Saturday July 4, 2009 – Victoria Park, Innerleithen
Another warm and sunny day brought this opportunity to see my first ‘friendly’ of the new season as Scottish League side Annan Athletic visited Vale of Leithen of the East of Scotland League.
The small Peebleshire town of Innerleithen is set in some lovely Border countryside and Victoria Park has some of the most picturesque vistas to be found anywhere in Scottish football.
The weather and scenery alone made this trip worthwhile, but the game turned out to be pretty decent too.
The last time I visited this ground, Vale of Leithen were utterly destroyed by a Livingston youth team, so I didn’t have high expectations for them against an Annan side which has strengthened after acquitting themselves well in the Third Division last year.
Much to my surprise, Vale started superbly, scoring the opening goal of the day just three minutes in. On the mark was the superbly named Stevie Dongo, who found space to head the ball past Annan keeper Craig Summersgill.
Another Vale effort hit the post early on as the home side started like an express train, but it wasn’t too long before Annan got their act together and they finished the first half as the dominant side, albeit one trailing at the interval.
Vale struggled to maintain possession, and at one stage the home goalkeeper Mark Wilson got a little frustrated with his team-mates, launching into a tirade which went something like: “Fuckin’ move! There’s no fuckin’ movement!!! The fuckin’ lot o’ ye!”
The composition of the teams was interesting. While Vale’s squad seemed to be from the Edinburgh area, there were a lot of English accents in the Annan side, suggesting that they have been recruiting heavily in Cumbria and the North West.
The English contingent included former Hibs and Gretna veteran Derek Townsley, who anchored the Annan defence. Although he was a good player in his day, he seemed to struggle with the pace of the game on this occasion, particularly towards the end.
Another player I recognised from the Annan side was Lewis Sloan, a recent signing from Dalbeattie Star. He caught my eye twice when I saw him play last season – for the East of Scotland Select side as well as for Dalbeattie – and he made a decent debut for his new club.
After polishing off a very fine half time sausage roll, served from the back of the small enclosure, it wasn’t long before I got to see the afternoon’s second goal, something of a fluke cross-cum-shot effort from Gavin Tainsh which crept over the Annan keeper from the right flank and in at the back post.
While the first half ticked along at a quick pace, the second half was a little more pedestrian, maybe not surprising given the weather. The flow of play wasn’t helped either by the inevitable procession of substitutions from both sides.
Annan were probably the better side on the balance of play, and they tested Vale’s sub keeper with a couple of efforts without success before a second fluke of the day from Tainsh gave them a lifeline.
This time the Vale defender took a wild swipe at an Annan cross on the edge of his own penalty area, slicing his attempted clearance into the net for a relatively spectacular OG.
That ended the scoring as Vale repelled a few late attacks from Annan to earn themselves a surprise win.
As far as pre-season games go this was eagerly contested and ultimately quite entertaining. Hopefully the others I will see over the next few weeks will be just as enjoyable.
Scoring – 1-0 Dongo (3), 2-0 Tainsh (49), Tainsh (65 og)
Attendance – 110 (h/c)
Admission – £nil
Programme – £donation (I paid £1)
Food – Sausage roll and can of Irn Bru £1.60
Match Rating: 7/10