The first football ground I ever visited was in the North East of Scotland. “Gayfield Park” home to the mighty Arbroath FC. Arbroath were the local team where I lived and, over the years I lived in Scotland, I grew to really love the “Red Lichties”. Gayfield on first glance is an old-fashioned ground with one stand of around 1000 seats and the rest all “safe standing” terraces.
With the North Sea literally a stray pass away; Gayfield could be a dark and bleak place at times. Oh and did I mention the cold and the wind? The North Sea combining with the questionable Scottish Weather is a deadly combo, team that up with the devilish wind, and you have the terrible trio that chilled fans to the bone and resulted in a number of games having to be abandoned! A trip to Gayfield on a Baltic Saturday afternoon in January to witness a 0-0 against Stenhousemuir is not one for the faint hearted, trust me!
Bleak. Dark. Cold. Wet. Baltic. Gayfield sounds delightful doesn’t it? However, there’s this phrase that I’m sure you have heard time after time: Looks can be deceiving. The same applies to Gayfield. Yes the stadium is old but it’s full of character. It’s a proper football stadium with proper football fans and a proper football team. You always remember your first – car, job, house – and of course football game. My first was Arbroath against Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the Scottish Co-operative cup (English League Cup). It was a thrilling game with Arbroath performing admirably against a top division side to draw 2-2 and narrowly lose on penalties. From then on I was hooked. For Seven consecutive seasons I was a proud season ticket holder at Arbroath. I witnessed Arbroath go from challenging at the top of the First Division, to then being relegated to the Second Division and then their resurgence to win the Second Division two seasons ago. My last ever game before moving to England was the 1-1 draw away at Stirling Albion which sealed the title. That was one heck of a moment. This weekend Arbroath will be crowned champions of Scottish League one after a truly incredible season. The Red Lichties will start next season in the Scottish Championship! Not bad for a semi-professional side is it!
I lived in Angus the county Arbroath is in. Dundee is the nearest city to Angus and of course the two Dundee teams were the big clubs in the area. I could’ve gone and watched them with my mates every week instead of Arbroath. The standard of football was better, (I can see my mate Jack trying to disagree with this one based on Dundee’s current season), the stadiums were better and so were the players. Yet that didn’t interest me. Arbroath FC was like a family. A club that always treated the fans as number one and as a human being you are drawn to this warmth. The football at times was dire and at times I would really question why I was spending my Saturday afternoon sitting next to a Queen of the South fan who’s vocabulary didn’t stretch very far or beside the same Arbroath fan every week who called every player Dave. That was the minority though. Most weeks the games were thrilling and enthralling. Penalties, red cards, overhead kicks, comebacks, injury time winners you name it! Scottish lower league football is quite simply fantastic and to watch a team go from strugglers to powerhouses in the space of a few years was a true joy to watch.
I love Arbroath FC and, although I haven’t been able to get to a game this season, I still follow the games week in week out. Going from watching Arbroath week in week out to Blues is like moving from a town of 100 people to London. The difference is huge. 20, 30 times bigger crowds, deafening atmosphere and a massive improvement in the football. Yet, there are more similarities than you think. Like Arbroath, Blues are a club who put their supporters first and the warmth and friendliness of the club is apparent every time you visit St Andrews. St Andrews is getting on a bit but it’s again a stadium packed with character and history. Blues is a proper football club, with proper fans and a proper stadium. With Garry Monk at the helm, more than ever before, this feeling of togetherness and unity of being blue has come to the fore.
What’s my point? Well it doesn’t matter if your club are in the top division or the bottom division or if you have a new stadium or an old stadium. What matters is that the club puts the fans first. When a club do that, regardless of the results, the fans un-rivalling loyalty will be with that team forever. Look at this season. Uncertainty, a point’s deduction, a horrendous and bleak March. Yet what’s been the constant? Loyal Blues fans selling out St Andrews and away games. Regardless of if Blues were in League two or the premier league the first class support will always be there. Blues fans I salute you! You’re both a credit to the club and to football!
Photo Courtesy: Roy Smiljanic / BCFC