“A Nice Place to Visit”, an episode of The Twilight Zone first broadcast in 1960, begins with gangster Rocky Valentine shot by police after robbing a pawnbroker. He awakens unscathed to find himself in the company of Pip, a portly figure dressed in white. Pip tells Rocky he is his “guide” and has the power to grant him anything he desires.
Having never been given anything for free before, Rocky is immediately suspicious of Pip’s intentions. After being led to a luxurious apartment and offered an extravagant meal, Rocky believes his companion intends to poison him. He shoots Pip but after seeing him unharmed (the bullets simply ricochet off him), he comes to the conclusion he is in heaven and that Pip is his guardian angel.
The pair visit a casino where Rocky, surrounded by beautiful women, wins every game he plays. Upon leaving he encounters a tall police officer, whom he finds he has the ability to shrink; he makes the policeman small and begins to pick on him.
A month passes and Rocky begins to get increasingly fed up and bored with having his every whim satisfied. “If I gotta stay here another day, I’m gonna go nuts!” he tells Pip. “I don’t belong in heaven, see? I want to go to the other place.”
“Heaven?!” replies Pip. “Whatever gave you the idea that you were in heaven, Mr. Valentine? This is the other place!”
It would be crude and grossly inaccurate to suggest that Queen of the South’s current season has been a hellish experience, but their purgatorial stay in the Second Division does draw some similarities with Rocky Valentine’s visit to “the other place”. The club have enjoyed almost every match on their own terms, rendering any potential title contest irrelevant since the beginning of October when they quickly pulled away from the chasing pack. Their campaign, which included winning the Challenge Cup, has been a mechanical procession.
The Doonhamers were always likely to win the division – as the league’s only full-time club, anything else would have been an aberration – but the manner in which they have torn opposition teams asunder has been hugely impressive. There has been no drama in Queen of the South’s season. There is no narrative, no arc, no turning points. No potholes, no pockmarks. Just a relentless charge towards the championship. This team cannot be bargained with. They cannot be reasoned with. They don’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And they absolutely will not stop, ever.
The club are making history this season. Their 2-2 draw with East Fife on Saturday has seen Queens overtake Gretna’s Second Division record points total of 88, set in 2005-06 – with one final fixture against Albion Rovers remaining, it is probable they will finish the season on 92.
Longstanding club records, some dating back 80 years, have also been broken. Their previous record points total of 67 from 2001-02 has been roundly trounced; their 28 league victories has improved on 1961-62’s 24; the 1950-51 season’s unbeaten run of 16 games has been bettered by two; and their record number of league defeats (five in 1932-33) is no more – the club have lost twice all year. The losses – one at Alloa, the other against Stenhousemuir after the league was already won – were little more than superficial blemishes. It has been the perfect season.
Following their relegation under Gus MacPherson’s dismal tutelage, maintaining the club’s full-time status was a calculated risk. Directors had prepared to budget for a small loss in order to make an immediate return to Division One – anything other than promotion would have seen a reversion to part-time football in the summer. The installation of a plastic pitch at Palmerston in July, a necessity for most SFL clubs, will also allow them to bring in extra revenue and strengthen their ties with the local community.
Allan Johnston – one of the SFL’s most promising managers – has assembled a core of hardened professionals augmented by a group of highly talented youngsters, 11 of whom are either from the Dumfriesshire are or have graduated from the club’s academy. Danny Carmichael is developing into a very exciting winger; Kevin Holt has emerged as the league’s best left-back; and Gavin Reilly, although often overshadowed by his strike partner Nicky Clark, is a quick, muscular forward.
Indeed, Clark, the son of assistant manager Sandy, has been the division’s outstanding player this term. Intelligent, instinctive and utterly clinical, the player has blossomed since joining the club after indifferent spells at Aberdeen and Peterhead. This year he has scored 40 goals in all competitions and is two away from bettering Jimmy Rutherford’s record from the 1931-32 season, a fantastic achievement. A move to bigger things elsewhere seems inevitable.
Queen of the South have a bright future ahead of them and Johnston and his squad will flourish in Division One. With the majority of their better players having agreed terms for next year (Reilly, Carmichael, Mark Durnan, Chris Mitchell and Stephen McKenna have all signed on), they should quickly establish themselves and will be looking to finish in the league’s upper echelons.
A cynic may point out that Queens have spent the season coasting past their part-time counterparts and might struggle against weightier opposition, but their performances against full-time teams this season has been hugely encouraging. They were the first team to beat Rangers, knocking them out of the Challenge Cup via a penalty shoot-out, and they successfully negated a strong Partick Thistle side in the competition’s final before winning the contest through spot-kicks once again. After defeating Hibernian 2-0 in the League Cup, Dundee United could only beat them by a single goal in the third round and their Scottish Cup exit at Kilmarnock, again by the odd goal, came following McKenna’s red card after two minutes.
Queen of the South have nothing to fear. It is unlikely they will ever return to the other place any time soon – the Second Division is a nice place to visit, but they wouldn’t want to live there.
Many thanks go to the Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser’s Colin Paterson for his help and insight with this article. A debt of gratitude also goes to Pie and Bovril’s Skyline Drifter for curating a database of the club’s records this season.