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Sunday 21st July 2013 ko 13.00

James Glen Memorial Trophy 3rd Place Play-Off

RUTHERGLEN GLENCAIRN 4 (Terry 10og McAlpine 25 Sullivan 37 Mackay 85)

ASHFIELD 3 (Flannery 32 Marshall 41 Barclay 66)

Att 107

At Valeside Park, Kilbirnie (Kilbirnie Ladeside JFC)

Entry £5 (but see below!)

No Programme

Badge £3

Raffle £1

Football Card £1

Kilbirnie is a small town of around 7,000 inhabitants situated in North Ayrshire around 20 miles south-west of Glasgow. The area was built up around the flax and weaving industries before iron and steelmaking took over in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Glengarnock Steel Works opened its blast furnaces around 1841 which caused a massive influx of people seeking work. Initially these works were owned by Merry & Cunninghame before being taken over by David Colville & Sons and eventually were nationalised as part of British Steel and finally closed in 1985. The closure had a massive impact on the town, with unemployment and social exclusion a real problem here.

It’s fair to say that the local football club does its best to fly the flag for the town. Kilbirnie Ladeside play in the top-level of the Junior ranks in the area, the SJFA West Premier League, and as such would be precisely the kind of club who the new Lowland League would like to attract to its ranks. A chat with the home officials was revealing,

“We’ve got nothing against the new league, but it’s not for us…”

And you have to understand their point too. When you’re getting average crowds of around 400, and considerably more for the local derbies against the likes of Hill of Beith, Auchinleck, and Irvine Meadow, why would you swap that for less derbies, more travel costs, and arguably a lower standard of football? The Junior name really is a misnomer for the ill-informed, it really is anything but.

The club was formed in 1874 and the Ladeside suffix comes from an old Scots word, Lade, which is a small river or burn. They’ve won the Scots Junior Cup twice, in 1952, and 1977, but more on that later!

Lee and I travelled up from Kilmarnock and reached Valeside Park way too early, around 90 minutes before kick off. We allowed ourselves a gawp at the iconic ground, before treasurer Ian McDonald spotted us, and invited us in for a cup of tea. Initially he thought we were from the new Junior Football magazine, bit we made it quite clear we were no more than just regular punters, and offered the £5 admission fee. His reply after asking where we were from was touching.

“Look lads, I’m the treasurer of this football club, and you’s not paying!”

We made sure we bought a suitable quantity of raffle tickets! We learned quite a bit about the club too, it turns out the two stands were one of the first in the UK to have no supporting pillars,

“You’ll never demolish those, there’s as much below ground as there is above!”

And it has to be said that Valeside is pretty much the perfect ground if you’re a groundhopper. Old, quirky, and the railway sleeper steps in the stand need to be seen to be believed! The place oozes history, and there’s no lack of that. Have a closer look at the cover of the 1952 Junior Cup Final programme. The Hansen playing for Camelon is in fact Liverpool defender Alan Hansen’s father, and the McQueen in goal for Kinbirnie is the father of Leeds and Manchester United Gordon McQueen! Kilbirnie rather ruefully record that young Gordon was turned down by the club as they thought, “He’d never make it!”

I also enquired after the club’s nickname, the Blasties. The club is quite happy for the derivation to be a mystery! It could be a reference to the town’s former Blast Furnace, or more intriguingly it could be a quote from Robert Burns. His poem  “The Inventory” was based on his experience at the Kilbirnie Saint Brennan’s Day Fair about a plough-horse that he purchased. It proved to be a worthless donkey, and so he complained,

“An’ your auld burrough mony a time,
In days when riding was nae crime
But ance whan in my wooing pride
I like a blockhead boost to ride,
The wilfu’ creature sae I pat to,
(Lord pardon a’ my sins an’ that too!)
I play’d my fillie sic a shavie,
She’s a’ bedevil’d wi’ the spavie.
My Furr ahin’s a wordy beast,
As e’er in tug or tow was trac’d.
The fourth’s a Highland Donald hastie,
A d-n’d red wud Kilburnie blastie;”

The competition is a four-team tournament named after Kinbirnie’s former secretary Jim Glen, tragically killed in a hit and run accident. Saturday’s games saw Kibirnie beat Ashfield 3-1 and Maryhill beat Rutherglen Glencairn 4-1. It was a matter of some regret that we were only able to see the one game, the 3rd place playoff, we were back in England when news came through on Twitter that Kilbirnie had beaten Maryhill 1-0 to lift the trophy for the first time since 2001.

We watched the 3rd place play-off, an entertaining affair between Glencairn and Ashfield. For a long time it looked like a personal nightmare for Ashfield keeper Danny Terry. He contrived to deflect Joseph McAlpine’s cross into his own net, then fumbled the same player’s shot for 2-0. It got worse for Ashfield as Paddy Flannery missed a penalty, his shot hit the bar, but a few seconds later he made amends and the comeback was on.

Poor defending gave Glencairn’s Nicholas Sullivan a clear view on goal and this time there was nothing this time that Terry could do to prevent the two-goal lead being re-established. That didn’t last long as Kenny Marshall reduced the arrears once again.

When Ashfield equalised through substitute Joe Barclay it looked like Flannery’s penalty miss would be the more crucial error, but with the clock running down, David Mackay fired home to take the tie for Glencairn.

We made our farewells and commenced the 5 hour drive back home. As we crossed the border at Gretna, a road sign seemed oh-so appropriate. It said, “Haste Ye Back!” You can count on that!