Archive for March, 2016

East Stirlingshire v Arbroath, Saturday 30th January 2016, 3pm

March 24, 2016


If you were thinking that those team names don’t look very Australian then you’d have a fair point. Jen and I had popped back to the UK for a fortnight’s holiday and as the early part of the trip coincided with some Withered Hand gigs in Scotland we flew into Edinburgh and spent our first two nights in Stirling.

The flights had taken an arse-numbing total of thirty-seven hours but were redeemed by the unexpected bonus of flying over Ayres Rock. How good is that? I’d suspected that we might be somewhere near and I’d been eagerly keeping an eye out for it for a good half an hour before I spotted it. It’s just a big rock really, but an impressive big rock, nevertheless.

We also flew over Iran and some spectacular mountain ranges that were well worth seeing. I’m amazed by how few people look out of the windows on planes, I can’t imagine that any of the films would be better than mountain ranges or big rocks.

We landed at Edinburgh around lunchtime and by ten to three I was stood outside of the Forthbank Stadium in anticipation of the League Two clash between Stirling Albion and Montrose. I wasn’t expecting a large crowd for a fourth tier game but nor was I expecting to be the only person there. It took me back to being seven years old and standing at the locked gates of my primary school as a consequence of returning a day too soon after the Christmas holidays.

I’m less trusting these days and so the combination of no fans and locked gates was sufficient to convince me that the match probably wasn’t going to take place.  My suspicions were then confirmed by a bloke that I passed on the way back to the car.

I asked him if he could suggest a nearby alternative and he told me that his team, Stenhousemuir, plays not too far from Stirling but unfortunately were away that weekend. The good news though was that Stenhousemuir share their Ochilview Park stadium these days and if they were away then their tenants, East Stirlingshire, would likely have a home fixture. He told me to head for Falkirk and then turn right at Larbert. I followed his advice and twenty minutes later I’d paid my thirteen quid admission and was sat in the Norway stand for East Stirlingshire’s game with Arbroath.


Thirteen quid for a standard of football that was unlikely to be up to that of the Northern League struck me as a bit steep. I suppose it’s just as well the Twenty’s Plenty campaign hasn’t reached Fife or it could have been worse.

Perhaps the price explained why the crowd was just over three hundred. Still, I’d seen Ayres Rock for free the day before, so you could say that these things balance themselves out.

I’d missed the opening quarter of an hour and Arbroath were already a goal up. The shouts of “Come on Shirey” already had an air of resignation to them. Bottom of the division Shirey were in black and white hoops whilst Arbroath, who weren’t far ahead of them in the League Two table, wore a maroon kit. The covered Norway stand was the only part of the ground open with the terracing to my left housing nothing but ballboys and piles of snow.


The standard of play tended to reflect the attendance rather than the price of admission. It was typified by one of the home side’s full backs who had an uncanny knack of finding space, which whilst great when going forward is somewhat less beneficial when trying to defend.

Abroath’s winger, who I think was called Daz, stood out for the visitors. He brightened the day whenever he ran at the opposition with his teammates calling repeatedly, in the style of Alan Partridge, for a pass that rarely came.


There was light drizzle throughout the remainder of the first half, which was surprising as I’d assumed that the temperature was below freezing. I was happy enough with that though after four months of heat and humidity in Darwin. As half time approached the rain was replaced with a hailstorm that drove me to shelter in the back row of the stand. Hardier souls than me continued to watch from the exposed areas closer to the front.


I could have done with a warm drink at half-time but I was a little slow off the mark and would have had to queue in the driving hail behind what seemed like most of the other three hundred spectators. I’m starting to see the merits of taking a flask.


There hadn’t been much excitement on the pitch for the home fans  and so they reserved their cheers for whenever the ball was miss-hit into the crowd and either caught someone unawares or else led to the sort of ball control that hadn’t been much in evidence among the players.

The biggest cheer of the day went to Daz, not for a mazy run, but for a tumble over one of the pitchside piles of snow. It was that sort of afternoon.

Arbroath added another couple of goals mid-way through the second half, the latter being celebrated by the handful of visiting fans with a song for the goalscorer to the tune of ‘Give It Up’. At that stage it looked like East Stirlingshire might just give it up and allow Arbroath to run riot, but they didn’t and three-nil was how it finished.

St Mary’s v Darwin Buffaloes, Saturday 23rd January 2016, 4pm

March 21, 2016


Jen and I often walk past the Garden Oval if we are walking up the coast to somewhere like the East Point Nature Reserve. We follow the path by the sea until we get to the reserve where our interest is usually then focused on spotting wallabies and kangaroos.

I can’t tell the difference. I know kangaroos are eventually bigger, but there must be some stage in their development when they are wallaby sized. At the moment though, it doesn’t really matter to us which they are, it’s enough to get as close as we can to them in the wild.


There’s a cemetery just before the Garden Oval. I like looking at graves, particularly old ones. I wouldn’t want one of my own though as I’m more of a fresh-air type of person. I’d rather have one of those Tibetan send-offs where they leave you out on a hillside for the birds to peck at. I suspect though that I’ll have to settle for cremation.

This cemetery has a grave with what looks like a stone dog kennel on top of it. I can’t make my mind up as to whether it’s a dog grave or somewhere for the occupant’s dog to have a kip in the shade whenever visiting his master’s final resting place. Either way, more graveyards should have them.


As we approached the Oval we noticed that quite a few people had chosen not to pay the ten dollar entrance fee and had parked on the road alongside the perimeter fence and then set up their chairs on the pavement. It was a decent enough view and a big saving for a group of people with their own food and drink.

As we didn’t have any food or drink, or any chairs, ten dollars didn’t seem too bad a price and so we went inside.


At the previous Aussie Rules game that we’d been to, the drinks kiosk sold nothing stronger than 3.5% beer. I was hoping for something with a little more body to it and after asking for their strongest beer was directed to the clubhouse where, I was told, they sold ‘heavy’ rather than the ‘mid’ and ‘light’ that the outdoor bar stocked.

As the club house also had air-conditioning we watched the first half of the game through the window whilst I worked my way through a few schooners of Carlton Draught.


One of the teams went a bit wild in the opening minutes and quickly went three goals up, proper goals as well, the six point between the middle post versions that warrant that double finger-pointing gesture from the official at that end.

Despite the frantic action, I’m still not impressed by the sport. It seems the main tactic, apart from brawling with each other, is to try to catch the ball and, I think, call for a mark. That then allows the player with the ball to boot it elsewhere without anyone trying to rag him to the ground. If he is near enough to the posts then he gets to shoot unhindered.

We went outside for the second half and watched in the warmth of the main stand. There was a commentator somewhere behind us whose speed of speech matched the urgency on the pitch. At first I thought someone had the horse racing on the radio. Maybe I should have tried to listen and learn, but in reality anything that happened on the pitch was nothing more than an occasional interruption to the sitting and drinking in the sun.


Whichever team was winning at the start stayed in front all the way through. The other lot pegged it back a little in the final quarter before then letting it slip to roughly the same distance behind that they were five minutes into the game.

I’m not convinced there’s actually any need to keep score in Aussie Rules. It seems a lot of work for the officials and scoreboard operators for very little benefit. I’d just let the players run around, randomly colliding with each other for two hours, then when its time to go home someone could sound the hooter to signal next goal the winner. That seems a lot easier.

Fannie Bay Racing, Saturday 2nd January 2016

March 6, 2016


Horseracing is a popular activity in Australia with so many race courses that nobody seems able to count them. The information on the internet suggests that there are more than three hundred and sixty but less than four hundred. That seems a lot but it’s a big country, a big country where, would you believe it, there are flowers in the desert and you can see the sun in wintertime.

The nearest racecourse to us in Darwin is Fannie Bay. It’s a three-mile walk away along a coastal path and as I had a Saturday off work Jen and I had a wander up there.

We’ve walked the path a few times, generally going on to the Eastern Point nature reserve a couple of miles further on. The coastal aspect of the walk is good, it’s always enjoyable walking with the sea in view, but if you go as far as the nature reserve it gets even better as you can stalk kangaroos. We don’t often get closer than about thirty yards to them as they are fairly wary of humans. Maybe I should take some snacks for them.


This time we were veering off to the racecourse and so the only wildlife of note that we saw were mud crabs. They are quite skittish too, but whilst most of them dash for their burrows when they see us, others decide just to sit perfectly still. They make for better photos. It’s a pity the kangaroos don’t try the same technique.


It was ten dollars admission to Fannie Bay. If we’d been prepared to pay eighty dollars each we could have gone in the posh bit. Unfortunately the dress code stipulated no shorts or thongs. Thongs are flip-flops in Australia, meaning we didn’t need to have our undercrackers checked, but I’d have failed on the shorts rule anyway and so we had to leave the elite to watch the racing without us.

Our ten dollars entitled us to go just about anywhere we liked at ground level, including an air-conditioned bar and a betting hall. They had three bookies, all of whom wisely pitched up indoors in the cold rather than trackside.


I like to watch the racing outside and so we took a table next to an outdoor bar and worked our way through a variety of bottled bears and ciders. None of them struck me as being particularly good; maybe I’m losing the taste for it.

After a while I visited a food kiosk for a snack.

“What are those?” I asked, pointing at a tray of something that I suspected might be mini sausage rolls.

“A dollar each” was the response from the lady behind the counter, leaving me none the wiser as to the content. They turned out to be spring rolls, filled almost exclusively with bamboo shoots. No wonder she was evasive.


The races took place every half hour or so, but for those who wanted a bet every five minutes there was racing from around the rest of Australia shown on the screens. I think the programme listed close to forty races and a lot of people appeared to have an interest in all of them.

I suppose if you picked your horses and placed your bets in advance it would be ok, but I quite like the leisurely rhythm of get your beer, pick your horse, place your bet, move closer to the track to watch the race and then repeat on a half-hourly cycle. Of course, it would be better if the cycle included a return trip to the bookies to pick up some winnings but we drew a blank all day.


Later in the day as the east coast racing concluded the television betting was supplemented by greyhounds and trap racing. It would have been a lot to keep on top of.

When it was over I’d hoped to find a taxi heading back into town as there’s a limit to how much walking in the sun is sensible. Unfortunately there were none to be seen and so we had to retrace our route along the coastal path and frighten the mud crabs for the second time in a day.