Saturday, 19 May 2018

The Mythical Beast

Arthurlie  0  Hurlford United  3

Scottish Juniors – West Super League Premier Division

It was like some mythical beast.

I’d been listening for several years about just how awesome the Scottish Juniors was, in terms of the grounds, the atmosphere, the football and the general ambience that surrounds the competition.

One bloke I know who has travelled the World watching football, still claims the best period of his jaunts was when he spent a couple of years North of the border.

My old mate Jamesie has been travelling up every July and August now for several years, and for months afterwards waxes lyrical about the trips, while another fella I know who lives in Bolton travels up every week to pick up a Juniors game.

Tales of Auchinleck Talbot v Cumnock Juniors, Kilbirnie Ladeside v Beith Juniors, Pollok v Arthurlie, police on horseback, heaving terraces, officials taking pelters, scotch pies, Bucky and Tennents became commonplace, but up until now, that’s all it was, simply someone else’s tales.

Dunterlie Park
So, just what is the Scottish Juniors? Well, it’s a competition in its own right, affiliated to the Scottish FA, but in essence completely separate entity. I suppose you could argue that its Scottish non-league, but it sits outside of any pyramid system, and as the Scottish ‘Seniors’ have created a pyramid of its own via the pre-existing Highland League and the recently formed Lowland League, which are effectively non-league, it’s almost became more distanced from the perceived mainstream of Scottish football.

That said, things have moved on in recent years, by various means the more successful clubs within the Juniors can now compete in the Scottish FA Cup, which is a positive move towards something like meaningful integration.

But, in real terms, the Scottish Juniors, certainly in the Western Region which encompasses Glasgow and Ayrshire, is arguably of a higher standard, at its top end than say Scottish Division Three. The subtle difference being that in Division Three they are ‘professionals’ whereas in the Juniors they are ‘amateurs’. I would imagine a good number of Juniors earn more in ‘expenses’ than the professionals do in wages. But that is a matter that will always be to a large degree, unproven.

Warm Up
So why can’t the Seniors and Juniors get together and sort this out, create a proper pyramid, and allow clubs like Auchinleck Talbot, Linlithgow Rose, Bo’Ness United and Bonnyrigg Rose to replace some of the dead wood higher up the rankings? The answer is not straightforward, but I suspect it’s about ego, protectionism, empires and money. 

Interestingly, a number of the Eastern Juniors have applied to join the East of Scotland League to give themselves a chance of progressing to the Lowland League and ultimately the Scottish League. If that trend were to continue , and especially in the West, we’d have a revolution to contend with.

The next few years would be very interesting indeed, but  one thing the Juniors is not big on, is red tape, so ground grading, floodlights and such like are not determining factors in terms of your progress and success. That of course would have to change, and for many, that may be a move too far.

So, as far as I was concerned this was a mythical beast, because I’d heard so much about it, yet never seen it, and being realistic, not really likely to see it unless I went significantly out of my way to do so. Put simply, it wasn’t on the radar nor was it likely to ever be, unless….

The Bottom End (The Hole?)
Unless of course the new MD of our business sector is based in Glasgow and decides that it’s my turn to head North of the border to attend a meeting. I can’t say as I was overwhelmed by the prospect because whichever way I looked at it, it was going to be a ball ache, and given our tightened expenses policy, I only had a few viable options available to me.

But then, I thought about making a cursory check of fixtures, but given how late in the season it was (the end), I wasn’t overly confident. I did check the Juniors but the games are released only a week or so in advance, so nothing was doing. Until, as I say, a week before when a raft of Junior games came onto the radar for the night before my meeting, bingo…

Based on our expenses policy, I could get a train up the day before (day of the games), get a hotel (noting the spend limits) then travel back the following evening, and playing my cards right get a free evening meal out of it as well!

What had originally been a trip I’d been avoiding organising became sorted within about twenty minutes. Trains, hotels, the game, the lot! Amazing how the little things can inspire you to get off your arse isn’t it?

Pie Stall
Arthurlie v Hurlford United, two struggling sides in the Western Region top flight, but two former Scottish Junior Cup winners, a fifteen minute train journey from Glasgow Central, and a recommended boozer right outside the turnstiles, I love it when a last minute plan comes together.

The journey to Glasgow involved three trains, with the final one from Manchester being the longest jaunt, around three and a half hours. Eventually, having left Carlisle and meandered via Lockerbie alongside the M74 we eventually pulled into the final halt and I could check in to the nearby Jury’s Inn. Suitably refreshed after an obligatory Spoons Burger & Beer deal, it was time to go in search of the mythical beast!

Arthurlie are located in Barrhead, which is a fifteen minute train trip South West on the line that goes to Kilmarnock (where visiting Hurlford are based). As the train pulled in to Barrhead I could see the ground from the train and with players clearly warming up on the pitch I took a very short walk over the road to The Brig for a couple of scoops.

It was a great boozer, very much like the Duke of York in Belfast, in the sense that it had loads of football memorabilia all over the walls. It also appeared quite neutral with Celtic and Rangers in equal measures, but many of the programmes on the display were absolute classics, including a few from Arthurlie.

Away Fans Congregate
Arthurlie have been around for donkeys years, the eighteen hundreds, so with a rich history, they’ve also had their moments as a football club. Once a Scottish League club at the turn of the twentieth century, they’ve become established as a Junior club and had mixed degrees of success, but the most notable being the famous Junior Cup victory over neighbours and rivals Pollok.

Dunterlie Park was described to me by Jamesie as ‘Porn’ and to be fair, I can’t disagree with him. You enter via the turnstiles (as opposed to over the fence I guess) and in front of you is some old terracing with various steps and angles, that narrows down to the West side of the ground where the numbers of steps increase again before they peak on the half way line where they are now covered by a large enclosure.

The steps reduce again until they reach the bottom end where the changing rooms are, while on the East side it’s just a narrow area of terracing. If you want a drink or a deep fried pie then the tea bar is to the left as you walk in, otherwise, no beer, no floodlights and no seats.

You could shut your eyes and imagine what it would be like with a big crowd crammed onto the terraces, very special I would imagine, but tonight around 200 had paid the six pounds to get in, with a large number having travelled the fourteen miles from Kilmarnock.

In their last home game against Beith, Arthurlie shipped eight goals, so there was a bit of trepidation amongst the home support, especially fifteen minutes in when they could and should have been three goals down.

The Road Side
A goal didn’t arrive until just before the interval and that was for the visitors who had been the dominant side throughout the half. Standard wise it was hard to compare it to anything South of the border, but I’ll stick my neck out and say it was Step 5 / Step 4?

Playing up the slope in the second half, Hurlford got a second from the penalty spot. The decision to give a penalty went down badly with the home support who unleashed a less than complimentary appraisal of the referee’s performance. I wasn’t sure which ‘hole’ they were referring to, but it was clear what they were suggesting he stuck in it!

A third goal came in the latter stages of the game from a free kick that the goalkeeper should have done better with. It was really unfortunate for the Arthurlie goalkeeper who for me was the man of the match, pulling off save after save as Hurlford pushed forward.

So that was it, 0-3, and Arthurlie look destined to finish next to bottom in the table. I’m not sure what the implication of that is because historically that would mean relegation. But with the league due to increase in size and be renamed the ‘Premiership’ next season, they may well be safe?

A last snifter in the Brig coincided with me being able to watch Derby County fail once again in the play-offs, before the train back to Central.

The mythical beast had finally been sighted, and you know what, part of me has suddenly got the desire to find out a bit more, experience a bit more, taste a bit more of that Juniors atmosphere that is so unique, so unique that many will travel the World, yet still keep coming back.

Auchinleck in August anyone?

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