Groundhop 1881 – East Stirlingshire FC

Scottish Challenge Cup (Ramsdens Cup)
East Stirlingshire FCv Ayr United FC
Saturday, 28th July 2012, 3pm
Ochilview Park (Stenhousemuir FC)
Entrance £10, Programme £2
Distance 404 miles, Attendance 419
Outside, the Scottish summer rain once again blurred my view of Edinburgh’s terminal. For this my second trip to Scotland I was in search of the former Firs Park side, now tenants in Stenhousemuir, but I was shattered. When I’d desperately needed sleep to get to this wee small cup game, Danny Boyle had kept us all up to the wee small hours. Inside the cabin, my body hated me.

As I would be repeatedly told throughout the day, East Stirlingshire FC isn’t strictly an 1881 club but due a name change that year – from Bainsford Britannia – “Est.1881” was for many years incorporated on the club badge. Started by working men of the town’s iron foundries, The Shire rose to become Second Division Champions in 1932 however, despite a fair amount of regional success – and Alex Ferguson leaving his first managerial post after 117 days there – East Stirlingshire have never reached those heights again. They currently reside in the fourth tier of Scottish Football.
At the very helpful advice of Ian Fleming (Club Director, and Supporters Trust Chairman) my journey started a stone’s throw from their ancestral home in Bainsford, at the Club Shop where I was warmly greeted by Chairman Tony Ford and Secretary Tadek Kopszywa. They were deep in conversation about kit selection following the very late notification that Division 1 Ayr United only had a white kit. Witnessing the amiable Tad and Tony hard at work in a “closed” shop clearly reflected what I’d be continually told throughout the day about their incredible contribution to the club.
In the end East Stirlingshire ran out in their luminous orange change kit, and then promptly ran away with the game against the much higher placed opposition. There had been worries of injuries beforehand but, those that took to the 3G field did the home support proud. A cagey start was eventually broken on 28 minutes by a superb Michael Herd drive from the edge of the box which the keeper couldn’t keep out, and he repeated this feat just before the interval from near the penalty spot. They’d ridden their luck a little but going in 2-0 up resulted in some amusement in the Directors Lounge. Emerging again to driving rain, Ayr seemed determined for the fight back and shortly hit the mark courtesy of Mark Shankland, but neither the weather nor the goal would shift East Stirlingshire from their objective. When Scott Maxwell – minutes from time – finished off a breath-taking move, it was nothing short of what they’d deserved.


The noisy away fans had long since left but – in the main stand – there were beaming faces everywhere I looked. As the players celebrated this great Cup win with their supporters, Tad photographed the Man of the Match presentation to Michael Herd, and I offered my thanks to genial hosts Tony and Graeme Taylor before heading for the gate and my awaiting flight.
Five wonderful hours in the company of this wee side’s staff and supporters, had totally wiped away all my earlier concerns and exhaustion. It had been a fantastic day. The entertaining kit-clash exchange and the debate on how to cope with FIFA’s sock tape laws; the numerous recollections recounted in The Shire Lounge, the awkward two-sided Ochilview Park and its dual-aspect tea bar, the brightest kit in living memory, the hospitality of the club’s board, the zebras seen on the way out, and best of all, the fantastic kind of sporting display that makes being a football supporter worthwhile… as I skipped away on a cup football high, my head was buzzing.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Initially appearing in this season’s Watford FC matchday programmes, consequently Groundhop 1881 reports will appear late on here. At the end of the journey, a book will be published telling the full story.
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