I perceive there to be a big problem in society today with regard to the ‘service’ factor. Every company that I encounter claims to be ‘unbeatable’ when it comes to ‘service’, but are they? Do they make the effort and go the extra mile, or do they simply do the bare minimum and say, we’ve had your money, now push off.
In my home town we have two large competing supermarkets virtually opposite each other. I very rarely venture into one of them, mainly on the basis that the staff are clearly not enjoying themselves. No eye contact, no cracked faces, and everything said or done by the rule book. By contrast, at the other, chatty interaction with the checkout staff appears mandatory. Maybe they pay the better wages, or give them lots of holidays. I wouldn’t like to guess, but the sure thing is they know that to get the customer coming back, they need to make the effort. The ‘service’ factor is the key.
It was the ‘service’ factor that first got me hooked onto Berwick Rangers. I’d always been intrigued by this English outpost playing in the Scottish football league structure, but it wasn’t until visiting the town on holiday, and making a casual enquiry in a pub, that I became a regular customer. I wanted to buy a Berwick Rangers football shirt, the club wanted to sell me one, and it wasn’t too much trouble for Conrad, the marketing manager, to drive up to the ground with the keys – it being the close season – open up the club shop and sell me the shirt. He threw in a free tour of the ground for good measure. Now that’s what I call ‘service’!
That was back in 2001, and fourteen seasons later I am still wearing that same shirt as I type up this blog report on a Virgin Pendolino heading north of the border for yet another ‘Wee Gers’ game, this time an away fixture at East Fife.
It’ll be an overnighter in Kirkcaldy, as there’s no rail service to Methil, home of East Fife, so I can’t get back on a day trip. I’m also meeting my old pal, Fife Bobster (formerly Eagle Bobster) who now lives in Dundee, and gets out and about when his finances – and his recently acquired wife – allow him to. We meet up at Kirkcaldy rail station and have a bash at the town’s best ale houses, both before and after the match. There’s a Wetherspoons, natch, and I’m able to pursue my new passion for black IPAs. Other recommended haunts include the Exchequer, similar in operational style to a Lloyds bar (although it isn’t one) which has one cask ale on tap, a Scottish-brewed golden ale, the name of which escapes me, but it is well kept if predictably citrus; Betty Nicholls, small but trendy where I confirm my suspicion that beers from the Dunfermline-based Abbot House brewery, though the right colour, are sadly not to my tastes; the excellent Harbour Bar which stocks six cask ales, four of them from Scottish breweries; and the street-corner Feuars Arms, which is a little out of town in the direction of Leven, but is worth a visit for its classic interior, and live-wire barman who protests that he doesn’t sell cocktails when I enquire if any of his pies are of the macaroni variant. A nice pint of Black Wolf Red Ale is enjoyed while we dry off after getting caught in a sudden downpour.
The bus to Methil, the no8, takes about half an hour and drops off right outside the ground. Having consumed too much liquid I’m forced to dive into a local copse where in the process of easing my dilemma I manage to drop my glasses. Fortunately they are still there when I retrieve them after the match.
East Fife’s Bayview ground is an out-of-towner and consists of one large cantilever stand. As there’s no flat standing to be had on the other three sides, this is essentially an all-seater stadium. There’s a modestly-stocked club shop in a Portaksbin outside the ground. I did read reports of there being a bar at the stadium open to away fans, but a quick recce throws up no clues. Inside the ground, the fans of each side are segregated.
There a good turnout from Berwick including many of the usual faces, so we’re expecting the familiar barrage of choice language, although even I’m taken aback as a flush-faced Bobster comes out with a foul-mouthed tirade of his own as he doubts the parentage of the referee during an especially tetchy bout of the fouls and counter-fouls which litter the game, being played in the teeth of a howling gale. Berwick have the advantage of the wind in the first half and go two goals up whilst playing some lovely football which is then undone by some pub-team-defending which hands the second half initiative back to the home side. At 2-2 it’s anyone’s game but when a hopeful injury-time shot somehow ends up in the back of the East Fife net the visitors and their jubilant fans can rejoice .
I started this piece by pontificating about the service factor. And I’m on my soapbox once more! With home and away fans having different ends of the stand, someone has made the crass decision not to allocate any macaroni pies to the snack bar in the away end. The home fans have got them all. Surely a major footballing scandal, and hopefully questions will be asked in the Scottish Parliament!
Programme: Sellers outside the ground: A5 sized, £2. Glossy and shiny with quite a lot of reading matter therein.
Floodlight pylons: 4
Birdlife: Lots of gulls as you might imagine with this coastal location.
Club Shop: outside the ground
Toilets: Under the stand
Music the players run out to: Telstar by the Tornados
Kop choir: Not especially vocal
Away fans: 150 or so, a few chants but mainly preoccupied with cussing at the referee and any of the opponents who may have at some time scored a goal or committed a bad foul in a match against Berwick