Thursday, July 31, 2008

East Stirlingshire FC – Ayr United FC (27-07-2008)

(by way of ticket)

Visiting my old home town of Edinburgh, I couldn’t resist making a hop. However, as all games for the (still sponsorless) Scottish Challenge Cup were on Saturday, I had a problem. Fortunately, East Stirlingshire had left their regular home ground, Firs Park, as they are unable to afford ground improvements, and in the coming five years they will play their home games at Ochilview Park, the home ground of city rivals Stenhuismuir FC, which played at home on Saturday. So, on Sunday my friend L.M. and I set out for Falkirk, some 45 km from Edinburgh, to see the third team of that relatively small city play its first official game of the new season. As it was the hottest day in Scotland this year, we had some trouble finding the stadium (which we passed by chance), our car didn’t have airco, we arrived at Stenhuisemuir toasted.

Fortunately, we could park near the stadium, so we arrived well in time of kick-off. As I had feared, we went into the turnstiles of the ticket office, paid 9 pounds (ca. 11.50 euro) each, and… did not get a ticket! ☹

Even before the game started we got worth for our money. The stadium speaker was a fountain of words. In his hilarious expose he thanked everyone coming to the ground, including “groundhoppers” (had I been spotted?). On this beautiful sunny day, no less than 761 people had found their way to Ochilview Park. In a sense both were away supporters, but the roughly 300 Ayr United supporters had traveled a highly respectful 100 km.

Ochilview Park is an old-school British stadium, close to the ground, but in a horrible state. It holds 3.776 people, of which 626 can be seated on the one main stand along one long side; there is also one small stand behind a goal (only standing). The other sides are empty and not open to the public. Consequently, many a ball would be lost there during the game.

As Ayr United plays a division higher than East Stirlingshire, Second and Third Division respectively, they were the clear favorites to proceed to the second round of the Challenge Cup – even for the announcer. And, while The Shire played with a lot of heart, the Ayr goal didn’t take long. In the 15th minute a cross came in from the right and two headers further it was 0-1. The rest of the first half it would be all Ayr United that threatened. At least at three times they tested the Shire goalie, with free shots from within the penalty box, but every time he responded well (though the shots were never really good). So, half time 0-1, which was much less than Ayr deserved.

The second half brought much the same, even if East Stirlingshire had the first decent chance. After that, Ayr took over again. In the 60th minute alone they had two half chances, while five minutes later they shot a half-volley from 11 meters just over the goal. In the 70th minute Shire shot just wide and shortly after an Ayr player crossed half of the pitch before shooting (softly) at the goalie. Two minutes later they overshot a volley and in the 88th minute they forced the home goalie to yet another safe, after a great attack.

To the credit of Shire, they stayed in the game, fighting rather than playing. But out of nowhere, in the 90th minute, everything changed. Out of desperation a midfielder shot from 20 meter at goal, just over the goalie yet under the crossbar: 1-1! What an enormous screw-up of the Ayr goalie! Although there had been little reason to have much extra time, we played on for another five minutes, in which Ayr was completely lost, and Shire pressured… with effect! In the 95th minute, after a good attack, a dry low shot in the far corner changed the whole game upside down: 2-1 for East Stirlingshire!

A minute later the referee blew the final whistle and people around us got crazy; as the stunned Ayr United supporters silently left the stadium. What an ending of a by and large mediocre game. More than worth the trip! Once you stay away from the big clubs (e.g. ManU, Chelsea, Celtic, Rangers), seeing games in Britain is often highly entertaining. Unfortunately, verbal aggression is often widespread and there are always a couple of people insulting the referee and/or away supporters, winging and whining over every decision. This was also the case here, which was the only dissonant in a further enjoyable afternoon of football.

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