Row Z’s mission is to explore, in a somewhat rambling way, the margins of football, searching-out the nooks and crannies which get overlooked. In this case the margins are geographic ones. Paisley, near Glasgow, may not be the edge of the world, but after driving from Southampton it feels like it. Legs stretched it’s time to watch some football….
I’ve always been fascinated by Scottish football, the names of the clubs held an otherworldly mysticism for my younger self when read out on the results service – my only link with the game in the dark days of the 1980s when Mum point-blank refused to entertain the notion of letting her little boy go anywhere near a football ground. Their exoticness was in sharp contrast with the more straightforwardly-functional names of the English leagues. Certainly there was nothing there to compete with the resplendently titled Queen of the South, or the luscious sounding Heart of Midlothian so finding myself in Paisley in order to spend Christmas with some of my wife’s family it seemed sensible to take the chance to watch the local team.
A satellite town of Glasgow, Paisley is most famous for the paisley pattern and slightly less so for It’s local football team St. Mirren. Currently playing in the Scottish Premier League, their last major honour come with winning the Scottish F.A cup in 1987. St. Mirren have recently moved to a new stadium, St. Mirren Park; It is there that I am heading, through industrial Paisley. Walking along the barren pavements, which would normally no doubt be deserted at this time of evening, potholed, littered with debris and with weeds clinging to the nooks and crannies, I, along with my hosts – fervent Mirren fans, melt into the stream of people heading to the ground. In the space of two minutes I’m brought up to date on the clubs recent history; The old ground at Love Street, was bought by Tesco’s (who else) and the proceeds of the sale funded the new ground which was now looming up-ahead like a large brightly lit silver-grey UFO. St. Mirren are, I am told, the only debt free SPL team and manage maintain a toe-hold in the upper reaches of Scottish football by some wise-headed dealing in the transfer market.
Though it’s quite mild at this time, as it’s December, I decide that a scarf might be a wise purchase. Reaching the ground I’m pointed toward the club shop, walking past the VIP entrance where a handful of youth players are milling around dressed head-to-toe in their training tracksuits. The St. Mirren shop reminds of the old club shop at the Dell, before the world had heard of the term ‘club megastore’. There seems to be more empty space than merchandise, but there is everything a supporter would need; Home and away kits, mugs, pictures of the old ground and what I’m looking for, scarves – a choice of three; It’s a far cry from the excesses of the English premier league where club shops offer ever more outlandish trinkets adorned with the club crest; A set of Chelsea F.C gardening tools yours for £9.99, or perhaps a sky-blue Manchester City bra for the ladies, a snip at £30. I choose my scarf, one with a club crest, pay my £10 and leave.
In a nod to some automated future entry to the ground is gained by placing the bar-code on the ticket into a reader which activates the turn-style granting you access into the concrete bowels of the stadium. A short walk to the surface and I’m taking up my seat, behind the goal facing the away end. Nearby the mascot Paisley Panda is handing out selection packs to the kids lending a festive air to proceedings. The ground with a capacity of just over 8000 is cosy. Not too big, or not too small it is the ground of a club comfortable with it’s place in the scheme of things. My seat gives me a good view and as a luxury a little bit of leg-room. What more could you ask for?
On the field St. Mirren have been sitting at the wrong end of the league. One reason for this, which becomes clear soon after kick-off, seems to be the St. Mirren approach to defending which Alan Hansen might be moved to call ‘Kamikaze’ if it hasn’t given rendered him speechless first. Sloppy marking, playing balls across goal, and passing in triangles when penned in by their own corner flag, but fortunately for the home side Motherwell fail to capitalise on these weaknesses, and when they do manage to summon up a good attempt on goal are they find themselves foiled by a superb save by the St. Mirren ‘keeper.
It was St. Mirren who took the lead however, late in the first half following a break down the right leading to Steven Thompson slotting home. Rousing the crowd who sang ‘oh when the saints go marching in’ – for me a strange reminder of home. Just before the end of the half St. Mirren then add a second goal. A cross looks as if it’s going wastefully long but Thompson leaps like an astronaut in zero gravity and connects with the ball to adjust it’s trajectory into the back of the net.
The opening of the second half sees St. Mirren threaten to grab a game-killing third, but the momentum soon changes. Under growing pressure from Motherwell St. Mirren call everyone back save for a lone forward, raise the drawbridge and tear up their new pitch to dig a metaphorical moat. Scrabbling and scrambling they frantically mount a defense of their two goal lead, but it’s folly to think that they can prevent a Motherwell goal for such an amount of time.
The inevitable happens on 77 minutes. In off the bar. Motherwell now playing with a sense of urgency chase the equaliser. Late-on the Motherwell left back starts a move deep in his own half and impressively sprints the length of pitch, but a poor finish wastes the effort and sums up their night. St. Mirren continue holding on for a 2-1 victory which nudges them up the table.
Without the game to distract me I suddenly feel the cold, but despite this I leave St. Mirren park with a warm feeling and it’s only partly thanks to my new scarf.