Annan Athletic v Stirling Albion 20th April 2013

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At the very end of December last year, we had pinpointed traveling down for Annan Athletic’s home game against Elgin City. However, it was the Christmas holidays, I had watched the classic Gene Hackman film, “The French Connection”, and fallen back asleep again! By the time I resurfaced, it left us short of time to get down to the Borders, so the plan to visit the Galabank Stadium was put on hold.

So, four months on, we’ve finally made it down for Annan’s home game against Stirling Albion. We got a decent run down in the car and in surprisingly very warm, pleasant conditions. It is not a ground visible from distance, but what guided us was the music blaring from the tannoy which could be heard in the distance!

It is situated on a bit of a slope, so after a quick pass by it, we doubled back and parked up a street, merely a few minutes walk from the ground itself.

With a good half hour before kick off, I stopped to take a couple of pictures, then headed down to see about getting in. On arrival at the entrance, you are greeted by staff sign posting you over to a booth to pay cash and get a ticket for entry. The staff on the turnstiles do not take cash payments and the set up is very similar to the one used at Partick Thistle.

As we got through the turnstiles, there were some women collecting for a cancer charity. We made a donation and were advised to check out the home baking they were also selling. I left my youngest to choose a few cakes for us all and despite a wide variety available, he proceeded to buy possibly the worst ones there!

We opted to stand in the far right corner of the ground, which was next to the players tunnel. We caught the latter part of the warm up and the game kicked off shortly afterwards. Both sides are familiar to us having seen them play already this season, and both have had mixed fortunes on the park.

Annan Athletic were formed in 1942, and have played most of their football in English regional leagues and latterly in the Scottish Juniors. They became a member club of the Scottish Football League in 2008, following the collapse of Gretna FC and were then inducted into Division 3.

Last summer, the club opted to change the playing surface from grass to a modern generation of astro turf. This would give the club an opportunity to generate funds by hiring the pitch out to local teams in the community.

The team Manager is Jim Chapman, who has been in charge since the turn of this year, replacing Harry Cairney who had spent six years at the helm. Annan have had some mixed results so far this season although their form has picked up in recent weeks.

Their main players are goalkeeper, Alex Mitchell, centre half, Martin McNiff, who is on loan from Dumbarton, midfielder, Scott Chaplain and forwards, Michael Daly and David Hopkirk. On the bench they could call upon Harry Monaghan and Ally Love, with the latter player making a significant contribution to the team this season with his goals.

Stirling Albion on the other hand have had a much improved 2013 and after a few weeks of postponed matches in February, due to the weather, they have lost only twice since, to in-form sides, Berwick and Peterhead.

Manager, Greig McDonald had David Crawford in goals, replacing the recent first choice, Sam Filler. The experienced duo, Kieran McAnespie and Jamie McCunnie were at the back, the industrious Scott Davidson and Josh Flood in midfield, along with Jordan White and Stephen Day, the first choice up front. Similarly, ‘the Beano’s’ had two useful players on their bench in striker, Graham Weir and winger, Phil Johnston.

The game was barely two minutes old when, after the first real meaningful attack from either side, we had the opening goal. A Stirling free kick on the half way line was flighted deep into the Annan box, and although a number of players jumped in an attempt to win the ball, it evaded both defenders and forwards. Lurking at the back post was Stephen Day, and his header seemed to hang in the air and dropped over ‘keeper, Alex Mitchell into the far corner of the net to give Stirling the lead.

Annan had a lot of possession after the goal, but the best they could muster was a dangerous cross, which was cleared for a corner and a shot from distance by Hopkirk, which failed to trouble the Albion defence.

On the twenty minute mark, Stirling then carved out a couple of decent opportunities in quick succession. Scott Davidson tried a chip shot from the edge of the eighteen yard box, which went wide of the right hand post, before Mark Ferry shot past the opposite post, following a nice passing move down the left wing.

On the half hour, Albion ‘keeper, Crawford dived bravely at the feet of Annan’s Jordan McKechnie, following a cross in from the right wing. The home side were putting a couple of decent crosses into the box, but there were no takers.

At the other end, Annan then broke up a decent Stirling move, and cleared a Josh Flood cross. Right at the end of the half, a nice chest lay off by Annan striker, Michael Daly, inside the eighteen yard box, gave McKechnie another chance to score, but his shot went just over the bar.

There was no further action, as referee, Colin Steven brought the first half to an end. During the interval, the sparse group of Stirling Albion fans seemed to disappear from behind the goal at the away end, only to re-emerge ten minutes later. They had gone onto the five a side pitch behind the terrace for a kick about!

From the restart, it was Stirling who were probably the better of the two sides and having forced a couple of free kicks and a corner, they nearly doubled their lead ten minutes into the second half. Jordan White, struck a direct free kick from twenty five yards out against the bar and as players anticipated the rebound, it went out for a goal kick.

Just after the hour, both teams made substitutions. Graham Weir replaced the injured Scott Davidson for Stirling and Annan made a double switch, with Ally Love and Harry Monaghan coming on for Jordan McKechnie and Steven Sloan respectively.

The substitutes did not really have the desired effect, as chances created were still few and far between. Stirling had a free kick from a similar position to the last one when they hit the bar, but this time it was crossed into the box and cleared.

With fifteen minutes to go, Ally Love hit a shot which went well wide and bounced into the terrace. My youngest lad collected the ball and threw it back on the pitch. He was made up and with the exception of the White shot that hit the bar, it was one of the few memorable moments of the second half!

As the game entered the closing stages, a Stirling Albion cross on the left was cleared to safety and at the other end a Love corner for Annan caused some consternation for the Albion defence before being cleared.

In the last minute, Annan substitute, Andrew Donnelly who had replaced David Hopkirk just minutes earlier, had a half chance, but having initially controlled the ball well, he put his shot over the bar. This resulted in Stirling ‘keeper, David Crawford screaming at his defence and he took his time with the resultant goal kick. A heckler from the crowd shouted “hurry up you, av got a night oot tae go tae!” Crawford turned round and shouted back “so have I”. Given that Annan were losing, it was a good to see that some of the support still had a sense of humour!

Just after the goal kick, the final whistle blew and Stirling Albion left with all three points. It was not great to watch and it was unfortunate that the fixture happened to be between two sides who were not likely to make the Play Offs, leaving them with not much to play for.

The Galabank Stadium is a modern venue, which is quite small and compact in size, with a capacity of just over 2,000. The main entrance leads you through to the home support area and has a different set up to anything seen so far this season. There is a yellow container which is the club shop and is also where you can buy the match tickets and programme. Across from this, there is a dug out which is also like a bus shelter and was occupied by a handful of older supporters when we passed it!

You also have the toilets and food kiosk on the left hand side. Once through the turnstiles you are on the terrace behind the goal, with the option of going into the Main Stand on the left hand side. It is quite small and does not run the full length of the pitch, with approximately twenty feet of standing space on either side of it. The dug outs are situated on either side of the stand, meaning the supporters are pretty much on top of the back room staff!

Opposite the Main Stand is a large fence and there is no space or capacity to contain spectators. Behind the opposite goal, it is used for away fans and is pretty much identical to the home end, with the five a side pitch next to it. One thing that was evident during the game, was the amount of times the ball went out the stadium. I reckon this happened four or five times and may cause frustration depending on how impatient a person you are!

From the people in the local shops to the people we met inside and outside the ground, Galabank is a very welcoming, hospitable place. The attendances are normally around the four hundred mark, but at £10 for adults, £5 for concessions, and under 12’s going free it is very good value.

On our travels this season we have never seen Annan take as much as a point and I am sure some fans would probably wish we would stay away! The game was certainly not the greatest seen to date, but proved to be a very enjoyable visit none the less.

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