BY MARK GODFREY
Our Scottish Cup journey rolls on apace with two rounds taking place in November. The third round, which saw us highlight Junior club Auchinleck Talbot, was packed with drama. Their first game against Stranraer at Stair Park ended 2-2 after the hosts from Dumfries and Galloway bagged an injury time equaliser to force a replay in Ayrshire. The second meeting at Talbot’s Beechwood Park had just as many talking points. The League 1 club were two goals up by half time thanks to the previous week’s saviour, Jamie Longworth. But Auchinleck stubbornly fought back to parity in the second period with goals by Latta and Gormley. As the tie looked destined for extra time, Grant Gallagher broke Auchinleck hearts with a winner just two minutes from the final whistle.
So, having briefly championed Auchinleck for one round of the competition, we switch our allegiance yet again, to their conquerors, Stranraer.
As per our format from earlier rounds, what is there to know about the town itself?
Well, until recently, it’s port was best known for being the departure and arrival point for the Belfast ferry, lying as it does, on the south western tip of Scotland, just 40 miles from the capital of Northern Ireland. However two years ago, Stena Line transferred their ferry service a few miles north to the port at Old House Point, north of Cairnryan.
Stranraer has a population of around 13,000 and with European Union assistance, is currently undergoing redevelopment. During World War II, as well as being key to anti-U Boat operations, the town was a brief stopping point for Prime Minister Winston Churchill en route to the United States, where he travelled on a flying boat across the Atlantic (not the model of aircraft named after the town – the Supermarine Stranraer). Former Scotland internationals Colin Calderwood and Kevin Kyle are natives of the town (I don’t suppose any of you ever thought you would see an article with Kevin Kyle’s name in the same paragraph as Sir Winston Churchill’s). Otherwise, Stranraer seems to be yet another of the unremarkable, average towns that are abundant throughout the British Isles. I’ve never been there myself – yet – but I once had a work colleague who hailed from Stranraer. He moved to Sunderland and claimed that the Wearside city was a vast improvement. Take that as you wish.
And what of the club? It was formed in 1870, making it the third oldest in Scotland after Queens Park and Kilmarnock. They took up residence at their current Stair Park home in 1907. They have been winners of the third tier of Scottish football twice (1993-94 and 1997-98) and the fourth tier on just one occasion in 2003-04. It’s in the third tier(League 1) that they find themselves now after the recent the restructuring of Scottish league football. The club’s record victory came against St.Cuthbert Wanderers, (our companions for the first two rounds of this season’s Scottish Cup) 9-0 in 2010, matching that again the following year against Wigtown. Their heaviest defeat came way back in 1932 when they were hammered 1-11 by rivals, Queen of the South.
The current crop of players are managed by former Blues’ midfielder, Stephen Aitken, who took charge in October 2012. Aitken guided Stranraer to a third from bottom finish in what was the second division in 2012-13 and so far this season, in what is now League 1, they find themselves bobbing around in mid-table – the division being dominated by fallen giants, Rangers.
After Manchester United legend Sir Alex Ferguson drew League 2 club Clyde as the home team, Neil Cooper of competition sponsors, William Hill, drew out the winners of the Stranraer/Auchinleck tie as the visitors to Clyde’s Broadwood Stadium on Saturday 30th November. The North Lanarkshire club, who are investigating a move to East Kilbride, closer to their roots in Rutherglen, are managed by the experienced Jim Duffy. The Bully Wee finished second bottom of the Scottish Third Division last season but have started the present campaign off well and have manoeuvred themselves into the position as potential promotion chasers.
The tie promises to be a very tight affair. Both clubs are stingy when it comes to giving goals away, but they are also lacking potency in front of goal; managing just a paltry 22 goals between them from a combined total of 22 league games (as of 11/11/13). Being the higher placed league side probably just gives Stranraer the edge but both teams will be going all out for victory now that the big boys of the Premier League are involved in the competition and the all-important financially rewarding draws are on offer for whichever of these two can progress to the fifth round.
Speaking of the 5th round, that will be the earliest opportunity I get to join Stranraer (or Clyde) on the Road to Hampden. The day of the 4th round game in Cumbernauld, yours truly is on his Stag Do in Glasgow (you’re all invited, by the way) and therefore I will be taking in Partick vs. Aberdeen at Firhill, going to watch Junior side Pollok if they’re at home or I’ll be on the lash nice and early.
Before the big day, we’ll try to bring you some news from the Stranraer camp so keep updated here on The Road to Hampden.