Saturday 21st March 2015 ko 19.00
GALA FAIRYDEAN ROVERS 1 (Bonnar 49)
UNIVERSITY OF STIRLING 2 (Bonar 43 Geddes 90)
The sun began to set and as the coach reached Galashiels I relaxed for the first time since we’d left Hilingdon 36 hours earlier. I knew everyone wanted to visit the iconic club of Gala, and in Graeme McIver I had a club contact who was competent to the point where Chris and I knew all we needed to do is let him get on with staging the game. That doesn’t happen very often, clubs at the level GroundhopUK organise hops for aren’t used to having 300-plus crowds so guidance is essential, to do otherwise is at best unfair, and at worst folly. Graeme simply needed to know how many tickets we’d sold and a rough idea of the likely attendance, and he was more than capable of doing the rest.
And so it came to pass, our two coaches arrived, and from then on, all Chris and I had to do was count the crowd, and enjoy the ground at Netherdale. And what a ground it is, dominated by the Peter Womersley-designed Brutalist stand. It was constructed by Anglo-Danish builder Sir Ove Arup in 1964, and since 2013 has become one of only two football stands to hold Historic Scotland’s highest “Grade 1,” listing, other being the Leitch main stand at Ibrox.
Thanks should be given to University of Stirling for agreeing to this late kick-off. Normally we can promise an away club a game on a future hop as hosts, but since the Uni’ groundshare at Stirling Albion that isn’t possible. We’d love them to use a ground that isn’t used by another team if that’s feasible? Whatever can (if anything) can be arranged to agree to play late reflects well on the club and their manager Shelley Kerr, currently the only woman in the UK managing a men’s side.
There’s a renaissance going on at Netherdale, although Fairydean’s merger in 2013 with Gala Rovers was an unexpected one given that Rovers were an 1949 breakaway club formed from Fairydean’s reserves. Whatever the history, the club is clearly going places, and the ground was the first on the hop that could host SPFL football.
Two printers were rigged up in Graeme’s office to produce enough teamsheets, and as the machines worked overtime, my gut feeling was that this needs to be something Chris and I will need to look at for future Scottish hops. We ask host clubs to have the team lines post 30 minutes before kick-off as part of our briefing notes but when league rules state they only need to be handed to the referee at that time, there’s an obvious issue. We’d never ask a league to change the rules just to suit us, and asking some hoppers to be patient is fanciful, but maybe Dalbeattie the next day found the solution to it!
It felt like a big game with a big match atmosphere, and that proved to be an issue when we counted the crowd! We counted, came to a figure, thought it looked a bit low, so counted again! When we got the 323 again, we informed the club, they thought it looked low too, so had another go with us and, yes got the same result! We announced the attendance, and I needn’t tell you what happened, and no I wasn’t going to count again! Within three weeks we’ve now been accused of both over and understating the crowd, so if nothing else it does show that we’re honest!
Off the pitch Graeme’s planning was paying dividends, to the extent that I really couldn’t make up my mind what to eat! I went for chips and curry, it was getting cold outside, but the choice was bewildering. In fact the only thing Graeme couldn’t plan for was home win. They did come close David Bonnar’s goal equalising out Lewis Bonar’s opener for the students. A point apiece looked fair, but Chris Geddes fine strike with virtually the last kick of the game was goal worthy of winning any game.
Rough on Graeme and all at Gala, but this game will be remembered far more for what Gala did off the pitch than on it, oh and that stand!