I went to Scotland more times last season than I did in all my previous years put together. Three games in the Irn-Bru Cup, a promotional tour of the famous soft drinks factory for the semi-finals and a pre-Champions League training camp at St Andrews ensured that lots of great memories were created north of the border.
This time round, there has already been another visit to the east coast university, for another camp ahead of our European adventures. The second trip of 2017/2018 was made last week, this time for the second round draw of the Irn-Bru Cup.
Without doubt, everyone involved with the club wants a home tie for games of this nature. Logistically, it’s straightforward – no travelling, no hotels to book, no food to arrange, no training sessions to organise. The advantages of a home tie are more than just playing on a familiar pitch in front of friendly faces.
However, I must confess that I go against the grain on this one. I loved last season very much and that was because we had three away draws, and I added new venues to my tally. My groundhopper gene was well and truly fed. When you chalk up Rangers’ training ground and St Andrews to the list that includes Forfar Athletic, Livingston and St Mirren, that’s five more than I had been to prior to getting involved with TNS.
This time though there won’t be a sixth ground, well not unless we beat Livingston at home first, because that’s who we got in the draw. Held at the Falkirk Wheel – an impressive feat of engineering that is a boat lift connecting two canals – it was a real privilege and honour to be representing the champions of Wales.
The day began very early for me, in fact 5.30 am, which meant I didn’t have too much sleep. Mind, that’s normal anyway so nothing new there. A bus to Wolverhampton railway station, a train to Glasgow Central, a walk across the city, another train from Glasgow Queen Street to Falkirk High, followed by a taxi ride and I reached my destination.
It was great to see familiar faces from both Irn-Bru and the governing body of Scottish football, the SPFL. In addition, new friendships were birthed as well, which hopefully will grow over the coming months and not be put on hold for the future.
The draw was conducted by Sanjeev Kohli and Packie Bonner. The latter will need no introduction whatsoever for football fans, especially those who follow Celtic and Ireland. I got a nice little addition to my personal memorabilia collection as well.
Plus, I was given a St Mirren top when we played them in last season’s semi-final but it wasn’t signed. I made the most of the opportunity being there by taking it with me. Who sat by me when he came into the room? It was Kyle Magennis, the Saints’ midfielder. In the right place at the right time, I wasted no time in getting the shirt signed.
I specifically want to thank Iaian and Stuart, who gave me a lift right to Glasgow Central on the way back. It was very kind of them and meant that I missed a fair chunk of the journey back home. Well, it wasn’t quite home as I changed trains at Wigan before heading to Liverpool.
It was my wife’s birthday and we had booked an overnight stay and a day in the city. I wouldn’t say that the Falkirk trip threw a spanner in the works, just changed things that’s all. As I was arriving quite late in the day, we decided to take our granddaughter with us and they were waiting for me at Lime Street, so it all worked out fine. We had a great time, I loved Liverpool. We will definitely be going back.
Stewart Bloor – Media & Communications Officer
Rev’s Ramblings is a weekly blog following my adventures with the champions of Wales.