Gartcairn’s First Away Day

Last year Martmak discovered the junior game and all the enjoyment to be had from this grade of football.

This season he will continue on his travels and let us know how he gets on.

Gartcairn’s First Away Day

It’s been five weeks since I watched the Evening Times cup final at Newlandsfield, and the season is almost upon us again. As a kid, it always seemed to take forever for the pre season friendlies to come around and now that I’m much older than I’d like to be, the end of one season almost seamlessly merges with the beginning of the next. This year I’ve got a little extra excitement as Gartcairn Juniors have been accepted into the SJFA – the first side from Airdrie to play junior football for eighty odd years I believe. I can’t claim to know much about Gartcairn other than they have a pretty good academy set up and an amateur side, but I’ll be hoping to see a few of their matches through the course of the coming season. That’s the reason that I’ve decided to jump on the train down to Stevenston, the home of Scotland’s greatest living sporting hero, Grado, for my first visit to Ardeer Stadium for the Ardeer Thistle v Gartcairn Juniors friendly.

I was surprised that Stevenston was only five stops from Glasgow Central, not much more than half an hour on the train, and Ardeer Stadium only a further five minutes from the station. So there’s no excuse for away fans – leave the car at home and make your way down for a match sometime this season. I arrived at the ground and paid my three pounds entrance fee and a pound for the pretty decent match programme – Airdrieonians and Queen’s Park take note, if Ardeer Thistle can produce a decent wee programme for a quid, you could make an effort and at least try to produce one. The pitch looked to be in decent condition and surrounded by an ash running track and maybe five or six rows of terracing, with a small covered section. Now the important part – the bar consisted of a portacabin with a few tables, a pool table and a wee bar area at one end, with canned and bottled beer at two pounds and shorts with a dash at one pounds fifty. Sat prominently on the bar like a modern art installation, were two bottles of Buckfast, one painted blue, the other green. I thought I knew the reason why but I bit and decided to ask the barmaid who confirmed my suspicions, maybe an interesting idea there for the good monks of the Devon Abbey to think about.

I purchased a can of lager, which I wouldn’t normally drink but needs must when the occasion arises, and sat down to read my programme. The bar staff and locals were all super friendly and made the away fans feel at home. Apparently a coach had been due to bring more people down from Airdrie but was cancelled at the last minute, shame – the fortified nutritional supplement may have gone down a treat but I digress, I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the programme content. So often you find nonsense and wall to wall adverts inside, but there were a couple of good articles about Gartcairn and one on the history of junior football in Airdrie – someone had done some very decent research. I wasn’t aware that a team known as Airdriehill Shamrock played in the juniors from 1912 until shortly after the First World War and Airdrie Juniors, who played up to just before the outbreak of World War Two, both of which I was completely unaware of. The Ardeer Ultra’s were jokingly claiming that Gartcairn had been funded by laundered drug money from Glasgow drug barons and ex Hibee Tam McManus’s name was on the end of everyone’s lips, the banter was good natured and I finished my second lager and made my way outside.

There was close to one hundred fans in the ground, three dogs and a couple of chancers sitting on a garden wall, too tight to part with three quid. No one could quite believe that Gartcairn had the ball in the back of Thistle’s net within ten seconds, not exactly sure of the time as I fumbled with my phone in the excitement of it all! The Ardeer defence were caught cold as the ball was played over their heads for the Lanarkshire side’s star player Tam McManus to casually lob the ball over the head of keeper Paul McMann, 0-1. McMann has to have the loudest voice in Scottish football, a bit like John Martin of Airdrie and Tranent fame – he seemed to be orchestrating the Ardeer outfield much as a Sergeant Major might on a parade square. McManus provided the main thrust of the Gartcairn threat and had a few decent chances before the ref’s whistle blew for half time, but nothing to match his first attempt. Ardeer Thistle meanwhile had been no slouches and probably edged the first half in terms of goalmouth action, with the Gartcairn keeper making a couple of saves and the defence making some fine blocks and clearances.

With the arrival of half time my thoughts turned to the matter of local delicacies and headed to the pie stand next to the dressing rooms and bought myself a Scotch pie with the addition of a wee bit of brown sauce. The first bite was a culinary revelation, just like a good pie from the chippie. I don’t know if this is normal in Stevenston or my pie was a statistical anomaly of some sort but the pastry was crispy and soft at the same time, the meat filling wasn’t too bad either. That’s the second great pie I’ve had in Ayrshire since starting to watch junior football last season but I’m afraid that the Auchinleck based meaty treat edges out the Thistle pie by a short nose, 8.5/10.

The second half wasn’t quite as tight as the first half. Thistle had the best of the chances and more possession but can think themselves unlucky as they had two decent shouts for a penalty ignored, one of them a stonewaller in my humble opinion. Ardeer were doubly unfortunate as Gartcairn keeper Martyn Meek was having one hell of a game and made some fantastic saves. Thistle had their best attempt when George Bonner crossed towards the far post for Kevin Ramsey’s header to smash into the ground and bounce inches over the crossbar. Tam McManus was involved in both of Cairn’s decent chances. The best involved some great close interplay between McManus and striker Barry Foy out on the wing, before Foy cut inside and saw his eighteen yard shot saved by McCann.

The match ended and I had a spare half hour before the train arrived for Glasgow, so I kindly contributed a little more to the coffers of Ardeer Thistle and had a quick lager before setting off on the homeward leg of my journey. The end of another great day out at the juniors.

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