I have to say that I have a great deal of respect for the one-club supporter. The fan that emerges from the womb screaming his local team’s name and bequeaths his entire estate to the same home town club when he (or she) eventually shifts off this mortal coil. I just think, though, that it’s simply one view of football. And a view that restricts total enjoyment of the game.
For instance, it couldn’t have been much fun for fans of Durham City or Darlington this season. No doubt there were those that stuck with them both through their respective unerring nosedives to the divisions below. Equally so there were many that looked elsewhere for their football fix. Judging by the amount of Newcastle shirts getting on my Berwick-bound train at Darlington and Durham stations, most of them are glory-hunting up at St James’s Park.
I first got interested in the beautiful game when my county club, Leicester City, got to the FA Cup final in 1963. The whole village got dressed up for the occasion as we watched them lose their third Wembley final in 20 years on our grainy b&w box. A couple of years later my dad took me to Filbert Street and for the next ten years they were the team for me. Fast forward to 1976, I have a car, the first division football at City is uninspiring, and I look up the road to a second division side which is playing with a passion. I swap blue for red and that’s the way I’ve been every since.
However, that hasn’t stopped me from developing an affection for other clubs. I’m a member at Chelsea (so I can chaperone my young son and his friend); I’m a sort of member of a Wolves supporters club, a legacy of my time working in the West Midlands; I have a number of Darlington shirts, stemming from a visit to Feethams in 1988 when they were a no-hope side destined for the Conference (can history repeat itself?); I like to watch Burton Albion, although it’s not so much fun now young Mr Clough is seeing out time at Direby; and every year I go to Shielfield Park to cheer on Berwick Rangers. Which is what I’m doing today.
I’ve recorded in previous posts why it is that I am honour-bound to take in one Berwick home and one away game each season, so I won’t repeat it again. Today they are in with a chance of pinching a play-off spot against contenders Albion Rovers. A sunny day is promised and despite missing out on breakfast at Direby due to the Greasy Spoon not opening on time and the station cafe having no chef until 8 (and the on-train buffet having no sandwiches until Newcastle) I arrive in Berwick in good heart, having survived the influx of the Magpies fans cramming the carriages from Darlo onwards, a herd of boozy forty-something girlies on a hen weekend to Edinburgh, and an angry wasp which shouldn’t be around until August (probably attracted to my black and gold shirt).
My first port-of-call is down a road opposite the Station where I know exists a pub called the Pilot Inn. It’s well-used by Berwick fans, despite being probably further from the ground than any pub in the town. It looks like members of the Berwick Trust are meeting in one of the bars whilst I share the other with two dogs, a knowledgeable local who originally hails from Coventry, and four blokes from Nottingham (of all places) who are up for a Berwick Rangers Weekender. As the only English side in the Scottish League it has that effect on people. The beer is by Caledonian, Theakston’s and Cairngorm.
After a couple here I move on to the Leaping Salmon, a Wetherspoons hostelry where the last dregs of the Beer Festival are holding sway. A Woodforde’s beer is on for £1.39. They won’t accept my CAMRA voucher as it would take the price of the beer to below £1 (your point?). Time to head down to the lower level and Barrels, probably the best choice of ale in town. This pub easily gets packed but I find a seat and enjoy a nice pint of stout brewed by Houston. From here it’s a scenic walk across the Tweed via the Old Bridge and normally a last pint in the Angel in Tweedmouth. But not today, as it’s closed for a refurb. I try the Queen’s Head just round the corner but it’s a no-beer pub so it just remains to drop into Robert Smith’s chippy for the best chip-shop curry sauce in the world, before the short walk up the hill to Shielfield.
The Black & Gold Club at the ground used to sell real ale but is now a beer desert. The snack wagon inside the ground sells the Scotch Pies but not the Macaroni varient. Luckily I pigged out at Smith’s earlier.
Surrounded by a speedway track – the Bandits are in action this very night against Newcastle – the pitch has the wickedest slope you ever did see. I vow that if I should win the lottery, a chunk of it will go towards leveling this playing surface. The effects of gravity are startling. I’ve seen many a healthy-looking defensive clearance stall alarmingly in mid-air before heading straight back towards the guy who kicked it. The boomarang effect! Even the main stand has been constructed to take the gradient into account, it being a good eight feet higher at one end. Standing behind one goal isn’t allowed, and at the other end there’s little point, as the apex of the speedway track leaves you at binocular distance from the pitch. So most of us stand on the ‘Ducket’, a partially covered terrace opposite the main stand. Part of this is available for use by away fans, but as Albion have only brought thirty, they sit noisily in the stand.
For some reason Rangers are wearing their away kit today but having only won four out of seventeen games on the road this season, it can’t be for luck. In the first half they are tackling the slope, aren’t really on their game, and allow Rovers to score twice and threaten on other occasions. It’s not looking good. After the break Rangers have the advantage and a sharply taken volley by an otherwise anonymous Damon Gray pulls them back into the game. For a while an equaliser is on the cards but the impetus starts to wane and it’s the visitors who celebrate the chance of play-off glory.
My journey home starts with a pint of Hadrian in the Castle Hotel, a comfortable pub right opposite the station (good for B&B, as is the Pilot) and ends sharing a train from Direby to Long Eaton with a load of Rams fans – returning from another glorious defeat, this time in Bristol – who for some reason live in Nottingham. Shame on them, they should be supporting their LOCAL club!
Programme: £2.00 from a seller inside the turnstile. Hasn’t changed much in the ten years I’ve been coming to Shielfield.
Floodlight Pylons: eight
Parakeets: The seagull is the dominant bird in border country, although an aerobatic flock of pigeons hang out at the nearby maltings.
Club Shop: a shack near to the turnstiles
Toilets: By the side of the main stand
Tannoy music: Disco-soul
Players with the quirkiest names: Nothing inspiring