BY MARK GODFREY
OK, as epic journeys go it’s not quite up there with any of Scott or Shackleton’s adventures in Antarctica, but pledging myself to the ‘Road to Hampden’ is certainly going to stretch my powers of commitment to the limit. It is a project I have thought about for some time now and I had toyed with the idea last season but other things, including lack of confidence on my own ability to do justice to the task, took over. So here is my plan; chose a team to follow in the Scottish Cup, write about them, watch them, get to know them and cover their first round tie. Should they win, I will follow them to the next stage of the competition. Should they lose, however, I will then switch my allegiances to their conquerors and repeat the process in the next round until they are vanquished. I will then advance with my chosen team, whoever that may be, from round-to-round and try to bring some footballing insight, stories from the terraces and my own personal experiences along the way to liven up proceedings. It’s not an original idea, I’m sure. But I’m going to do it anyway and you’re all invited to join me along the way. And if no one else reads this blog, at least I can be pretty pleased with myself for doing something I enjoy.
So, now that I’ve decided to go through with this, I first had to make the big decision about which team to follow from the start of the competition and having poured over the Scottish Cup first round draw, the choice was a difficult one. Several teams and games looked interesting and had plenty of aspects that I could so easily have got my teeth into. For example there is the all-Ayrshire clash between Junior sides Girvan and the all-conquering Auchinleck Talbot. In the east, there is the Edinburgh derby between Edinburgh University and Spartans. Possibly the most noteworthy tie is the fabulously industrial-themed Inverurie Loco Works (a team founded by, well a locomotive works) and Burntisland Shipyard (yes, you’ve guessed it, a team born out of a shipyard). And although this game was my first option, sounding as it does like a challenge match between two ex-Soviet Union nationalised institutions, I took into account the fact that I don’t even live in Scotland and that, at certain points, I’m going to have to take geography into account. Therefore, to make it a little easier on myself at the beginning, I narrowed my sights on Coldstream, who, being based just a stone’s throw over the River Tweed from my home county of Northumberland, are the club within the easiest reach to go and watch. The ‘Streamers’ are paired with Wick Academy. I’ve never been further north than Inverness but I know Wick is even closer to the Arctic than that, so having considered the very likely possibility that they would win that game, it would make it difficult to follow them in the second round. I certainly didn’t envy the Wick Academy players having to make the 600 mile round trip for that one.
Another club from the Borders to play in the first round are Hawick Royal Albert, a great name in its own right and reasonably close to home, but in the end my mind was made up. The team that won me over were Hawick’s first round opponents, St. Cuthbert Wanderers. When I had thought about doing this last year, the Saints were the team I would have chosen. In the 2013-13 preliminary stage they were easily the club with the most obscure name and looking back through their results, they actually did very well considering they’re a tiny little outfit from the small town of Kirkcudbright in Dumfries and Galloway. The other deciding factor that swayed me was their goalkeeper, Jack Johnston, contacting me on Twitter making the case for St. Cuthbert. There’ll be more from Jack and the team in due course. So with his endorsement, the plans were drawn up.
First job, as it will be with all of the teams I follow on this expedition, was to do some background research about the town and the club. After scanning the ever-useful Wikipedia, I discovered that Kirkcudbright (pronounced Kir-koo-bree) is a variant derivation of the name Church or Chapel Cuthbert, with Cuthbert being the Anglo-Saxon saint from the Northumbrian island of Lindisfarne (the name of a school I once attended so there’s a tenuous connection) whose remains were interred in the town for seven years and who lends his name to football team. Very little else of notable remark can be said of Kirkcudbright except that locations around the town were used in the cult 1973 horror film, The Wicker Man(the excellent version starring Edward Woodward, not the god-awful remake with the perpetually terrible Nicholas Cage).
The town’s football club, St. Cuthbert Wanderers, were formed by members of the Catholic church of the same name in 1879 and are one of the South of Scotland League’s oldest clubs. ‘The Saints’ have been champions on 12 occasions. According to their website, the club’s ground at St. Mary’s Park can accommodate 2,500 spectators, although attendances for home games are usually around the 100 mark, and has only just had floodlights fitted in the last decade. Club secretary, James Richardson, a lifelong supporter of the Saints who has been in the role for the last five years explained, “Currently the pitch is being transformed into a 3G surface which is due to be completed by mid-September. We have a covered terracing being built as well which will hold 150 people. The Club are working towards the Club License so we can stay members of the SFA. In the future we plan to renovate our changing rooms.”
Far from struggling in the present economic climate as so many small clubs are, Wanderers are thriving but expectations for the coming season will remain realistic. According to James, “The club’s attendances have gone up during the recession which is always a boost to any club. This season is all change in the Club on both the playing and facility side of things. We have a new manager in place, Ade Stovell, who has had to rebuild almost the entire squad. We’d love a good run in the Scottish Cup as would any team who is in it, but we’re keeping our heads down and we’ll see how the season pans out”.
Richardson, who is full of praise for the new boss and the team he is building added, “Stovell is a former fitness coach with Bolton Wanderers, West Brom and Nottingham Forest and also spent time in the RAF. The new manager likes to have the game played on the ground and attractive football. We have a young side who are hungry for success.”
Part of that young side is the aforementioned Jack Johnston. The young keeper signed for St.Cuthbert’s at the beginning of the 2012-13 season having previously played for Abbey Vale and Annan Athletic under-19’s. Jack is also captain of the Glasgow Caledonian University side where he attends with three of his team mates. I spoke with Jack recently and he was relatively happy with the first round draw at Hawick, “Although there are no easy matches in the Scottish cup, I think the lads were generally very pleased with the draw. There was potential for us to get a tough draw away to a highland league side or a top Lowland side, so seeing as we have drawn an East Division 1 team I don’t think we could have asked for a better chance. The draw has been incredibly unkind to us in previous years, especially last year when we were drawn away to Highland league side, Keith, in the preliminary round, and away to both Edinburgh University and finally a strong Elgin side. Although I had given up hope on any home fixtures in the cup, I feel the draw has shined more favourably upon us this year. Are we the favourites or the underdogs for this game? You’d have to ask the bookies about that!”
The hope for Wanderers was that victory could throw up a second round tie with local SPFL club, Annan Athletic, and any progression past round two brings the possibility of more local interest in Queen of the South entering the draw alongside Rangers.
Being paired against a league club would be a dream for the Saints’ players. Their squad is littered with the usual mélange of bakers, factory workers, quantity surveyors, students and roofers, one of which is Jim Kirk, who Johnston affectionately refers to as “a few players short of a squad”.
Jack also singled out some those who will be Saints’ key players in the game with Hawick,”At the end of last season our manager resigned and this led to a mass change in playing staff. Our former assistant manager, Ade Stovell, took over the job as manager and he’s done a terrific job in assembling a talented young squad in which he only had four players from the previous season to pick from. In terms of key players, Craig Rudd is certainly one of our danger men. Ruddy has scored well over a 100 goals for Saints, in only a handful of seasons. As well as Ruddy, Grant Middlemiss has made a great start to this season and has caused every team we’ve played a number of problems and grabbed himself a good few goals in the process. Although we have a very young side, we have a good mix of experienced lads as well in Jim Kirk, Adam Johnstone and Raymond “Razor” Gordon”.
With the countdown on to the first round showdown at Albert Park, Saints boss, Stovell, first has a Cree Lodge Cup game against Lochar Thistle to deal with. He will be hoping to carry some good form forward into the Hawick RA game, whereas I just hope to be there on September 14th to see them advance to the next stage. Either way, you can find out how St. Cuthbert Wanderers get on, right here on The Football Pink.