Sunday, 2 August 2009

The ingredients for success

First published in Sons View, 02 February 2008, Dumbarton -v- Dunfermline Athletic (Cooperative Insurance Cup

Last year my local side, Exeter City, had a pre-season trialist who I gather had passed through the ranks of Dunfermline. He didn’t stay around long, but even so I spent a good few weeks explaining to baffled Devonians that, no, it’s Dumbarton I passionately support, not the Pars. And yes, they play in gold and black, not monochrome. All Scottish teams sound and look alike to the English, it seems.

Not that Exeter’s match day magazine editor needs that kind of discrepancy pointing out to him. A veteran football researcher, Mike Blackstone maintains a lively interest in all aspects of the game – not least developments in Scotland, where he takes in matches from Annan to Brechin and beyond, in the SFL and also in various junior leagues. He’s also been charitable enough to include a Sons logo in the Exeter programme on at least one occasion.

I’m sure Mike, who has yet to visit the Strathclyde Homes Stadium (I’m working on it) would instantly be able to relay a few key facts about the Pars, in between swigs of some fine ale or other – a further subject on which he is able to wax lyrical on his blog, Dark Rock Diaries ( Indeed, with a title like that, you’d almost mistake him for a Sons fan!

Suffice to say, as Mike would tell you (if you needed telling), the East End Parkers have a proud track record in this fine game of ours, not least in Cup competitions. In one of their strongest eras they claimed the Scottish Cup in 1961 and 1968, reached the quarter finals of the old inter-city Fairs Cup twice (1962 and 1966) and then got to the European Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final in 1969 – three years before Rangers won it. In 2004 and 2007 they made it to the second qualifying round of these competitions’ successor, the UEFA Cup, but have yet to reach the first round proper.

Once seen as a natural top-flight side, the Pars were relegated from the SPL in 2006-7, after seven years there and a momentous struggle. Still a household name anywhere Scottish football is lived and breathed, Dunfermline are now keen to try to regain their past glories and status, in spite of the financial and other difficulties of securing sustainable success in the modern game.

When the Sons last met the Pars at SHS (their first visit here, on 21 July 2007) they ran out 5-1 winners, the Dumbarton consolation goal coming that day from David McFarlane. It was a friendly. In the previous competitive game, an April 1996 First Division match in the season Dunfermline won the title, we again lost 4-1.

Today will be undoubtedly be another tough outing. The Pars fancy a good run in the Co-Op Insurance Cup as a spur to the term ahead, and will see a tie against Dumbarton as a winnable proposition. Jim Chapman’s men, on the other hand, with the Morton Alba Cup game and several hard pre-season matches behind them, will be keen to get into gear to secure a firm foothold in Division Two.

Oh, and one other thing. I’ve been trying to think of something Exeter programme editor Mike Blackstone probably won’t know about the Pars… and I’ve come up with a bit of information that the Sons View supremo almost certainly will. Dunfermline’s steak bridie was judged by no less an authority than ground-hopping author Gary Sutherland to be “frankly one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.”

The accolade occurs on page 176 of Sutherland’s Hunting Grounds: A Scottish Football Safari (Birlinn, 2007), a book that Graeme Robertson has been known to quote and extol in bars the length and breadth of the land. The Pars bridie even won the Scottish Football Pie Chart award, despite not actually being a pie.

I cannot pass further comment on this culinary delicacy myself, because I am a vegetarian, and therefore unwilling and unable to ingest its prime ingredient. What I can tell you is that Dumbarton’s macaroni cheese pie is usually a very satisfying complement to my day out at the Rock… and that it will be most palatable if the Sons are able to pull off a good performance this afternoon.

Best of all would be an upset of the footballing (rather than the stomach) variety.

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