Heston Rovers v Crichton
Palmerston Park / South of Scotland Football League / 4th April 2015
So this Saturday was supposed to involve me and Gibbo visiting Carlisle-based non-league club Celtic Nation, after enjoying a visit to Carlisle United the day before and sampling the Carlisle nightlife. Sadly, Celtic Nation’s scheduled opponents for that date, Shildon, got themselves to the Durham Cup final on the same day and Celtic Nation postponed their game for that Saturday weeks before our planned visit. With trains/hotels already booked, we needed an alternative. Me and Gibbo scoured every fixture list in every league imaginable looking for a new game that we could go to and still make our 19:35 train out of Carlisle. Nothing. Every club nearby – in Cumbria and over the border in Southern Scotland – seemed to be playing away or playing on a different day over Easter. We pretty much gave up and instead we started pondering a quaint wander of the Lake District instead, as I’ve still never been. Then a breakthrough…
“HESTON ROVERS V CRICHTON!” came the message from Gibbo one day. That actually meant nothing to me, until he started explaining how Heston play at Queen of the South’s Palmerston Park just over the border in Dumfries. Trains were kind too. We both said we’d rather go when Queen of the South were playing at home, but with no alternatives we were just happy to have another option. So it was decided: we would go to Heston Rovers v Crichton in the South of Scotland Football League. Our day would start interestingly to say the least.
“I’m going to have to close off this carriage. Right everyone into the next carriage!” declared the train inspector. Why? Well, it may have had something to do with the pile of sick on the floor next to Gibbo. Yes, Gibbo failed to make it to the toilet and instead spewed all over the floor, the seat next to him, his bag and his coat. Was it his supposed ‘travel sickness’? The previous night’s beer? Or one of those woeful kebabs we bought? Gibbo claimed it was the former of the 3, but I suspect it was probably a mixture of all 3. I proved myself remarkably unhelpful by just pissing myself laughing whilst he went and confessed to the train crew his mishap. In fairness to them, they were remarkably understanding and forgiving. Nice one Scottish Rail.
We made it to Dumfries 30 minutes after departing Carlisle and we headed straight into the Waverley Bar. I wanted a beer for a spot of ‘hair of the dog’, whilst Gibbo just wanted to get himself cleaned up. Gibbo was in the toilet for a while sorting himself out, so I got chatting to the locals about how to get to Palmerston Park. They all seemed determined to tell me that Queen of the South were not playing at home today, yet when I told them that we were actually going to watch Heston Rovers they all looked at me as if I had two heads.
With a suitably refreshed Gibbo, we headed towards the town centre and even went past the Cairndale Hotel, which played a significant part in the history of Heston Rovers, mainly relating to the name of the club. The name spawns from a rather unorthodox place. I’ll leave an article on the club’s website to explain:
‘The first sponsor of the club (by purchasing the first set of strips for the newly formed club)was the owner of the Cairndale Hotel in the town. He had a boat moored at the island of Hestan in the Solway Firth called ”The Hestan Rover” and suggested that this would be a good name for the club but tweaked it to Heston. As it happened , the area in which the club first played in Lochside, Dumfries also had a bus route called Heston Avenue – so the name was ideal!’
Everybody had told me beforehand that Dumfries is a nice market town and that’s immediately the impression I got as we walked through the town centre. The town has also produced some of Scotland’s most famous folk: from renowned Scottish poet Robert Burns (there’s a memorial for him in the town) to international chart topper Calvin Harris. It was hard to picture Calvin Harris enjoying a pint in the humble The Barrel pub in which we entered on arriving into the town centre – I think it was more up Burns’ street. The Barrel was a small pub with a more elderly clientele within, at least on this day’s visit anyway. It had all the usual real ale stuff, but I was enjoying drinking pints of Tennent’s lager – a lager I really like and that you largely only find in Scotland. Gibbo was still dodging alcohol.
We headed through the town in search of another pub and my eye was immediately drawn to the the little alleyway next to ‘Handbag Heaven’ with a sign above it saying ‘Hole I’ The Wa’ Inn’. This intrigued me, so in we went. Good call Harrison too, as the place was brilliant. A proper traditional pub (it was established 1620) and with plenty of charm, I was more than happy to enjoy a pint in there whilst we watched Arsenal tear apart Liverpool. Still no beer for Gibbo.
After passing Burns’ memorial, we eventually ended up in the town’s Wetherspoons, the thoroughly Scottish sounding Robert The Bruce pub. Wetherspoons are becoming more and more of a running theme on this blog, but largely you find that most of them are the same. This one was the of the more interesting looking ones with its tiled floor and high ceiling. Also the pub stop presented Gibbo with the opportunity to tweet out the team of his beloved Atherton Collieries, as club secretary phoned him with the team news. Once again, still no beer for Gibbo. Now it was time to cross the River Nith and head towards Palmerston Park.
Within moments, the floodlights of Palmerston Park were in view over the surrounding residential area. I would say that the area round the ground wasn’t quite as nice as the rest of the town – it was a bit shady looking to be honest – but the ground itself already looked magnificent. We found our way into the ground through a rusty-looking steel gate and then down a driveway behind one of the stands. Then we found ourselves near the only turnstile into the ground open for today’s game and with no sign of a club bar or anything we went in.
Just £3 it cost me (£1 for tax dodging student Gibbo) to enter Palmerston Park today for this Dumfries derby between visitors Crichton and home team Heston.
The original Heston Rovers formed as a youth club in 1978 in the Lochside area of Dumfries. The club has led a nomadic existence jumping from place to place round and near Dumfries, but remaining solely as a youth football club. Heston would only create a senior team in 2008 after merging with South of Scotland Football League club Dumfries FC (a club formed of several mergers itself). Heston had spent years improving their Maryfield ground to bring it up to standard and in 2010 the club were allowed to play league games there.
2013 would see the club move to Palmerston Park, the home of Scottish Championship club Queen of the South. Football has been played on the site since the 1870s, although it did not truly open as a football ground until 1919 and was not purchased by Queen of the South until 1921; the ground has been the club’s home ever since.
Now in the ground, me and Gibbo began to survey our surroundings – and what surroundings they were. Put simply: Palmerston Park is superb. If I could conjure up an image of the typical ground I adore, it would look like something like this. The stand down one side of the pitch is just an average , everyday modern stand with 2,192 seats, but the rest of the ground is truly glorious. On entering we found ourselves alongside the Grandstand, a raised seating stand which straddles the halfway line and has small terracing areas. Behind the far goals is a completely open terrace with a series of crash barriers covering it – this was as ‘old school’ as you could get in a ground; although actually that accolade may have to go to the stand behind the other goal and my favourite part of the ground: the Portland Drive Terrace. This is the club’s large sheltered standing terrace (well, the back half of it is sheltered anyway) and it is magnificent with its tall roof and clock on top. It is also ‘the largest area of covered terracing in Scotland’ according to Wikipedia anyway. Just wow. Nothing will beat that for ‘wow’ factor surely? Wrong. Those floodlights…those floodlights – a groundhopper’s wet dream basically. Going back to my good friend Wikipedia, apparently, ‘these are the tallest free standing floodlights in Scottish football, standing at 85 feet’. Cheers for that again Wikipedia! (Note: don’t rely on Wikipedia too much – you just never know what crap I may regurgitate from it. I think these facts are correct so far though).
Fairplay to the Heston Rovers folk, they greeted us warmly and seemed happy (maybe slightly bemused) that we had come to watch them today. The gentleman behind the club’s Twitter and also photographing the game today was particularly friendly to us and the welcome was much appreciated; sadly, I’ve forgotten his name! Oops.
The teams started to come out with Crichton in a very, very plain red shirt and red shorts – no sponsor on them and shirts looking too big for many of the team. Then Heston Rovers came strutting out in Joma shirts that did look rather similar to the Atherton Collieries’ black and white home shirts much to Gibbo’s delight. With teams out and with us both snapping away frantically at our surroundings, we took a spot in front of the Portland Drive Terrace ready for the kick-off.
There was nothing really cutting edge on offer on the pitch, but the standard was slightly better than I imagined. It didn’t take Crichton too long to take a two goal lead with both goals coming in the opening ten minutes. Both goals came from corners at the far end of the ground with a looping header for one goal and a close range finish for another.
When I hear the word ‘Crichton’ I immediately think of ‘Michael Crichton’ and thus immediately then think of ‘Jurassic Park’. So I did try to get a chant going of the Jurassic Park theme tune to serenade Crichton’s opening goals but there clearly wasn’t any takers from the Crichton fans – if there were any there. If you are reading this though Crichton fans, feel free to steal this idea – in fact, I highly encourage you to do so.
By now me and Gibbo had made it to the top row of the seating stand to watch the action unfold. Well, I say to watch the game – I ended up pratting around in one of the camera gantries like it was some sort of children’s climbing frame.
The game on the pitch was still fairly drab, although Heston looked the far more accomplished team after conceding two early goals. We were both impressed with one of Heston’s striker, but we were soon distracted from the game when we realised we had someone else in our company in our part of the stand: a pigeon. Not just a pigeon flying in briefly, this pigeon was clearly a big fan of Queen of the South and/or Heston, as he had set up a nest for himself in the roof of the stand we were frequenting. Suppose it is cheaper than a season ticket. Anyway, there was little for him to coo about in the closing stages of the half and we finished the first half with no Heston goals.
Half-time: Heston Rovers 0 – 2 Crichton.
This is where the day was let down really. There was no club bar, no food hut, no anything for us to do at half-time. I should mention here that I counted 37 people in attendance (although official attendance was given as 65) so I appreciate that extra amenities would put extra financial strain on a club that I was told are already spending a fortune on using Palmerston Park. Instead we just sat in the stand twiddling our thumbs waiting for the teams to come back out. I get a bit impatient just sitting around doing nothing, so the interval seemed to last an age, so I was mightily relieved when the teams finally came jogging back out on to the pitch.
Heston went all out to bring themselves back into the game and a goal for the home team seemed inevitable. This is where my recollection of the game becomes fairly hazy (it did happen 5 days ago now and I’ve since witnessed 3 other games of football and drank more beer).
Heston would go on to score 2 goals in fairly quick succession. One was a penalty and the other was a powerful drive into the bottom corner from just inside the box…I think. Can’t remember what order they were scored in either. I’ll tell you what, I’m nailing this match report aren’t I? If anyone from the national papers are reading this and thinking ‘by golly this lad can recount a game well and produce an insightful match report!’ then feel free to drop a comment below and maybe we can talk about my talent more. By the way, the match report part is about to get even more insightful in the next paragraph, so stay tuned for that.
Although Heston were on top, amazingly Crichton stole a goal from nowhere. Let me describe it to you…oh, I can’t as I was walking into the toilet as the ball nestled in the net. Missing goals has started becoming a running theme on my travels over past few weeks and it is a trend I really have to stop. This remains cutting edge match reporting.
Heston continued to batter the away team, but there was now a sense that their equaliser wasn’t coming. Me and Gibbo rounded up our stuff, said goodbye to our pal the pigeon and started making our way towards the exit as the game reached its final moments. As we approached the exit gate to watch the final few minutes, a few of the Heston lot thanked us for coming and asked us about how far we had travelled, how we were getting home etc. They did all seem a remarkably friendly bunch which is always a good thing to see at a football club.
Sadly, luck was not on the home team’s side and the whistle blew to confirm a loss for Heston Rovers and the end of my first experience of South of Scotland Football League football. I did belt out one last rendition of the Jurassic Park theme, but still no takers. Nevermind.
Full-time: Heston Rovers 2 – 3 Crichton.
We headed through the streets surrounding Palmerston Park and then back over the river towards the town. Gibbo wanted to capture some photos of the river properly, so we decided to walk down the riverside this time on this now very pleasant Saturday evening in Scotland.
Soon enough, we were back in the Waverley Bar catching up on the day’s football scores and it gave me the opportunity to catch up on the events of Swansea’s 3 – 1 win over Hull. The bar was far livelier than it was earlier in the day with the locals clearly having a few pints before hitting the town proper on this Easter weekend. For the record, Gibbo still hadn’t touched a drop of beer all day – I think he should be saluted for his efforts considering he spent a day at the football with me.
We were soon en route back down over the border and back into Carlisle, before heading south to our abodes in Greater Manchester to end a great 2 days watching football in Cumbria and south Scotland.
The one thing that came out of a trip today was that we really wanted to go back to Palmerston Park in the future. Heston Rovers seemed a pleasant club, but it was a bit odd being in such a big ground with so few people. I yearned to be spend time on the standing terrace with a bigger crowd and not to just sit in the stand with just me, Gibbo and a pigeon. I have to go back for a Queen of the South game someday soon, as Palmerston Park really is wonderful.
Highlights: Dumfries is a nice place, good pubs, Palmerston Park is superb – great floodlights, standing terraces, cheap entry, not too bad a game really.
Low Points: Gibbo’s train mishap (although that may have been a highlight for me), small crowd in a big ground, no food/drink at the ground.
See all my photos from our day at Dumfries and Palmerston Park here.