Scotland. A land of kilts, haggis, highlands, tartan, William Wallace, battered Mars Bars and football which is regularly mocked by those south of the border. Strangely, I have never once set foot in Scotland and I’ve regularly lamented that fact. With my half term holiday coming up, I thought it was time to fix this and that’s how I came to organise a weekend of Scottish football. I also managed to talk my Cardiff supporting pal Sean into coming along and sampling the delights of Scottish football. Now just to decide where to go. After initially deciding that Edinburgh would be our base for the weekend, we noticed that the majority of fixtures seemed to be clustered in the West of Scotland closer to Glasgow. There was also the Glasgow derby between Partick Thistle and Celtic on the Sunday afternoon, so we opted to make our Scottish abode in Glasgow. After a few options of where to go on the Saturday, we plumped for Dumbarton FC v Cowdenbeath.
We arrived into Glasgow on the Friday and made sure we sampled the city and it’s nightlife, which people had assured me before hand is very good. I awoke the next morning to recall that I had introduced myself to the city by performing a ‘rousing’ rendition of Tom Jones’ Delilah in the Renfield pub, as well as joining some random Scot I befriended in a duet of the Deacon Blue classic Dignity (a huge guilty pleasure of mine); nonetheless, I was fairly hangover-free and we were soon on the 10:45 am train to Dumbarton from Glasgow Queen Street,
The train journey took roughly half an hour and we knew we were almost there when we noticed the huge rock structure with Dumbarton Castle perched on top of it come into view next to the River Clyde and Dumbarton FC’s ground sitting snuggly below it. I think part of the attraction of me wanting to visit Dumbarton’s home was largely down to the fact that it has such an impressive backdrop with the castle imperiously dwarfing it from high above.
We alighted at Dumbarton Central and headed towards the town centre, only after Sean had been sick on the street outside the station – the Glasgow nightlife had had more of a lasting effect on him it seemed. There was very little of note in and around the town centre and it was clear to see that this was a town who’s famous industries of whisky distilling, shipbuilding and glassmaking had all but disappeared, leaving the town now largely as a commuter hub for people working in Glasgow; the best example of this industrial regression is the Ballantine Distillery building, a huge derelict building that looms over the whole town.
I was quite hungry by now so we made a quick visit to Greggs,before we then wandered down the Riverside walkway to see a lovely collection of abandoned, rotting boats and then into the Counting House Wetherspoons. With a pint of Carling priced £2.09 there was no complaints from me, although I did feel the playlist of Metallica and Slayer was a bit much for a Saturday afternoon, especially considering the majority of the pub’s clientele looked to be into their 60s. Once again, Sean paid a visit to the toilet to puke up the remnants of the night before and I had to drink his pint, before we then decided to make our way towards the ground and Dumbarton Castle.
The castle and the ground are located about a 10-15 minute walk from the centre of Dumbarton. We took some quick photos of the ground, before moving onwards around to the other side of Dumbarton Rock to the entrance of Dumbarton castle right on the north bank of the River Clyde. Dumbarton Castle is one of the most famous strongholds in the whole of the UK with its history dating back to at least the 5th century, meaning it has the longest recorded history of any stronghold in Britain. The castle also boasts links to some of British histories most famous names: William Wallace was imprison for a short period of time after his capture by the English and Mary Queen of Scots was kept in the castle in the 16th century before she was sent to France for her safety.
We could not see anywhere to pay, so we heading straight through to the castle, only for a Scottish woman to come chasing after us as we were meant to pay in the gift shop. She was quite forgiving though and she seemed more interested in knowing were we visiting any other castles in Scotland. I explained that football grounds were my remit much to her disappointment.
It eventually cost us £4.50 to get into the castle and it was money well spent for the views alone. From the peak of Dumbarton Rock we had a panoramic view of the River Clyde leading off into the distance towards the most western point of Scotland and the humble town of Dumbarton down below. However, the best part for me of course was the brilliant views we had of Dumbarton FC’s ground below us. Sean found the historical relevance of the castle and the stunning views the rock offered us so awe-inspiring that he was sick (once again) at the very summit of it.
We made our way back down Dumbarton Rock and turned the corner back into the car park of Dumbarton’s ground, the officially named Bet Butler Stadium – or as it is more colloquially known ‘The Rock’, in homage to the rock behind it. The ground consists of only one stand down the one side of the pitch, which can hold just over 2000 fans with the dugouts strangely positioned by themselves away on the opposite side of the pitch to the stand. Dumbarton have played at their ground since it was officially opened in December 2000, after the ground was built in an area which once housed part of the town’s shipping yard.
Dumbarton are one of Scotland’s most historic clubs with their formation in 1872 making them 4th oldest club in the country. In fact, their tenancy at their old ground, the beautifully named Boghead Park, from 1879 to 2000 was the longest continuous use of a football ground by any team in the country. It was whilst playing at their old home that Dumbarton won the first ever Scottish Championship in 1891; they shared the first championship with Rangers and then won the title outright again the next season. The club now ply their trade in the second tier of Scottish football – recently rebranded as the ‘Scottish Championship’ – and found themselves sitting just below mid table before today’s game against fellow mid-tablers Cowdenbeath.
We entered the stand via the turnstiles on the side of the main stand (not sure if you can call it a ‘main stand’ when it is the only stand), paid our £16 entry fee and headed onto the small concourse, which then led into the supporters’ lounge.
The lounge is a large open room with seating and circular tables filling the whole room along with a pool table, a small bar area and a stall in the corner selling club merchandise. It was customary on visiting the foreign grounds of Denmark in the summer to buy a club scarf from each ground and so I decided that Scotland was foreign enough to mean I needed to buy a scarf; for £8.95, I became the owner of a white, black and gold striped Dumbarton FC scarf. I did begin to wonder though why there was an elephant on the club badge, which adorned my scarf? Scotland isn’t exactly a nation renowned for elephants as far as I was aware. A bit of research informed me that many believe that Dumbarton Rock resembles an elephant and this helped explain why the elephant on the club badge has a castle on his back. The club nickname, The Sons, also spawns from the famous rock, as it is a shortened version of the term ‘Sons of the Rock’, a term used to describe the natives of Dumbarton.
I purchased a pint of Tennants, very much the lager of choice in Scotland it seemed, and went and sat down to enjoy a couple of drinks, since we had over an hour until kick-off. With the club being aware of my visit today, they had kindly put a link to this website on the official club website and soon enough I was having several people approach me to welcome me to the ground, which is always very nice. We were then joined by Peter, a native of Edinburgh who is a big Newcastle fan, yet baffled us with the Feyenoord scarf that he was wearing. It turned out he was a groundhopper like myself and had picked up the scarf on a trip to Rotterdam.
I’m a huge believer in the power of supporters’ trust and I’ve got a lot of time for any club that embraces any sort of fan ownership – it has to be the future, just look at German football. Since 2003, after uncertainty over the club’s future, Dumbarton launched their own ‘Sons’ Trust’, which has helped successfully forge bonds between the club and it’s fans and the club and the community. I was greeted by Alan and Brian, who both hold high positions in the trust, and who made us feel very welcome at the club – your hospitality was very much appreciated lads! Alan even gave us the ‘VIP’ opportunity to go out into the ground and cross to the dugout side of the pitch to get some photos of the ground with the rock in the background. I was all ready to jog across the pitch to the opposite side amongst the players warming up, but that opportunity was denied to us by Alan asking us not just in case we upset the referees. We got ourselves a couple of photos from the other side of the pitch, before heading back down the players tunnels past the changing rooms and the board rooms and back to the bar for a few more drinks.
After one more bottle of Miller (a nostalgic one, as Miller was my favourite beer in my teenage years) we headed out into the stand ready for our first taste of live Scottish football. The teams came out with Dumbarton in their all white kits and Cowdenbeath in their away colours of red shirts and blue shorts – not in their famous blue today, which gives them their ‘Blue Brazil’ nickname.
Dumbarton started the game the better team and looked to have scored when a strike from the home team went past the onrushing Cowdenbeath keeper only for the ball to trickle agonisingly wide of the far post. Shortly after I was actually shouting the word ‘Goal!’ as I was sure that Jordan Kirkpartrick’s superb looping volley was going in, only for my shout to be stopped by the sound of the clank of the crossbar. It would have been quite some goal if it had gone in.
The rest of the half died out with little of note, apart from one individual performance I feel I should highlight – that of Dumbarton’s Chris Turner. He really was superb! Turner controlled the whole game from the centre of the pitch with neat passing, good decision making as well as some cute flicks and tricks. At half-time when I delivered my gushing praise of Turner to Brian, he informed me that Turner actually has Champions League experience having played for Shamrock Rovers in the qualifying stages of Europe’s elite competition. He really did look a class above everyone else out there.
Half-time: Dumbarton 0 – 0 Cowdenbeath.
Once we had had our photo with the club’s elephant mascot, it was time to head back to our seat for the second half hoping for some goals: They were never to come.
The half opened with Cowdenbeath’s James Stevenson hitting the post, before Dumbarton’s Mitchel Megginson repeated the same trick later in the game when he looked like he had buried his shot into the goal. The game hadn’t actually been too bad, but as the 2nd half progressed, I just got that looming sense over me that we were destined not to see a goal today.
As we entered the last 20 minutes, the sky turned a stormy shade of grey and we were soon graced by torrential rain, as the game ebbed out to it’s 0-0 conclusion. I was delighted to hear though that Chris Turner was rightly awarded Man of the Match after his truly excellent display.
Full-time: Dumbarton 0 – 0 Cowdenbeath. We were told before the game that when Dumbarton take on the ‘Blue Brazil’ of Cowdenbeath, there is usually excitement and goals a plenty – nevermind.
We departed the ground and headed towards Dumbarton East station having been told that there was a quite lively pub, the Stag’s Head, directly opposite that station. We had to make a run for it to the pub, as the rain became more ferocious, but once we got there we were greeted by a rather full pub with the El Clasico already in full swing on the big screen. Barcelona v Real Madrid was a world away from the football we had just witnessed!
We watched a large chunk of El Clasico and then decided we would head back to Glasgow to sample more of the delights that Scotland’s biggest city had to offer us. Overall, a good start to my Scottish football weekend. Obviously the game was a disappointment, but I enjoyed my day out in Dumbarton nonetheless. I would recommend to anyone visiting the ground to visit the castle beforehand and to let the club know you are coming as they are an extremely friendly and welcoming bunch. All the best to the Sons for the rest of the season and I hope the Sons’ Trust continues to prosper.
Highlights: Dumbarton Castle and the views it offers, friendly and welcoming fans and club, good supporters’ lounge, Chris Turner’s performance, Stag’s Head pub.
Low Points: not exactly a lot to Dumbarton town centre, a fairly dull 0-0 draw.