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Friday 11th March 2016 ko 19.00

Lowland League

GRETNA FC 2008 0 Rea sent off 89 (2nd Booking)

DALBEATTIE STAR 0

Att 366

Entry £5

Programme £1

If last year’s Lowland League hop broke new ground in that it was the first hop organised north of the border, it did create one issue for us at GroundhopUK and that was the format. Last year we went for 1 game on the Friday, 3 on the Saturday and 2 on the Sunday, but for a few reasons that couldn’t happen this time round.

Those two Sunday games, at Dalbeattie and Castle Douglas-based Threave Rovers saw us stretch our coach drivers’ hours to the limit, so with a predominantly Edinburgh-based event this time, around 90 minutes further north, we were faced with a choice. The first was to accept that this far north, coach trips down to London and Cardiff simply couldn’t possibly include football matches so we’d have to stay another night and travel back on the Monday. That would have allowed a full 3 or 4 game programme on the Sunday.

The other option was to simply put on the one game on the Sunday allowing the coaches to travel back the same day. We pondered it, listened to hoppers’ advice, and decided to add extra games and travel back on Monday. We opened for bookings and quickly realised we’d got it wrong.

All the feedback suggested people wanted to travel back on Sunday, and so bookings reflected that. Worse still some proposed to drive home after the final game, leaving Scotland around 7pm and driving in some cases for 6 hours. Whilst we wouldn’t be legally responsible for their safety, I know exactly how we’d have felt if someone had crashed, and so the decision was made to go for the “One Game Sunday” option.

It was easy enough to rejig hotel and coach bookings and the leagues were extremely accomodating, but whilst all those who’d booked accommodation with us were refunded for the now unnecessary night, those who’d booked their own hotels on a non-refundable basis lost the gamble that that type of booking implies. Whilst that will be a regret, the bookings recovering to roughly last year’s level made it clear we’d got, eventually, the decision right, and an important lesson learned.

So as in 2015 two coaches traveled north from Cardiff and London, meeting at Sandbach Services. On a personal level I’d wanted to pay Gretna FC a visit for some time. The town was built, distinct from adjacent Gretna Green of runaway bride fame, to accomodate munitions workers during the First World War. The club were unusual as a Scottish club plying their trade in the English Northern League, but all that changed when businessman Brooks Mileson took over the club in 2002.

The club transferred to the Scottish FA and were elected to the Scottish League Division 3. Mileson’s largesse saw Gretna rocket through the divisions, reaching the Scottish Premier League in 2007. But Mileson’s health was failing, and with the money running out, the club exiled at Motherwell FC managed to play their one and only top -flight campaign before being bankrupted before the start of the next season, to be replaced in the Scottish League by nearby Annan Athletic.

A phoenix club was quickly formed, initially playing at the Everholm Stadium, close to Annan’s Galabank, before a return to Raydale Park was quickly achieved. The club entered the East of Scotland League before becoming founder members of the Lowland League two years ago.

Raydale still shows all the signs of the old club’s rise and fall. There’s the old fashioned main stand, classic Northern League fayre, and the huge bank of seats behind the goal from their Scottish League days. The fable has it that the club saw the seating in use at the Open Golf Championship at Turnberry and thought it it would be perfect for Raydale. They contacted the course, who promptly sold them that seats they’d seen on TV! Cover was built over them, and when the old Gretna was bankrupted, Alloa Athletic nearly bought them, but pulled out of the deal ]when they discovered the cover wasn’t included!

With all that had gone before it was a relief when the coach pulled into the car park, and we could simply run a groundhop. I liked Gretna FC, they simply took on board the advice that had been given and coped well with a crowd that was in excess what anyone could have wished for.

Many will look at the goalless scoreline and wince. It certainly was no classic, but it was a perfectly acceptable evening’s entertainment, and after the trials and tribulations of the previous weeks it was good to get back to business.

 

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