April saw the Free Kicks Foundation take on a new challenge as 8 hardy fundraisers tackled the task of visiting all 41 Scottish League grounds in 48 hours. Chris Dowsett tells us about the trip from the team who started on the east coast and included Steve Thorpe, Sam Downing and Andy Mason. The other team that started in the west were Andy Mills, Mick Canham, Dawn Livingstone and James Cruickshank
Leaving Peterborough in miserable driving conditions the two teams headed north to their respective bases of Carlisle and Berwick as they faced two solid days on the roads of Scotland. Both teams set off in different directions, meeting each other in Inverness at the end of the first day.
Our car arrived in Berwick at gone 11pm and after a few hours sleep awoke at 6am to visit the first ground of the trip, Third Division Berwick Rangers, on the English side of the border. After an unspectacular welcoming party of a bemused man and his dog, we headed off to Edinburgh to visit city rivals Hearts and Hibs. We were too early at Hibs so were denied the opportunity to have a look around Easter Road but were offered the opportunity to be snapped with a football cow (I still have no idea what that was all about!), while Hearts let us waltz into Tynecastle to take pictures of an empty stadium.
Short drives up the east coast took us to Livingston and Dunfermline before we reached Cowdenbeath, possibly one of the quirkiest grounds in the country. Once negotiating our way through the market in the car park, we were greeted by one of the club’s staff, who took us onto the pitch and across the dirt track that also serves as a stock car venue. To say the pitch was a disgrace was an understatement, I’ve played on better park pitches, but the highlight was the scorch marks on the turf caused by the cars skidding off the track in the race meets!
Visits to both Dundee clubs, Raith, East Fife, Forfar and a very rundown and shut Arbroath followed before we visited Brechin City and ruefully missing the famous hedge at the side of the pitch. A change of drivers at Brechin, as your writer finally let go off the steering wheel (no doubt to the relief of the others), saw Steve guide us to the short distance to Montrose, another dilapidated ground at the end of a cul-de-sac in a picturesque little town. This ground was memorable for its ramshackle nature and the fact that the players’ entrance glass door appeared not to have been cleaned since it was installed!
Late afternoon took us to Aberdeen, as we battled through the rush hour in the Granite City. Helpfully the Sat Nav got in the act to aid our cause as it guided us to a housing estate, a mile from Pittodrie. On arrival we were greeted by Steve’s old school friend, Paul Fairweather, and a friend of Free Kicks Foundation, Morag Harvey, who had travelled down especially to see four tired drivers. Leaving the coast we headed to Peterhead via a quick stop in McDonalds to drink them out of caffeine. On arrival we were invited onto the pitch in the pouring rain before we encountered the long drive further north to Borough Briggs, home of Elgin City. This stretch of the trip took longer than expected as one of our party took the opportunity to sit in the back of a police car and arrived back 20 minutes later, £60 lighter. Apparently fundraising isn’t an acceptable excuse.
The final few grounds of the day saw us arrive at newly-promoted Ross County and Inverness Caledonian Thistle before finally arriving at our hotel arriving 11pm, joing forces with the other team. Day one done, but more to do the following day.
After a harrowing alarm call at 5.30am, we set off on a 170 mile drive to St.Johnstone via a quick stop at Loch Ness. Nessie was still asleep, as we wished we were, but the drive down the M8 took in some fabulous scenery with the mountain stops still covered in snow. Facts that you’ll never know or even care about include that there is not one service station on the road, but there are 130 lay-bys. If that comes up in a pub quiz, you’ll thank me.
We arrived in the town of Perth in good time and after devouring a Tesco breakfast we somehow managed to get lost on the way from the supermarket to the ground, a mere 0.2 miles in distance. The staff at St. Johnstone were absolutely fantastic and Steve Lomas, the manager at McDiarmind Park had his photo taken with us, recompence for making us wait while he was interviewed for local TV, to look at the pitch.
The next stop was Stirling Albion, whose ground was attached to the local community centre before we headed to Alloa. The groundsman at Clackmannan Park let us roam and after taking photos in the goalmouth of the 3G pitch, we decided to have a penalty shoot-out. Shamefully I once again showed my lack of football ability and saw my tame spot kick saved.
Our next stadium saw us visit the only ground share in Scotland – Stenhousemuir and East Stirling, although you would never know East Stirling played there by lack of representation all over the stadium. After having photos with the groundsman’s dog (there’s clearly a theme here) we headed to Falkirk. Now Falkirk possesses a fantastic ground for a club in the second tier of Scottish football, but you can’t help but feel for the residents who would have much preferred the money being spent on the town. Having said that Elton John was due to appear there in concert, so they can’t have it both ways.
After a quick stop at Clyde, followed by much needed coffee, we proceeded onto Albion Rovers. On arrival we were harrassed by the groundsman who asked us if we were part of the Associated Press – apparently the club had received some bad coverage regarding their ground (not hard to see why) while we were happily taking photographs. Eventually he lightened up and even cracked a smile by the time we left.
The next ground on the agenda was Airdrie United and after a long but pleasant chat with their managing director, we headed to Fir Park, Motherwell, where once again we were allowed onto the hallowed turf. A brief look at Hamilton ensued, before we visited our first big stadium of the day, Hampden Park, home of minnows Queen’s Park.
This is a rather curious scenario as Scotland’s national stadium holds 52,000 yet the Third Division club, the only amateur team in the Scottish football league, attract 800 “on a good day”. We were finally allowed in to Hampden after pleading with the administrative staff, and were given a full brief of the history and it’s future plans by the stadium museum manager once inside.
Remaining in Glasgow we headed to Ibrox and were treated to a full stadium tour visiting the pitch, dressing rooms, press areas and, most impressively, the trophy rooms. The experience was fantastic and we can’t thank the staff at Glasgow Rangers FC enough. At this point, we had been let in to every ground during the day, however, the experience at Ibrox lasted well over an hour and as a result we were unable to get to Celtic in time to enjoy similar. Yet to compensate we had photos taken with the Jock Stein statue outside before heading to Partick Thistle.
Following this our time management started to be shot to pieces. Already two hours behind we became stuck in Glasgow’s Friday night rush hour traffic and after a well needed stop for food (McDonald’s again if you wondered) we arrived at St.Mirren after several attempts to get hopelessly lost in Paisley.
As the darkness drifted in, we headed to Dumbarton, one of the most scenic grounds in the country, and were invited in by virtue of the stadium holding a wedding that night. The club’s receptionist showed complete and utter disregard for the pitch, despite there being a game there the next day, and let us trample all over it taking pictures. In the next few hours we visited Greenock Morton, Kilmarnock and Ayr United as dusk fell, and after an arduous drive on winding roads, arrived at Stair Park, Stranraer at midnight. Once the local constabulary had visited us – the second time on the trip – and checked we weren’t up to despicable things in a park in the middle of the night we faced another two hour drive to Queen of the South on shoddy roads and deteriorating driving conditions.
Arriving at the ground at 2.30am we made the decision that after 21 hours driving we would look to stay in Dumfries to get what little sleep we could, and visit our last ground Annan Athletic very early the following morning. However, after a debacle at the local Travelodge we decided to fight our weariness and visit Galabank that night before heading south of the border to Carlisle to stay in our original hotel. After eventually discovering it, via an eight mile detour on the M6 and a game of find the receptionist we headed to bed at 4am, a full 23 hours since we had last slept.
Two hours later we were up again and on the road, travelling back to Peterborough and despite being thoroughly shattered we arrived back in the city at 11am and at London Road well in time for Posh’s last game of the season versus Watford.
Our car had managed 1772 in just over 42 hours and despite mental and physical exhaustion, we immensely enjoyed our trip, raising a fantastic total of £2,100 to date.
We would like to thank the car company, the football clubs in Scotland, Nick Fairbairn at BBC Radio Cambridgeshire and Matt Reville at the Peterborough Telegraph for giving us the opportunity to publicise the trip. And a final big thank you goes to everyone who sponsored us and supported us along the way, all the messages and gestures were of enormous help.
More pictures from west team here
And from the east team here