Arbroath – The Pot of Gold at the End of the Rainbow!

Arbroath 1 v 1 Ayr Utd (22.02.2020) (Match Abandoned)

Arbroath. A classic ground-hopping outpost on the east coast of Scotland, best visited in winter when you can experience the full force of Mother Nature in a stadium that is literally located a stone’s throw from the North Sea! Gayfield Park, home of the ‘Red Lichties’ certainly ticks the ‘football ground close to the sea’ box, and after a quick bit of ‘google-ing’ Wikipedia suggests the stadium is a mere 5.5 yards from the sea’s high tide line. There’s a little bit of artistic licence on Wikipedia’s part there, as I paced it out at about 15 yards! Still, bloody close to the beach though! What I love about Gayfield Park’s unique location is if the football isn’t great, you can just turn your back on the action (or lack of it) and gaze out to sea instead!

If visiitng a football club and town that holds a host of records is what you’re after, then you need to get yourself up to Arbroath as soon as possible:

Record #1: The closest football stadium to the sea in the whole of European football.

Record #2: Arbroath hold the world record for the highest score, and biggest winning margin ever recorded: 36-0 v Bon Accord in the Scottish Cup in 1885. Apparently there were a few were disallowed for offside that night – can you imagine the chaos if they had VAR in 1885!

Record #3:  In the aforementioned game v Bon Accord, Jocky Petrie scored 13 times – which is still the record for the most goals scored by a single player in a British ‘senior’ football match.

Record #4: The only place in the world where you can savour a true Arbroath smokie. Google it, it’s a local delicacy!

The Arbroath experience also ticked off some personal firsts for me too:

  • The windiest game of football I’ve ever been too! You know one of those games where the goalkeeper takes a goal kick and the ball blows backwards and lands about 5 yards outside the penalty area.
  • The coldest game of football I’ve ever been too! I once saw Borussia Dortmund v Bayer Leverkusen in February 2012. It was -17 that day, but I can honestly say with the wind-chill factor here it felt much much colder on the Scottish coast.
  • The only game I’ve been too that’s been abandoned. More on that later.

With its three-sided terracing, Gayfield Park is full of old school charm and character, but is massively exposed to the elements. On a windy day like today it’s a form leveller for sure. Each of the three terraces has a centrally located roofed-section (imagine a large bus shelter and you’ll get the picture – or see the photo above!). This is where the ‘softies’ huddle when the wind doth blow! Depending on the wind direction, one of these roofed sections will provide some shielding from the elements; the other two are like being in a NASA wind tunnel! On the inland-side there is a small covered seated stand which covers half the length of the pitch, and this also doubles up as the prawn sandwich hospitality section. With that said, the easterly wind coming in off the North Sea smashes them right in the face, so perhaps it’s not as good as it looks! In fact a prawn could literally jump out of the sea, catch a gust, and be part of the freshest prawn sandwich platter you’re ever likely to have!

There are clearly better months of the year to venture up here to see a game, but February, off the back of Storm Dennis seemed as good as any, and if your going to do it, you might as well do it in style when the coastal elements are likely to be at their worst right? Pre-match, and about three hours before kick-off, there was a strong icy wind whipping up across the east coast. During a 45-minute stroll around Gayfield Park and the picturesque harbour area I was battered with high winds, rain, snow, hailstones, and then a welcome but brief glimpse of sunshine and blue sky. Essentially four seasons in under an hour!

There’s two main entry gates or turnstiles into Gayfield Park (off Dundee Road) and there is no away fans segregation once inside. You can walk round all four sides of the ground if you want too, and the corners of the East Terrace offer fantastic views out across the coastline and the North Sea.

The wind was ferociously strong in the lead up to kick off, and the classic cliché ‘a game of two halves’ was invented for match conditions such as these. Arbroath had the wind behind them in the first half, and you couldn’t help but think the winner of this game would be the team that could best exploit the swirling wind conditions to their own advantage – whether that was taking pot shots from distance, or by trying to cause havoc from set piece deliveries. As you can imagine, during the first half the ball spent most of its time in the Ayr Utd half, the gusts so strong that it took some effort for Ayr to even cross the half way line! The ball was literally all over the place. Most balls forward by Arbroath caught a gust of wind and either raced straight through to the keeper or out for a goal kick. In the opposite direction, any attempt from Ayr to play a lofted pass or a long ball forward would either swerve, curl, dip and generally get blown off course from its intended destination. The inability of the players to know how to play the conditions made for one of the most comedic halves of professional football I’ve ever seen!

After 15 minutes of being camped in their own half, and trying to work out how best to combat the ‘wind-against’, Ayr somehow managed to work a short pass combination close to the centre circle and release a neat low through ball to split the centre backs and put Ayr’s striker Aaron Drinan through on goal with a 1 v 1.  It took some effort for Drinan to move forwards with any real pace, but as he got within range of the 18 yard box he sent a sweetly struck right footed drive into the far right corner to put Ayr one up. The travelling Ayr Utd fans couldn’t believe their luck!

It was one way traffic after that as the ‘wind-assisted’ Arbroath mounted attack after attack. Corners were causing Ayr the most problems, as the dip and curl on the deliveries made it almost impossible to defend. There were some crazy goal mouth scrambles as Ayr desperately clung on to their lead. To be honest it felt like it would only be a matter of time before Arbroath got back on level terms, and the Arbroath equaliser came on 28 minutes – direct from a left footed in-swinging corner which caught a gust and rocketed in to the near post top corner! The F2 Freestylers would have been buzzing with the amount of swaz that Colin Hamilton got on his corner kick! Luckily, I was in the right place at the right time and managed to capture the freak goal on video, see below:

In all honesty Arbroath should have made more of their first half wind advantage, but as the half time whistle went, Ayr players must have been ecstatic to go in at 1-1! Surely, the hard work was done, and now it was their turn to bombard Arbroath!

But just as all the Arbroath fans had moved round the ground to congregate behind the goal on the south terrace, a stadium announcement rang out to confirm that the referee had abandoned the game due to the high winds. The decision caught everyone by surprise. The first half wind was relentless from kick off, so nothing had really changed. If the game had continued, it would have seemed fair, as both sides would have had a 45 minute experience of defending in exactly the same conditions. Not ideal conditions, but equality nonetheless!

Post-match rumours were rife on social media that Arbroath manager Dick Campbell had heaped pressure on the referee to abandon the game – disappointed that his team hadn’t taken advantage of the wind as much as they should have done, and that deep down he knew what was coming in the second half – an Ayr Utd onslaught!

Despite the disappointment of the abandonment, it didn’t take anything away from my long awaited visit to Gayfield Park. A classic old school ground, in a stunningly unique location – hopefully I’ll be back again sometime to get a full 90 in!

Here’s a few other photos from my Arbroath experience:

View down the East Terrace from the south east corner…

 

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