Welcome to volume two of my blog paying homage to the football clubs I've visited all over the world and the wonderful people responsible for keeping them going and looking after the stadiums, and in some cases basic grounds.

Since I was a little lad I've been fascinated in football and more so where games are played. With my love of travel and curiosity of the game I wanted to visit as many grounds and see games wherever possible. I was lucky that my Dad also loved the game and spent so much of his spare time taking me to matches. As I got older the boundaries widened owing to my location and increased wages to Europe and indeed the world. The sight of a stand or a floodlight pylon in the distance immediately hightens my senses and eagerness for a closer look.

I hope this site gives you the chance to share in my pleasure and experiences and maybe one day set you on the road to adventure. If you get half as much out of the hobby as I've done I can guarantee some great memories, good friends and stories to pass on to future generations.

Give your local club a go today. They'll be pleased to see you!

Everlasting thanks primarily to my late and very much missed and dearly loved parents; my Dad Bob Bernard and my Mum; Ann, who put up with endless years of football chat and my brothers Nick and Paul who gave me the chance and encouragement to do what I have. Thanks to all my friends who offer encouragement and Sally and Stan who inspire and give me great pride. Young Stan is showing a keen interest in my hobby!

Please feel free to post any comments (please use sensible language - I want everyone to be able to enjoy reading) or ask any questions relating to visiting grounds or events. If you want to see any ground reviewed please let me know. It will take quite some time for everywhere to appear, but make sure you keep having a look as the site is continually updated.

If you click on a lot of the pictures you will get a larger version on your screen.

I have also added links to video clips on youtube where appropriate for those of you who are bored of reading or are filling in time at work. I haven't always gone for the most obvious choices, but items that will be in some cases unusual but always historically interesting.

Click to see volume one of HAOTW.

Rob Bernard

London

September 2015

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Falkirk


Falkirk FC is a professional football club from the town of the same name, which is located in the Central Lowlands of Scotland roughly mid distance between Glasgow and Edinburgh. The football club was formed in 1876.

Falkirk initially played friendly games at three different home grounds; Hope Street, Randyford Park and Blinkbonny Park. In 1884 they moved to a new home at Brockville Park. The club were nicknamed ‘The Bairns’ as in the town motto; "Better meddle wi' the de'il than the Bairns o' Fa'kirk".


The Bairns were elected to the bottom division of the Scottish Football League for the 1902-03 season, before being promoted to the top flight within two years. A proposal to merge with neighbours East Stirlingshire was narrowly turned down after a vote around the same time.

In 1907-08 Falkirk ended as league runners-up, which was their highest ever finish, which was repeated in 1909-10. The team lifted the Scottish Cup in 1913 following a 2-0 victory over Raith Rovers at Celtic Park. In 1922 the club broke the world record for a transfer fee when the English international forward Syd Puddefoot was signed for £5,000 from West Ham United.

Falkirk remained in the top flight First Division until they were relegated at the conclusion of the 1934-35 season. However, they regained their place just one year later as they raced away with the Second Division title.


The Bairns reached the second ever final of the League Cup in 1948, where they were defeated 4-1 by East Fife in a replay at Hampden Park after the first game ended goalless.

Reg Smith led the team to win the Scottish Cup, for a second time, in 1957 when Kilmarnock were defeated 2-1 after extra time in a replayed game at Hampden Park. The first game had ended 1-1. The goal scoring heroes were George Merchant and Doug Moran.

Despite the success, the team were relegated in 1958-59, only to regain their higher position in 1960-61. Several lower half finished ensued before relegation hit the Brockville club in 1968-69. The team returned after just one season as Willie Cunningham’s side lifted the Second Division title.


A young Alex Ferguson led the scoring for the Bairns for a couple of seasons before the team went down once again in 1973-74. Yet again they won the second tier championship at the first go, with John Prentice in charge of the side. Promotion at this point meant elevation to second tier football, since the creation of the Premier Division.

Two years later Falkirk were demoted once more, this time to the third tier Second Division. It would take until 1979-80 before a return to the middle section First Division under John Hagart. Peter Houston led the scoring upon their return, and this time Falkirk continued their upward curve with promotion to the Premier Division in 1985-86 as Billy Lamont’s side finished as runners up.


The Bairns spell at the top table lasted just two seasons. In 1990-91 Falkirk went back up thanks to the goals of Simon Stainrod as Jim Jeffries became a very popular manager. The next relegation was suffered in 1993-94 with Richard Cadette the top scorer. They would return at the first attempt as well as lifting the Scottish Challenge Cup by courtesy of a 3-0 win against Motherwell at Fir Park.

In 1995-96 Falkirk were relegated yet again. This setback was placated the following season as the Bairns went on a Scottish Cup run all the way to the final. In the showpiece at Ibrox, Alex Totten’s team were defeated 1-0 by Kilmarnock.

In 1997-98 Falkirk returned to Fir Park to lift the Challenge Cup as Queen of the South were beaten 1-0. The team put together some strong challenges to return to the elite level. On one occasion they were denied a play-off game with Aberdeen as Brockville did not meet the criteria for the newly formed Scottish Premier League.


In 2000-01 Falkirk were spared relegation owing to the demise of Airdrieonians. Owen Coyle’s goals helped the team win the First Division title in 2002-03, but promotion was denied once again as Brockville was deemed to be not fit for the SPL. When John Hughes led the team to the First Division title in 2004-05, there would be no denying Falkirk.

The club had left Brockville Park at the end of the 2002-03 season to share Ochilview Park with Stenhousemuir for the following campaign while the new Falkirk Stadium in the Westfield area of town was completed. Their first season at their new stadium would end in promotion to the Premier League as well as a third Challenge Cup triumph as Ross County were seen off 2-1 at McDiarmid Park.

In 2008-09 Falkirk once again reached the final of the Scottish Cup but fell again at the final hurdle as Rangers came out on top 1-0 at Hampden Park. The following season saw Falkirk relegated once again.


Steven Pressley was the team manager in 2011-12 as the team aided by the goals of Farid El Alagui won a fourth Challenge Cup. On this occasion victory came through a 1-0 win over Hamilton Academical at Almondvale Stadium. Pressley was replaced by Gary Holt in April 2013.

In the summer of 2013 an artificial surface was put in at Falkirk Stadium. In June 2014 former player Peter Houston returned to the club as manager. In his first season at the helm the team finished in fourth place, just missing out on a play-off slot for a place in the Scottish Premiership.

Falkirk FC will play in the Scottish Championship in the 2015-16 season.


My visit

Falkirk 1 Hibernian 1 (Sunday 17th January 2016) Scottish Championship (att: 7,081)


It was my long weekend off from work, and as ever I was determined to cram as much in as possible. I had been at Hull City against Charlton Athletic the previous afternoon for the wonderful annual Nick Groombridge memorial gathering.

While on the train from Hull to York with my brother Nick and nephew Stan, I noticed that a game at Alloa had been abandoned because of snow. Immediately I was put on full scale alert. The pictures on Twitter did not look good as I waved my goodbyes before boarding the train to Edinburgh, which had passengers in various states of inebriation.


Eventually we arrived in the Scottish capital, on a very cold evening with bits of snow on the ground. After checking into my Travelodge room for the evening, I enjoyed nightcaps in the excellent Cask & Barrel while checking Twitter to see some wonderful progress on the pitch at Falkirk Stadium by volunteer fans.

Reports from Falkirk were good early the next day, before the match was confirmed as on, just as I left Waverley station following a lovely leg stretch in the beautiful city. I took the train all the way to Camelon to take a look at the local club’s home ground, before a ride to Larbert to try and get a glimpse at the Ochilview Park home of Stenhousemuir and East Stirlingshire.


The bus dropped me by the Central Retail Park in Falkirk, where I got a glimpse of where Shire’s Fir Park home ground once stood. My plan was to find a real ale pub and take a bus to the match, but instead I looked online for suggested pubs near to Falkirk Stadium.

The internet was my friend yet again. I was pointed in the direction of Pennies Bar, along the side of the former ice rink, which now hoisted indoor football. The bar had lots of pool tables, with some serious action going on. It was definitely a place not to win if from away!

The Belhaven Best keg wasn’t ideal, but Pennies was showing football, snooker and racing. It began to get busy in the hour before the match, predominantly with visiting Hibs fans. I was joined by four candid female females at my table. I left with twenty minutes to get to the ground. It didn’t seem far on the maps, and many other fans were also walking up.


What I didn’t realise was that there would only be four turnstiles for just over 2,000 away fans. The Falkirk website hadn’t been very active regarding tickets in the build up to the game, so I bought one from Hibs to ensure I’d definitely get in. The queues were long, and security searches overly diligent.

The programme seller was about to pack up when I grabbed him, to purchase an issue for £2.50. Inside I grabbed a scotch pie for £1.90 before climbing the steps to my seat which offered an excellent view.

Falkirk Stadium was a three sided venue. Both ends had replica steep stands facing each other. The Main Stand down the side was a large construction, with one tier of seating. The final side was open, with views across to the industrial plants of Grangemouth in the distance. The club had gained permission to build a smaller stand along that side, but no time scale had been put on it.


The game on the excellent artificial pitch was a slow burner, played in a surprisingly quiet atmosphere. Both midfields cancelled each other out, with the goalkeepers both having little to do in the way of shot saving.

After a quick visit to the packed facilities on the concourse, I got back to my seat for what would be an excellent second half. Four minutes after the restart The Bairns took the lead when John Baird passed to Blair Alston in the area. He calmly waltzed past Liam Fontaine before scoring past Mark Oxley.

The goal was greeted with the loudest playing I’d ever heard of Amarillo. Just why it was needed, is anyone’s guess? The locals made plenty of noise of their own when the ball went in.


With my Rangers preferences, I had to remember not to applaud where I was sat! The Hibs fans were getting angry with some of the perceived lack of effort and steel from some of their players. Hibees boss Alan Stubbs soon made what would turn out to be an excellent substitution when he introduced Liam Henderson.

Henderson soon put himself about in midfield and added some pace to the passing. Gradually Hibs began to gain control. They would spend most of the last thirty minutes inside the Falkirk half.

Jason Cummings looked a class act up front. He had a shot saved by home keeper Danny Rogers, before he followed up when Rogers could only parry a low cross shot from Darren McGregor to tap home at the back post with just over fifteen minutes remaining.


The Edinburgh visiting raised the volume to try and urge their favourites onto victory. Cummings was put through and really should have scored, but he fired his shot at a convenient height for Rogers to pull off a good stop. Just before full time I went to the front near the exit. The fans near me were not happy as referee John Beaton waved away appeals for a penalty.

I was away at that point. I could see a bus approaching in the distance, so I managed to get to the bus stop in time to take the service into town. My instincts took me from the bus station to Grahamston railway station in time for the 17.09 service to Larbert.


Unbelievably I’d never been to Larbert in my life, but I found myself there for the second time in a few hours. The station was pretty basic and I had a fifteen minute to wait before the train to Glasgow. I didn’t fancy another beer, but Enrico’s fish and chip shop was the find of the day!

My bus to Glasgow Airport departed from Buchanan Street so I just ventured to Lauders for a last drink of the day. It didn’t massively impress me, nor did the late departure for the Ryanair flight to Stansted, as I had booked the National Express bus for 11pm.

From the plane door opening, I ran as fast as I could past the dawdlers, in an attempt to reach the bus in time. I made it with two minutes to spare. I was deposited at Golders Green, where the 183 bus took me all the way to Kingsbury to round off a superb day out.


Thank goodness for artificial pitches, and the superb volunteer fans at Falkirk, who made sure I got full value from it!













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