April 18, 2009 – Newlandsfield Park, Glasgow
This year’s Scottish Junior Cup semi finals have seen a departure from the age old format of one-off games, usually played at ‘senior’ venues.
The change seems to have been brought about due to the unwillingness of the police to allow Friday night matches, which were once the norm and tended to attracted excellent crowds.
Two-legged ties have been brought in as a replacement, and on the basis of this first one at Newlandsfield, the new policy appears to have been successful.
A large crowd gathered at the compact venue on the southside of Glasgow and were treated to a good advert for junior football.
The SJFA, Pollok and Clydebank – all of whom received a third of the gate – could hardly have hoped for better weather.
After an overcast start, the clouds broke to leave a beautiful sunny afternoon across central Scotland.
I made my choice to attend this game in preference to the Kirkintilloch Rob Roy v Auchinleck Talbot game mainly on the grounds of travel.
Kirkintilloch is miles from the nearest railway whereas Newlandsfield is literally next door to Pollokshaws East, one of a myriad of suburban stations in this part of Glasgow, and just ten minutes from Glasgow Central.
I’ve visited Pollok’s home on a couple of occasions before, the last of which was a midweek game against their bitter rivals Arthurlie.
It’s an excellent place to watch football, with a well kept pitch tightly hemmed in on all four sides by narrow terracing. Like most other Junior clubs, Pollok haven’t gone in for ‘luxuries’ like floodlights or seats, but is still rightly regarded as one of the best grounds at this level.
I arrived fairly early to get a good spot and the crowd was already starting to build up. By kick off time almost 1500 were in, some way short of the ground capacity but big enough to make the place feel very busy.
On the approach to the ground, there were a couple of chancers selling black and white and red and white chequered flags, all adding to the ‘big match’ atmosphere.
There was a bigger admission price too, although I felt £7 wasn’t too outrageous considering that I was hit for £17 to see a snorefest at Broadwood last week.
I decided to take in the first half directly opposite to large enclosure which dominates the ground. The atmosphere in there looked good with a group of vociferous Clydebank fans generating a fair bit of noise, but I fancied a bit of sun on my back for a change!
At the outset the Bankies were 6/1 outsiders to win the game, and even longer odds to progress to the final.
Infamously bought out of the senior game seven years ago, they are a big club by Junior standards, but they haven’t yet worked their way up to the top level and currently feature in the West of Scotland Super First Division.
Pollok, although lacking much recent success in the blue riband Junior Cup competition, are one of the strongest sides in the Super Premier. They won it last season and could well retain their title if they can handle their customary end of season fixture pile up.
There was a gulf in class when I saw the sides play out a West of Scotland Cup tie a few weeks ago. On that occasion Pollok ended the contest early on with two goals.
Wearing their yellow away kit, Bankies got off to a more solid start this time although there were a couple of anxious moments at their end.
Most of the early exchanges were of the frantic ‘gerrintaethum’ nature as both sides looked to gain the initiative. It made for an open start to the game which continued right through the 90 minutes to the credit of both sides.
Clydebank drew first blood, possibly against the run of play, when John Jack headed home a corner from the right. The Pollok keeper should have done better with the cross, but none of the many Bankies in the ground seemed to care.
The underdogs scoring early was the dream scenario for a neutral punter but the lead was shortlived, Pollok hitting back within two minutes through Stevie Miller.
My automatic reaction at this stage was to assume that, as the underdogs, Clydebank would have had to have held the lead for quite a lot longer to stand any chance of getting a result.
That hypothesis was quickly rubbished though, as the Bankies retook the lead on 25 minutes, this time with a penalty scored by Gary Lynn.
I was ambling back from the pie stall when the penalty decision was given and not paying attention, but the Youtube highlights appear to show it was a fairly soft award given by the linesman rather than the referee.
After that the action continued to bubble along without further scoring until half time with Pollok fairly unlucky to go in a goal down at the interval.
They came out fighting after half time, no doubt having been given a good talking to by their manager Jim Sinnet – a man with the gruff appearance of a nightclub bouncer but an unparalleled record of success in Junior football.
They were back level within a minute of the restart, prolific striker Bryan Dingwall prodding the ball home from close range.
Again I expected Pollok to use the second equaliser as a platform to blow Clydebank away in the second half, but it didn’t transpire despite a few close run things at the Bankies end.
Instead, a second penalty handed the visitors the lead for a third time. Having moved down to the bottom end of the ground by this stage I got a good view and there was no dubiety over Derek Wingate’s deliberate handball which saved a certain goal for Ryan Scobie.
Justice was done when Lynn slotted away his second spot kick of the day in some style, driving the ball high to Kris Robertson’s right.
From then on in it was largely all Pollok with Clydebank hanging on by their fingernails, although both sides lost a man in between times when a penalty box altercation saw David Turnbull and Stevie Blair both red-carded.
There were a few close run things for nine-man ‘Lok, particularly a shot across goal from Robert Downs which looked to be heading in only to dribble just past the post.
At full time it was the Bankies celebrating a 3-2 win, although walking back round to the train station I pondered whether they had any mixed feelings.
This was an excellent win at a very difficult ground but as far as the objective of reaching the biggest occasion in Junior football goes, it was only half a job done with a second game still to be negotiated.
It’s certainly the case that the new semi final format reduces the potential for a shock and Pollok could easily still come through to reach the final.
I’ve got a wee soft spot for Clydebank and their fans given everything they have been through, so I hope that they can get the result they need at Millburn Park in the second leg.
Scoring – 0-1 Jack (13), 1-1 Miller (16), 1-2 Lynn (pen 27), 2-2 Dingwall (46), 2-3 Lynn (pen 70)
Attendance – 1480
Admission – £7
Programme – £1
Ground – 7/10. One of junior football’s better grounds
Game – 8/10. Action packed
Overall experience – 8/10. Excellent stuff