Back to the Future
This week was a little different because we had two matches lined up.
Usually, we are content to cover one fixture per week due to time constraints, money and work but this was a fixture initially scheduled for September 10th. This was subsequently postponed due to it falling on the weekend after Queen Elizabeth II passed away and all football, rightly or wrongly, was cancelled.
This meant we still had tickets for the rearranged fixture for an evening kick-off in October.
Refund? Or overnight stop?
Those were the choices and of course, we chose the latter. This is mainly due to the reason that Arbroath is quite a trek from the northeast of England and time constraints make it difficult. Especially given the current situation with public transport in the UK. You are never far away from a cancelled train.
So, with the decision made, I booked a room at the Townhouse Hotel in Arbroath and went back to the future for this match-up.
Arbroath the Journey
As I mentioned, Arbroath is quite a way up the East coast of Scotland. In fact, Google Maps tells me it is 189 miles away from our town.
We set off from our home around 07:30 and caught the bus to Newcastle train station. A pit stop at McDonald’s for two lovely bacon and egg McMuffins and two hashbrowns later, we caught the 09:19 train to Edinburgh Waverley. We managed to blag our way onto an earlier train than the tickets we had booked and jumped on the 11:30 to Aberdeen. This meant we wouldn’t have to change at Dundee, as the original tickets called for.
Or so we thought…
After pulling in at Dundee train station, an announcement came over the tannoy that this train had been cancelled, with no reason given. Everyone had to get off and wait for the next available train. This turned out to be 13:07, so not too long a wait and Arbroath is only around 15-20 minutes further north of Dundee.
The Townhouse Hotel
Once we arrived in Arbroath, we headed off to the Townhouse Hotel to check into our room. About ten minutes walk away from Arbroath station, the Townhouse is a restaurant, bar and hotel but seems to mainly focus on its restaurant. We walked in and were asked if we wanted a table. After telling him we were there to check in, he led us past the tables and took our details.
A very friendly guy, who was happy to chat football with us and said he would be at the game later, too. We both agreed on the same prediction too. It would be 1-1, definitely!
We took our bag up to the room, dropped it off and headed straight back out to get a taste of Arbroath town.
We started by heading for Victoria Park, which lies up on a hill overlooking the North Sea and the town. From up there, it’s possible to get a first view of the Gayfield Park floodlights down the coastal path to the south. You can see what a rugged, yet beautiful coastline this is, with great views of the bay to the north and south.
We headed back down the hill and made our way to the Old Brewhouse. This is a pub/restaurant that sits near the harbour front and we ordered a couple of pints of Tennents that went down nicely. While we sat in there, we watched as a few people arranged a Halloween witch on the wall.
There was hardly anyone else in there though, so we moved on once we had finished our drinks.
We moved on to the next pub a short distance away, the Commercial Inn. This was one of your local pubs that typically draw in a regular bunch. Therefore, it didn’t take long for Mrs Hopper to draw some attention as she struggled to open the devious contraption known as a sliding door…
Luckily, one of the locals came to the rescue and let us in. It certainly helped us to bed in with the conversation at least.
After leaving the Commercial Inn, we came across something you don’t see every day. A crocheted bird’s foot… yeah, that’s what I said, a crocheted bird’s foot. Don’t ask me, I haven’t a clue! A woman who passed by as we were looking at it even said there used to be two of them.
We walked through the main part of the harbour, filled with moored-up boats, mostly small fishing boats, with crab baskets piled up on the harbourside, it really felt like an old-time fishing village with centuries-old traditions. This is also the home of the Arbroath smokie, a local delicacy of hot-smoked haddock, and as we walked along the harbour front, we got a great odour of this delicacy being prepared in a smoker’s yard.
We also amused ourselves watching three seabirds taking advantage of the natural bird bath that is the North Sea.
We walked straight past our final destination of Gayfield Park, in order to reach another landmark I wanted to see. In 1320 the Arbroath Declaration was sent to Pope John XXII asking for recognition of the excommunicated Robert I (Robert the Bruce). Read the highlighted link for more thorough information about this important document.
The best-known part of these letters is the phrase “As long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours, that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself”.
Quite a stark reminder that we didn’t always live in peace with our Scottish neighbours but long may it remain so that we now do. It also serves as a great rallying call for all people who are being subjected to unwanted intrusion in their country, like Ukraine at the present moment in time.
After walking the short distance from Gayfield Park to this monument, we walked back to the stadium to get a few photographs during the daylight. The evening kick-off would mean the very real possibility that my photographs wouldn’t be of the usual standard which was a concern to me.
Walking around the ground gives you an idea of this stadium’s unique character. Not only is it right next to the North Sea, but it also has an indoor amusement arcade called Pleasureland, right behind the away end. This includes dodgem cars, waltzers and many more traditional favourites. There is also a kid’s playground, a mini-golf course, a cinema and what looked like a nightclub all in the same area.
Something for everyone!
However, the ‘something’ for us lay across the road.
Arbroath Stadium Exterior Gallery
Arbroath Tutties Neuk Inn
Ask anyone who is in the know where to go before an Arbroath FC match and they will all give the same answer, Tutties Neuk Inn.
As soon as you walk through the door, it’s easy to see why. Arbroath memorabilia decorates the walls and the lovely Carol behind the bar was wearing an Arbroath replica shirt. Even the cushions on the seating were Arbroath FC related. She told us she used to be the Arbroath Supporters secretary too, so this place is definitely all about Arbroath and football.
Not only that, the food is great too! We ordered a baked camembert starter between us, followed by fish and chips and both dishes were excellent. Because we were in before the rest of the football crowd, we had a good chat with Carol and she even gave us some heat pads to stick in our gloves with the warning that “it’s always freezing at Gayfield, even in summer.”
This was something I’d heard from many different sources and I will now be one of those people saying the same thing to future visitors!
Word of warning, if you intend to eat at Tutties before a game, please book a table in advance as it can get very busy.
With kick-off not too far away, it was time to make our way across the road and sample the Arbroath matchday experience.
Arbroath – The Stadium
There are two separate entrances into Gayfield Park, one for away supporters and another for the home fans. Clutching our print-at-home tickets that were bought online via Arbroath’s ticket system, we had them scanned and went inside.
To our left is a cabin selling Arbroath merchandise, to the right is a wall commemorating Arbroath supporters present and past and ahead of us is a programme stall. We bought a programme and I was later annoyed to discover I had forgotten all about asking if they sold pin badges at the merchandise cabin. I hope eBay doesn’t let me down.
Gayfield Park is an old stadium, first built in 1880 and renovated in 1925. Not a lot has changed since then. If you are a fan who likes home comforts and a padded seat, this is probably not the place for you. Three sides of the stadium are continuous terracing that arcs around the ground from one end to the other and loops around to meet the main stand on the other side.
There are three covered sections of the terracing – in the centre of each end and the side. However, the elements can, and will, still lash into any corner you try to hide in. As kick-off approached, we started to get the full Arbroath experience, with the wind picking up and the rain starting to fall.
I got an image in my mind of Lenny Henry from his days on Tiswas screaming “This is what we waaaant!!”
It is indeed what I wanted. I didn’t want to come here and be disappointed with a nice sunny day and calm evening. Let the elements batter us all!
The main stand, or Gayfield Stand, opposite our vantage point on the seaward terrace, is the only seated area of the stadium. The stadium in total has a capacity of 6,600 and 861 spectators can fit in this single-tier structure that also contains the players’ tunnel and the dugouts below it.
The stand also houses a very unique floodlight attached to the roof. Almost like a camera’s tripod, it looms above the stadium as you approach. The pitch itself is of grass and is in immaculate condition. The views around the ground are spot on too. No matter where you sit or stand in Gayfield Park, you are close to the action and with an unimpaired view. With the possible exception being the middle part of the terrace we stood on, due to the TV gantry set up there.
One thing I can’t move on until I have mentioned it, is that Gayfield Park was the setting for what is still the world record scoreline in professional football. On September 12th 1885, Arbroath defeated Aberdeenshire’s Bon Accord 36-0 in the Scottish Cup. Thirteen of the goals were scored by a single player, John Petrie and the referee disallowed a further five goals. Hardly mercy at that point.
Arbroath – The Game
With the rain and wind starting to pick up speed and Smokey Joe, the club mascot doing his rounds of the pitch, it was time for the business end of the evening.
Both teams entered the pitch to a nice reception as there was a good turnout of Raith Rovers fans from Kirkcaldy, officially announced as numbering 334 in a crowd of 1,663.
Coming into the game, this was a big occasion for both teams. Arbroath are rooted to the bottom of League One and they look in real danger despite pushing for promotion to the Premier League last season. Rovers meanwhile, are still in with a shot at promotion despite being just three places higher, in seventh.
After the toss of the coin, the ends were changed and in the first forty-five, Arbroath would be attacking the Switchie End which housed the Rovers fans.
At some point in the first half, two people were marched out of the ground from the terrace we were standing on but I’m not sure why? If anyone saw what happened, please comment below.
Even without the howling wind and rain, this was never likely to be a classic game of football and there were no surprises. Neither side dominated the first half, although Arbroath did have eight corners and fifty-five per cent of the possession. There were eight shots at goal, five of which were by Arbroath.
So it could be argued that Arbroath had the better of the first forty-five if you look at stats alone. Statistics are not the full story though and for me, this was an even half of football with both teams looking to break the deadlock throughout.
An Arbroath corner kick in the 20th minute almost crept under the crossbar without being touched but was punched away by the keeper at the last second. Two minutes later, at the other end, Rovers were unlucky not to take the lead when Aidan Connolly saw his excellent shot from twenty yards out hit the angle between upright and bar.
Sam Stanton missed a great chance in front of goal just a minute later. With the cross leaving him with the goal at his mercy, he inexplicably chested the ball wide when it seemed far easier to nod the ball home.
The evergreen Bobby Linn, at thirty-eight years old, is still one of the best players in the Scottish Championship and is a legend at Arbroath. Fresh from scoring a superb direct free-kick in their last game against Queen’s Park last Friday, the maestro tried to do the same again here. This particular effort though was too close to the keeper and he managed to block it down in front of him before the ball was cleared.
A corner kick in the 31st minute, saw Scott Bitsindou almost score his first goal for the home side but his header brought a fantastic save out of Jamie MacDonald in the Rovers’ goal at the expense of another corner. Three minutes later Dylan Tait put an effort wide of the goal as Arbroath pressed forward.
With Arbroath starting to look like the team on top, a throw-in was awarded to Rovers and after a series of back-and-forth volleyed kicks, the ball went over the Arbroath defence to leave Sam Stanton in the clear. He kept his composure well and tucked the ball past Derek Gaston in the Arbroath goal.
Was he offside? Hard to tell from my vantage point but after looking at the highlights, I would suggest not.
0-1 Raith Rovers!
Rovers’ Ross Millen had been putting himself about at right back and was shown a yellow card for a sliding tackle on Dylan Tait just before half-time. For me, that could easily have been a red card but make your own mind up from the video highlights. He had received quite a bit of abuse from the Lichties near us and at one point spat in our direction.
Half-time – Arbroath 0 Raith Rovers 1
That incident brought an end to the first-half action and the terrace around us started to empty as the Arbroath support made its way to the end opposite the Rovers fans. This was to be the end the Lichties would be attacking in the second half.
This was also where I got my teeth sunk into one of the famous steak and black pudding pies I had heard so much about. Despite still being full from my meal at Tutties, I couldn’t not try one of these pies after all the good reports I’d heard about them. It didn’t disappoint! Full of steak and with just enough black pudding to give it a distinct taste that separated it from a normal steak pie. Slightly peppery and all yummy. A big thumbs up from me.
The Second Half
For the second half, both teams would be attacking the ends containing their own supporters.
The stats for this half tell the story more accurately. Arbroath had three shots to Rovers’ nine, although, to be fair to Arbroath, a lot of these chances came nearer the end of the half on the counter-attack. Fifty-nine per cent possession overall for Arbroath over the ninety minutes but I think even the most ardent Lichtie would find it hard to argue the result by the end.
From an Arbroath perspective, I have to point out the referee’s performance. He made some shocking decisions throughout the game and most of them seemed to favour the away team much to the chagrin of the locals around us. I think the standard of refereeing in football is a serious issue that needs addressing urgently. Every club believes they are picked on by referees but the sad truth is, some of them are just incompetent.
In the fifty-seventh minute, Arbroath had claims for a penalty turned down as their talisman, Bobby Linn went to ground in the area. On this occasion, I think the official got it right by waving play on but it would certainly be nice to see a few different angles of the challenge by Liam Dick.
Ten minutes later, it should have been 0-2. Aidan Connolly was put clean through on goal and he fluffed his lines, tamely trying to place the ball past Gaston, who saved easily. Wasted chance!
In the 70th minute another gilt-edged opportunity to wrap the match up for Rovers. Goalscorer, Stanton with some neat ball skills got clear of his marker and played a great ball to Kyle Connell. Again, a tame effort allowed Gaston to stick his foot out and block the shot when he should have been picking it out of his net.
A Connolly free-kick a minute later was pushed on by the wind and had to be tipped over the bar by Gaston as Rovers took control of the game. In the 80th minute, a corner ball was headed onto the bar by Connor O’Riordan as Arbroath seemed to just run out of steam and ideas by this point. If anyone was going to score a second goal, it was only ever going to be Raith Rovers.
The last chance of the game did fall to the home side though. A cross was met by the head of Dale Hilson but it wasn’t powerful enough and was comfortably saved by MacDonald down to his left post.
This chance brought an end to the action and leaves Arbroath rooted to the bottom of the Championship, three points behind the nearest club, Hamilton Academicals. The win saw Raith Rovers remain in seventh position but close the gap with the playoff positions to just two points.
Next up for Arbroath is a home game against their nearest challengers Hamilton, which gives them a great chance to get back on track. Rovers meanwhile, travel up to Inverness for another away trip and they will be hoping for more of the same.
You can read a full Match Report here, courtesy of the Arbroath website.
There was another incident in the second half, where I saw Arbroath supporters moving away from one corner of the ground. It looked as if they were moving away from something maybe being thrown into the ground, although that is pure speculation on my part. Other supporters went to look over the back of the wall while the game was being played, so there was clearly something happening.
Again, I would appreciate anyone who knows what was happening, leaving a comment below.
Arbroath – Match Highlights
Full-time – Arbroath 0 Raith Rovers 1
Attendance – 1,663
Entrance Fee – £20.00
Programme – £2.50
Arbroath – After the Game
After the game, we made our way out of Gayfield via the third entry into the ground, the press and media gate by the sea wall. Following the path around the ground and through the grassy car park, we joined back up with the main road and made our way back to the Townhouse Hotel.
Having just dropped our bag off earlier, we hadn’t really taken much notice of the room we had been given, other than the general layout. On closer inspection, we weren’t overly impressed. There was a loose toilet roll holder that was threatening to come off the wall, a loose tap on the bathroom sink, a broken handle on the bathroom door that came off in your hand if you used it and a tiny window that looked out onto a wall about two feet away. Also, the breakfast prices were very expensive if we had chosen to eat there. We didn’t.
Had we been staying for more than one night, I would have complained but seeing as it was just a bed for the night, we got on with it and slept the night away. The bed didn’t bother me but Mrs Hopper did wake up complaining that she hadn’t been able to sleep very well all night because it was uncomfortable.
The receptionist asked us how our stay had been and while I wouldn’t normally have said anything, because she asked, I told her. In her defence, she seemed genuinely confused that she didn’t know about this and wrote down the problems and promised they would be fixed. I find it equally confusing that they didn’t know about the problems. Surely the cleaning staff have to clean these things and can see they are broken?
Friendly staff, not so great facilities are how I would sum up the Townhouse Hotel.
Arbroath – The Journey Home
The next morning, we walked back to Arbroath station to catch the 09:55 train to Edinburgh. Once on the train, we sat back and relaxed and watched the beautiful Scottish scenery slipping by, even though it was a horrible murky morning.
The Tay rail bridge at Dundee always fascinates me. A marvel of engineering that spans almost two miles across the river and takes a while to cross as the train pulls out of Dundee station. Soon enough we were slipping past Stark’s Park, home of last night’s opponents, Raith Rovers. The San Starko, as they call it in Kirkcaldy sits right on the mainline between Dundee and Edinburgh.
You can read Hoppers Tale #32 from Starks Park, here.
Once in Waverley, we waited for our connection which was on time and we were back in Newcastle at 13:30. From here we caught our bus home and were back with the kettle on before 15:00.
Next up is another sortie into Scotland. This time for the Premier League clash between Motherwell and Aberdeen. As Del Boy would say, “Lovely Jubbly”.
Onto the next!