Back to Berwick
This is another return journey to a ground we visited last season but never got around to writing about it. We had an absolute blast last time we visited, thanks to a chance meeting in the Brewers Arms pub. We had been chatting with the owner, a lovely lady called Margaret, and after she asked us why we were in Berwick, she disappeared and went talking to a gentleman at another table.
A couple of minutes later, the man came over to us and introduced himself as Eric Tait.
Now, for those who don’t know, Eric Tait is a Berwick Rangers legend. He holds the club record for most appearances (526) and most goals scored (114). During his time as a player with the club, Eric played in every position, including as a goalkeeper, despite him being a striker by trade. He was also player-manager of the club between 1983 and 1987 and now has a hospitality lounge named after him in the main stand.
After a handshake and a quick chat, Eric invited us to come up to the hospitality area in the main stand following the game and he would show us around.
I will get back to this story later on in the article.
Needless to say, we had fond memories of the day and wanted to make a return visit. Today was the day!
Berwick Rangers – Journey and Pre-Game
The day started like most other Saturdays, with a bus to Newcastle. Setting off just after 09:00 and arriving just before 10:00. From here we made the obligatory stop-off at Gregory and Gregory (Ok, it was just Greggs) for a couple of pastry-based delights for breakfast, before heading off to the train station.
After arriving. we saw that our 10:54 train to Berwick-Upon-Tweed was delayed by over half an hour, due to a passenger being taken ill on board.
The 10:41 train pulled into the station and we asked the train guard if it would be ok to get on his train instead. He eventually agreed and we clambered aboard a train that was packed like a sardine tin, with standing room only. This was due to the previous train being cancelled!
Oh! What a great public transport system we have!
We arrived in Berwick at 11:33 and gratefully stepped onto the platform to give our aching legs a stretch. The day was cool but nowhere near as chilly as we had expected it to be and we went for a walk down to the side of the River Tweed to look at the rail bridge and the remains of Berwick Castle.
Berwick-upon-Tweed lies three miles south of the border with Scotland and is a very important strategic town of times past. It houses some historic structures and a complete Elizabethan town wall and ramparts that encircle the oldest parts of the town.
There are three bridges that cross the River Tweed between Berwick and Tweedmouth on the opposite riverbank.
There is the Grade I listed Old Berwick Bridge, which was first constructed in 1611. This is open for both vehicles and pedestrians but is now only a single-lane, one-way system for traffic.
A little further upstream, there is the more modern Royal Tweed Bridge, which was constructed in the mid-1920s. This is now the more widely used road bridge crossing of the Tweed. There is a photograph of this bridge near the end which I took on the walk back to the train station.
Berwick Rail Bridge
The main focus, for me though, falls on the incredible engineering feat of the Royal Border Bridge. Another Grade I listed structure, this rail bridge spans the river furthest upstream of the three.
When it was first constructed, (1847-1850) it was the largest bridge ever built. It has twenty-eight arches, each of which spans sixty feet and the rail line itself is 121 feet above the river level.
It was designed by Robert Stevenson, the son of rail pioneer George Stevenson (The Rocket locomotive). Upon its completion, the bridge was opened by none other than Queen Victoria.
At the base of the rail bridge on the Berwick side of the river, is the remnants of Berwick Castle, starting with the White Wall at the bottom of the bank. This stretches up the hill to where the train station now lies but was once the home of Berwick Castle.
There isn’t a lot to see these days, unfortunately, but it must have made for a fantastic sight in its glory days. If you want to read about the castle’s history, click this link.
After taking a few pictures of the stunning views of the rail bridge and the River Tweed, we headed off to see Margaret again, in The Brewer’s Arms. At least, that was the intention.
We were disappointed when we got there to see that the pub was closed and a ‘For Sale’ sign was on the exterior. Hopefully, a new owner can be found for this excellent pub in the near future.
Meanwhile, we decided to head to The Leaping Salmon, which is located at the end of the Royal Tweed Bridge (the middle one).
The Leaping Salmon is quite a large pub and we had little trouble finding a table, despite it being reasonably busy. We got a Heineken and a John Smiths for £7.20 and ordered three starters for our lunch (we weren’t overly hungry). They have a special deal where you can get three starters for £9.99 and we got cheese fries, pork meatballs and beer-battered onion rings.
The food was basic but decent and was served quite quickly despite them being busy.
The table next to ours was filled not long after we sat down by four lads who had come to Berwick from Glasgow to watch the game. They were looking very festive and had the Christmas jumper look going on. What made these sweaters different, was that they were football themed. Celtic, Rangers, Fiorentina and Napoli, to be exact.
I asked if they were happy to pose for a photograph and I’m happy to say they didn’t mind at all.
After finishing our pints, we decided to head off to the ground and get a drink in the Black and Gold, Berwick Rangers social club adjacent to the stadium.
Be warned, it’s quite a trek from Berwick town to Shielfield Park, just over a mile from The Leaping Salmon, or 1.5 miles from the train station. If this is too far for you, there are buses that run most of the way there (B1 or X18 Max).
We decided to walk to get some views of the river from the bridge. About twenty minutes later, we walked into the bar and ordered a Carling and a Bellshaven Best bitter for £6.40. The club bar looks like it could do with a little TLC but is a nice enough place to sit and have a pre-match drink.
Berwick Rangers – The Stadium
We supped up our drinks and headed to the ground. There is only one entrance area into Shielfield Park and it is located at the top end of the ground. It consists of four turnstiles; the first for season ticket holders, the next two for adults and one for concessions.
Cash or card is accepted on the day at Berwick Rangers. We used a card and entered Shielfield Park.
Upon entering, there is a large piece of ground before you get to the pitchside. At the top of this are the club shop, toilets and a food stand.
The club shop is a small but excellent little store. They sell old programmes, match-worn shirts, current replica shirts and a whole host of other little bits and bobs. I got myself a match-worn shirt with the traditional black and gold stripes associated with Berwick. Costing £25, I thought that was a bit of a bargain. I also picked up a teamsheet for the day’s game to go along with the programme we bought after entering the ground from a seller just inside the turnstiles.
It should be noted that the programme was actually a refurbished copy of the November 19th edition of the postponed game against Cumbernauld Colts. They had put a new, uninspiring cover on it and called it a good ‘un. No complaints from me though because it was much more preferable than a digital version, or worse still, no programme at all.
After leaving the store, we walked around the ground taking a few photos and videos.
One thing to note is that Berwick Rangers share Shielfield Park with the Berwick Bandits speedway team and this means the pitch is surrounded by a cinder track for race meetings. While racing tracks of one sort or another aren’t always conducive to a great view for football fans, to me it doesn’t feel too obtrusive in this particular instance.
To the left, is the Main Stand, which houses the only seats in the stadium. It covers the length of the pitch and contains 1,366 seats. This is more than adequate to seat everyone in the ground on an average matchday for Berwick these days.
Behind the near-side goal is just a path that leads to the other side of the stadium and is pretty much unused because of the gap between it and the pitch giving a pretty dire view of the game.
The opposite end of the ground, while looking similar, is actually inaccessible and isn’t used at all. No loss in terms of spectator value.
The far side of the ground is a terrace that runs the length of the pitch and has a roof on the middle section on either side of the halfway line. The roof covers roughly a quarter of the terrace and again, this is more than enough to shelter most crowds for Berwick games.
There are eight floodlights, four on either side of the ground and the pitch surface is of natural grass.
Overall, Shielfield Park isn’t the prettiest of grounds on the eye but it has a uniqueness and an old-school quality about it that makes it quite appealing in a strange way.
Berwick Rangers – Stadium Gallery
Berwick Rangers – Pre-Game Video of Shielfield Park
Berwick Rangers v Dalbeattie Star – The Game
Coming into this game, Berwick Rangers were in twelfth position in the Lowland League, while their opponents were rock bottom in nineteenth place. The Wee Gers had won just one of their last four games while losing two and drawing one of the others. Dalbeattie Star had one draw and three losses from their last four games.
The players came onto the field and it was the visitors who got things underway.
A taste of what was to follow came in the first minute, as Berwick created an early chance for themselves.
Jamie Stevenson kicked the ball long from the right-back position and over the halfway line where it was picked up by the Rangers midfield. A couple of neat passes later and the ball found its way to Lewis Allen on the right flank. His cross was played into the box and after controlling the ball, Cammy Graham turned and put his shot just high and wide of the right post.
This was caught on the video I took of the players coming out for the kick-off, below.
In fact, the opening few minutes could easily be called the Lewis Allen Show, as he followed up his near-assist with two shots in quick succession that were saved by the Star keeper before setting up Liam Buchannan to put the ball in the net. The ‘goal’ didn’t stand though, as the assistant referee adjudged him to be in an offside position.
It looked like only a matter of time before Berwick made all this pressure pay off… and they did!
In the eighth minute, a corner from the right-hand side was swung into the six-yard box. Amazingly, captain Jamie Pyper was completely unmarked and he turned the ball into the net to set an amazing sequence of events in motion.
1-0 Berwick Rangers!
It quickly became a goal-fest after that as the Wee Gers took command of the game.
In the tenth minute, Liam Buchannan got the ball in the net for a second time and this time the linesman had no objections.
It was Alex Harris who created this one from his own half. He picked the ball up, beat two opposition players before slotting the ball through the Dalbeattie defence to leave Buchannan in the clear. He still had work to do, some twenty-five yards from goal and the keeper coming out to meet him. He remained calm and slotted the rolling ball past Martin Johnston.
2-0 Berwick Rangers!
Still, in the tenth minute, two became three. (no Spice Girls jokes here!)
Cammy Graham got on the end of a ball that was whipped into the danger zone by Lewis Allan (again) and amazingly, Berwick Rangers had scored three goals in less than three minutes! I was struggling to keep up with my note-taking at this point!
3-0 Berwick Rangers!
Thankfully, it was another five minutes before Berwick had their next chance and I managed to catch up. Buchannan put his shot over the bar from close range as the game threatened to become an absolute rout.
Dalbeattie managed to stabilise a little at the back after the initial shock of the oncoming storm that had hit them but never looked threatening themselves.
Indeed, it wasn’t until the 36th minute that Berwick got their fourth goal.
Right-back, Stevenson whipped a cross from the right to the far post where it was volleyed back across the goal by Blair Sneddon. It was nodded on by Lewis Allan and fell to the feet of Liam Buchannan who had the easy task of slotting it in from close range for his second of the day.
4-0 Berwick Rangers!
At this point, it was pretty much game over and both teams knew it. The game descended into a kind of lethargic stalemate and it felt like Berwick took their foot off the gas and let their opponents get a little self-esteem back by keeping the score at 4-0 for the rest of the game.
The half-time whistle saw the home side applauded off the field by the hardy home support.
Half-time – Berwick Rangers 4 Dalbeattie Star 0
As the teams left the field, we decided to watch the second half from the Main Stand and we walked around the ground, grabbing a cup of tea from the snack bar along the way.
I took another photo I like on the way around.
The Second Half
To be quite honest, the second half was a bit of a dead rubber and didn’t live up to the heights of the first forty-five.
There was an early chance for Cammy Graham in the 47th minute, after more good work from Sneddon but his shot went high and over the bar.
Buchannan and Graham failed to add to the score with chances before the highlight of the second half came in the 66th minute. Buchannan spotted the keeper off his line and took a shot from long-range but credit to Johnston, he got back in time and managed to grab the ball with both hands under his crossbar.
Great effort, Liam Buchannan!
There really wasn’t much more to say about the second half, other than to point out a few individual performances.
The match sponsors gave the man of the match award to Buchannan for his two-goal performance but there were other players who deserve a mention.
Berwick’s defence wasn’t exactly overworked but Jamie Pyper put in a captain’s performance with a solid game and the opening goal, constantly motivating the players around him.
Left-back, Blair Sneddon is at the club on loan from Falkirk and he looks like a decent player, especially at this level, and he showed quite a bit of skill going forward. It will be interesting to see how he fares against stiffer opposition in a defensive duty.
Also, a special mention for Lewis Allen and his instrumental part in that first-half madness that ended the game after just eleven minutes. He played a key role in the first half and was at the helm for much of the damage done.
Full-time – Berwick Rangers 4 Dalbeattie Star 0
Attendance – 289
Entrance Fee – £10.00
Programme – £2.50
Next up for Berwick Rangers is a tough trip to the Excelsior stadium, home of Airdrie and Tuesday night’s opponents, the Celtic B team, who are currently in second place in the Lowland League. Meanwhile, Dalbeattie Star will face Bo’Ness United at home on December 10th.
Berwick Rangers – Goal Highlights
Berwick Rangers – Last Time We Were Here
Following the final whistle, the doors at the back of the Main Stand were open and we made our way from the stadium and down the steps opposite the Black and Gold clubhouse.
We walked past the players’ and official’s entrance and this is where I come back to the story of our last visit here.
We had been invited to come up for a drink and have a look around by Eric Tait after last season’s game with Spartans. The man at the door waved us up once we told him the details and we headed up the stairs.
There were some wonderful old memorabilia on show on the upper floor, including these.
We found Eric in the TV room along with a lot of other excited people watching the end of the Grand National from Aintree. He saw us and came over and proceeded to show us around, pointing out all the stories behind the memorabilia and finally, showed us the lounge named in his honour. This is where the players of both teams were snacking on their post-game sandwiches and chatting with each other about the game.
After showing us around behind the scenes, Eric took us back to the TV room and we went to the bar and got a shot of whiskey each, while he went back to his friends.
Such a lovely gesture from a man we had never met before that lunchtime and I bet I’m not the first person to think of this club as Eric Rangers.
He really is the heartbeat of the club, even at 71 years young.
Berwick Rangers – After the Game
Reminiscing aside, we walked past the official entrance and started on the trek back to Berwick train station.
Night had fallen by now and when we reached the bridge back across the river, it was all lit up and looking very nice. I’m not sure if these lights are a permanent feature or part of a festive display for the holidays but they look really good.
The rail bridge wasn’t left out either and there were coloured lights illuminating the arches in the distance. Berwick certainly knows how to sell its star attractions.
After walking over the bridge and past The Leaping Salmon, we came back to the main street and the Christmas tree was all it up, as was the church further down the street. Although you can’t tell from the pictures, there was an animated sequence displayed on the town hall, showing falling snow and it looked great.
Well done Berwick!
At the train station, there is a plaque commemorating it being the location of the castle’s banqueting hall.
A worrying amount of delays and cancellations were displayed on the monitors but happily, our train wasn’t one of them and it showed up at 17:53, on time and without seating drama.
We arrived back in Newcastle at 18:35 and made the ten-minute walk to the bus stop for our bus home.
The train had been on time, so it was only fair that the bus wasn’t…
We had a nearly forty-five-minute wait for a bus that is supposed to run every fifteen minutes and when it did turn up, needless to say, it was packed with standing room only both upstairs and down. After we had reached Washington, I managed to get a seat (Mrs Hopper got lucky and had a seat all the way.)
We were home by 20:15 and another successful ‘Hop’ was in the books, along with some celebratory chocolate muffins from Tesco!
Next week, we are planning a second attempt to get to Sincil Bank, home of Lincoln City. With public transport the way it is and with snow predicted for next week, we will have to wait and see if we are successful or not.
Onto the next!
6 thoughts on “Berwick Rangers, Shielfield Park – Hopper Tales #48”
Very well written and pleased that you got to see us win.
Eric Tait is a proper gentleman, was a fantastic player and a great ambassador for Berwick Rangers.
Thank you, Alan!
It was good to see Eric before the game on Saturday. He was looking as enthusiastic as ever and long may that continue
Nice one. You saw Berwick at its best both on & off the park. Just a pity we didn’t score more. We are still having hard times at the club but I hope you hope back when we are back in a higher division
I definitely felt like there were more goals to be had in that game on Saturday but the three points are the main thing. I will be back at some point, no matter the league status. I enjoy coming to Berwick!
Brilliant article, glad you enjoyed your visit.
Thank you, Ian
I appreciate the feedback and thanks for reading!