Scottish Division 1
Settle in, this is almost novel length.
The alarm goes off far too early.
It was a late night. Emma & I invited our friend Paul over for his dinner and before we knew it it was 2.15am and I had to be up for 8am as we had to be in Stirling for 10.30am.
You'll have seen it was my old man's birthday earlier this month and one of his presents was a family photography session. Strange the things you ask for as you get older.
I was a wee bit dusty this morning and my decision to forgo breakfast for an extra twenty minutes or so in bed was a mistake as I took me even longer than normal to feel awake. Emma & I took only an hour or so to get from flat to photo studio and unbelievably we weren't the last to arrive. My sister was already there with her husband, Alan and their two boys, Boyd and Max.
When the rest of the clan arrived we headed into the studio for our time in front of the camera. I'm hoping the photographer has a good knowledge of photo shop that's all I'm saying.
After the photo session we've got just enough time to nip back to my sister's house in Stirling for a quick clothes change before heading off to the Doubletree Dunblane Stadium. Today my dad and I are being taken for the full hospitality treatment at the Stirling Albion v Dundee game by my brother-in-law Alan.
Alan works for Prudential and they sponsor the home side; as such they have access to three tickets for each home game. He won't let on how much he's paid for today or accept any money from us as payment. He's a good lad Alan, so much so I've managed to get beyond the fact he's a Rangers fan. My dad and I have done well from this year from Alan and Isla. Isla bought us the tickets for the Rangers v Manchester United Champions League game earlier this season. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank them for their generosity.
We're dropped off at the ground by my sister and Alan shows us the pitches were Boyd trains every Tuesday with the Young Reds.
Disappointingly we couldn't find a sign showing that this was Stirling Albion's home ground and were therefore unable to take the usual photo. Hopefully we'll get something later on.
Alan then led us into the reception area where we are greeted by Steven Leiper, one of the Club Executives, who used to be Alan's boss at The Prudential. Steven directs us up the stairs towards the Board Room. The Board Room at Stirling is no bigger than your average lounge but it's walls are covered in memorabilia, photo's of Stirling teams from the past thirty or so years adorn most of the space but there is a small section given over to pendants from various clubs to have played at Stirling over the years. In the corner of the room beside the drinks trolley is a small trophy case. It's mostly full of glasses but on the top the trophies picked up over the years.
We're met in the room by David McFarlane, another member of the Club Executive Team, who asks us if we would like a drink, Alan and I plump for a Budweiser whilst my dad settles for a diet coke. David then asks us if we'd like to buy a book of half time draw tickets. A book, not a ticket. Still for a fiver I'll take the opportunity, my numbers might come up as it should be a big crowd today.
Since going into administration in October, Dundee are unbeaten and if they hadn't been deducted 25 points they would be top of the table and they'll no doubt bring a big crowd with them today. David tells us that they've been informed by Dundee that they should be bringing 1000 fans with them today. He goes on to inform us that it's been 37 years since Stirling last beat Dundee.
It's not to long before we're taken along to our suite for the afternoon and asked if any further drinks are required. Alan and I take another Bud, well you might as well make the most of these things eh? As we take our seats we're each handed a free programme and team sheet for the match. The programme was in fact a double issue as it covered Tuesday's game with Morton as well. A quick look at the programme informs me that Brian Winter is the referee today. There goes any chance of a decent game.
Next in to speak to us is Paul Goodwin and he gives a potted history of Stirling Albion. For many years the finance of a major shareholder supported Stirling Albion. Back in May 2009 a group of supporters got together to form the group 'Buy Stirling Albion' with the aim of raising enough money in the local community to buy out the single shareholder. The campaign lasted over a year and they got some high profile support from the likes of Andy Murray and Ronaldo but the real success came from the sale of £40 shares in the club. One person could only buy one share and this meant that not one person could be in the majority.
In July 2010 it was announced that they had raised the required sum and the Stirling Albion Supporters Trust bought the club. Each member of the Trust is eligible to become a member of the board and influence decisions. Stirling Albion became the first side in Scotland to be owned 100% by its supporters.
Immediate decisions had to be made by the Trust to keep the club afloat in these hard financial times and the decision was made to cut £100,000 from the operating budget for this season.
In our suite there are several others and a couple of them are from Dundee FC. The banter flows quickly after Alan points out the odyssey my dad and I are on. The boys from Dundee want to know how we rated them and their pie.
Lunch is then served and I'd be lying if I said it wasn't lovely. Lentil Soup to start, followed by a huge portion of steak pie with all the trimmings and chocolate gateaux with cream to finish.
Stirling Albion manager Jocky Scott is introduced to the room and he gives us a brief talk on his thoughts on today's game, his plans are for the side and how he's worked his players hard all week in the run up to the game but once his players stepped over the line there was little other than a wee bit tinkering he could do for them. He talks about the great run Dundee are on and how he'd love it if his side brought that run to an end. Jocky was sacked by Dundee last season whilst the Tayside club were top of Division One.
We've just got time before kick off to visit the Club shop so my dad can buy a pin badge for his bonnet. I'm not sure what the figure is up to now but he must have bought at least twenty or so.
Making our way back upstairs we're ushered outside to our seat just in time to hear the stadium announcer say 'Welcome to Alan Ferrol from Prudential and his guests Arnold & David Pattison. Arnold and David are visiting every home ground in Scotland this season and are even writing a blog about it. See what they have to say about today's game at Aroundthegroudsin42days.blogspot.com'. Nae pressure there then.
As we make our way into our seats we notice they're padded and have arm rests. I'm delighted as I've had a sore back since the Dundee United game three weeks ago. Looking across to the far side of the ground we can see that Dundee have filled the opposite stand and the small terracing area behind the goal. They're a right nosy bunch too.
Stirling had the first chance when from a corner Gordon Smith flicked a header towards the back post but Nicky Riley had plenty of time to clear it off the line. Ten minutes in, Greg McDonald crumbles to the ground with no-one near him. His pain is obvious to all and after a few minutes he's stretchered off and straight down the tunnel. Jocky Scott sent on substitute Sean Walsh and changed the formation to a 4-4-2.
It was all of sixteen minutes before Brian Winter gave his first card of the day, a yellow, for Dundee's Craig McKeown. The ref is having one another of his stop start type of games, blowing his whistle for the slightest of touches.
Dundee took the lead ten minutes before the end of the half. Forsyth played a great first time ball down the wing to Lockwood, who used his pace to get to the byline and send over a great cross. Sean Higgins was all alone to power a header past Scott Chritie in goal.
Those of a Stirling persuasion in the Directors box curse the fact that the keeper didn't come out and claim the ball before the striker. The Dundee contingent can't believe that Higgins, the smallest man on the park has scored with a header.
Straight from the kick off Dundee went on the attack again and Christie does well to stop O'Neil's rocket from 25 yards. The away fans, who to be honest have not stopped singing since before kick-off are having a great time behind the goal and there is a small section who seem to have been doing 'the bouncy' for about the last half hour.
Five minutes before the break, Borris is chopped down on the edge of the box by Weston. The foul is awarded and Weston booked. Chris Aitken hits a great free kick around the wall and it looks set for the corner until Rab Douglas makes a brilliant one handed save to deny him the equaliser.
The half time whistle goes and we're whisked back inside out of the cold.
Earlier in the week when my dad phoned to tell me that we were getting the hospitality treatment at Stirling one of the first things I ask is - what about the half time pie?. My dad laughs as he tells me he asked Alan exactly the same question. Alan assured him that we would be allowed to nip out and get one. Plenty of time though I'm taking the opportunity of a warm cup of tea in a hot room with the half time scores on the box.
In the room we're pleasantly surprised to see that there are scotch pies on offer anyway. Soon as my dad takes a bite of his the room ask what the thinks of it. Even though we're guests of the club it's good to hear my dad tell it like is - the crust is too dry but it has a good filling though. It's a seven out of ten he announces. This leads to questions over where has been the worst, best etc. Few are surprised to hear that the Rangers pie scored poorly, Aberdeen so highly and especially that there near neighbours Dundee United are, along with Livingston, the most expensive.
Looking up at the half time scores I notice Aberdeen are beating Kilmarnock two nil. My dad comes out with his usual excuse that the referee must be cheating his side.
We wait as long as possible in the warmth before venturing back outside for the second half.
Stirling start the second half brightly and a cross into the Dundee box is flicked on towards the back post but unfortunately its just beyond the attacker at the back post. Moments later a lovely free kick is floated into the box by Borris, all it needed was a faint touch to deflect it past the keeper but no one took the chance to get on the end of it.
Dundee fought back and an O'Donnell corner was met by Forsyth and his header was just the wrong side of the post.
Stirling went close again on the hour mark when Smith played a great reverse ball to the feet of Mullan who cut back on to his left and took a shot, which went just over. Sean Welsh is next to try his luck with a shot that had Douglas scrambling to tip it round for a corner.
With twenty five minutes to go Dundee's right back Gary Irvine made a crude two footed challenge on the Stirling captain Ross Forysth. It was a poor tackle and referee Winter made the correct decision reaching for the red card.
There's another flash point ten minutes later when Rab Douglas totally over reacted to a sliding challenge from Doyle and it looks like things could boil over. Doyle had every right to go for the ball and from where we were sitting it looked like he tried to pull out of the challenge when he realised the keeper would get to it first. The referee books them both and Weston for getting involved.
Stephen Stirling then has an effort which Douglas does well to save. That's four or five great saves from the Dundee keeper and he's kept his side in this.
Stirlings Scott Buist becomes the seventh player booked ten minutes before full time with a professional foul on Riley as he aimed to race clear.
Three minutes before the final whistle Borris almost even things up but his header from twelve yards went agonisingly wide.
At the final whistle the Dundee fans were jubilant, they'd rode their luck after the sending off and had Douglas to thank for some wonderful saves but they were leaving with the unbeaten run intact and with an amazing 31 out of 33 possible points.
For the record Brian Winter booked seven and sent off one.
Normally that would be us off to the car for the drive home but not today; today we're heading back to the suite for a beverage, Final Score and a chat with the fellas. The Stirling boys are downbeat and resigned to the fact that they are calling out for a goal scorer. For all their possession in the last twenty minutes they lacked that final pass or creative decision. They talk about how their a better side under Jocky Scott and how they hope for more luck and points from the remaining games. The Dundee boys are thankful for the three points and look forward to the trip to Raith on Tuesday although they are critical of the Irvine challenge.
Watching the scores come through on the box I'm delighted to point out the final score at Pittodrie to my dad. Five nil to Aberdeen. First time we've won by five goals in eighteen years. He reckons the ref must have sent off the whole Kilmarnock team.
It's at this point a young fella in a Stirling Albion tracksuit comes in asking if there is an Alan Ferrol in the room. He introduces himself, Jason, and asks if we want to go down on to the pitch to get our photos taken. He's been informed about our blog and wants to offer us the opportunity for some pitch-side photos. We walk past the Sky TV reporter and camera man as well as a hoard of journalists waiting to interview the two managers. Jason bundles folks out the way to get a photo of us in the tunnel, he then walks us onto the pitch for pictures in the goal mouth and with the stand behind us. We're then taken inside towards the dressing rooms for further photos before being taken back upstairs. I made the mistake of letting Jason take all the photos on our little camera and am now informed that I must be sure to forward on the best ones for the next home programme with a section of the blog to go with it.
As days out go this has got to be one of the best of the trip so far. The facilities have been top class, we've been looked after from start to finish, the food was great, the game enjoyable and the staff have been attentive and entertaining.
Alan, thanks again for taking care of us today and anytime the tickets are available and you fancy coming again I'll be up for it.
We took so many photos today that I'll stick them up on a separate post.
Ticket: For my dad and I it was free today. Thanks again to Alan. Normal price - Adult £16 Concession £11
Programme: Free. Normal price £2.50
Pie: Free. Normal price £1.95
Pie Marks: 7 / 10
Mileage: 64 miles
Final Score: Stirling Albion 0 v Dundee 1
Man of the Match: Dad - Sean Higgins (Dundee), Alan - Stephen O'Donnell (Dundee), Me - Craig Forsyth (Dundee)
Fascinating Fact of the Day: Stirling Albion were the first British team to play in Japan. In 1966 they played the national side in a friendly and won 3 - 1.
Next game: Rugby Park (Kilmarnock)