Saturday 8th February 2014 ko 13.45
Scottish Junior FA West Region, Central League Cup 2nd Round
BENBURB 1 (McGurgan 30) Lovering sent off 88 (2nd booking)
THORNIEWOOD UNITED 6 (Duffy 6 Murphy 16 Malone 45 McGowan 62 O’Donnell 78 Brophy 85)
When I was a sixth-former we were encouraged to debate the burning issues of the time. I remember a particularly heated debate on the death penalty, and a particularly powerful argument was putting yourself in the position of the condemned prisoner and the dread of waiting for the appointment with the executioner. I felt a flavour of that dread about those involved at Benburb.
Benburb are on borrowed time at their home Tinto Park. The 82 year old stadium has been sold for housing, the “Site Office,” sign is up on the fence outside, and the club neither know who now owns their home, or when the axe will fall.
The ground is to be found in Govan, Glasgow, the Archibald Leitch designed stand of Auld Firm behemoths Rangers is clearly visible beyond The Bens’ more humble clubhouse, it is therefore of no surprise that Benburb play in Rangers’ blue, even if the club’s roots may well lie in Northern Ireland and the town in County Tyrone. Govan is of course a centre for shipbuilding and the BAE Systems yard is to be seen beyond the near goal.
Govan, and those Clyde shipyards are the birthplace of Sir Alex Ferguson, and the future Scotland and Manchester United manager trained at Tinto Park before signing for Rangers as young man. A book’s frontispiece written by Ferguson is reproduced and displayed in the clubhouse and he comments that he still holds Benburb in high regard and he askes for each programme the club issues to be sent to him.
Today is a far cry from those halcyon days when 10,000 would pack into Tinto’s curved terraces, nowadays other than local apathy, crime is a real problem for the club. There have been multiple instances of theft and arson, and the felt covering the roof, presumably a temporary measure, tells its own story. In the meantime the club stalwarts bring the essentials of life into the clubhouse for each game. I followed the whisky, Tennants lager, and Irn Bru into the bar knowing that after the game, and the home-made curry that the remaining stocks will be removed for security.
Soon enough it will be all over for Tinto, Benburb will share at Renfrew until their new ground just behind the far goal is completed. That will be a modern affair with a 3G pitch, perfect for Benburb’s needs, but home will always be 100 yards away at what their programme describes as a “Creaking Masterpiece,” even if soon it will be just another housing scheme, the buildings just slightly more modern than their immediate neighbours on Craigton Drive. So for next few weeks, possibly even days Tinto will remain to the normal eye derelict, to those with an eye for history and unusual beauty, a wonderful slice of Scottish football history. I found myself photographing the place in the same way I did Cathkin Park 2 years ago.
These days Benburb play in the third tier of the Scottish Juniors pyramid in the West Region Central League Division One. Thorniewood play one promotion higher, in the West Region Superleague Division One, and on a windy day with occasional rain the visitors took full advantage of a hesitant home defence to rattle in 6 goals to put a committed Benburb to the sword. It was one of those days when the goals came in a steady drizzle (rather like the weather) and Benburb’s misery was compounded with the late dismissal of substitute Richard Lovering, his second booking coming for leading with his elbow.
It was a fair analogy of Benburb’s problems, no lack of enthusiasm or numbers of people to help, but suffering through problems that are not of their own making. I found both clubs notably friendly, but then I’ve yet to find a Scottish Junior club that wasn’t! I know that Groundtastic magazine is doing a feature on Tinto Park, which knowing editor Vince Taylor as I do, it will be both a thought provoking and visually beautiful piece.
I had a stroll across the sodden pitch at full time, if the rain had started a couple of hours earlier I’m sure the game would have been postponed. I know that on the 6 hour drive home I wasn’t the only one wondering whether we’d just witnessed the last action at Tinto. There’s a game scheduled for next Saturday but either the bulldozers or the weather could put-paid to that. If this isn’t quite the end for Tinto Park, then if you can get up here do so, it really is a special place. Just check first!