Preparations for my footy days out invariably start with a check list of the key essentials. Have I got the rail/bus/plane tickets? Have I downloaded and updated the Google map showing where the ground/rail station/real ale pubs is/are? Is the game still on (always worth a late enquiry!). But there’s one other thing I need to do before setting off. I have to ensure that I have packed a good book.
It’s surprising how quickly a three and four hour rail or bus journey can fly by whilst I’m poring the pages of my latest weighty tome. But it can’t just be any old piece of literature, it has to be factual. I’m not into novels or any other work of fiction, I need to know that what I’m reading about has its place in the general scheme of things. In fact, look through my library, and there’s probably only two examples of ‘imaginative’ writing in there – Bootboys and Skinhead Escapes from the early 1970s. Hey, even I was young and impressionable once!
At the moment I’m enjoying the latest rantings of Jeremy Clarkson, whose writing style I’m quite taken with. After that it’ll be the second Chris Evans autobiography which, if it’s as enthralling as the first, I’m very much looking forward to getting stuck into.
As I’m making a cross-country rail trip today, the book comes in very useful. I’m on the Virgin Voyager from Crewe heading up to Edinburgh – for a change – as I’ve read in ‘Groundtastic’ that the days might be numbered for Cowdenbeath’s Central Park ground. It was a ground I was saving for a potential Berwick Rangers away-day, but with the Wee ‘Gers fumbling around at the wrong end of Division 3, whilst the ‘Blue Brazil’ look a good bet for promotion to Division 1, the die is cast. The train is not too crowded, save for the inevitable party of mature ‘ladies-that-lunch’ who are discussing a Fiat 500 they’ve seen with eyelashes above the headlights, and are amused to discover that it’s owned by the young girl sitting in front of them. Cue much merriment.
Once in Edinburgh – ravaged by essential cable works everywhere – I call into Fopp to update my CD collection (more Bowie, XTC and Kate Bush at £3 a throw) and then seek out the Alexander Graham Bell, the ‘other’ Wetherspoons on George Street. The Orkney Brewery Dark Island is in cracking form, but the large Veggie Breakfast arrives one sausage short of a load. This often happens at Spoons, and indicates either a deficiency in the numeracy skills of the chef, or else there’s a drive underway to save on the weekly Linda McCartney bill. Barely have I have raised the issue with the barman, when the missing sausage arrives with apologies from the kitchen.
About five minutes from here is the Oxford Bar on Young Street, famous – so I’m led to believe – for being the haunt of Inspector Rebus in the novels of Ian Rankin. Which of course means sod all to me. This pub is however something else, like sitting in someone’s (sparsely decorated) living room. The first time I ever ventured across the threshold of the Oxford Bar, it was packed with Scotsmen – and women – cheering on France in a rugby match against England. Refusing to be intimidated, and possibly the worse for wear for drink, I went against the flow, much to the angst of my friends who promptly disowned me.
Today there’s only a few present, including a mother and a young lad bursting for a pee who come into use the loo. The pint of Williams Black looks promising, but on further inspection would appear to be on the turn, with just the slightest hint of a sourness which might win you an award in Belgium. Not in Edinburgh though.
The rail journey to Cowdenbeath takes 40 minutes or so and costs £8.50 return. It’s uneventful except for nearly being sat on by a large visually-impaired gentleman with an equally chunky Alsation dog. Clearly when he instructed it to ‘find seat’ he should have added the words ‘not one that somebody’s already sitting in though’ afterwards. I decide to move.
From the train, there are excellent views to be had of the airport, the Firth of Forth, some impressive bridges, and a tantalising glimpse of Central Park as you cruise into Cowdenbeath station. But first there’s a Good Beer Guide listed pub to check out, the Woodside Hotel, which is a little out of town up a street which appears to have been booby-trapped with a strategically deposited dog-turd every 20 yards or so. I can clearly see where some unfortunate soul has already perished. I step lightly.
The Woodside is virtually empty, and the only pumpclip on view is for Loch Leven Brewery’s Golden Goose, which for some strange reason I suspect might just be a golden beer. I’m not wrong. It has that ‘me-too’ citrussy tang I’ve come to expect and suffer, although it does boast the advantage of drowning that sour taste I’m still remembering from the last pint I had. There’s a collection of books on the window sills and I spot one that’s just up my street. ‘Killing Ground – the Battle of the Falaise Gap, August 1944’. How could you not want to get stuck into that!?
Central Park is a bit of a relic and it’s not a surprise that it’s ‘central’ location might be coveted by developers. The view of the pitch is impaired slightly by a large fence which I suspect is more to do with the stock car racing than to protect fans from being decapitated by a stray football. The side-by-side old and new main stands house away and home supporters respectively. When I ask a steward if I can sit anywhere he says yes. When I further enquire as to where the season tickets holders sit, he adds that he doesn’t think there are any. Heart-warmingly, a good proportion of the home traditionalists eschew the seating and gather on the upper reaches of the terraced bank opposite, making some noise in the process.
After a minutes silence, the two teams kick off. With Cowdenbeath topping the table, and visiting Stenhousemuir lying in third, I’m hopeful of a cut-and-thrust encounter but end up watching some elaborate chess-piece football which manages a 15th-minute goal for the Blue Brazil, but very little else of note in a low-key first half. The bloke next to me introduces himself at half time as a fellow ‘hopper, originally from Nottingham, now based in York, and working in Holland, the latter giving him an insight into the Dutch approach to possession football which Cowdenbeath have amply demonstrated in the first half. ‘Not very exciting, though’, I dare to observe.
It’s pretty much the same after the break, although being a goal down does persuade Stenny to be a little more adventurous. The only real excitement comes in the last five minutes with a second and almost a third for ‘Beath, amidst some serious pressure on their own goalmouth. An efficient performance by the home team, the type of which could see them playing at a higher level next year, but not necessarily the kind of game this old traditionalist would like to watch every week.
As I prepare to leave the match, I can hear the sound of screaming coming from behind the main stand. I imagine the plot for a new novel, ‘Murder at Central Park’, with players and staff embroiled in a ‘whodunnit’ frenzy of accusation and counter-accusation. Could there be some excitement after all? The reality is that a fairground has just kicked into life and the local girls are getting into the swing of things. Not much of a story then. Maybe on this occasion the fiction might just have been more interesting….
Programme: A classic, not that you’d know that from the cover. £2 from a stand inside the turnstile. Well researched, well written and worth every penny. The best value-for-money I’ve bought this season.
Floodlight pylons; 8, with the lamps slung halfway up the pylons. Very unusual.
Parakeets: None apparent
Club Shop: a portakabin outside the ground, doing a roaring trade to people with English accents. The adjacent snack bar doesn’t sell the macaroni pie but, sensing my dislike for meat, the lady behind the counter points out that she does indeed sell lentil soup.
Toilets: Just inside the stand entrance, and at the back of the terrace.
Music the teams run out to: Nothing in particular, although the announcer has been demonstrating his particular penchant for club mix-style music prior to the game. Example seems permanently stuck to his decks.
Kop Choir: 200 or so Cowden fans atop the open terrace
Away fans: Quite a few, tucked away in the old stand
What’s In a Name: Nothing apparent, I may have to give this further thought!