26th November 2018
On Saturday, I resumed my occasional tour of the football grounds of Scotland . I looked for a match between two sides I had not seen before: Alloa Athletic versus Brechin City in the third round of the William Hill Scottish Cup fitted the bill.
On paper, the home side were the pre-match favourites, as their Championship status placed them a division above their League One visitors. The clubs had bypassed each other at the end of last season, when Alloa were promoted from League One through the play-offs and Brechin ended a torrid year in the Championship, having taken only four points from their 36 games. Some might have expected the latter to free-fall through League One this year, but the ship has been steadied; Brechin have won four league matches and are currently placed in mid-table.
Alloa were elected to the Scottish Football League in 1921. Brechin are relative newcomers, therefore, having first been admitted to the League in 1923 and with their current membership dating from 1954. The furthest progression that either club has made in the Scottish Cup has been to the quarter-final: three times in the case of Alloa, the most recent of which was 30 years ago, and once by Brechin in 2011. But Saturday’s match was of some significance: success in the tie would mean a place in the fourth round draw and the prospect of a lucrative encounter with one of the major clubs from the Scottish Premiership.
Before the match, I took in a mini-tour of Alloa town centre: the choir of Christmas singers at the top of the High Street; the 14th Century Alloa Tower, a superb example of a Scottish tower house, restored in the 1980s (though unfortunately closed for the winter); Tobias Bauchop’s House, the 1695 dwelling of the eponymous architect, in Kirkgate; and a branch of the Dnisi coffee house chain (for my first mince pie of the season). Entry to the ground was £9 for a senior with the excellent match programme a further £2: good value, I think.
Alloa Athletic have played at Recreation Park since 1895. Under a sponsorship deal, the ground has been called the Indodrill Stadium since 2014, but, with due acknowledgement to the benefactors, my – admittedly external – preference is for the former name. It has echoes of other sports grounds that are – or were – the centres of communal attention: the rugby league venues at the Recreation Ground in Whitehaven or the Athletic Grounds at Rochdale Hornets, for example. Indeed, I was struck by the parallels with another rugby ground: Cougar Stadium in Keighley, which I visited in the summer (“A Long Time Between Visits”, 15th July 2018): the main stand is long and narrow, providing a close view of the action on the pitch from the few rows of available seating; there is a busy main road running behind one end of the ground (in this case taking the local traffic to Clackmannan, rather than Bingley); and, looking out to the left, there is the impressive backdrop of the Ochil Hills, beyond which lies Strathallan and the road to Perth (instead of the gentler rising slopes of Rombalds Moor, which separates Airedale from Wharfedale).
The home side’s status of favourites was justified. Their pleasant passing game – orchestrated by the impressive Iain Flannigan in midfield – threatened the Brechin goal several times before Dario Zanatta fired a low shot into the net after half an hour. “Keep it moving” was the persistent instruction from the Alloa manager, Jim Goodwin, on the touchline. Alloa duly kept it moving and two further goals in quick succession around the hour mark sealed a comfortable 3-0 win. Brechin did not give up and their goalkeeper, Conor Brennan, made a couple of brave point-blank saves, but there was little to cheer the handful of supporters who had made the journey down the A90. The game was played in a competitive – but respectful – spirit and was efficiently refereed by Steven Reid.
And so it is Alloa Athletic who will take part in the fourth round of the Scottish Cup. The draw has indeed given them Premiership opposition, although it could have been more generous than an away fixture with St Mirren.
For my part, at the game’s conclusion, I had three-quarters of an hour to wait until the departure of the train that would take me back to Glasgow . Just enough time for another visit to the Dnisi café and my second mince pie of the season.