Play Off Final 2nd Leg
So we have finally made it, ground forty two is Peterhead’s, Balmoor stadium, meaning we have visited the homes of every professional club in Scotland in the space of eight months.
This weekend has seen us clock up a lot of miles, having been down the road at Aberdeen yesterday, we return north hours later, to take in the Division 2 and 3 Play Off Final second leg tie, between Peterhead and East Fife.
I have had to make my apologies to the family, as this visit coincides with my niece’s Christening. With one game left to complete the mission, rightly or wrongly, the football has taken precedence! Unlike the weather the day before, it was thankfully quite a bright morning and it was a decent drive up. The latter part of the journey is a bit stop-start, with a lot of roundabouts that break your momentum.
You travel up a steep hill and the ground is on the left hand side. Greeting us on arrival, was a piper, who contently played away until kick off. I am unsure if this is a regular match day occurrence or just for the big occasion. We parked the car on a side street, just a couple of minutes walk from the Main Stand and went for a brief wander round the perimeter of the ground, then went through the home turnstiles.
Like quite a few football venues in Scotland, once you have paid to get in, all the facilities are in front of you. The toilets are to the right, there are staff facing you, selling the match programme and half time draw tickets, with a snack bar situated on the left.
The first leg of this Final, played in Methil earlier in the week, ended goalless and the outcome of who goes up and who stays down, will be decided by the end of this game. We have seen both sides play in recent weeks and there were no surprises to either line ups. Peterhead boss, Jim McInally had his regular ‘keeper, Graeme Smith in goals, with Steven Noble and Graeme Sharp, two of his key players in defence. Dean Cowie and Bryan Gilfillan would have the main roles in the midfield. Up front, there was a combination of pace and goals through Rory McAllister and Andy Rodgers.
For the Fifers, the only notable omission was Bobby Barr, who was on the bench. Manager, Billy Brown, went for Calum Antell in goals, full back, Scott Durie and David White being important starters in defence, with Paul Willis and Darren Smith, two of the East Fife midfield. Up top, they had the hard working Paul McManus and the physical presence of Collin Samuel.
The game got under way and I watched the game from the congested corner, to the left of the Main Stand, while my lad went to get himself some lunch. We then walked behind the goal, over to the opposite corner. The wee man then said to me, “do ye want these chips, they’re stinkin'”. After a look over them, I realised why he thought this. Instead of putting salt on them, he had drowned them with sugar! I still ate them all the same!
In between this, Rory McAllister was unlucky for the Blue Toon, when after two minutes, he got a shot in that went just past Antell’s left hand post. Paul Willis replied for East Fife, when he fired a shot high over the bar, before Smith in the home goal managed to gather a through ball intended for McManus.
Just after twenty minutes, East Fife nearly fell behind when Antell saved well from a Rodgers shot. There was then a Peterhead claim for a penalty, when McAllister felt he was challenged unfairly in the box, but the referee showed no interest. The visitors replied five minutes later, when McManus neatly controlled the ball on his chest, before hooking a shot across goal. Smith in goals did not appear to get a touch, but the corner was awarded in any case. From the resultant kick, David White put a header just over the bar.
Outwith a shot from Willis on the half hour, that Smith comfortably saved, East Fife spent the rest of the first half on the back foot. McAllister nearly opened the scoring again for Peterhead, when he hit a direct free kick from twenty five yards out, which went just past the left hand post. The visitors goal was under siege, when the Blue Toon forced three corners in quick succession. They rode their luck out though, with Antell saving from a McAllister shot, before Ross Smith put a header narrowly past the left hand post.
McAllister then hit a woeful free kick into the ground, then East Fife managed to get up the pitch and got a corner, which failed to trouble the Peterhead defence. That brought an end to a fast paced first forty five, with both teams having good opportunities to score.
During the interval, we walked round to the other side of the ground, where the away fans were designated. The intention was to stand on the terrace again, but we ended up sitting in a section of the stand, in with the East Fife fans. I am not sure what inspirational speech Billy Brown gave his players at half time, but with their Division 2 status at risk, the players responded to the challenge.
Just three minutes after the restart, East Fife surprisingly took the lead. A corner on the far side was swung in by Craig Johnstone, the Petrhead defence failed to react, David Muir reacted quickest and he turned the ball into the net, from only a couple of yards out. We stood and applauded as a courtesy, while several hundred Fifers jumped about deliriously! Only five minutes later, it could have been two, when Collin Samuel took the ball for a run, before cracking a shot from twenty five yards out, which went just wide of the right hand post.
Just before the hour, Samuel again found himself in a similar position and like a carbon copy of his last attempt on goal, his effort flashed just wide of the right hand post. It took Peterhead some time to respond, but they struck back, with a McAllister shot that Antell had to turn away for a corner and a Rodgers strike from eight yards, which went just wide of the right post.
With fifteen minutes left to play, East Fife then made the first substitution of the game, when Bobby Barr replaced Paul McManus. There then followed a fracas, after the referee had stopped play to allow treatment to an East Fife player, following a clash of heads, while Peterhead were in possession. East Fife never returned the ball and played on, resulting in Scott Ross chopping down Collin Samuel. Several players got involved in some shoving and both Assistants came onto the pitch to help restore order. When things calmed down, Rodgers and Ross of Peterhead, along with David Muir for East Fife, found themselves cautioned.
From the best part of thirty yards out, Paul Willis’ direct free kick for East Fife, went inches past Smith’s left hand post. The Blue Toon then added another forward, when they introduced Martin Bavidge for Bryan Gilfillan. The home side tried to press up the pitch, but found the East Fife defence equal to the task. Darren Smith blocked a McAllister effort with five minutes to go and with barely two minutes left, McAllister made space in the penalty box, but put a shot wide of the left post.
East Fife then broke up the park and Smith was forced to turn a Willis shot away for a corner. As Samuel attempted to run the clock down, he was caught offside, giving Peterhead the chance to get the ball up to the other end of the pitch. Two minutes into stoppage time, they did get the ball into the box and from six yards out, Scott Durie blocked a Ross Smith shot from six yards, as the ball went out for a corner. Blue Toon ‘keeper Smith came up for it and as David Cox crossed the ball over, it was cleared, before referee, Clancy blew for full time.
After an unbeaten run stretching back to March, Peterhead fell short and would stay in Division 3 next season, while East Fife retained their Division 2 status. With about five minutes of the game to go, we had made our way round to the home end again and watched the last action from the corner. Some of the home fans stated behind to applaud the players, others could not face hanging around. We left with the latter and got away without any hitches, to commence the long road home.
Balmoor is set at the top of a hill and has two stands opposite each other, that are practically identical. The Main Stand has hospitality available, with entry being outside it, next to a small portakabin, which serves as the club shop and ticket office. Food bar facilities are available next to both of these stands and everything on sale is reasonably priced.
Behind both goals and all four corners, there is standing areas to watch the game. There is an interesting look about the terracing, situated directly behind both goals. It is made up of thick wooden planks on what looks like scaffolding and is a couple of feet raised off the ground. The home end was very busy, so although it is a bit rough looking on the eye, it did not put the locals off turning up, with a crowd of nearly two thousand present for this game!
This was a long, tedious journey and the way the fixtures fell, we found ourselves in this part of the world, twice in twenty four hours, but it had to be done! The end of the Scottish football season, coincided with the end of our Grounds Tour and took great satisfaction in seeing it through to the end.
I had planned a couple of beers when I got home, almost to celebrate the achievement, but it turned out to be a bit of an anti climax, as on our return, there was nobody in the house! I think in my head I had a vision of it being like the finishing line of a big race, yet reality was something very different! Still, the notes, experience, stories, photographs and the memories are all mine!