March 7, 2009 – Excelsior Stadium, Airdrie
For long spells in the first half this was a pretty poor advert for First Division football. Then, all of sudden, it burst into life to become one of the most remarkable games I’ve seen for a few seasons!
Eight goals and one of the most bizarre red cards I can remember turned this from being a routine visit to a familiar stomping ground to one of those games I’ll probably be able to recall years down the line.
While many of my recent games have involved visiting new grounds, or just getting out and getting some fresh air, club ‘duty’ was back on the agenda for this one.
As mentioned in previous posts, I’ve cut Livingston home games out of my itinerary in the last couple of months in my own wee protest against the disgraceful way the club is being run.
Fortunately, going to away games doesn’t involve giving the Italian regime currently mismanaging the club any money, so I’ve kept up my attendance ‘on the road’, missing just one fixture so far this season.
This was actually my third visit to Airdrie this season having taken in Livi’s earlier visit as well as the Airdrie v Spartans Scottish Cup tie in January.
The previous two games didn’t really set the heather on fire and my expectations for this visit were pretty low.
With neither side in good form I didn’t expect a classic, and much of the first half play backed up that prediction.
Airdrie scored early through John Baird, a goal which I must confess was well constructed, but other than that neither ‘keeper had much to do.
Stray passes and disjointed play was the order of the day, and it made for a spectacle which was as a dull as the Lanarkshire weather.
Things looked particularly unsatisfactory from a Livingston supporters’ point of view, but two goals inside a minute just before half time put a much more positive spin on the afternoon at the halfway stage.
The goals came courtesy of the striking ‘odd couple’ of Leigh Griffiths and Armand One.
Griffiths, at 18, is possibly the most exciting talent I have seen playing for Meadowbank and Livingston in my 21 years as a supporter.
With his shock of bleached blonde hair and a collection of coloured footwear which would make Imelda Marcos envious, he cuts a pretty distinct figure on the field.
He’s a wee bit of a loose cannon, but is also a stand out talent and, I think, is destined for full international honours one day if he keeps himself on the straight and narrow.
Slight, skilful and lightning quick, he is a complete contrast to One, a recent free agent signing who previously turned out for the likes of Partick Thistle and Cowdenbeath.
One (pronounced O-nay) claims to be 6’7″ and is built like the proverbial brick shithouse. Subtle and silky he is not.
The Frenchman has been the subject of mixed reviews so far, especially after a nightmare appearance against Dundee a few weeks back in which he missed several good chances to score.
What cannot be denied is that he has contributed a big physical presence up front which was decidely lacking before.
As it turned out, this game saw easily his best showing so far. There was even finesse in his volleyed goal on 43 minutes, which came a minute after strike partner Griffiths headed home an equaliser unchallenged by the Airdrie defence.
The scoring continued to come thick and fast after half time.
One found the net with an opportunist second goal which eclipsed his excellent first, and it was 3-1 Livi.
Di Giacomo hit back for the home side almost immediately, but it was 4-2 shortly after when Griffiths produced a virtuoso snap shot for his second of the afternoon.
If that was sublime then what followed before the game restarted was ridiculous. Airdrie player Joe Cardle ran more than 20 yards in from the touchline and pushed his own captain Marc Smyth.
What possessed him to react so recklessly is unknown, but referee Steven Nicholls wasn’t impressed, sending him packing without delay for ‘violent conduct’.
Not known for their restraint, the home support gave Cardle dogs’ abuse as he trooped off, although I understand his recent decision to sign a pre-contract with Dunfermline meant he wasn’t exactly a fans favourite anyway.
Down by two goals, the ten-man Diamonds were up against it at this stage, but the red card seemed to galvanise them.
Thanks to some decent finishing (and utterly shocking defending), they were back level within just seven minutes with Baird and Smyth on the mark.
When the scoreline reached 4-4 there were still some 25 minutes left to play, and more goals seemed almost inevitable.
That no more goals came was a surprise. Both sides had long since lost their defensive shape and both chased the win with the kind of panache you would usually associate with a knockout cup tie.
It was edge of the seat stuff, something of a rarity in a division which is notoriously tight and is often accused of lacking in excitement.
Like watching two washed up fighters knocking lumps out of each other in a Rocky film, you knew the quality wasn’t up to much, but it didn’t matter.
Alan Hansen could have written a thesis on just how bad the defending was from both sides, but I would happily settle for watching games like this every week. There was something engaging, something entertaining about the whole spectacle.
So the game was a humdinger – but what about the Excelsior Stadium?
Well, Broomfield it’s not. Airdrie’s old ground was a classic old bear pit which oozed character from it’s Victorian pavilion in the corner, through it’s no frills wooden shack of a stand to it’s sweeping terraces.
The Excelsior Stadium is a pretty standard kit new stadium, albeit one with a ‘main’ stand which is much high spec than many others built before or since in Scotland.
In fact, the quality of finish and associated cost is reckoned to be one reason why it’s original occupants Airdrieonians went to the wall.
Airdrie United took up the mantle from Airdrieonians’ demise after infamously buying out Clydebank, killing them off and taking their place in the Scottish League.
But in their own mind at least, they are a continuation of the old club and there are physical reminders all round the Excelsior Stadium of the defunct Airdrieonians FC.
Their crest still adorns the exterior walls, for example. Even the stewards’ day glo jackets read AFC rather than AUFC.
As far as new stadia go, I don’t have any strong opinions about the Excelsior Stadium. I like the fact that it’s complete with four stands, unlike Hamilton or Falkirk, but the reality is that it is miles too big for Airdrie United and always will be.
That it contains 10,000 seats when fewer than half would be plenty is down to the original SPL admission criteria. In many ways this ground is a monument to the folly of that rule, which has since been relaxed.
One positive is the sensible food and drink prices while the modest but very readable Airdrie programme is one of my favourites.
£1 for a scotch pie is considerably cheaper than all the other venues at this level and although they are normally decent, I seem to have got what I paid for on this occasion. Grossly overcooked, this was more ice hockey puck than succulent pie.
Still, given the way the game went I think I’ll get over it!
Scoring – 1-0 Baird (8), 1-1 Griffiths (42), 1-2 One (43), 1-3 One (51), 2-3 Di Giacomo (54), 2-4 Griffiths (57), 3-4 Baird (62), 4-4 Smyth (64)
Attendance – 1100
Admission – £15
Programme – £2
Ground – 5/10. Monument to the nonsense of the SPL’s ground criteria
Game – 9/10. Second half was pure entertainment
Overall experience – 7/10. Out of the ordinary
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