Starting the New Season
Just like any football team, you have to get into the swing of it again before taking it to the next level when the competition gets tougher.
So, we started by heading off to Gretna Green, just over the border between England and Scotland.
The host team. Gretna 2008, is actually a phoenix club. A club that has risen from the ashes of the old Gretna club that rose meteorically to compete in the Sottish Premier League alongside the heavyweights of Scottish football.
As their name implies, the present incarnation of Gretna’s football team was founded in 2008. It wouldn’t be right to start without writing a brief, potted history of the club they replaced, Gretna.
The Original Gretna FC
Although Gretna is located in Scotland, the original Gretna FC, which formed in 1946, played their games in the English Amateur and semi-professional leagues right up until their election into the SPFL in 2002.
The club at this time were financially backed by Brooks Mileson, who had made his fortune in the construction and insurance industries after being made redundant in 1982.
His financial injection helped fuel the club’s meteoric rise up the leagues and by 2006 they had reached the Scottish Cup Final, where they lost on penalties to Heart of Midlothian. The following year they achieved promotion to the Premier League. That 2007/08 season in the SPL would be their zenith and also their last in existence as a club.
Raydale Park didn’t meet Premier League standards and they played all their home games at Motherwell’s Fir Park. On top of this disadvantage, Mileson withdrew his financial support due to illness and without it, the club could no longer afford to operate and went into administration. The one potential buyer for the club dropped out when the club were punished for their financial shortcomings. They were relegated back to the, then, Division Three (now League Two) with debts of circa £4m. By August of 2008, with the huge debt and no buyer found, Gretna FC was wound up and liquidated.
From the Ashes Rises the Phoenix
In 2008, the new club was formed under a new name and with the supporter’s trust running the club. Unable to play at Raydale Park because it was part of the old club’s problems, Gretna 2008 played their home games at the Everholme stadium in Annan. They used this playing field for most of the first season until the new owners of Raydale Park allowed the new club to come back home and eventually negotiate the purchase of their old stadium.
They began life in the East of Scotland First Division, gaining promotion to the Premier Division at the third attempt. Two years later they had gained promotion to the Scottish Lowland Football League, where ten years later, they still ply their trade.
This is where our visit to Raydale Park came in and it would be interesting to see how Gretna compared to the recently relegated League Two side, Dumbarton.
Gretna – Pre-Game
With the railway strikes still fresh and unresolved, there were always going to be some worries about the journey to Gretna. However, if you don’t take the risk, you don’t get anywhere, so, with the decision made and tickets purchased online via Fanbase, we decided this would be our first game of the 2022/23 season.
As it turned out, the journey to Gretna Green went very smoothly and by 11:30 we were there after setting off from Newcastle at 09:23, with around 20 minutes of that time waiting for a connection at Carlisle.
The train station is quite isolated from the town, which is accessed by going down the steps and through a low roofed tunnel under the train tracks and the adjacent A75 road. After a brief walk along a path through a field, we began to reach residential areas. We headed down Central Avenue, turned left onto Annan Road and headed for the Gretna Inn, which was a riot of colour outside. There were more flowers on display than in most gardens and my allergies were soon speaking of their dislike for my choice of a watering hole.
Despite this, the staff made us welcome and after deciding we probably wouldn’t have time to stop and have lunch, we just ordered drinks. The reviews suggest we would have got a decent lunch there though if we’d had the time.
It was quite amusing to watch a couple from Birmingham at the next table to us in the bar. She had brought a pair of straighteners and a mirror, which was being held up for her by her husband. Straight out of a scene from The Jockey, in Shameless. Apparently, they were late getting ready for a wedding and they were joking about the situation with us and the helpful staff. I’m sure with this town having a storied history centred around weddings, they have seen all of this and more in the past.
Around 13:20, we set off for Raydale Park and along the way met Gary, an elderly Dumbarton fan who was looking for the ground too. He trusted us to guide him there and was telling us tales of his many years following Dumbarton. Nice guy, too.
Gretna FC 2008 – The Stadium
We arrived at the ground a few minutes later, showed our digital tickets to a guy on the turnstile who had no way of checking the QR code and we were waved in.
To our left was a small building that housed a snack bar, accessed through the window and which somehow reminded me of being a kid, waiting for ice cream from the van.
In front of us, behind one goal was a row of temporary-looking buildings and a swathe of grass, a pathway and a railing before it all met the playing surface, which was another example of the new synthetic 3g pitches. Across from us was another area with no seating or terracing and a large mesh fence to presumably stop the ball from getting out of the arena, as there was only a low wall behind it.
To our right were a social club bar and a small main stand. In front of the entrance stood two small boys selling pin badges and they were absolutely delighted when I bought one from them. “Yes! That’s the first one we’ve sold!” one of them said, unable to contain his excitement. It was well worth £2 just to see his reaction.
Disappointingly, no programmes or team sheets were available but this was understandable as it was only a friendly game. I don’t know if Gretna would normally produce a programme or not? If you could leave a comment for anyone else who is planning a journey up in the comments section if you find out, it would be much appreciated.
At the far end was the biggest seating area on the ground. A stand that ran the full width of the pitch, with seating that was eight rows deep. We watched the first half in the small main stand at almost the halfway line and found ourselves next to the Gretna Ultras!
The Gretna Ultras consisted of a small group of young kids with a drum and a megaphone and quite an immature attitude. The Gretna coaching staff soon told them to stop using the megaphone to call players names as it might distract them, so they contented themselves with just using the drum instead.
Needless to say, the second half was watched from the other stand behind the goal!
Gretna FC 2008 – Stadium Gallery
Gretna FC 2008 – Pre-Game Video of Raydale Park
Gretna FC 2008 – The Game
Surprisingly, to me at least, the game was very competitive and played at quite a high tempo considering this was just a pre-season friendly.
I rarely go into much detail about the game itself because that isn’t really what the Hopper excitement is about, it’s the ground itself, visiting a new town or city and interacting with the supporters and residents of the area, at least it is for me. So, when a game is good too, that’s a lovely little bonus and this one didn’t let us down.
After the teams had walked out to the pitch, the home team in black and white hoops and the visitors in their new 150-year anniversary kits of a white shirt with a gold hoop and a blue trim edging the hoop, they lined up in front of the small main stand to give a minutes applause, although I didn’t catch what the announcement said it was for because the sound didn’t carry to the standing area behind the goal. I can assume it may have been a tribute to Andy Goram, who sadly passed away on the same day this game was played, aged just 58. This is pure speculation on my part though.
Once the applause had died out, we made our way up the side of the pitch and talk our seats in the small stand by the previously mentioned drumming ultras.
Meanwhile, the home side was stripping off their shirts and replacing them with their all-red away shirts as the home shirts had been deemed as too similar by the referee.
The home team looked every bit as good as the team who sat two divisions above them last season and it was indeed, Gretna who took the lead on seventeen minutes through Rhys Caves, Gretna’s No.6.
The lead didn’t last long though and after 39 minutes Dumbarton found themselves 2-1 ahead.
Four minutes later we were treated to the best goal of the game as the ever-prolific A. Trialist netted a belter of a goal from the edge of the area into the top corner.
That took us to the half-time interval and our change of scenery into the stand behind the goal.
Ironically, I had been asked on Twitter before the game if the light was still broken in this stand by someone who had visited the ground the season before. It was and it was right above where we sat, right behind the middle of the goal.
The second half never quite lived up to the first half in terms of entertainment but there was no let-up in the effort put in by both teams.
The winning goal came in the 85th minute and it was yet another goal for A. Trialist, this time for Dumbarton. Surely one of those has to have been an own goal?
Shortly after a corner kick for Gretna, the ball was cleared and at the other end of the pitch, Dumbarton won a free-kick. From the resulting play came a goal with a hint of offside about it but the goal stood and Dumbarton held on for the win and I’m sure they will be looking to push and improve on this performance as they try to steady the ship after last season’s relegation.
Attendance – 114
Entrance Fee – £5.00
Programme – N/A – Teamsheets for regular-season games will be available for free & digital programmes
Gretna FC 2008 – The Game – Personal Videos
Gretna FC 2008 – After the Game
Our new Dumbarton fan friend, Gary, was waiting for us outside the ground and walked with us back to the train station. He was happy with the result and even happier that he had got to shake the hand of the Dumbarton manager, Stephen Farrell.
Our 16:26 train to Carlisle was on time according to the electronic board at the station but it still decided not to show up and the next one wasn’t until 17:31 and there was quite a chilly breeze by now too.
Aside from this small setback, the rest of the journey home went well and we were back home by 20:30