Thursday, July 31, 2008

Ayr United FC – Glasgow Rangers FC (XI) (28-07-2008)

For some reason Ayr United has always had an attraction on me. As I hadn’t been able to visit the club during my 2.5 years in Scotland, and they now played a rare Monday evening game, my trip to Edinburgh was the perfect opportunity. So, I extended my stay for a day, decided to fly back from Glasgow, and made my way on Monday to Ayr, about 50 minutes by train to the south of Glasgow. It was an extremely hot day, which is not very enjoyable in Britain (unless you enjoy watching shirtless white- or pink-skinned thin guys and overweight girls). After a torturous three hours in the ‘centre’ of town, including a disastrous meal in an ‘Italian’ restaurant, it was finally time to walk to Somerset Park, roughly 15 minutes from the main railway station.

Roughly a month ago, when I first read about this game, the website had announced that it was all-ticket (i.e. no ticket sales on match day) because of security risks. At that time it also still presented its opponent as “Glasgow Rangers”, however. Consequently, I had emailed the club to reserve a ticket for me, which they had kindly done. I picked it up at the ticket office – 12 pounds (ca. 15 euro) for a seat on the “Central Stand” – and bought a pennant at the desolate and smothering hot fan shop.

Somerset Park is a typical run-down British ground, counting one big stand (seats), two smaller stand behind the goals, and an open stand. It was built in 1888 (!) and, as far as I could see, has not been renovated since. It can hold 12.128 people, but has only 1.597 seats. Not surprisingly, Ayr United is planning to build a new stadium, smaller but more modern. To illustrate my point, this was the view from my seat.

Tonight, some 1.200 people had made it to the old stadium, including some 400 away supporters (undoubtedly many from Ayr itself). Many home supporters also came for another reason, i.e. honoring the 30 years of service of groundsman Davie Harkness, as this game was the “Davie Harkness Testimonial Match”. These kind of games present some of the best in British football, true respect for people who make the beautiful game possible. And so, before the game, both teams stood in line for “Harko” to walk in between them and be applauded.

While initially a bit annoyed that it wouldn’t be the real Rangers, but its youth team, according to the Ayr United website report the “Ibrox babes”, I soon saw the positives of it. This team full of young hopefuls was eager to impress and played intelligent and attractive football. The Ayr attack in the first minute was directly one of the few of the whole game. And already in the direct counter-attack the Rangers youngsters showed their clever play and good technique. Several more chances followed before, in the 23rd minute, the first goal was scored. After the ball got stuck in the box, it was tipped in from close distance: 0-1.

Two minutes later a beautiful long ball of Ayr was finished with a weak shot. The last notable attack of the hosts this first half. In the 32nd minute Rangers countered yet again, finishing with an easy header from a couple of meters: 0-2. Just a minute later they had the next big chance, before scoring a deflected shot in the 39th minute. 0-3 was also the half time score.

After having watched the many seagulls flying above the pitch at half time, it was time for the second half. Already after 5 minutes Rangers hit the post, in front of an empty goal, which seemed the start of a sloppier second half.

The only player to keep his fantastic game up was the captain, the number 6, who was a cross between Steven Gerard (Liverpool) and Barry Ferguson (Rangers). What a phenomenal player, always looking for the easy solution. But even he couldn’t prevent the consolation goal of Ayr United, after a nice attack in the 62nd minute: 1-3.

This woke the youngster up again, and the next minutes saw various good chances for the visitors. In the 69th minute they finally scored again, after another beautifully executed counter-attack: 1-4. Despite many other chances, 1-4 was also the final score. Everyone seemed happy with the game, which did indeed show some top football (despite the lack of opposition by Ayr United). Happily I walked back to the station: happy to leave Ayr, happy to have seen the Ibrox babes, and happy to have celebrated Harko.

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