In the week that the mighty Sir Alex has stated that the Scotland National Team relocating from Hampden would destroy our “fantastic history”, I was able to visit one of our historic lower league grounds – Cliftonhill. On the Hampden debate, Sir Alex clearly hasn’t had to board 4 different trains and a mile hike before sitting in seats where action at the opposite goal mouth is merely a guessing game… I digress; I would like to discuss our football traditions at lower league starting with my Cliftonhill experience.
Traditions run deep down the footballing pyramid and being an average part time footballer, I have had the pleasure of sampling these traditions first hand. I have had the fortune of visiting Albion Rovers on numerous occasions and I will never forget my first visit. I got out my car in the dark deep dwellings of Coatbridge. I then skilfully managed to manoeuvre around the Coatbridge Young Team who were giving me pelters. Despite being a foot smaller than me, I didn’t fancy my chances – A famous Scottish manager once told me that those from the West coast will take the “tawties aff yer plate”. As a posh boy from Edinburgh – these lads would have smelt my fear.
I entered the wonderful Cliftonhill Arena and marched straight for the toilet facilities. I flew through the door of the dressing room (no bigger than the size of my nans bathroom) straight to the single cubicle where I was faced with what can only be described as a giant shi… number 2. I was beyond the stage where I could make a reasonable decision and when you’ve got to go, well, you’ve got to go. To my horror, I take a look to my left and there’s an empty tube staring right back at me. I had to find out the hard way that Tuba grip is way less durable than your standard Andrex products.
Once this problem was resolved we managed to get changed into our kit despite there being only enough space for a power league outfit. You venture up the strangely carpeted stairs in single file while Deirdre the tea lady elbows her way past you in the opposite direction. You then get your first smell of the Cliftonhill atmosphere, where I was greeted with grass as long as Christian Daily’s studs. After 90 minutes of head tennis, we escaped with a 1-1 draw thanks to a goal scored by Kerr Hay – a man so small he was able to sneak up on the Albion goal through the wades of long grass.
At full time, I was glad to fight my way past Mark “beaky” Baxter and Iain “Yano” Campbell (both better footballers than me but both on the Rick Waller eating plan) to the shower where I was able to enjoy a lukewarm drip with less power than a chicken Korma. Still caked in mud and heavily traumatised, I managed to escape alive. This time.
What I have really been trying to say – in a rambling roundabout manner is – tradition and history are not always a good thing. Why should a club retain its place in the football league when its facilities are horrendously poor. I know I have singled out Albion Rovers, and although one of the worst offenders, there are several other places whose facilities fall way short of where they should be. You only need to look at your teammates faces on the last training session before a trip to Cowdenbeath or Berwick – a mix of sadness, dread and despair are prevalent.
These clubs rest on their laurels and hide behind their historic place knowing that they won’t have to invest in their facilities. While lower down the footballing pyramid, you have ambitious community clubs who have invested heavily in their facilities. Spartans, East Kilbride and certain teams in the Highland leagues have progressive ideas and facilities that would be a benefit to the professional game.
Now I know this is a simplistic view and that these old clubs have a massive role in their community. However these facilities are contributing to the already poor level of football by making it even poorer. They need to stop resting on “tradition” and “history” and put some changes into place. If the tradition is crap for all concerned – change the tradition. That sentiment also echoes my thoughts on the national stadium situation.