The Falkirk Stadium (Falkirk)

You may or may not have noticed the dark clouds covering the skies in recent blog posts whilst up in Scotland. It’s safe to say my luck ran out in Falkirk.

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Almost as soon as I pulled into the stadium car park the heavens opened with such force that it bordered farcical. It meant that rather than the usual leisurely meander around, I did the quickest of laps so that I could return to the sanctuary of shelter.

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Someone at the club had offered me a tour of the ground, but a combination of my phone struggling to work in the constant downpour as well as wanting to get away means I couldn’t take them up on their hospitality.

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The ground itself is remarkably impressive though. Opened in 2004 its Main Stand dominates the skyline although it’s weird to think that it was the only stand when the stadium was originally built.

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That then became two stands which later turned to three but, weirdly, the club seem to have stopped there. There has on occasion been a temporary fourth stand and while I’m sure there’s little demand for that much capacity, it’s a shame the stadium doesn’t cover the pitch.

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Indeed, it seems to have been a trait of Scottish football at all levels that there doesn’t seem to be too much of an issue just leaving a side of the pitch completely empty. Stenhousemuir were the same last week and if you cast your minds back to Gretna’s Raydale Park that was exactly the same.

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So in short, I quite enjoyed it. There’s plenty of vantage points for those wanting to peak inside, and the Main Stand is genuinely very impressive. There are negatives such as the lack of a fourth stand, and the dreaded artificial pitch, but otherwise it’s a thumbs up from me.

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Ochilview Park (Stenhousemuir)

And here we are at last! Not the end of the Scottish marathon I was on with Lee Kyle, there’s loads of them left, but Stenhousemuir is one that we’ve all been waiting for.

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I’m not sure it deserves the patience and goodwill we’ve shown it, as it has all the hallmarks of a bad ground. Plastic pitch? Yes sir. No stands instead of rickety crap ones? Check. So what has it got.

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Well, let me introduce you to a real winner. Because if your ground only has two stands, then one of them had better have a name so good that it doesn’t matter about the other half of your stadium. Let me present to you… The Norway Stand.

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Hell yes! This is what we tune in for every week! Is there a better named stand in all of football? Manchester City’s fan-voted Colin Bell Stand, hijacked by United supporters so they could christen it The Bell End, doesn’t count.

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It’s a perfectly pleasant stand and probably best of all the stadium is fairly accessible for the tourist wanting a peak inside. The club offered to show me around but as the ground was open I headed in alone.

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It is a shame that the only other thing to look at is a covered terrace and some delightful looking turnstiles. There’s also a TV gantry behind the pleasant looking dugouts, done out in club colours of course.

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The only other questions that remain is who took the top off a bollard by the players’ entrance. And perhaps more importantly, how? And why?

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It’s also worth pointing out that I don’t remember Ochilview offering any views of the Ochil Hills. Which considering the four grounds I visited ahead of it all did, seemed cheeky, but I won’t hold it against them.

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And I think that sums this ground up well. There’s loads you could pick fault at, but it’s so hard to hold a grudge. Stenhousemuir is undeniably a brilliant name in Scottish foot and twinned with The Norway Stand makes this an out and out winner.

 

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Forthbank Stadium (Stirling Albion)

I’ll be honest – there was something about the Forthbank Stadium that left me a little cold. “At last!” I hear you cry, “here comes Fury with a bag full of truth!”

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I can’t quite place my finger on it, but too much didn’t quite add up for me, despite many positives. I guess firstly its newness doesn’t help. Built in 1992, it’s of an age where it’s modern enough to lack character but too old to be impressive.

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Then there’s the sticky-out red turnstiles. I don’t know what it is about them, but they had very little appeal to me. Sure, there were some saloon-door blue ones which look a bit better behind the open terraces, but the red ones didn’t get me going.

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Also, the fact that the stadium is on the outskirts of town rather than central doesn’t help. You feel like you’re on a retail park, regardless of some lovely hilly views around it.

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The two main stands, whilst identical, are quite nice and certainly make this feel proper, even if the time on one of the clocks outside was wrong. I know Old Trafford has a similar timepiece dedicated to the Munich air disaster but there was no hint that this was anything other than someone needing to change the battery.

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Although it doesn’t sound it, that was me subtly moving into Forthbank’s positives. Although you can’t see a lot from the outside due to a wall, it’s easy enough to get photos of the interior.

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But that’s not my favourite thing about this football ground. It has, in my opinion, the best road sign in football. I know, you’ve heard it all before.

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But a junction for farm access? Brilliant! So all in all not a classic. Maybe I was a bit jaded, as I’d done so many Scottish grounds, maybe I was expecting a little bit more character. It’s undoubtedly worth visiting but I can’t imagine it’ll be troubling anyone’s top ten list.

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Beechwood Park (Sauchie Juniors)

It’s incredible that what could have been one of the worst grounds on the journey ended up being right up there with the best of them.

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All that’s really visible from the outside is a wonderful Hoywood-esque sign and a gate. There’s three stands at Beechwood Park but I’m not sure how much of any of them you’d have seen through it.

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However, as I stood outside taking photos of what little exterior was visible, a man jumped out of a car parked outside and asking if I wanted to go in. In scenes not witnessed since the heady days of Boundary Park (Oldham Athletic), he simply unlocked the door and let me in.

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I was given absolute freedom of the deserted stadium which I’m sure you’ll agree is pretty much as good as it gets. It would have been a nice enough offer even if this had been a glorified playing field, let alone an actual football ground.

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And it is undoubtedly impressive. A main grandstand, The Jimmy Millar Stand, dominates the place. Some slightly faded red paint hints that the place has seen better days but it’s still very easy on the eye. And still a very dominant red.

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Behind one goal is a stand that appears to be for any tractors that fancy watching the game, which is fair enough. In these days of disabled facilities and including minority groups, farm vehicles are still overlooked and frankly it disgusts me. But it’s a wonderful sight.

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Opposite the Jimmy Millar Stand is decent sized covered terrace. Perfect for those shunning the corporate life in the seats but who don’t want to get wet standing behind the goal without anything there. I have to say that the view looking across to the grandstand and the mountains beyond would possibly sway it as the location of choice for me too.

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Basically, the ground is absolutely wonderful. My opinion is undoubtedly swayed by being let in to walk around, but it’s that sort of lovely gesture that can change the ordinary visit into something special and the club deserve credit for that.

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I can’t really add much as a tourist, but it’s a wonderful old-school ground and coupled with the Ochil Hills in the background was a pleasure to visit.

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Recreation Park (Alloa Athletic)

Alloa Athletic’s Recreation Park is in an undoubtedly beautiful setting just below the Ochil Hills but it was the start of one thing that put me off a lot of Scottish grounds.

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It had charm and character but also an artificial pitch which for me is a real negative. On a journey to recapture some of the romance and memories of the game I love, a grass surface is something of a necessity.

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I totally understand why clubs in this part of the world use them; the ground is unused for the overwhelming majority of its existence so making money simply from being there is a vital revenue stream. And the weather can make the surfaces in Scotland almost impossible to maintain. So why not put a plastic pitch down and kill two birds with one stone?

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I’ll tell you why. Because roughly once every fifteen years a stand up comedian from Newcastle will drive past your ground and stop to take some photos. He’ll get excited as he sees the familiar exterior of another football stadium then feel even happier when he spots an entrance open for visitors to peek inside.

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His heart will then sink as he spots five-a-side goals lined up along the touchline and instead of the smell of freshly cut grass there’s just, well, nothing. I’m well aware it’s an incredibly selfish reason to not like a stadium but I’m allowed to and there’s no doubting the artificial pitches just make the stadiums seem slightly less authentic.

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It’s a shame as Alloa’s home is otherwise an absolute cracker. Possibly football’s only pebbledash exterior has a certain charm to it and the whole place is definitely worth a visit.

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Whether I hit lucky with being able to take a peek inside I’m not too sure but there’s just about enough to see from outside even if you can’t walk around all of the ground. Every side is completely different, from an archaic but beautiful main stand to the temporary one opposite.

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There’s a covered terrace behind one goal and the other end is just open. Probably a lovely spot on a sunny day but I’ll bet it’s rarely used. Best get an artificial playing surface all things considered.

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So it’s a tough one to really score. There’s so much about it that it’s hard to criticize but the pitch is a big sticking point for me. It’s worth a visit but be prepared to be left a little cold.

 

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