First published in Sons View, 02 February 2008, Dumbarton -v- Elgin
Dumbarton supporters are a pretty well travelled lot. Well, the ones I know are. Judging from the reports in Sons View’s regular ‘Fan of the Week’ slot, there’s a fair degree of mileage involved in being a really dedicated follower of the Mighty DFC. Ross County’s ground is one of those more often mentioned as an exception to the ‘been there, seen that’ rule, I note – but certainly not Glebe Park, home of this afternoon’s opponents, Brechin City.
My own geographical distance from Dumbarton (getting on for 400 miles), and the fact that I’ve mastered neither time travel nor great wealth in my 51 years on this planet, means that I get to far fewer games in Scotland than I’d like to – and when I am here naturally the priority is a trip to the Rock, or in a previous era good old Boghead.
On a rough estimate, I reckon I’ve notched up visits to about a dozen of the 40 other senior grounds north of the border, and quite a few more in England, obviously. The last time I made it to Brechin was over twenty years ago. It was a journey by coach on 17 September 1988.
I can’t quite recall where that trip started out, but it took a couple of hours and my then girlfriend wasn’t too impressed to discover that we had a nice long walk to the ground from our dropping off point. But it was a holiday, and a brisk hike on a sunny day is all part of the deal, right? Well, yes. Though it helps if you get there in time for a relaxing meal and a drink beforehand. The hospitality in Brechin is fine and I have some affection for the ground, but veggie-friendly pies were not on the menu that day so we had to make do with tea and a leftover half packet of peanuts that had been festering in my pocket!
The match itself ended in a 1-1 draw and I was quite satisfied. To date that season, Sons had won only one of their first six games (they lost the others), and if they had been mauled in Angus I would have been in even more trouble from my companion! The omens were not great. Bertie Auld had just been sacked as Dumbarton boss and morale was low. But a determined if not inspired performance against Brechin earned us a point, with 23-year-old striker Benny Rooney getting the goal.
That season was a tough one for us in the Second Division. Dumbarton finished 12th but, crucially, stayed up. Having lost to the Hedgemen in December that year, Sons finally claimed revenge at Boghead in April 1989 with a 1-0 victory.
Today we receive the players, staff and fans of Brechin to the Strathclyde Homes Stadium with a good deal more confidence than we displayed during our last outing to Glebe Park on 29 August, when a 3-1 defeat was watched by just 470 spectators.
Sons’ win against Arbroath at the Rock last Saturday has finally “got the monkey off our back”, as Jim Chapman likes to put it. Indeed, with three away victories on the trot, plus the Stirlingshire Cup triumph, Dumbarton haven’t lost a match on their travels since that reversal in Angus.
The aim today is to put that right and to start to make the Rock the kind of football fortress that its name and neighbouring Castle suggests it should be. This isn’t going to be easy. Brechin lie in second place in the division, with a perfect home record. However they have lost four out of six games away so far, indicating a certain brittleness in the travel department. The upshot is that both sides are vying for continuous improvement.
Sons then have to get on the bus themselves for the next two games against Stenhousemuir and Cowdenbeath, the rivals we beat to the Third Division Championship last term. A couple of wins before we next face the Binos on 5 December could mean that we will find ourselves in the play-off zone rather than worrying about the drop.
But such notions can be deceptive. In a division with only ten members there is barely anything called ‘mid-table respectability’. If you are not at the summit you are always either on the brink or on the ledge, so it’s best to focus on the immediate challenges than to speculate about where they might leave you. One thing is certain: points and goals all tally up and push us in the right direction.