Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Football in extremis

Since Dumbarton's home tie against Alloa was called off, a few Sons fans decided to make the trek to Hampden Park in Glasgow instead, to catch the only surviving lower league game of the day last Saturday -- Queens Park against Montrose. My compatriots were not mightily impressed by the game, though I've seen far worse myself. You could certainly see why both sides are struggling in the lower reaches of the SFL Third Division at the moment. Indeed, the Gable Endies have not won a game all season so far and are rooted firmly to the foot of the table. That didn't change on 19 December 2009, as Queens came out 3-2 victors in a match which lacked much shape or inspiration, but which thankfully benefited from several pretty good goals --- including a wondrous 25-yard last-minute strike from the Angus visitors' Daryl Nicol. That gave the home side a bit of a late panic, but Montrose ran out of time and in any case never looked like capitalising on the fleeting sight of a point.

As you'll see from the picture, the match was conducted in freezing conditions and at times it was rather like watching a two patterns of ants chasing an orange pea through a green maze. Shortly before kick-off, which was delayed by 15 minutes, there was a sudden snow flurry which almost put the fixture in peril. A wilder storm from the same weather configuration led to the last-minute abandonment of Hamilton Accies versus Dundee United in the SPL, apparently.

Meanwhile, of the 50,000 seats available at Hampden, only 397 were occupied for this fourth level encounter. Davie, Denise, Tommy (pictured below) and I were in what was in theory the 'away end', though segregation is hardly rigorous. My huge rucksack wasn't even searched when we went through the turnstiles. Unthinkable down south. As the game reached its denouement I calculated that we Sons fans amounted to getting on for 20 per cent of those present in the away section of the ground! Surreal. The half-time tea and pie were much needed as the cold began to bite, too. I was fortunate enough to be able to sneak into the loo during the break to put on my thermals. It was still extremity freezing for the next 45 minutes. Altogether a "real football experience" of the sort that those not enchanted with the game often fail to understand, but which those of us with it coursing through our veins somehow manage to relish in a perverse way.

For me the additional interest of the match was that it was actually the first live game I'd seen in the new(ish) national stadium. I've been to Hampden on several occasions to take in the Scottish Football History museum and the stadium tour, but I've never got to a Scotland game or cup event there: or indeed a Spiders home match until this one. That in spite of knowing at least one Queens supporter, a former college room-mate called Paul Bladworth. (If you happen to chance across this post, Paul, do drop me a line, as I have lost your address.) I must say I greatly prefer New Hampden to New Wembley, which is architecturally splendid but rather soulless. I duly resolved to try to get to a Scotland home game under new boss Craig Levein, who I believe is going to do as well as anyone could reasonably expect given limited resources and the sorry state of the Scottish game at the moment.

As a footnote, I should add that, at £2 a go, Queens Park's programme is undoubtedly one of the best in the lower leagues these days -- both in colourful presentation and in well-written and well-edited content.

No comments: