, propping up the Third Division and suffering at home, on the road and with a player registration spat in the Scottish Cup.

Even so, they proved capable of creating a notable upset in October, stunning league pacesetters Stenhousemuir by beating them 4-2 at home. Craig Campbell, Darren Shallicker, Guy Kerr and Paul Kaczan secured victory for Elgin on that occasion. For this and other reasons, no-one on the Sons bench will be inclined to take this game in the least for granted. The conditions will be tough and both sides will be very keen indeed to end 2008 on a high note.

Our visitors today have a history which shows them capable of taking both hard knocks and glittering prizes in their stride. On the down side, their fair city was more or less pushed off the map in 1390, when one rampaging Wolf of Badenach took a terrible vengeance for his excommunication by the Bishop of Moray. Just 503 years later the Lossiemouthers hit back by forming a football club and two years later by joining the Highland League. They won the Highland championship 15 times in 104 years of membership – nine times in a golden period from 1956 to 1970 alone.

Back in 1968, Elgin enjoyed their best ever Cup run, ending up in the quarter finals before going out 2-1 to our old rivals Morton, then something of a power in the land. Eight years previously they had nearly managed a shock third round result against Celtic. But it wasn’t to be, and the final outcome was defeat by the odd goal in three.

As for the notorious Wolf? Well, he never made any lasting impact on Scottish football and records suggest that he died a few years after his crimes against the good people of Elgin. There’s another legend, though, which says that his demise was in 1406, after playing chess with the devil. Visited at Ruthven Castle by a tall man in black with a penchant for board games (rather than refereeing), Wolf played on until his guest moved one of the chess pieces and called ‘check’ and then ‘checkmate’. As these words were spoken a terrible storm broke, and in the morning Wolf and his men were discovered dead and blackened by lightening.

Quite how far these ancient facts have played a role in Jim Chapman’s no doubt careful preparations for today’s match, only time will tell. But the Sons will not want to end up as pawns in this game, for sure.

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