From the outset it was a carnival atmosphere. When I arrived in Annan just after 12.30pm, Sons supporters were all over town – apparently soaking up rather more than the pre-match atmosphere! After refreshments, photos, banter and some singing at the local social club (for whom Christmas had come earlier than expected), I joined the steady stream of supporters into the ground at 2.10pm.
Weather wise, the Borders microclimate decided to throw everything at us: wind, rain, sunshine, icy chill, warm spells, blue sky and menacing storm clouds. OK, I made the ‘warm spells’ bit up. It was decidedly nippy throughout. Nothing, however, could suppress the enthusiasm of the hundreds of Dumbarton supporters ringing three sides of the pitch (standing room only!) and filling the away allocation in the stand.
The Annan faithful bore the Sons party with remarkable good grace, given their own disappointment at having failed to secure a play-off place by losing 1-0 to Stenny at Ochilview last week. They’ve had a good first season in the SFL, having taken fated Gretna’s place with only days to go back in July ’08. The club has a strong community and family atmosphere, and they worked hard to provide the facilities for today’s match – even if the pitch, which was soaked and cut up before the game commenced – still needs a good deal of work on it. I wish them well.
As to the football itself on this august occasion, it was uneven, directed by the swirling winds, and dominated overall by Dumbarton. The Galabankies did far more than make up the numbers, but they couldn’t get a proper handle on the match to spoil Sons’ party, as they would surely have wished. It was 1-0 to the Mighty DFC at half-time, whereupon the queues for the portaloos and food outlets grew to bladder-threatening and stomach-distending proportions. My vegetarian lunch at the nearby social had consisted of John Smiths Bitter and crisps. In the ground itself I was able to extend that health-conscious diet with, er, chips and ketchup. No tasty Dumbarton macaroni cheese pies here, I’m afraid. Just the dead animal kind.
Then the heavens opened, and so did my brolly… after about ten minutes. I’m no southern softy! On cue, the second half commenced, Dumbarton scored a well-taken goal number two, the sun appeared and we conceded a scrappy one at this end – with more than a hint of a foul in Annan’s build-up. This put paid to the possibility of an eighth clean sheet in a row, but with the crown about to be passed into the hands of the Rock’s football kings, who really cared? Besides, a third and decisive Sons strike followed as a fitting finale, and the ground erupted as the final whistle blew.
Then Dumbarton fans cheered and bided their time through the presentation ceremony near the centre of the field (which involved a walk-on ovation for each player and the manager, before the captain finally lifted the trophy aloft)… and then the comparatively well-ordered pitch invasion began. Even law-abiding types such as myself succumbed, and only as the afternoon sun drew in did the gradual dispersal begin.
I haven’t yet heard how the bus-top parade back in Dumbarton went, as I had to hit the trains to Birmingham rather than venture further north. But I’m sure the celebrations continued in style at the Strathclyde Homes Stadium. It’s a pity Annan and Berwick aren’t in Division Two, as they are my only SFL ‘day trips’ from the English midlands. But I’ll be back at the Rock again as soon as I can next term. As for today, it’ll keep those brain synapses busy for years to come.
Oh, and then there are the pictures. They’re fairly low-grade stuff from my mobile phone, I’m afraid; with more to come. The first shows Sons on the attack (or, rather, Annan on the defensive) in the first half. Then my rather rictus-style grin during the break was occasioned by the perils of performing a self-portrait by guesswork, while perched on one leg for elevation and good – or perhaps not so good! – measure. The third one shows Gordon Lennon sharing that all-important trophy with the assembled throng. G’night, fair world… it is for Sons fans, at last.