The second Scottish game of our UK trip was a league cup semi-final at Hampden Park. I hadn’t been too confident about getting a ticket, but applied online via Ross County and a couple of weeks later our tickets arrived in Australia. Twenty quid seemed decent value, particularly when compared with the thirteen pounds that I’d paid at the fourth tier game the day before this one.
We took the train into Glasgow from Stirling and then walked for an hour or so in the direction of Hampden. Parts of Glasgow have been tarted up over recent years, but the area of the Gorbals that we walked through still looked pretty run down to me. I’m sure it will be better when some more of those tower blocks are gone.
We got talking to a Celtic supporter who unsurprisingly was heading in the same direction. I quizzed him about Mowbray and it turned out that he wasn’t a fan. I suppose he was too young to be influenced by memories of him as a player in the way that I probably am. He rated Strachan though. Odd.
The best bit of the walk was passing the former ground of Third Lanark. The pitch is still there, but the terracing that remains has been overgrown with bushes and trees, with the barriers hidden among the undergrowth. It looks a perfect Sunday League location to me.
Despite our walk we were still about half an hour early upon arriving at the stadium and after a tray of chips and cheese and a brief look at the Queens Park pitch outside, we went inside to keep out of the rain. Hampden looks very impressive after its renovation and if I’d waited until I’d got inside to eat I could have had a goat cheese tart.
The game was nowhere near sold out which surprised me a bit. I’d have thought that Celtic fans would have paid a lot more than the twenty quid admission for their regular games and I doubt a trip to Hampden was a regular occurrence for Ross County.
With Ross County being the underdogs, I suppose I would probably have been hoping for them to upset the odds. As we were in their end we had a further reason to get behind them. The clincher though, was that they had not one, but two ex-boro players in their match-day eighteen.
Andrew Davies was captaining the Dingwall side. I remember him as the star of the youth team in the year or two before we won it. He played that night in the Olympic Stadium ten years ago when we qualified for the next round of the UEFA Cup at the expense of Roma. I’ve also got a slightly less clear recollection of him returning for a loan spell with us three or four years ago.
Jonathan Franks went to school with my kids. I remember him coming on a sub at Upton Park in our last game in the Premier League and him looking like a decent prospect for a while in the Championship. He started on the bench in this one.
Davies wasn’t popular with the fella behind me who referred to him before the start as “a fucking liability” and was further incensed within a minute when a ball between the two County centre halves lead to an opening goal for Celtic.
It could have all turned sour after that but a penalty equaliser following a DOGSO sending off gave Ross County the advantage. Franksy appeared from the bench within the first half hour to replace a fella who looked as if he was making every effort to give the referee the chance to even up the numbers.
He did ok too, finding space on the right and making some good runs.
The fella behind me was temporarily speechless when Davies headed back across goal for a team mate to put County into the lead, although he was quick to point out “oh, he’s a good header of the ball, just cannae defend”.
A third goal quickly followed for Ross County and Celtic never really looked like getting back into it.
We didn’t stay for the presentation and the fun. It wasn’t really our place, although I do remember a first visit to Verona and driving around town after the game honking the car horn whilst Tom waved a flag out of the window as we got caught up in them clinching promotion.
Not this time though, Jen and I walked alongside the Celtic fans back to the railway station and were probably back in Stirling before the celebratory Buckfast was finished.