You can hardly call Dumbarton against Berwick Rangers a glamorous mouth-watering prospect or even an exciting tie.
Football Focus with Manish and Lawro will not mention the words Dumbarton or Berwick during the course of the season and that about sums it up. But then again the cliché 'mouth-watering prospect' is over used in football and, if only for the 600 who regularly pack into Dumbarton's home games, it is an important game if not full of 'glamour' or for that matter excitement.
If you think about it though football on a Saturday afternoon is full of also ran games, so whether it is West Bromwich Albion against Fulham or Dumbarton v Berwick it is still a potentially exciting game; if only on paper anyway to those in attendance. Let us just say that Dumbarton - for one Saturday anyway - was experiencing the Premiership of lower league Scottish football; a clash between a team second top of the league against English rivals.
There are few league systems in Europe let alone the world where a game can take place between two teams from differing countries. Both Berwick Rangers and Dumbarton both play in the Scottish league football pyramid system but Berwick Rangers are located in Northumberland in northern England. This games them the right to say they are one of a handful of teams in the world to play in national league football in a league other than their own countries. If you think about it there are few similarities anywhere else. In England you have three Welsh clubs playing in English leagues rather than the League of Wales. Even that is a complex matter as The New Saints FC, a major side in the league of Wales, play home games in Oswestry England rather than Powys. In France AS Monaco play in France's top division simply because it is too small a principality to have a league divisional system of its own.
Across the water meanwhile are Derry City in Northern Ireland who choose to play games in Derry Northern Ireland but play in the Eirecom Irish League against the likes of Shelbourne and St.Patricks Athletic. Further afield it gets even muddier as if you take a look to Australia's A League, Wellington Phoenix play in here rather than any New Zealand championship. Meanwhile, Toronto FC are playing every week in the MLS in the USA.
But whilst it is pretty easy for cash rich sides such as Toronto FC to fly to MLS games thousands of miles away in the likes of Salt Lake City and Los Angeles it is a little different for lowly Berwick Rangers. If the side chose to play in England say in the Blue Square conference or English League Two they would face the time and expense of trips to London, Exeter or Torquay. Berwick's team coach is not in the luxury class therefore for such a side travelling to away matches against English opposition would be greater than it is it to travel to matches in Scotland. Dumbarton is not next door to Northumberland but it’s easier for players to reach greater Glasgow than a game against Bournemouth in Dorset, some 1000 miles away would be.
The journey to Dumbarton is not what you would call an 'eye opener' but it’s pleasant enough anyway. From Glasgow Queen Street the thirty minute journey allows you to pass through the pleasant Glasgow suburbs of Hyndland and Jordanhill where after you go from Basketballs in back gardens to nails through golf balls and the accompanying splendidly named towns of Singer, Clydebank and Yoker. The suburban train allows you also the pleasure of passing by two of Scotland's most famous geographical landmarks namely Loch Lomand and the Erskine Bridge until you arrive at the luxurious Dumbarton East Train Station.
Dumbarton FC is no new club like Milton Keynes Dons or Livingston and they do have a history even if some of the early games of the club are said in history books to take place 'in a field near Alexandria.' The club were once one of Scotland's major clubs in the Nineteenth century with Scottish cup wins and earned the right to be unofficial British Champions in 1883 with victory over the English FA Cup winners Blackburn. The town itself was once a prosperous one in the 19th century with dominating industries of glass-making, shipbuilding and whisky production. However, recent decades have seen an association with Dumbarton and the drinks industry decline just like shipbuilding before it. Evidence of this can be seen very close to Dumbarton's new Strathclyde Homes ground where the Allied distillers’ distillery now lies like a post-industrial wasteland with only the gates to the base now remaining.
With the decline of the whisky and drinks industry in the town, Dumbarton is now becoming it would seem more of a commuter town for those people who work in nearby Glasgow and other more dominant neighbouring towns. The nearby Faslane naval base and a Polaroid factory in Renton are also said to main major employers - if now declining - of people who live in Dumbarton.
Since the early years of Scottish Football and its heyday of 'British champions' the club have spent the majority of their history outside the top flight in lower leagues but last played at the top Premier league level in 1985 all be it for one year. Back then the club played at Boghead Park one of the most ramshackle grounds in existence in Scotland at the time. It was said that a terracing covering of one of the areas of the ground came from club management buying a dis-used roof from Turnberry railway station and placing it over the terracing area as a roof against the elements. A fire in a stand within the ground also left a stand dis-used but this did not stop the side playing games at the ground with the burned out shell left as a monument to decline and financial hardship. Dumbarton played games at Boghead until 2000 where after the club moved to the newer and - as the club say - spectacularly set Strathclyde Homes stadium.
Just as they did in the last venture into Scotland's top Division, Dumbarton still play in gold & black strips, the traditional colours associated with the club. Some of the most successful eras though have seen the club play predominantly in white but the black and gold colours were always on the shirt somewhere. And that somewhere today can be seen also on the club badge which features an elephant with a castle on its back, this representing Dumbarton Rock which has Dumbarton Castle on it. If you are wondering where the Elephant comes in, the large volcanic rock which sits beside the ground is said to resemble an elephant. The team's nickname meanwhile 'The Sons' is derived from the phrase 'Sons of The Rock' a term used for those born in the town of Dumbarton.
The ground itself has one stand holding 2000 people or at least room for a few thousand as average gates seldom reach 700. And that is it really it as the rest of the ground has fencing surrounding it giving a spectacular view to surrounding hills and disused shipbuilding yards. Behind the stand are the aforementioned Elephant rock and the Castle at top. It may not seem much of a ground to some but at lower Scottish league level this has its benefits. For one, at least the club has room to develop should it ever reach the pinnacle of SPL level again. Also though, and more importantly for supporters, the 670 hardy souls who go to home games are huddled into one stand area creating noise and a cohesive enthusiasm to urge on the home team. It is also a lot warmer on a winter’s day at Strathclyde Homes than it would be say at Boghead Park. Instead of few hundreds sparsely spread around a ramshackle terrace you get communal warmth generated from your fellow spectators at Strathclyde Homes. As the name of the Stadium would suggest a more homely feel is generated compared to the rug and blanket required mild-hypothermia that other lower Scottish league grounds often provide.
The ground was around a five minute walk from Dumbarton East train station and from what you see on the way to the ground it’s a pleasant enough town with signs of some prosperity as rosy cheeked youths and new housing complement old tenement style traditional houses. Inside the ground the fan base was friendly and in general well dressed. They seemed a group of hardy educated middle classes eager to support a local Dumbarton side either through birth rights or simply rather than wishing to join the sectarian clad bandwagon of Rangers and Celtic.
Dumbarton eventually won the match 5-2 with a virtuoso display by a floating winger called Steve Murray being the stand out performance. Fan wise there was a travelling support behind Berwick Rangers of around 11 who had the two goals cheer but they looked a poor side with a few players looking overweight, disinterested or at least disheartened in the face of Dumbarton skill. It’s not often that you hear fans in a ground asking repeatedly for the score between Montrose and Stenhousemuir but that is exactly what occurred here. With Dumbarton second top of the league they lie behind the Warriors from Stirlingshire Stenhousemuir FC who sat proudly on top. When the half-time scores were read out by an elderly sounding compare the two-nil lead to Stenhousemuir was greeted with groans if not echoes of despair from Sons fans.
Dumbarton FC at Strathclyde Homes stadium was a pleasant way to spend an afternoon watching football. With entry only £6 put together with the train fare from Glasgow still leaving you with change from£10 it’s a better option than St. Mirren v Hibernian at SPL level ever will be. And what is more, forget all these SPL sound bites and perceived pre-matches impressions of long-ball lower league Scottish football and two teams kicking lumps out of each other on the field. Football at this level may not exemplify Ajax type technique and tactics but it provides honesty and two teams who at least try and play football, attempt creative free kicks and engage with the fans in attendance. The pitch meanwhile is green and smooth and with Scotland's national team even choosing to regularly train on the pitch before World Cup qualifying matches, it is clear Dumbarton FC have come some way since being a side known only to play games 'on a field near Alexandria.'