Date: Thursday July 10, 2014 – 7.30pm
Venue: Station Park, Forfar
A little under four weeks after the old season was rounded off with a trip to see Carnoustie Panmure entertain Camelon, I kicked off the new campaign just up the road at Forfar, with a pre-season friendly involving my own club Livingston.
This is the first pre-season in more than a decade that I’ve not had any official interest in the Livi pre-season, now that my days as programme editor and director are at an end.
Despite a disappointing end to last season, in which my enthusiasm for all things Livingston was severely dented, I had a proper buzz of excitement as I headed to Station Park for this Thursday night friendly.
My good friend Gordon was doing the driving for this trip, and after negotiating a bit of ‘T in the Park’ related congestion on the Forth Road Bridge, we sped quickly to the quiet Angus town where the sun was out and it was pleasantly warm.
It was a fine night for football, at a fine venue for football.
As far as bricks and mortar are concerned, Station Park has barely changed at all since I first visited in the early 1990s as a young Meadowbank Thistle supporter.
I still recall quite clearly the injustice of Paul Hegarty getting away with a professional foul that day; indeed referee Jim Renton’s performance was so poor overall that one of the travelling supporters felt enraged enough to spit on the veteran whistler, an act that saw him detained by Tayside’s finest.
At that point, Station Park had only recently been upgraded and as far as my recollection can ascertain, the half length stand, full length shed opposite and two open ends have remained untouched since then.
A couple of metal containers have sprung up on stand side, presumably for storage, and there’s work underway to create a new hospitality area next to the stand to generate additional income both on matchdays and during the week.
The other thing that has changed is the pitch, with an artificial surface installed a couple of seasons ago.
The grass pitch at Station Park was always pretty decent, but the 3G technology in place has allowed Forfar to develop their community links, youth development programme and to share their facility with Forfar Farmington women’s football club.
For a club of Forfar’s stature in a town of Forfar’s size, putting down the new pitch appears to have made perfect sense. Such pitches aren’t always popular with older players, but they are fast becoming the norm for younger guys who have been brought up playing on them.
Despite the scepticism in some quarters, I firmly believe that there will come a day when artificial pitches are the rule rather than the exception. This is especially so in the lower divisions of Scottish football, where keeping grass pitches playable during wet and cold winters is a virtual impossibility.
I also happen to think that artificial pitches encourage a more progressive brand of football, and that can only be a good thing.
Forfar are never going to be Barcelona (and neither are Livingston), but there has definitely been a shift in their style of play since the new pitch was put in place.
When Livingston last encountered them in the League a few seasons ago they were heavily reliant on the long ball.
There was plenty of good passing football on show throughout this game, which was played at a decent tempo considering the early stage it came at in the pre-season preparations of both clubs.
Forfar undoubtedly had the best of the first half and after a few near things in front of goal, they got the reward of a 44th minute opener, when Dale Hilson stroked the ball past Darren Jamieson from well inside the penalty area.
It was a disappointing first half from Livingston in which they created very little in the way of goalmouth action, but a raft of changes during the break seemed to give us added impetus and the second half performance was significantly better.
Quite a few new faces have arrived at Almondvale in the close season, and this was my first chance to check out the signings. It will take a while to form a proper opinion, but my early impressions of left sided midfielder Myles Hippolyte, a former Brentford youth player, were positive.
The former Hearts pair of Rob Ogleby and Gary Glen also looked lively in attack in the second half, though it fell to midfielder Kyle Jacobs to notch the goal that saw us head back down to West Lothian with a fully deserved draw.
Amid the on field action, the opportunity arose to sample the wares of the Forfar pie hut, another Station Park feature that has stood the test of time.
As my friend Gordon rightly pointed out, to order a scotch pie in Forfar would be like walking into a Chinese restaurant and ordering an Indian dish. The Angus town is very famous for its bridies and it would have been rude not to mark a visit here without sampling one.
Th bridies on sale at the ground are supplied by Saddlers, one of the two main local bridie manufacturers (the other is McLarens), and with a wee splash of brown sauce on top, it went down a treat – even though we’d popped into the nearby North Street Chippy for a very good fish supper before the game!
With good fitba food on offer, a lively enough ninety minutes of football and an opportunity to catch up with some fellow supporters after the summer break, this was a really enjoyable start to my 2014-15 season. I’m hoping for much more of the same over the next eleven months.
Scoring: 1-0 Dale Hilson (44), 1-1 Kyle Jacobs (55)
Attendance: 200 (estimate)
Programme: none, but free teamsheet available
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