In 24 hours, writes Pete Burke, two of my footballing roads will cross, a journey of 50 years will come together but will be missing a vital component. Lynn. For 30 plus of those years she was with me as we criss-crossed Wales and Scotland, punctuating holidays, spending weekends and late night/early mornings heading home before work.
All to follow two football teams: Stenhousemuir (my dad played at Ochilview in 1952) and The New Saints (my parents had a caravan a mile from Llansantffraid from the late 60s).
Many hours and miles travelling to places such as Arbroath (Lynn used to freeze in the wind at this ground), literally at the side of the North Sea; the four hour dash home from a midweek 2-3 win at Carmarthen. Where you were at moments like 9/11 when we watched the horror on TV in Ayr before dashing to Broadwood to watch Stenny crash out of the League Cup on penalties to Clyde.
To a day trip taking in lunch at Porthcawl and it’s childhood memories before the Welsh Cup Final win over Carmarthen at Llanelli. To the League Cup Final win over Port Talbot at Aberystwyth and several Welsh Premier championship winning days from Treflan to Caernarfon.
From the 600 mile round day trips to Stenny and an early hours return journey to Loch Tummel from a League Cup 1-4 defeat to East Stirlingshire in Falkirk.
Pre season with TNS and a 1-1 draw at Market Drayton, several pre season tours with Stenny in the North of England. The game at Barrow which lasted only 12 minutes as John McVeigh called his Stenny team in after a fractured ankle was followed by a triple leg break. The surreal chat with ex-Scotland boss Craig ‘Pa’ Brown during a game v Preston at British Nuclear Fuels, “That’s the strangest Stenhousemuir accent I’ve ever heard!”
From meeting new friends at both clubs, being invited to make a presentation at the end of season Players Awards Dinner, my speech at Dobbie Hall when few people could understand my accent and Lynn being invited to present an award the following season – she refused to do a speech. Last week being asked to reprise filling in as match photographer in the 2-1 win at Park Hall over Pen-y-bont.
The Tunnocks Caramel Wafer Challenge Cup Round 3. The draw I’d hoped for since Welsh sides were invited into the competition: Stenhousemuir v The New Saints. Lynn will be represented as I will be taking her Stenny flag that she proudly waved around Scottish grounds including at the game she won raffle tickets for – Scotland v Italy in a deciding Euro qualifier at Hampden. Remembering friendships with managers of both sides: Ken McKenna, Scott Ruscoe/Evo; Graeme ‘Louie’ Armstrong, John McVeigh, Brian Fairley and Des McKeown.
The realisation, as you get old, that any visit may be the last. If this is the last time that I take a seat in the Norway Stand (evoking memories of Terje and his friends during post match celebrations and coffees with 30 Norwegians in Falkirk) I do so and chat with Sandy, Bob maybe Bill and his wife Pat but Ochilview will always be very special to me. Looking over the now demolished old stand and seeing the Ochil Hills, snow covered, in the distance. Not just as a supporter or even as a shareholder, but somewhere that feels like I belong.
Whatever the outcome of tomorrow’s game a line from Max Boyce came back to me recently and I feel is appropriate as this game nears: ‘Defeat’s not counted as a loss if it be the gain of friends.’ Just the right thought to end on?