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Saturday 17th March 2018 ko 17.00

East of Scotland League

HERIOT-WATT UNIVERSITY 2 (Ward 11 34)

Dows sent off 77 (dangerous play)

Lane sent off 90 (2nd booking)

LEITH ATHLETIC 3 (Robertson 40 67 Mein 87)

Att 207 at Oriam Indoors, Riccarton, Edinburgh

It was with some regret that we crossed over the new Forth Bridge and left Fife, the county, or is that kingdom (?) had been good to us, despite the biting cold. We headed back towards Edinburgh and Riccarton, and aimed for the game that was virtually guaranteed to be on, whatever the weather!

The Scottish Centre for Sporting Excellence, or Oriam was opened in 2016 on the recommendation of a 2010 report by former First Minister Henry McLeish. Given that McLeish was both a footballer and a professional (for Leeds United and East Fife) it was hardly surprising that football would feature heavily in the building’s design. Oriam’s centrepiece is an indoor artificial football/rugby pitch to the exact dimensions of Hampden Park. It is situated in the Riccarton campus of Heriot-Watt University which by coincidence McLeish studied at. Currently the facility is used by the Scottish Rugby Union and the Scottish Football Association as a training base prior to internationals. In addition there is professional handball and basketball played here too.

When planning this hop Chris Berezai and I looked at it, and took the view that while it would be straightforward to visit Heriot-Watt at their normal home at the Brydson Arena, adjacent to the Oriam, it would be far more fun to take in a groundhop first, a game indoors! Thanks therefore should go to both the club and EoSL for agreeing to the switch of venue.

There can’t be many examples of a match being played indoors. I’ve seen two, a mid-season friendly at the now demolished David Beckham Academy and the opening game at Stockholm’s Friends Arena under a closed roof when Zlatan Ibrahimovic utterly destroyed England’s defence. Closer to home there have been games played with the roof closed at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium too. Incidentally the superstructure of the former Beckham Academy is in pieces at Southend United’s Boots and Laces training ground waiting for someone to put it back together.

I suspect, as is so often the case, we at GroundhopUK were slightly misunderstood. Some took the view that the Oriam would be little more than a glorified warehouse, and as such would somehow cheapen the whole experience, and others took a purist’s view that since Heriot-Watt normally play at Oriam outdoors it should be there, and only there that we should visit.

If anyone stayed away because they thought the venue would be in anyway substandard should look at the photos and cringe at their prejudice. The attention to detail is exacting, have a look at the small holes behind the right hand goal. Read as sheet music that’s the first few notes of “Flower of Scotland” Then have a look at the height of the roof- 28 metres, you’d have to find a fairly agricultural centre half to hoof a clearance to hit the roof here!

Chris and I had both researched the Oriam but on arrival the £36million facility still managed to blow us both away. On another level entirely, on a weekend where the weather was dreadful having a game indoors was definitely a godsend, even if the arena has to be the same temperature as the world outside to prevent condensation! Being out of the wind though was greatly appreciated!

With any staging of a municipal nature there was always the question of what the staging would be like. All too often the facility makes little or no concession to the fact that a crowd ten times normal is expected, and does no more than offer the normal fayre with the normal levels of staffing. It is therefore to Oriam’s great credit that the normal designer coffees were replaced by urns of tea and coffee, and the large batch of Chilli con Carne both sold well and was much appreciated.

I greatly enjoyed the students’ company. They managed to be both efficient and engaging and I hope they both enjoyed their evening and that it was profitable for them. Of course good staging doesn’t necessarily add up to a good performance on the pitch.

They made a good start though, taking a deserved two goal lead, but Leith soon struck back and eventually equalised, but what turned the game was the dismissal of Anton Dows for what the referee deemed to be dangerous play. Leith used the man advantage on the huge pitch and won the game with Calum Mein’s late strike, but there was just enough time for Chris Lane to join his team-mate for an early shower after collecting his second booking.

With the Lothian Thistle Hutchinson Vale game have being postponed the previous afternoon we made straight for our hotel. It speaks volumes for the cold we’d experienced that we heard not a single hint of disappointment that we’d only had a 3 game day.

We awoke on Sunday morning to yet more snow and the not entirely unexpected news that the hop’s final game at Peebles Rovers had been postponed, not least due to the difficulties visitors Ormiston would have yet getting there! Thanks go to the staff and volunteers at Peebles, they worked most of Saturday trying to get the game on. We’ll look to get them and a game at the Saughton Enclosure on next year’s hop.

After breakfast at the hotel in East Kibride we held a show of hands amongst the coach party with the decision being to head for home. The snow and general driving conditions on Shap Summit and most of the Lake District showed that decision to be a good one.

These were exceptional circumstances; we ran last year’s Scottish Hop in for the most part bright sunshine and I’m writing this after a South West Peninsula Hop that struggled to get the games on due to waterlogged pitches. As of now all of our ticket holders have now received either a refund for the postponed games or a credit against a future hop. As always we’ll learn from this but in the final analysis, I’m pleased we had 3 games on artificial surfaces, including one indoors!

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