Saturday, July 11, 2009 – Forthbank Stadium, Stirling
Pre-season games always have the potential to be a snorefest, but when you get a decent contest together with some lovely summer weather they can really enjoyable, like this one was.
Despite the season being only a fortnight away there wasn’t abundance of options in my local area.
Junior clubs aren’t permitted to play at all until the third Saturday in July while my own team Livingston’s game against Falkirk had to be played behind closed doors because of a lack of a safety certificate for Almondvale Stadium.
With the sun splitting the skies, I decided to go slightly further afield to Stirling, accessible relatively easily by train from Linlithgow.
Stirling is a place I like. While the Scottish football landscape is littered with post-industrial blackspots and one horse towns, Stirling a fairly handsome and genteel place in the most part.
Bearing that in mind it’s maybe a tad ironic and unfortunate that it’s most inhabitant of recent times is probably ‘problem family’ matriarch ‘Big’ Mags Haney from the degenerated housing scheme of Raploch. Still, you can’t have everything.
Forthbank Stadium, where Stirling Albion have played for the last fifteen years or so, is the other side of town from Raploch, not a bad thing when making the journey from the railway station on foot.
Unlike Annfield, where Albion used to be based, Forthbank is on the outskirts of the ‘city’, about twenty minutes walk from the main drag, where Stirling’s many visitors find a good mix of local shops and national multiples in the shadow of the Castle.
The walk itself took me through a regeneration zone, along an ‘urban clearway’ and past a sewage farm, but with the weather hot and sunny it wasn’t really any great hardship.
I arrived nice and early so I had a look round the stadium, which is part of a bigger Council owned sports campus.
A swimming pool and sports centre sit over the road from the stadium’s main entrance and there are a couple of 3G artificial pitches, one of which was hosting women’s hockey.
The football ground itself reminds me very much of Almondvale Stadium in it’s original incarnation, which given that they were built around the same time is probably no great surprise.
While Almondvale has been developed into a miles-too-big 10000 capacity stadium, Forthbank is pretty much ‘as you were’ in that it remains unaltered from it’s original spec of seated stands down the touchlines topped off with small terraces behind both goals.
The overall capacity is 4000, with about 2500 of those accommodated in the stands. For all but the occasional cup ties that’s plenty for Albion, who command a core support of about 5-700 these days – disproportionately low for the size of Stirling itself.
That lack of support is maybe one reason why the ‘Save Stirling Albion’ campaign is fairly high profile around and inside the ground.
The current Albion chairman says he wants out, and the local Supporters Trust has come up with some imaginative fund-raising schemes with the aim of assisting his departure, including a chance to contribute £40 towards the fund to buy the club which has found some celebrity backers.
On the field, Albion are preparing for their second season back in the Second Division after a brief flirtation with the First. For the past few years former Hearts and St Johnstone player Allan Moore has been their manager, doing what appears to be a fine job on a tight budget.
A tricky wee winger in his day, Moore is a player I enjoyed watching a few years back during a brief spell with Livingston. Given that he has tried to instill a philosophy of passing the ball on the deck as a boss, I’ve generally found his Albion teams to be decent to watch too.
Partick Thistle are similar in outlook under Ian McCall, and although I am not McCall’s biggest fan I’ve got a grudging respect for his strong record at First Division level with Airdrieonians, Falkirk and now Thistle.
Thistle turned out for the game in their ‘unique’ pink and grey hooped away kit while the home side were in an uncharacteristic all-royal blue outfit.
Backed by a majority of the 604 crowd, the Glaswegians started better, but some calamitous defending saw them fall behind after 27 minutes when Ross Forsyth was given the freedom of the penalty area to ghost in and glance home Stewart Devine’s free kick unchallenged.
That was only goal of the first half, but there was plenty to admire in the play, especially from Thistle who got their short passing going quite effectively on a tricky pitch.
After a half time interlude of some utterly dreadful easy listening tunes, the second half didn’t quite live up to the first.
The predictable procession of substitutions saw to that, although it was interesting to see Jim Hamilton – a personal cult hero of mine – step out for his first public appearance for Thistle.
Vastly experienced, Hammy prowled around up front, holding the ball well and bringing his team-mates into play. It occurred to me that for all his limitations he’s the type of player we could do with back at Livingston, where he had a successful half season a few years back.
Like all new strikers he seemed anxious to get off the mark for his new club and when Thistle were awarded a penalty for a reckless lunge on impressive trialist Chris Erskine, he asserted his view quite forcefully that he should take the spot kick.
Sadly for him, he was forced to give way to Paul Cairney who put the kick away with confidence and earned Thistle what I felt was a well deserved share of the spoils.
Scoring – 1-0 Forsyth (26), 1-1 Cairney (80 pen)
Attendance – 604
Admission – £7
Programme – £1
Food – The world’s greasiest pie £1.20
Match Rating: 7/10