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Saturday 22nd February 2014 ko 14.15

Scottish Junior FA Cup 5th Round

WHITLETTS VICTORIA 4 (Holland 56 Allan 59 Balfour 69 72)

YOKER ATHLETIC 1 (Frew 42)

Att 367

Entry £5

Programme (Chinese takeaway style) 30p

Badge Comp

Tea £1

As a hopper when you can’t find anything that takes your fancy, a good option is work on the lengthy list of Scottish Junior grounds that may not be in use for much longer. I like many others had loved Benburb’s soon-to-be lost Tinto Park, and as I drove north up the M6 yet another time, I wondered if my day could be as special as a fortnight ago. I surprised myself by having as good a time as then, if not better.

Whitletts was a coal mining village as late as the 1940’s but now has been swallowed up by Ayr, and now forms a suburb at the eastern edge of the town. Here’s a fascinating short video on Whitletts past and present.

Of course you are in Burns country here, the Scots bard was born at the southern end of town, near the “Brig o’ Doon” immortalised in the last verse of his famous poem, “Tam O’Shanter.” 20 miles south of there, off the coast from Girvan is the small island of Ailsa Craig. It is one of only two places in the world where the granite is suitable for the production of Curling stones, the other being Trefor Quarry near Pwllheli, North Wales.

Whitletts Victoria were formed in 1944 and used to be based at Voluntary Park, the stadium doubling as a dog track. However in February 2011, ostensibly on health and safety grounds, the stadium was closed. Here’s some footage of what was lost.

The  football club moved to Dam Park Stadium in the centre of Ayr on Content Avenue, behind the local college. Volunteer Park is now earmarked for housing but the club are looking to move back to Whitletts as soon as they can, at the Whitletts Activity Centre. There’s already a pitch there, of the old-style astro-turf variety and the club would look to replace that with a state-of-the-art 5G pitch, and redevelop the surrounds to provide a stadium suitable for a club with ambitions for the top-flight of the Junior game.

In the meantime, despite being an athletics stadium Dam Park does provide a home from home for the Vics. The stadium has hosted football previously, Ayr United played two sectional League Cup games here at the start of the 1972-73 season, whilst the pitch at Somerset Park was being re-turfed. The Honest Men beat St Mirren 2-1 in front of a crowd of 5,335 and Clydebank were dispatched 5-0 before a gate of 3,126.

The club find themselves as the only Junior club in Ayr, but also playing at the lowest rung of the Junior game in the area, the Ayrshire District League. However they are second, and in playing Yoker playing one notch higher in the West Region Superleague Division One, the tie represented a chance of a giant-killing, and the opportunity to test themselves against the quality of opposition they’re looking to play next season. Incidentally one of the away sides that played Ayr United here, Clydebank now share at Yoker’s Holm Park; it’s strange how fate often works in circles!

It was obvious that the club were as keyed up for this fixture as the locals were enthused by it. The attendance was massively in excess of normal numbers, but that didn’t stop the club being notably friendly. A complimentary tea was offered and the badge was a lovely touch and much appreciated. Guest of honour was the indefatigable Lottie Scott, 79, who used to run a pie stall in a converted railway carriage at Voluntary Park. She sat in the bar area, with one of today’s pies and clearly had a whale of a time. In fact the only difficulty for the club was the pitch.

The stadium lies on the banks of the River Ayr, and the drainage system is designed to feed into the river. That normally works well but with the recent torrential rains the drains are now below river level and blocked so the water on the pitch has nowhere to go. This tie should have been played a week earlier, was postponed due to waterlogging, and with the rain during the game, by full-time the pitch looked marginal at best.

Not of course did Whitletts care, this was by anyone’s standards a famous victory, made all the sweeter for them as at half time few would have predicted it. In a tense first half Yoker had shaded it with Ryan Frew’s 20 yard effort which surprised Vics keeper Jordan Callaghan by flying in the top-right hand corner.

I’m not sure what was said at half time, but Vics looked a different proposition after the break and Yoker’s defence crumbled. Defender Lee Holland nodded home an inswinging corner to equalise, before Tony Balfour set up Shaun Allan to fire past Craig Winslow to give Vics the lead.

Balfour then profited, sneaking in unnoticed at the back post to slide in for 3-1 then being in the right place at the right time to take advantage of a mix-up between keeper and centre-half for the winner and his 26th goal of the season. The celebrations were as heartfelt as they were joyous, and Vics will now aim to echo their 1956 cup run when they made the semi-final, losing to Petershill. A player that day was Bernard Longair, uncle of current Vics captain Graham Longair so perhaps its written in the stars! Either way I’ll look out for the draw for the Quarter Final with interest!