Saturday 14th August 2021 ko 15:00
Scottish League 2
ELGIN CITY 3 (Hester 17 22 46)
ALBION ROVERS 0
Att 488 at Borough Briggs
Entry (Main Stand) £14
Teamsheet- Free with raffle ticket
The car was packed to the gunnels ready for the long drive south. I stopped for a final coffee as we were about to leave Inverness, and roughly half the Fort William FC side followed me in. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I could have so easily been watching them play. With the pitch at Claggan Park in such a state that it can’t be used this season Fort are playing all their home games away and were en route to a home defeat at Forres Mechanics. Robyn and I ended up following them along the A96 but carried on to Elgin, a destination that for me did have some significance.
When I grew up I remember the phrase “Everyone knows where they were when JFK was assassinated,” and these days I’m sure the more up-to-date version of it involves the September 11th terrorist attacks on the USA. I certainly remember were I was, in Elgin.
I’d had a look round the perimeter of Elgin City’s iconic Borough Briggs ground, and mentally made a mental note that I simply had to see a game there. I’d then took a walk round the Biblical Gardens and was heading for a tour round a cashmere mill when 5Live reported of a plane hitting the World Trade Centre; you know the rest.
Nearly 20 years later the traffic was better than I’d expected so Robyn and I had a little time to kill, so ended up at the Biblical Gardens. I’m not religious at all, but the gardens are beautiful, and it is never a bad idea to take a little time out to reflect.
Elgin City were elected to the Scottish League in 2000 when the league’s bottom division was expanded to 12 clubs with Elgin and Peterhead leaving the Highland League. At a stroke Elgin’s Borough Briggs became the UK’s most northerly League ground, and I must admit I did wonder what we’d be watching? If you look at the 5 clubs that have left the Highland League since 1994 (Caledonian and Inverness Thistle who became Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Ross County, Elgin and Peterhead) Elgin are the only club never to have been promoted out of the SPFL’s bottom tier.
It probably didn’t help that the two previous times I’d seen Elgin they’d struggled. There was the game at East Stirlingshire where two unusual things happened. The first was that Shire actually won, and the other was Elgin’s Adam Nelson being sent off whilst on a stretcher with a broken leg.
Then I saw the reverse of this game, in Coatbridge in 2012. Here Elgin went into this playoff game a goal up from the first leg but lost the tie 2-1 on aggregate conceding the vital goal with just 2 minutes left. The game was notable for Elgin featuring striker Paul Millar who at 6’10” is still the third tallest player ever to play League football.
So would I be watching a well-established Scottish League outfit, or a club nervously staring over their collective shoulders at a potential trap-door back to the Highland League? We got our answer within 10 seconds of arrival. I called in a reception, as Robyn couldn’t find her facemask, so could they sell us one? One was donated to us in seconds, and I had the team lines and a badge nearly as quickly. Now I like the Highland League immensely but it was so clear that Elgin are set up to look forward.
Part of that is the Gleaner Arena, the new artificial pitches at Lesser Borough Briggs, behind the near goal. That’s set up for the two things a small club has to get right- the community involvement and an additional source of income for the club. But if you like watching football at different grounds, then the reason you’ll want to head to Borough Briggs is because Elgin City’s home for a hundred years is a true icon of the Scottish game, and 2,300 plus grounds into this odyssey that’s not a term I use lightly.
It is the classic traditional ground, and aches to be explored. Inevitably you’ll line up the Duke of Gordon’s monument, towering behind the main stand. That edifice hints at how far north you are here, the roof hunkers down as low as possible to shelter its 478 inhabitants; from the back seats all you can see is the pitch- nothing else. Those wooden seats have their own history, being repurposed when Newcastle United redeveloped the Milburn Stand in 2000. Elgin didn’t even have to repaint them!
But as wonderful as it all is there was always the sense that Elgin are forward-looking and that included what happened on the pitch too. Those in the know will always have a pound on Kane Hester to score at this level, but as well taken as his hat trick was he was what was equally impressive was the way the midfield behind him made space and passed to put him through time after time. Albion were blown away and it was notable that they had absolutely nothing on the bench to improve themselves, and in the end they were fortunate to avoid a real rout.
We headed south with to little time to reflect. Perhaps Robyn summed it up best, a week earlier we’d travelled up here, and her favourite football ground was Gainsborough Trinity Now it lies third behind Fraserburgh and her new favourite, Elgin City. For me, Elgin and Borough Briggs managed to surprise me. I’d walked round all those years ago, so when I finally managed to see a game, I’d not expected to walk away with my opinion enhanced. Well Elgin you managed to do precisely that and thanks to all who gave us such a lovely welcome; all the very best for the future.