1st December 2014
On Saturday, I resumed the occasional tour of the football grounds of the west of Scotland that, having commenced towards the end of An Ordinary Spectator: 50 Years of Watching Sport, has been extended intermittently since the book’s publication. This time, I ventured to St Mirren Park in Paisley for the home side’s fourth round William Hill Scottish Cup tie against Inverness Caledonian Thistle. The day had begun at the annual Christmas tree festival at St Paul’s Church in Milngavie, where the musical accompaniment included a recital by Rachel Rutherford on the clarsach.
In my childhood, St Mirren was one of those names on my mother’s football pools coupon that I could not locate in the Philips’ Modern School Atlas. There were several of them across Scotland, of course – where exactly were Raith, St Johnstone, Hibernian, Third Lanark et al ? – and the subsequent discovery of their respective locations always gave me a feeling of achievement.
The St Mirren club was located in Love Street in Paisley for the 115 years from 1894. On selling the ground to Tesco in 2009, they moved to a new 8,000 seat stadium in FergusliePark. The ground is neat and compact and the spectators are close to the action. For Saturday’s cup-tie, it was barely one-quarter full, however, and, during those periods when the crowd was relatively quiet, the players’ voices echoed around the stadium. In the opening minutes, the stentorian – and quite colourful – instructions to his defence from the Inverness goalkeeper were clearly heard by those of us in Row J of the Main Stand.
The course of the game reflected the two sides’ respective positions in the Scottish Premier Football League. St Mirren are second bottom and separated from Ross County only on goal difference, having won only 2 of 14 league games so far; by contrast, Inverness are joint top of the league, behind Celtic again only on goal difference. However, although the visitors had the better of the early exchanges, it was St Mirren who took the lead just after the quarter-hour thanks to a crisp finish from Marc McAusland after Inverness had failed to deal with a corner kick.
In the second half, Inverness attacked for long periods, prompted from the midfield by the effective combination of the energetic James Vincent and the skilful Ryan Christie. I thought the latter was particularly impressive with his excellent close control and the vision for a penetrating pass with his cultured left foot. At 19 years of age, he is a player of rich promise: rather like Rachel Rutherford, perhaps, albeit in a different field. The visitors managed an equaliser with half an hour to go, but they were profligate with their other chances. The replay is in Inverness tomorrow.
My neighbour in the stand was a burly middle-aged man who was attending with his young son. After Inverness scored their goal – following another corner, when there were two headed challenges, two shots cleared off the line and another shot hitting the post before Josh Meekings fired the ball into the net – he spoke to me in an accent that originated somewhere in the Western Isles: “What a stramash! As Arthur Montford would have said: ‘What a stramash!’”. It was a comment that was absolutely fitting. It described the goal perfectly and, knowingly, it was a nice acknowledgement of the great Scottish broadcaster, who died last week at the age of 85.
I enjoyed my visit to St Mirren Park. The club remains rooted in its community and recognises the circumstances faced by many in the locality. The advertisements on the big screen included an awareness campaign for lung cancer fronted by Sir Alex Ferguson (though I don’t know if this campaign is also being rolled out across all clubs) and an appeal on behalf of one of local charities helping people “at this difficult time of the year”. The MC’s half-time pitch interview was with the four members of a local rock band – Lemonhaze – whose (quite impressive) new video was also played on the screen. “What’s next?” the MC asked, perhaps expecting a music-related response to follow up the earlier references to the band’s new single, the video and a couple of forthcoming gigs. The answer was probably more focused on the short-term that he had expected: “We’ll go for a pint after the game”.
After the match, I walked into the centre of Paisley. The evidence of post-industrial malaise is not hard to find, ranging from the derelict former home of the Paisley Provident Co-operative Society Limited, just down the road from the ground, through to the vacant areas of wasteland opposite the car-wash centre and the wholesale suppliers. But – I was reminded – this is also a town with a proud local history and architectural heritage; in the case of my walk, the latter started with St James’ Church in Underwood Road and extended through to PaisleyTown Hall, both buildings dating from the civic confidence of the 1880s.
The jewel in the crown is Paisley Abbey, of course. I entered through a side door and came across a rehearsal of that evening’s performance of Mozart and Mendelssohn by the Orchestra of Scottish Opera with the City of Glasgow Chorus. I stood for a few minutes as the notes soared high into the abbey’s upper reaches. Later, I reflected on my day’s music sampling – a clarsach rendition, a Lemonhaze video and Die Erste Walpurgisnacht: a pleasantly eclectic collection.
Later still, in the evening, BBC Scotland’s Sportscene showed the two goals from the St Mirren/Inverness match. The pundit Pat Nevin said that Arthur Montford would have described the Inverness equaliser as a stramash.