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Saturday 7th August 2021 ko 15:00

Highland League

FRASERBURGH 6 (Young 24 P Campbell 28 Butcher 64 Beagrie 72 Meekings 75og Barbour 82)

BRORA RANGERS 2 (Gillespie 3 J Macrae 13)

A Macrae sent off 87 (2nd booking)

Att c300 at Bellslea Park

Entry £10

Teamsheet – Free (I asked a committee member)

It was Saturday morning and the M90 was misbehaving. The satnav was telling me my margin for error was shrinking alarmingly and I was tired. Some folks go on holiday to relax, while I use that map exclusive to groundhoppers, that somehow makes Fraserburgh on the way from Hamilton to Inverness! There were no end of games we could have watched that really were on the A9 north but I’d seen photos of Bellslea Park…..

I do know that some groundhoppers do read these articles and use them as a steer as to what GroundhopUK are trying to plan, so let’s deal with the Highland League at the earliest available opportunity. I love visiting the league and its clubs but there will be no Highland League Hop in the future. We spoke at length to the league a few years ago and there simply wasn’t enough interest to make it happen. It is a crying shame, but that’s life but we are in contact with another league contact in Scotland. That has the potential to be superb. 

It was very noticeable that Covid restrictions are more stringent in Scotland than south of the border. Mask wearing is compulsory on all public transport, and is the norm when indoors unless sat down and consuming food or drink. There was a further relaxation made by the Scottish Government on the Monday after this game, but the impact it had on us as tourists was minimal. We still had to check in (via a Scots check-in, not the NHS App) at just about everywhere we visited and each football club we visited had different takes on what were, for the most part the same rules.

If ever there was town that was by and for fish it’s Fraserburgh, it holds the distinction of being Europe’s biggest port for shellfish, and a major one for whitefish too. It is, therefore highly appropriate that the club has a sponsors’ board pitchside purely for fishing boats and the roof of the stand is protected from nesting birds by old fishing nets. The town’s lighthouse at Kinnaird Head was the first to be built in Scotland, and is well worth a visit. Sadly the town is also the furthest in the UK from a passenger railway station. Fraserburgh Station closed under Beeching in 1965. These days the nearest station is at Inverurie (another place I once put as being “On the way” from Inverness to Glasgow) which is a real shame, the site of the old station was perfectly placed for both the docks and the football ground!

But Bellslea Park should be right at the top of every groundhopper’s bucket list. A lot gets made of the backdrop of the South United Free Church artfully placed so it’s easy to get both it and the main stand in shot. But when you visit please don’t restrict yourself to just that view. Get the the fishing boats in your eyeline too, and explore that wonderful pitched-roof stand with the added (fishing) net curtains drawn after each game to keep the seagulls at bay.

We picked a good game too, I’d expect both Fraserburgh and Brora to be in the mix for the Championship and with it a playoff against the Lowland League champions for the right to play against SPFL League 2’s bottom side for the final place in the Scottish League. Given that Brora have been champions 4 times in less than 10 years I’d have thought Scottish League membership is a question of when rather than if.

And for the first 15 minutes for all the world we thought we were seeing the start of Brora’s latest assault on the title. A thunderbolt for the first goal from Dale Gillespie was quickly followed up by Jordan Macrae but then… well I’m not sure quite what happened. Perhaps Fraserburgh started to believe, and maybe Brora weren’t as hungry as they might have been. The latter was certainly the opinion of Brora manager Steven Mackay who commented as such after the game before resigning. Andy Macrae saw red for his second booking late on. 

But to blame Brora and their players would be to slight Fraserburgh rather. The fact is they did find it within themselves to come back from 2 down against a very strong opposition. You needed absolutely no empathy to see what it meant to the home faithful, and we just enjoyed being part of a friendly club’s day in the sunshine.

It took another 2 hours to reach our accommodation in Inverness, and after a 24 hours where I’d driven from Oxford to Hamilton then to Inverness via Fraserburgh I flopped out, utterly exhausted. But if at that point if you’d have either Robyn or I whether it was all worth it, the answer was and is absolutely yes. And best of all there was plenty more to go and see.