Groundhopping Eye Candy
Every now and again, as a groundhopper, you come across photographs or video that makes your head turn. I remember the first time I saw a photograph of Gala Fairydean Rovers‘ iconic main stand and I knew I would have to visit someday.
Well, that day has arrived!
A trip to the Scottish Borders town of Galashiels on a nice sunny day in April for some football stadium eye candy?
The day started early, as is usual for us on a matchday.
We woke around six in the morning and headed out the door in time to catch the 07:05 Newcastle bus.
Once in Newcastle, we headed to our usual breakfast point at Greggs. With a table booked for lunch in Galashiels, we took it easy on the goodies. After eating our breakfast in the dining section, we headed off to catch our 08:49 train up to Edinburgh Waverley.
Once on the train, an announcement was made that the train would be delayed due to ‘an incident on the railway line’.
It later transpired that there had been a fatality near the Northumberland town of Cramlington.
Around 2 a.m. on Saturday morning, emergency services attended the incident and a man was sadly pronounced deceased at the scene. More on that story can be read here.
Our thoughts and best wishes go out to the friends and family of the deceased.
For us, this meant a delay of approximately an hour and our pre-booked lunch at the Salmon Inn was in jeopardy.
We eventually got underway on a crowded train at around 09:45. There was another ten-minute delay as we approached the scene of the incident before we continued on our way.
We arrived at Waverley around 11:40, about one hour and twenty minutes behind the scheduled arrival time.
We let the people at the Salmon Inn know that we wouldn’t be able to make our 12:00 booking.
We now needed to find our connecting train platform.
According to Google Maps, we should head to Platform 3 but the station boards say Platform 6. Then an announcement comes over the tannoy that the Tweedbank train is leaving from Platform 8w!
As we made our way to the correct platform, a guard at the top of the steps decided he needed to see our tickets before we could go down. Even though the train was due to pull out of the station at any minute now!
I managed to flash my tickets at him before quickly descending the steps and we got on board with no time to spare.
Having sat in our seats, the train pulled out of the Scottish capital and we were heading back south.
Around an hour later, we arrived at our destination, the Scottish Borders town of Galashiels.
We headed into the town centre and I took a couple of photos as we crossed the Gala Water – a tributary of the River Tweed.
Although we didn’t have time to visit, Galashiels is also home to the Great Tapestry of Scotland.
The Great Tapestry of Scotland is one of the world’s largest community arts projects, hand stitched by 1,000 people from across Scotland. It is made up of 160 linen panels and 300 miles of wool – enough to stretch the entire length of Scotland. It is now on permanent display in its own purpose-built galleryWikipedia
Around five minutes of walking brought us down Market Street and to the Auld Mill Inn. Ironically, this is just a couple of doors down from the Salmon Inn where we had planned to eat. We walked through the door and for a split second, I thought fame had finally been achieved.
Celtic v Rangers
A huge roar went up as we walked through the open door and it took me a second to realise that the Celtic v Rangers game was showing on the TV. Kyogo had just scored (again) for Celtic and people were celebrating like true natives of Glasgow.
I don’t think I will ever understand why so many people in Scotland turn their backs on their local teams to support two clubs miles away.
We ordered drinks from the bar and it was very snug in there. With people at the tables and others standing at the bar, there was barely room for us to get our drinks. After watching the game for a short while, thinking we were in a Celtic bar in the East End of Glasgow, I started to realise, they may not all be Celtic fans after all.
This was confirmed when Rangers equalised and a cheer to equal the first one went up. Rangers fans jumped off their barstools and danced around in the small pub.
I’m guessing these people are all mates during any other time of the year and only dislike each other on days like this. Either way, it was all good-natured fun between them. We left at half-time and made our way down to Netherdale, home of Gala Fairydean Football Club.
The irony of the situation wasn’t lost on me. We were in a town where people were glued to the Glasgow derby on a TV, while we had come approximately 170 miles to watch their local team…
Each to their own!
It is around 1.4 miles in total from the train station to the football stadium. I had told Mrs Hopper we would have a nice walk down along the Gala Water.
Most of it is hidden as you walk down to Netherdale along Paton Street and Huddersfield Road. It’s only as you come out towards the end of the walk that the river becomes visible again.
If you fancy a nice walk to the ground, don’t do it the way we did. Walk on the other bank of the river where there is a path that follows the water.
Oh well, it was nice and sunny at least and we did get to see a little of the river.
We turned right at the junction with Nether Road, which leads away from Gala Water and towards the Netherdale complex. This is a huge, sprawling area of grass, that incorporates a football club, a rugby club, two stadiums and more rugby and football pitches beyond the stadiums.
Gala Fairydean Rovers Football Club – A Potted History
Quite a mouthful of a name, isn’t it?
This is because there are two teams merged into one. Gala Fairydean and Gala Rovers merged into one club in 2013. At the same time, they left the East of Scotland League to join the Lowland League as a new club.
Or that should say ‘re-merged’ into one.
Gala Fairydean Rovers was originally formed as far back as 1894. In 1907 the club split into two teams, known as Gala Fairydean and Gala Rovers.
Both clubs ceased playing in 1914 due to the outbreak of World War One. Fairydean resumed playing in 1919 in the East of Scotland League. Rovers, meanwhile, didn’t start playing again until 1947 when they joined the Border Amateur League.
So, in 2013, a mere one hundred and six years later, the gang were back together…
Netherdale Stadium has always been the home of both clubs, which would have made the transition much smoother. It also gives the town of Gala one team to unite behind and gives them a stronger base to move forward.
Gala Fairydean Rovers – Exterior
Other than the main stand, there really isn’t much to see regarding the exterior of the Netherdale stadium.
That said, what a main stand it is!
It is a most unique structure and if there is another like it in the UK, I have yet to see it. Designed by the British architect Peter Womersley (1923-1993), the stand was erected between 1963 and 1964.
It is a stand that splits opinion, with some calling it an eyesore and others hailing it as a masterpiece.
I described it to the lovely Debi on turnstile duty, as a beautiful monstrosity, which made her smile. Another way to describe it would be to call it a concrete origami puzzle.
Made entirely of concrete, Wolmersley somehow managed to turn that ugly building material into something quite wonderful.
The roof seems to defy gravity, perched flimsily atop the back of the stand and hovering menacingly over the whole structure. Indeed, it was one of the first cantilever roofed stands in the UK.
In 2006 Historical Environment Scotland granted the stand Category B status. This was upgraded to Category A status just seven years later, recognising it as a building of outstanding architectural and national importance.
A spokesperson for HES at the time described it as follows: “The Gala Fairydean Rovers football stand is a significant work of late modernist architecture in Scotland. A highly distinctive design, constructed in concrete, comprising four V-sectioned vertical fins supporting a wedge-shaped stand and a cantilevered canopy”.
Saved From Demolition
The structure was almost doomed to the bulldozers at one point but fortunately, the local council stepped in and funded the refurbishment it needed. It was closed for safety reasons in 2018 and was reopened against Rangers B team on October 29th 2022.
The £1.45 million overhaul included a relaying of the artificial playing surface, new floodlights and restoration of the main stand and the turnstiles.
The turnstiles on either side of the main stand are another nod to Womersley. Large inverted pyramid-shaped concrete blocks, or as Mrs Hopper described them, umbrellas that had turned inside out.
Gala Fairydean Rovers – Exterior Gallery
Gala Fairydean Rovers – Interior
Having admired the main stand from outside, it was time to go into Netherdale.
After walking through the gate, there is a window to the right where you can pay the admission fee of £10.00. We had a chat with a lovely lady called Debi, who was on duty in the hut. She also doubles up as one of the admins for Gala Fairydean Rovers’ social media accounts.
We also bought a programme from the ticket hut. I remembered much later in the day that I hadn’t asked if pin badges were available. The good news is that I have since checked, and if you ask at the payment window, they are available.
I have since managed to secure one on eBay for my burgeoning collection.
If I could make one small suggestion, Gala may want to consider putting squad numbers next to players’ names on the programme. This would allow non-supporters like me to know who was who.
We moved on from our chat with Debi, to take a look around the ground. By now the players were out on the pitch warming up.
There was a snack bar to our left which we fully intended to try out before we left. For now, we walked past it, ignoring the belly rumbles as we sniffed the pies.
Don’t let appearances deceive you. Despite the rough-looking exterior of the hut, the pies served up from within are absolutely delicious.
Behind the goal to our left was a small grassy bank with a fence perched atop it. This is the dividing barrier between the football and rugby grounds.
The only other thing of note at this end of the ground was a small shelter for disabled supporters.
On the eastern side of Netherdale, there is a small stand with a capacity for around one hundred spectators. This stand sits on the northern side of the halfway line.
Beyond this is a couple of rugby pitches and football pitches. Indeed, there was a game of rugby going on while we wandered around the Netherdale pitch.
It was also while we were walking around this side of the ground that I struck up a conversation with the match officials. I wonder how many Italian linesmen there are in the Lowland League?
I think I may have spoken to the only Italian linesman in the village.
He was a very affable guy who said he has lived in Scotland for over twenty years now and supports AC Milan.
Nice to meet you, sir!
The south end of Netherdale comprises a steel mesh cage housing a small five-a-side court where kids were happily playing. There were also some portacabins. Turns out the portacabins were the dressing room for the away team.
It was actually Mrs Hopper who noticed this when the players came out. I was too busy videoing a trophy presentation to notice that Gretna players came out from the south end.
While we were at this end of the ground, I stopped to film some of the Gala players’ shooting drills. This was my first glimpse of nineteen-year-old right winger, Gospel Ocholi and after we had watched them drilling for a while, I said to Mrs Hopper, he will score today…
On loan since January from parent club Partick Thistle, I later found out he hasn’t scored for the club before.
West Side (We’ve Heard the Story, Thanks)
This brings us back round to the west side of the ground which is obviously dominated by the main stand.
The stand itself takes up approximately two-fifths of the pitch’s length and has a capacity for 750 spectators. There is a small bar set beneath the main stand but I think it is only accessible from outside.
The whole stand is a bit of a maze to negotiate. For instance, Mrs Hopper had to go up the players’ tunnel to find the ladies’ toilets…
Access to the seating is via steps at either end.
The players’ tunnel is just to the left of the halfway line and the technical dugouts are situated on either side of the tunnel steps.