Saturday 25th March 2017 ko 19.00
HAWICK ROYAL ALBERT 2 (Hunter 14 Mitchell 58) Jack sent off 80 (2nd booking)
EAST STIRLINGSHIRE 4 (Rodgers 36 80 Glasgow 76 Sludden 90)
After 2 highly enjoyable games at Eyemouth and Coldstream my warm forehead told me I’d caught the sun. I quietly gave thanks for the fine weather, but making our way via Kelso I was amazed to see a gritting lorry coming the other way! Now I know the temperature can drop rapidly north of the border, and in the end I was glad I retrieved by coat from the boot.
The Borders town of Hawick is certainly an interesting place. It grew around the knitwear industry and the castle-esque town hall reflects past glories. The town is famous for the legend of the “Turning of the bull,” where during the Wars of Scottish Independence in the early 14th century William Rule turned a wild bull as it charged Robert the Bruce, saving the king’s life. The act is commemorated by a statue in Hawick, and the act saw the start of the Turnbull (Turn-Bull) Clan, now a surname. So if your surname is Turnbull, you have Scottish roots!
As a town Hawick is far more famous for rugby union than football, with Hawick RFC hosting the world’s first floodlit rugby match in 1879. It may well have been that the lights weren’t up to much, some of the players were reckoned to have tackled shadows! Hawick RFC’s Mansfield Park is adjacent to Hawick Royal Albert’s Albert Park, on the banks of the River Teviot.
The club was formed in 1947 as a breakaway from Hawick Railway FC, and the Royal Albert suffix was a nod to co-founder William Bunton’s home town of Larkhall, where one of the local clubs was, and still is Royal Albert FC. I really ought to pay them a visit! The ground had a short-lived stint as a greyhound racing stadium, that ended in 1999 after the track manager and an accomplice were convicted of injuring hares, using them as live bait and feeding them to the dogs. The only hint of dog racing now is the distances from pitchside to the specators’ areas.
Unquestionably the focal point of the ground is the wonderful pitched roofed stand, built in 1959 from steel left over from a fire at the Wilson & Glenny wool factory. The bar at its rear saw a roaring trade in haggis pies and cheese toasties as we considered what we were going to watch.
Anyone with any interest in Scottish football, will understand the pain of the East Stirlingshire fan. They’ve lost their home at Firs Park, now a derelict symbol of former owner Alan Mackin’s folly, and are now exiled at Stenhousemuir. Worse still, last season they suffered the ignominy of being the first SPFL club to lose their league status via the new play-off system, losing over two legs to Edinburgh City, themselves feeling they were regaining the league place lost when Meadowbank Thistle moved to Livingston in 1995.
Make no mistake it was Alan Mackin’s attempts to strangle the club financially that made them a laughing stock NOT the club nor its fans. I talked to the Shire fans whilst considering the unique set of circumstances where a club can be on the pools coupon one season, and on a hop weekend the next. But while Shire will look at the Lowland League in exactly the same way as any ex-Football League club looks at a stint in the National League, they do have a prescribed way back, and they are competitive.
Their stay in the Lowland League will be though, of at least two seasons’ duration. The mathematics of this game were that Shire needed to win to delay East Kilbride winning the title, but if second from bottom Hawick won, that would relegate Preston Athletic.
It was by anyone’s standards a fantastic game to watch. Anyone who thought Shire would win easily were given a rude awakening when Hamish Hunter gave Hawick the lead. Andy Rodgers equalised for the visitors, but when Kris Mitchell scored to give Hawick the lead it was probably fair on the balance of play.
But Shire had the stamina and Jamie Glasgow and Rodgers scored in quick succession to turn the tie on its head. That was too much for Hawick keeper Andy Jack who let fly with a stream of expletives aimed at referee George Calder. A booking didn’t make him see sense, so the red card followed seconds later and he departed flinging his shirt and gloves as he did!
From there Shire’s winner served as no more than the metaphorical cream on their cake, and as their long suffering fans celebrated it was hard to begrudge them their happiness.
The trip back to Edinburgh saw the temperature gauge in my car drop sufficiently to trigger a frost warning. We stopped briefly in Lauder for food, the chippy enjoying us eating in the shop; it made them look busy. Finally we collapsed back at Leith, the day may have been pitched to make it relaxing, but it didn’t make it any less tiring. But the hop still had it’s finale to look forward to.