The intended game for this weekend had been Brechin City at home to Forfar Athletic but it was postponed having failed an 11am pitch inspection on the Saturday morning. Although a couple of tour members light, we managed to salvage the situation by heading for Berwick Upon Tweed to take in Berwick Rangers home fixture with Montrose, well so we thought anyway!
On looking at the up and coming fixtures for March, the intention was to visit Berwick’s Shielfield Stadium on Saturday 23rd March ’13 for their home game with Peterhead so we’ve effectively brought it forward by a fortnight! I’d recently read on the SFL website that one of the Berwick fixtures had been brought forward to 2pm due to a Speedway meeting at the ground, but couldn’t remember what particular fixture this would affect.
I’m not sure what prompted me to check it out, but with the time at 1.55pm and us still thirty miles from Berwick, my lad confirmed via a quick check of the club’s official website that the kick off for the Montrose game was indeed 2pm. After getting a few expletives out my system we continued on course and reluctantly accepted that we would miss most, if not all of the first half. I would normally put this kind of incident in the “school boy error” category but in all honesty it was just bad luck!
The directions we had led us out East through Edinburgh and then on arrival at the ground to a very nice looking housing estate. We parked in a cul-de-sac overlooking the main stand at 2.30pm and after negotiating a small fence and a very saturated grassy area we wandered round looking for a possible way in. As the game was well under way the turnstiles had naturally been dubbed up.
We peered through the fence behind the goal for a couple of minutes and thought we would wait until half time before chapping the front door! Just as we got back round there someone came out and took the opportunity to ask about getting in to see the game. He left us with Club Official, Dennis McCleary who gave us a discount for admission and sorted us out with a match programme which was much appreciated.
He told us Berwick were 1-0 up before we were led down the tunnel area out to the main stand. A couple of minutes later the half time whistle went and we realised we were sitting among the handful of Montrose fans present!
After taking a couple of pictures we walked the length of the main stand over to the far side where the toilets, catering and club shop were situated. The shop is well stocked with old programmes and various bits of club merchandise including current kit and leisure tops. There was some shirts from last season also available in the sale and I ended up buying an old away one for the boy!
We took up seats in the home end for the second half and sat among some locals who were very passionate about their team! By all accounts the game had been quite even in the first period with Berwick taking the lead in twelve minutes when Fraser McLaren turned home a Darren Lavery pass. The home side then went on to dominate the latter stages of the half and continued in the same vein for the second.
Seven minutes after the restart Berwick doubled their lead. Gielty fed the impressive Dylan Easton down the left hand side, his low cross into the box was cleared only as far as McLaren about sixteen yards out and his shot sneaked into the bottom left hand corner for 2-0.
Only a couple of minutes later Berwick were on the offensive again when Lavery held the ball up well to play in Easton on the left but he was crowded out by two Montrose defenders.
Some hesitancy in the Montrose defence on the hour mark saw McLaren nearly grab a hat trick when their central defenders left the ball to each other allowing McLaren to nip in and run through on the ‘keeper, John Gibson. The latter did enough to recover the situation when he managed to smother the ball as the striker attempted to round him after the ball seemed to hold up slightly in the mud.
Montrose then had a rare foray up the park but Berwick comfortably cleared the danger before the game was turned on it’s head on sixty nine minutes. The Montrose ‘keeper Gibson’s attempted clearance from the edge of the eighteen yard box ricocheted up in the air off the back of Berwick’s Darren Lavery. With the goal gaping his strike partner, Scott Dalziel went to follow up with a header but took a kick to the face as defender Jonathan Crawford attempted to clear.
The referee, Colin Steven deemed it to be preventing a goal scoring opportunity, so he sent the defender off and awarded a penalty. Up stepped Fraser McLaren to grab his and Berwick’s third goal of the afternoon. He struck his kick straight down the middle and was saved by John Gibson however McLaren wasn’t to be denied his hat-trick when he was first to respond and tucked away the rebound for 3-0.
Lavery nearly got in on the goals himself a couple of minutes later when he controlled a long ball over the Montrose defence and his attempted lob over the keeper went just over the bar. Berwick then changed it around by freshening up the front line replacing McLaren and Lavery with Philip Addison and Dean Carse.
With fifteen minutes left Montrose had an opportunity to reduce the deficit when they had a free kick just in from the right hand corner flag. Paul Watson floated his cross to the back post which was met by substitute Scott Morton but his header crashed off the bar before being cleared.
With ten minutes left the ball went out of play down Berwick’s left hand side. Everyone wondered why play hadn’t resumed as the players looked around for the ball boys, only to see the comical sight of the two ball boys behind the goal almost sword fighting with the plastic chairs they sit on! Berwick ‘keeper Marc McCallum was left to retrieve the ball himself but at least saw the funny side of it.
In the last five minutes, Lloyd Young had a shot from eighteen yards out saved comfortably by McCallum. There then followed a bizarre exchange between the Berwick number one and Montrose sub, Craig McLeish.
McCallum, naturally wasting time invited McLeish to charge down the ball, knowing that the Montrose forward had no chance of getting it and would pick it up as soon as he got near it. There was then a coming together between the players as they shoulder charged each other and although McCallum was probably more of the aggressor, it was McLeish who was booked for his trouble!
As some fans headed for the exits, there was time for one more Berwick goal. Both substitutes combined when Dean Hoskins cross from the left was touched in by Dean Carse for 4-0 and ended a pretty comfortable afternoon for the hosts.
We saw Montrose take Annan Athletic apart three weeks ago but they were a shadow of that side in this game and missed their own talisman, Martin Boyle up front. This league is quite competitive with not much between the teams and it is incredible how some sides can look like Dortmund one week and Dukla Pumpherston the next!
We left right on the final whistle, got back across the grass again, sorted ourselves out and set off for the long journey home.
With regards to the ground, Shielfield reminds me a bit like Cowdenbeath’s Central Park due to it’s multi purpose lay out for both football and speedway, though Shielfield has fewer obstructions in the way for viewing the game.
It has an all seated main stand with two floodlight pylons which slightly obscure the view of the pitch. Across from that there is a very small covered terrace which leaves a good bit of space on either side of it. There is standing space behind both goals though due to the track it is a bit away from the pitch.
To the right of the main stand, sitting on its own in the corner is a very small enclosure which is like an enlarged dug out. As it is situated on steps you get a reasonable, diagonal view of the pitch though people passing by to use the facilities on a regular basis may intrude your enjoyment of the game!
As I write, Berwick have a game in hand at home to Queens Park through the week and this may put them right in among the other play off contenders. The fact we were caught short with the kick off time didn’t detract from what was an enjoyable ground to visit. The people we spoke with were friendly and welcoming, which always adds to the overall experience.
Although the pitch was heavy, both teams still tried to play a passing game and there was some good interchanging play, especially from Berwick and the 478 in attendance were certainly entertained. It was somewhat ironic that on the way home we heard a pundit on BBC Radio Scotland mocking the standard of the Scottish 3rd Division. I’m not really sure why he felt it necessary to be so overly critical, especially with the individual being an alleged St.Mirren fan…..!