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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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