This weekend saw us head down the Ayrshire coast as opposed to travelling on the M8 or M80 for a game with our destination being Stair Park for Stranraer’s home game with East Fife.
I’ve only ever been here once before and don’t remember it fondly having got the boat over from Belfast during the Icelandic ash cloud fiasco in 2010. A two day trip to Dublin ended up being six and we had to make our own way home by any mode of transportation possible! We are here for the football though and there is no prejudice against the town of Stranraer!
It is a very pleasant drive I have to say and following a week of blustery rain, sleet and snow we got a beautiful day more akin to spring which made the views along the coast all the more impressive. Although it doesn’t seem all that far away the 50 miles per hour average speed camera’s really slow down your progress. We did however make it in two hours and arrived fifteen minutes before kick off so we still had time to have a quick look around.
Having discussed coming to Stair Park with a couple of people earlier in the week i’d heard that you accessed a small public park to get to the ground. After consulting the steward where to park we got an ideal space on the side verge literally seconds walk from the turnstile. We got a programme and team sheet, took a couple of pictures and went into the terrace at the corner opposite the main stand.
On the pitch, I remember the Stranraer Manager, Stephen Aitken from his Greenock Morton playing days and his brother Chris is also a regular in the Stair Park midfield. The only other ones I knew were striker Michael Moore and Armand One as he played for Partick Thistle and also in the lower leagues in England.
For the visitors, well I saw them play three weeks ago at home to Brechin in a thoroughly entertaining match that ended in a 2-2 draw. They have the talented Bobby Barr on the wing and a presence up front in Collin Samuel and Paul McManus. Both teams were going into the match with mixed fortunes with East Fife coming from behind to earn a point from their 3-3 draw last week against Ayr United and Stranraer losing 4-1 away to Alloa Athletic.
The match got under way with the hosts dominating the early part of the game though their keeper David Mitchell had to look lively to save a Samuel shot. The few attacks made by the Fifers after this were closed down by a very organised and resolute Stranraer defence. It was at this point we were subjected to a continual war cry from young Mitchell in goal which was like the sound of a wounded animal and became increasingly irritable as the game wore on! I’m not sure what it was he repeatedly shouted to his defenders but it sounded like “push” or “move”. If anyone can shed any light on this I’m all ears!
On 9 minutes Stranraer took the lead and it was new signing Darren Gribben who opened the scoring. After a ball into the box from Grant Gallagher, Gribben controlled the ball before placing it low out of Calum Antell’s reach and into the bottom right hand corner of the net. East Fife were being pressed back into their own half and weren’t creating anything of note until just after the 20 minute mark.
A mazy run that from Craig Johnstone which started in his own half saw him upended by Michael Dunlop in what was a pretty cynical foul. Dunlop was rightly booked and unfortunately Johnstone couldn’t run off his injury and was substituted ten minutes later. From the resultant free kick Paul Willis put his shot over the bar.
Things then worsened for the visitors just before the half hour when Gribben grabbed his second goal of the afternoon. From our position it looked like the Fifers defence could have done better throughout the move, from cutting out Sean Winter’s pass to keeping out Gribben who slid in to force the ball into the net from close range. He may well have had a hat trick five minutes after the goal but his long distance effort went just over the bar. Stranraer went into the half time interval with a pretty comfortable lead so the next goal would be crucial to outcome of the game.
During the break I went for a wander along to the other end where the visiting fans were housed, to check the view and take a photo of the ground from the ‘away end’. At this point I realised how small the crowd was and guessed approximately 400 were present so was a bit surprised to see that it was officially only 254.
We then changed position again for the start of the second half going behind the home goal and have to confess I missed the build up to East Fife pulling a goal back! My two boys were carrying on and talking complete mince and having told them off I turned to catch the ball flying into the net. A school boy error on my part!
East Fife seem to be slow burners as similar to a few weeks back when I saw them at Bayview, they came out for the second half somewhat revitalised. They appeared to up their game and played with a renewed drive, creating a couple of chances from set pieces which culminated in Paul Willis reducing the deficit on 52 minutes. It wasn’t to last though as once again it all came crashing down when Stranraer scored their third goal.
As the away side were pushing men forward in search of an equaliser, Stranraer broke on the counter, with Darren Gribben squaring the ball back for the impressive Sean Winter to fire past Antell to make it 3-1. The goal knocked the stuffing out of East Fife and think they knew the game was up from that point. Stranraer forced a few corners and attacked at will, hitting the post near the end and forced young Antell into a couple of very good stops. When I saw him recently I thought he was a bit hesitant but credit where it’s due, he almost kept this scoreline respectable and prevented a real hiding for his team.
The Fifers had a late flurry of pressure and had a decent chance when substitute Sean Jamieson headed over from a Barr corner. We left at the start of injury time and heard the final whistle go as we reached the car.
It was a decent competitive game of football with all the players giving 100%. During the week I’d heard a couple of calls on Radio Clyde’s Super Scoreboard phone in which showed certain supporters up for their ignorance and lack of respect for football in this country. One guy came on to discuss league reconstruction and suggested that “these wee clubs should be forced to merge or be shut down”. I wonder how many games guys like him have actually seen at this level, recently or at all? I wouldn’t imagine it would be any and try telling some of these players that line as they push themselves week in week out for the love of the game or to try and make a name for themselves.
With regards to the ground, Stair Park is a very picturesque venue, especially on a bright sunny day like we had. It is very easy to find when travelling through the town and has reasonable parking for all fans. The main stand is very new looking even though it was built nearly twenty years ago. Opposite is like an old style enclosure which had benches but where a lot of fans stood to watch the game as well.
Near the entrance to the ground and turnstiles there is a small covered terrace behind that goal which was sparsely occupied. At the other end it is populated by trees and shrubbery which caused a problem on a couple of occasions when the ball went high over the bar. The facilities are clean and presentable, the staff we encountered were helpful and friendly.
The fans who stood round us spoke about the team enthusiastically and there was some good banter with a few older guys and the far side Assistant Referee, or “Lino” as they all seem to be called in the SFL!
Stranraer are similar to a handful of clubs who have the right idea with regards to admission pricing, with adults £12, secondary age kids £3, and primary kids free of charge. It is not exactly the biggest of towns so maybe not the ideal club to use as a template or as an example but if you’re going to encourage locals to turn out and support the team then pricing incentives like this are a step in the right direction.
I don’t know if this is a journey I could do with any regularity, however, I enjoyed the day trip overall and wish the team well in their endeavours of staying clear of the bottom two places in the league.