Sunday, 19 August 2007

"Football is where a guy gets stabbed in the back, and instead of dying, he sings."

Queen of the South vs St. Johnstone

With apologies to Robbie Burns.

This, readers, was how football should be. Goals, enthusiasm from the players, occasional flashes of skill, plenty of local character in the groundscape, and a big old echo-chamber of a terrace upon which to perch one's ample self.

Ground full of character

Portland Park, home of Queen of the South, hosts Scottish football's largest remaining standing area, the Portland Drive Terrace. It's a throwback in steel and blue Dulux, being rather louder and loftier than the rest of the ground, and with just the one tiny hatch at the top dispensing more Ribena than you've ever seen in one place.

One thing I love with traditional grounds is the way the stands are flanked by huge floodlight pylons, and in this case four halogen beacons stand proudly above the town and its attractive position on the River Nith.

Scotland's largest remaining terrace

We had taken the train north to Dumfries, home of Robert Burns, following a rather sodden night's camping in the Lakes (Tesco Value Tent -£7.99 - its purchaser did claim it was the next model up from value, and insisted that 'value' or not, there shouldn't be any difference in the quality of waterproofing; anyway, I digress...)

It was a welcome, warm day with blue skies, the first day of the Scottish season. These things make a difference to the great unwashed (I'd had a shower, but then I'm not a real groundhopper in the overnight-train-across-three-European-countries-with-all-your-clothes-hung-out-to-dry sense). We mooched around the very pleasant town centre and decided to plump for a themey-looking pub called the Hole i' th' Wa', which turned out to be the fans' local, full of Doonhamers watching Inverness Caledonian Thistle take on Rangers (more on the QoS nickname and the pub-quiz Bible thing here - I also heard a couple of people cheering on the 'Rievers,' but I've no idea how widespread that one is). Anyhow, for once, Mr. Murdoch and Co. did me a favour. Calie's ground, whilst modern, does appear to have plenty of uniqueness, with a view across the water and over to the mountains. It joins Ross County on my all-new Highland hitlist.

After we'd sunk a couple of 70'- , we made for the ground, just across the river from the town centre and round the back of an ice rink. The stadium filled nicely, though the open terrace was closed. At this time of year, it's nice when you can saunter round the side of the pitch and into a sunny spot. In so doing we got a better view of the impressive terracing where we stood during the first half. Apart from the (I guess) obligatory guy with a drum in a kilt, there was also a woman with an old-fashioned football rattle, something I got for Christmas when I was six, but that I've never seen at a ground.


The match was excellent, ending 3-3 - though very much a case of two-nil up (including a missed penalty, and you all know the rest) when St. Johnstone got their equaliser on 89. The Doonhamers' Steve Dobbie looked especially worthy of the 'great touch for a big man' cliches. His opener, a smart lob from twenty yards after three minutes, was the first of many great touches - skilful, strong, but not too quick, a bit like our own Pawel Abbott.

QoS score from the spot

An appreciative and upbeat crowd in a superb football setting helped make this a great experience. As Scottish fans will know, it's just great to have football back a week earlier than everyone else. As one columnist wrote in last month's WSC, "we need football like we need air."

That just about sums it up, regardless of the absurdities.

Home fans

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