In my 13-year quest to polish off all of the Scottish league grounds, I’ve embarked on a fair few day trips via Crewe, plus several weekenders where two matches were on offer, but never before managed a five-day stint. Those were usually reserved for my erstwhile forays into Holland.
But thanks to making early rail and hotel bookings for a beer competition that subsequently got moved back a day, I’m faced with an extended stay north of the border, although as I look at the entertainment possibilities open to me, the prospect begins to look more attractive by the day.
So as I wheel my suitcase down my home street early on a Wednesday morning, my tearful wife and kids dabbing their eyes with soggy hankies as they wave me off on my travels, my mind becomes full of thoughts of what is to come, particularly on the beer front.
Because I have chosen the cheapest rail options, my schedule necessitates three changes of train, all involving tight connection times, so I don’t feel entirely comfortable until I settle into my seat on a Virgin Pendolino at Preston heading for Glasgow. Despite a couple of unschduled stops near Lockerbie while the crew climb out to check the outside of the train for some unspecified problem, we arrive in town in good time for me to check in at the Premier Inn before popping across to the nearby Bon Accord to begin my, err, research.
It’s the start of three days and two nights in ‘Glasgie’ during which I get to enjoy two gigs (ageing space rockers Hawkwind and a very good tribute band, Hats Off To Led Zeppelin); settle down on one afternoon in the corner of the Pot Still where I update my business accounts ledgers while partaking of several pints of Oatmeal Stout; meet up with the owner of a Scottish brewery who also owns a Saki distillery (!); munch my way through Wetherspoons finest cuisine; and spend a day with like-minded souls pontificating on the merits of an unending supply of free ale (also referred to as beer judging). I then bid my farewell to the city and head up to Dundee for a reunion with my old friend, Eagle Bobster, which is scheduled to involve sampling the beery delights of Desperate Dan city.
But before that session, first I must travel up to Aberdeen for the second time in two weeks, and the prospect at last of a visit to Pittodrie, the last of my Scottish Premiership stadiums.
My first port-of-call is a pub I have frequented on several occasions but never before enjoyed a pint therein, surely a rarity in my life. The Justice Mill is a Wetherspoons just to the west of Aberdeen city centre, and doubles as a Lloyds disco fun bar in the evenings. It’s normally the place that I eat my breakfast after a night or two at the nearby Travelodge, so coffee and fruit juice have been my previous tipples of choice. Today I will partake of a pint, although I am disappointed to find that there are limited Scottish beer options, and I am obliged to investigate something left over from the recent international beer competition.
From here it’s a short walk back towards the city centre, and a visit to the Grill, a classic Scottish ‘locals’ pub with a long bar down one side, faced with bench seating and tables down the other. There are no stools, not even bar stools, and the pub is presided over by three old dears. It’s earthy but authentic and the Orkney Dark Island goes down a treat.
Next I try two hostelries at the east end of the High Street – the Archibald Simpson (Wetherspoons) and the Blackfriars – but both are rammed with shoppers, diners and football fans, so I head down to the docks area and a pub which I couldn’t get into last time I was in Aberdeen, because it was so full. No such problem today though as the Moorings is primarily an evening music venue and I am one of only two customers this lunchtime. Although the cask beer choice boasts three Scottish ales, they are all pale, so I have to plump for something citrussy from the Isle of Skye brewery.
From here it’s a good twenty minute route march up to Pittodrie, where I locate the ticket office and request that I be sold a seat in a part of the ground where I won’t have the low-lying sun in my eyes. After the crap seat I was allocated at Ross County two weeks previously, I am now convinced that Scottish tickets offices have it in for me as I am directed to the upper tier of the North stand, where the sun indeed shines straight into my eyes. What’s more, a design fault means that, wherever you sit in this stand, you can’t see the base of the near goal. Very similar to the top tier of the Double Decker at Leicester City’s old Filbert Street ground, for those with long memories. I seek solace in my macaroni pie.
The game itself is sort of a cracker, that due in no small part to an erratic referee and a volatile crowd that over-react to his every decision. The people near me spend most of the 90 minutes going ape-shit, and that’s just the women! It doesn’t help that the home team are a goal up, should have been two from the spot, and then have a man sent off for two justifiable bookables (that’s my opinion anyway). Suddenly bottom-of-the-table Hearts, hithertoo lacking any real ambition, realise they can get something out of the game and have the temerity to score three good, unanswered goals to take the spoils.
Around 12,000 unhappy bunnies wend their way back into town. But not me, I’m looking forward to a night on the beer in Dundee and a day in Edinburgh’s pubs tomorrow. What’s not to be happy about?
Programme: £3 from street sellers outside the ground. Big and glossy as you would expect from a Scottish Premiership side. A desire to use big pictures means the point size of the text is quite small, so don’t forget your glasses. I also prefer my team sheets to be on the back page. That aside, there’s a lot of content therefore 8/10
Floodlight pylons: Good question! Just the two now I think, with spotlights on the Richard Donald stand illuminating the pitch at one end.
Birdlife: mainly seagulls, as you might expect at a port city.
Toilets: Concourse at the back of the stand.
Club shop: Outside the ground, part of it doubling as a ticket office.
Music the players run out: I canny remember!
Kop choir: The whole ground was quite agitated.
Away fans: a good 800 or so from Hearts, maybe more.
What’s in a name? I wonder if Hearts’ Callum Tapping is renowned for his powerful finishing? Does Billy King ever get called ‘Jean’?