The Football Pink is pleased to have Stranraer midfielder Steven Bell reporting on his side’s fourth round Scottish Cup tie as we continue our journey on the Road to Hampden.
This weekend Stranraer FC took on Clyde FC with the prize being a place in the last 16 of the Scottish Cup. Not only was this a massive game financially for both clubs as the winners face the prospect of being paired with a Premier League club, but it’s also a chance for the players to prove themselves at the highest level in Scottish football.
On a personal note just to be back involved in football is special enough, however the chance to reach the last 16 of the Scottish Cup is extra special. In 2010, I ruptured my Achilles tendon whilst playing with Dunfermline. 36 months and six operations later I’m finally back doing what I love; playing football. Not only has it been a tough time for me, but also my family, and without their help and support I couldn’t have made it back. I still have a long way to go before I feel I’m over the worst regarding my injury. Recently I’ve been feeling the odd niggle which has stopped me from training so I will just have to wait and see how it reacts after the next few games.
Stranraer offered me the chance to come along and play a trial match in early October after the gaffer (Stevie Aitken) saw me playing in a charity match in late September. I’ve known him for a number of years now as I played with his younger brother, Chris Aitken, at Stirling Albion so when he saw I was back playing in some capacity he was keen to offer me the chance to show if I was fit or not. After a friendly and three trial matches, I was offered a deal until January which gives me more time to prove my fitness and hopefully prove my ankle problems are behind me.
Before joining Stranraer, I had the chance to join a few others clubs, however, I know a few boys at the club and I liked the staff also. Alan Waddle is first team coach and Steven Farell is assistant manager to Stevie Aitken. They have been in the dugout for just over a year now and have already built up a very good CV for themselves for the job they are doing. In their first season they saved the club from relegation and this year the club’s aim again will be to stay in the division. After a sluggish start to the campaign, results have picked up and in the last nine games we have won seven, drawn one and lost one and that defeat was against Dunfermline. We as players know how far we can go as a team but it’s up to us to make sure we strive to get what we deserve.
Training has been a very high standard and that’s all down to the coaching. As a player if the coaching isn’t a good standard, players will lose concentration and standards will inevitably slip. I firmly believe that’s why we are in such good form.
What has also been a great help to me getting back into the game has been the lads I’m playing along side.
There a many characters in the team and none more so than ‘The Herbalife Boys’. Frank McKeown (Franco), Chris Aitken (Tiff) and Mark Docherty (Sparky) are all independent distributors of Herbalife. Herbalife is a nutrition company aimed at helping people lose weight and get into good shape. Herbalife is all the chat in the dressing room and Sparky just never shuts up about it.
There is always at least one player at every club I’ve been at just like Sparky. His banter is rubbish, his gear even worse! He walked into training with a terrible Nike bomber jacket on last week and it was safe to say the boys weren’t having it. Sparky also wears these ankle flip flops in the showers and it’s beyond me how no one has cut them up yet! He says he got them five years ago in Bulgaria on holiday yet I’d say they’re at least a decade old!
Chis Aitken has been a friend of mine for over seven years and I had the pleasure of his company at my wedding in Cyprus. Chris has scored over 100 goals in his career from midfield but never lets on that 98 of them have been penalties and 50 of them were won by me! Outside the SPL I’d say there is no one better in the country at hitting a dead ball than Chris. This is a such a major asset for Stranraer and if Chris keeps his current form up we have a good chance of making the play-offs at the end of the season.
Some of the other lads are just as hilarious as the ones mentioned above. Grant Gallacher has the worst dress sense and wears his girlfriends green trainers to training. Jamie Longworth is the worst table tennis player at the club. David McKenna and Ryan Borris are like a married couple, always bickering and slagging each other off. Yet deep down they love each other.
Match day and we are meeting at the Glynhurst hotel in Paisley for a pre-match meal. The previous night saw a terrible disaster at the Clutha bar in Glasgow town centre. Our captain Frank McKeown is a fireman and was called to the Clutha during the night. It was a tough night for the big man as it was for many people in Glasgow but on a personal note I’d like to say what the big man did that night was a remarkably brave thing, and to then come and captain us after only an hour’s sleep speaks volumes for the man.
Just after pre-match, the gaffer told us the team and I was on the bench. Being out for as long as I was, I’m not going to moan about not playing. The boys have been magnificent in recent weeks so I was happy to support the boys from the bench.
Before the game we had a minute’s silence as a mark of respect for those involved in the tragedy the night before. Clyde came out the traps quickly and after 10 minutes could have been two up. McCluskey missed two gilt edged chances which looked easier to score than miss. However, their dominance paid off on the fifteenth minute when Stuart McColm was set free down the left hand side and was given too much space to deliver a pin point cross to the opposite wide man, Kieran McDonald, who bulleted a header beyond our keeper David Mitchell. 1-0 Clyde.
We hadn’t started playing yet and looked shocked at how good Clyde were playing. My cousin plays with Clyde and he has spoken about how good they are going forward and we just couldn’t deal with it. Ten minutes before half time we had a great chance to equalise when Grant Gallacher played in Chris Aitken. Chris shot across the keeper who in turn made a fantastic save to keep Clyde in the lead but it wasn’t to last much longer. On 44 minutes, Aitken picked up a loose ball in midfield and fed Grehan up front. The Clyde full back tackled him but only put the ball into the path of Longworth who powered through on goal, rounded the keeper with ease and slid it into the empty need to make it 1-1 against the run of play.
In the first five minutes of the second half, we were like a different team. The gaffer must’ve went off his head to put it politely. We looked sharper, more energetic, more hungry and we were soon pinning Clyde back in their own half. There weren’t many clear cut chances in the second half with both teams defending well and nullifying each other’s attacks. No team ever plays for a draw but I think the gaffer would have taken it after our first half performance.
With two minutes left, the gaffer made his third and final change and I was on! Only two weeks previous, I came on as a substitute and scored the winner so I was looking to do the same here. Within seconds, Sparky ran down the left with the ball and delivered a fantastic cross. Longworth and I were at the back post waiting on it, but as the ball got closer, it began to swerve further away and we were both inches away from tapping it into an empty net. What an introduction that would’ve been to the game! After the goal kick was taken the ref blew for full time. The game ended 1-1 and on reflection, we were lucky to still be in the Cup.
Before the game the gaffer asked us to still be in the Cup as a minimum, even if have to get through a replay. At home we fancy our chances against anyone. Our form has been fantastic with only one defeat in seven. Clyde will see this as a missed opportunity but that’s football. You have to take your chances whilst on top or you run the risk of drawing or losing.
The replay will be on the December 10th at Stair Park with both teams having league games the Saturday before. If we play like we did the first half we will be up against it, but if we play like we did in the second 45 minutes we will hopefully have too much for Clyde.
The fourth round draw that took place on Monday demonstrates how vital a win in the replay will be. Should we get past Clyde, we will take on SPL side Inverness Caledonian Thistle at home in the last 16 – just one game from the quarter finals!
Up until now our Scottish Cup run has been entertaining to say the least and we hope to still be in the hat for the next round come next Tuesday night.
YOU CAN FOLLOW STEVEN ON TWITTER @Stevy_Bell