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The Annual Scottish away-day.

November 17, 2013

IMG_0638 – It’s a shadow making my nose look red, not the Tennants.

 

Yesterday was a special day; the inaugural “Annual Scottish away-day.”

Mind you, “special day” was the last thing I was calling it when my alarm was sounding at 5.30am.

Football does strange things to me. Obviously as you all know, I’m a massive Burton Albion fan, and have done my fair share of trips to Barrow on a Tuesday, Havant on a Thursday, and Canvey Island on a horrendous hangover.

But I’ve always had a fascination with Scottish football. I think it started in childhood, listening to the results on Grandstand and hearing all the team names; Albion Rovers, Queen of the South, Hearts, St Mirren… these names fascinated then and still do now.

Plus I bloody love Scotland, holidaying at my Grandparents in Balloch, Loch Lomond since I was a ‘wean’.

After attending a couple of Olympic matches at Hampden Park plus the Celtic vs Inter friendly last summer, before taking in the totally unique experience of an Edinburgh City game on my stag-do, me and Varlsy decided that once every season we would take in a Scottish League match.

So here I was getting up at 5.30am for a Scottish League 2 fixture between Annan Athletic and Berwick Rangers. At least we wouldn’t be the only Englishmen in town.

The itinerary was pretty straight forward; leave Tutbury 6.57am, arrive Crewe 8.04. Pop to McDonalds for some brekky. Board the 9.06am to Carlisle, arriving 11am. Depart for Annan 11.15, arrive 11.34, go pub.

All for the price of £27.50 return. An absolute bargain, even if I say so myself.

The Virgin Pendolino was in fine form as we flew through the North West of England. The further north we advanced, the more scenic the view. Little pockets of cattle grouped together on vast hills that were a perfect green. There would be a few miles of just countryside, of sheep grazing, then you’d spot a jeep trundling along in the distance on a country road, before we rocketed past a solitary farmhouse, looking so peaceful; probably the destination of the jeep.

The North-West main line offers some stunning scenery.

Anyway, I’m going off subject.

Come 11.45am we were on Annan High Street and heading towards the Auberge Inn. Bonnie Prince Charlie once spent a night here. Good enough for Bonnie Prince Charlie, good enough for me.

It wasn’t how I had imagined.

The juke box was blaring. An elderly woman sat by herself, nursing half a pint. 5 or 6 blokes were sat on the bar stools, a few of the younger ones having a right laugh with the barmaid. It still seemed like Friday night in here.

Despite Varlsy’s recent rapid weight loss he’s still a bit bigger than me, so I thought I’d go toilet and let him stand between the rowdy Scots at the bar and order the drinks.

Varlsy negotiated the beer purchasing without incident, so we sat and supped our first Tennants of the day as David Bowie sang away on the jukebox. The Tennants was beautiful. (Anyone know anywhere local that sells this?)

We left the party in the Auberge and headed to the Shed Sports bar. I couldn’t believe how busy this place was. I mean I know the Scots like a drink, but for saying there was no live game on TV this place was packed. It was good to see, especially when you hear how many pubs are struggling nowadays.

The next port of call was the Blue Bell Inn, situated next to the near 190-year old Annan Bridge. (A bit of education for you in this blog!)

Another Tennants was supped in this quiet real-ale pub before we started the 10-minute walk upto Galabank, the home of Annan Athletic Football Club, where another Tennants was supped.

The clubhouse was lively with chatter and confident in mood. With Annan 2nd and Berwick 9th, it had to be a home win, didn’t it?

We popped over to the club shop where I picked up a scarf and pin badge. “Scarf £9, badge that’s £3… we’ll just call it £11 ay son,” said the generous gentleman, before passing us a teamsheet.

Into the ground and a Scotch pie is purchased for £1.50, and wow… the best food I have ever tasted at a football game, even better than that Balti pie at Gay Meadow in 2004.

Galabank is a compact, tidy stadium. Behind both goals is a small uncovered terrace. Down one side is a smart main stand, whilst the opposite side is just simply a high fence!

http://www.footballgroundguide.com/scotland/annan_athletic.html

The game kicks-off. We stand beside the home dugout where 7 subs, management team, and 1 female physio battle for a seat.

Annan manager Jim Chapman is stood on the touchline from the first minute, constantly shouting messages to his young squad, urging them to focus, to concentrate, to push on.

Unfortunately old Jimmy is also stood in our way of the action, and we’re far too respectable to shout “Oi Jimmy, shift your erse”, so we head behind the goal for a better view of the action.

The first goal of the day arrived through Martin McNiff’s back post header for Annan, swiftly followed by the second pie of the day for us. I thought I’d push the boat out and get a Bovril too; immense.

Back to the game, and it was all Berwick. They attacked, countered, and looked anything but a team near the bottom of the table.

Darren Lavery finally grabbed the goal Berwick thoroughly deserved in the 40th minute, swiftly followed by a 42nd minute goal again for Lavery which we happened to miss as we were trying to get in the bar for a ‘half-timer’ but were stopped in our tracks by a steward.

Half-time and Berwick deserving their 2-1 lead. Time for another Bovril.

The attendance is read out, 395. It takes me back to 1994, a cold November Tuesday when Burton played Corby and I was one of the 397 in attendance. Eton Park must’ve looked so bare that night.

The darkness set in as the second half commenced.

Annan looked more organised, more settled, Berwick looking less threatening with each passing minute.

Number 9 Scott Davidson found an opening in the 67th minute and hit home to the delight of the home support. Game on.

Annan pressed more, Berwick battled in vain but seemed unable to stop giving free-kicks away in threatening positions.

David Hopkirk bursts through but is bought down. Free-kick just outside the area to Annan. Last minute of injury time. There is a delay as the referee brings the wall back to 10 yards. Andrew Mitchell shoots low, the keeper saves, the ball flies into the air… Keiran Brannan gets his head on it, the ball bounces goal-wards, onto the post, then hits the back of the net… goal, and the Annan players and supporters are ecstatic, even Varlsy and me jump up and down in celebration…

The full time whistle is blown shortly after and that’s it, Annan win, Berwick head back to England pointless.

We head out the ground back towards the station, via a newsagents for some Tennants. Within a minute of leaving the ground there is just silence, you’d never have guessed a football game that ended in such drama had happened just up the road.

“You couldn’t imagine anything bad happening here”, I ponder to Varls, the place seems to quiet and peaceful.

Back on the High Street and there are signs of life. We’d had loved to have rejoined the party at the Auberge to toast the victory, but our train back was due.

Thanks Annan, it was a pleasure.

Video highlights can be found here (though they’ve missed out the Berwick goals!) see if you can spot Varls and me after the winner.   http://www.annanathletic.com/

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7 Comments
  1. Marco permalink

    Great article very enjoyable read.
    Pleased that you enjoyed your day at Annan.
    Hope you get your wish with Burton Albion coming to Galabank one day for a friendly game.

    • Thanks Marco! Would be great if it was organised, always jealous when I see other clubs like Rotherham and Oxford going off on Scottish tours.

  2. Phil Thomson permalink

    Really good blog, hope you don’t mind but I copied it onto the Annan Athletic supportes facebook page. Glad you enjoyed your day mate, welcome back any time.

  3. Robbarr permalink

    Brilliant article and you must come back next season.Get in touch with supporters club and come on an away trip with us!

    Cheers

    • Thanks Rob, would love to come back, defo will have to at some point! Can u convince your friendly planners to arrange a friendly versus Burton next season? Then I’ll defo be back!!

  4. Superb post. Are you sure nobody pissed in your Bovril while you were there? Just kidding Annan…

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