April 20, 2009 – Meadow Park, Irvine
Conscious of the fact that my travels hitherto haven’t included many West Region junior venues I hope to visit a few in the closing weeks of the season.
The barrage of midweek games to end the season started here for the clubs in the West so I was keen to take another step on the road to my century target.
Originally, I planned to visit Lochburn Park to see Maryhill against Benburb, but with a little more time to play with than planned, I ventured further south to the North Ayrshire coast.
I can’t recall ever setting foot in Irvine before this trip but armed with the handy Google Maps feature on my phone, I didn’t anticipate too many problems in navigating my way to Meadow Park which isn’t far from the town centre.
Travelling on the 18.00 from Glasgow Central, I got to Irvine about 25 minutes before kick-off, and after working out that the Riverside Shopping Centre actually spanned the river, was safely in the queue to get in by about ten to.
There’s no ‘Welcome’ sign at Meadow Park’s main entrance (although there is on the side of the stand). Instead fans are greeted by a rather large ‘NO ALCOHOL’ sign.
Perhaps this is a prerequisite in the occasionally volcanic world of Ayrshire junior football, but as it turned out it was ignored anyway, with one group of Irvine jakies polishing off a plastic bag full of cider and Buckfast with some gusto at one side of the stand.
The big attraction for attending this game, aside from visiting a classic junior football ground, was that Irvine Meadow and Beith occupied the top two places in the Super Premier going into the evening.
Meadow held pole position pre-match, hoping to take a step forward to a league championship which would provide some sort of return for their (allegedly) large investment in players.
Rumour has it that Meadow pay some players up to £300 per week. That’s more than some full time professionals earn at the bottom end of the SFL First Division!
A much smaller club traditionally, Beith seem to be more of a title dark-horse than either Meadow or defending champions Pollok.
They impressed when I saw them play against Rutherglen Glencairn in a friendly back in February, but it was difficult to gauge their true standard that day.
For this game they were followed by a good contingent of fans, numbering around 150.
In what was a first for me in any junior match, there seemed to be a self-segregation policy in force, with the Beith faithful congregating almost to a man on the open terrace opposite the stand.
Meadow’s fans, meanwhile, lined the stand side and the area behind the goals closest to the entrances.
Meadow Park is dominated by its stand, a wonderful red brick building that straddles the halfway line and runs to around 30 yards long.
To Meadow’s credit, they seem to have taken care of the stand down the years. The pitched roof looks relatively new and all the steelwork appears to have been recently renewed in Irvine’s royal blue colours.
The seating area consists of basic wooden benches and sits high above the field, offering a good vantage point. Below there is plenty of standing space, which is well populated for this game.
The stand contains the dressing rooms and a bar too, although a sign suggested that it was open to players and officials only.
That was a disappointment because I could have murdered something to drink. Especially when it became apparent that there were no refreshments on sale at all within the ground – something which surprised and disappointed me in equal measure.
The lack of a pie and bovril was probably the only thing I could complain about, because otherwise Meadow Park is a very decent place to watch football and one I would recommend for a visit.
I decided to sit in the stand during the first half, which Meadow started particularly well, main striker Richie Barr hitting the post and putting another excellent chance past the post in a bright opening.
Beith soon got themselves into the game, though, and shortly before half time opened the scoring with Derek McCulloch scoring a decent header.
The second half – which came after a very short break – wasn’t a great spectacle. Meadow huffed and puffed but overcooked possession time and again.
Their best chance of an equaliser came when Richie Barr broke clean through on goal, but rather than pull the trigger early he hesitated, allowing Beith ‘keeper Keith Ross to save.
As the game drew to a conclusion, Meadow got increasingly desperate, throwing numbers forward to try and salvage a draw. But it was one of those nights where it was just never going to happen for them.
Much was said and shouted about the tactics and substitutions of manager Chris Strain (none of it complimentary) as the game entered it’s death throes. I seem to recall him getting similar criticism when they scraped through against Ashfield in the Junior Cup a couple of months back.
On that occasion there was a happy ending for Meadow at Saracen Park, but this time it was Beith who had the last laugh with a late second goal to tie up victory.
A swift counterattack saw Kenny McLean race upfield before sliding the ball low into the net – topping off a good night for the Beith contingent on the open side.
The final whistle came almost immediately on the restart, giving me my cue to race back to the train station for the 20.59 and the start of a lengthy journey home via Glasgow and Edinburgh.
As long a trip as it was, I glad I made the effort to add another new ground to the list I have visited. Hopefully I will manage a few more before the season wraps up in five or six weeks.
Scoring – 0-1 McCulloch (37), 0-2 McLean (90)
Attendance – 450 approx
Admission – £5
Programme – none
Ground – 8/10. Good junior set-up, lovely stand
Game – 6/10. Tight contest won by the better side
Overall experience – 7/10. Long trip midweek but enjoyable
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