THE first round of the Ramsdens Cup is a strange affair. Officially the first competitive game of the season, these matches are in fact more of a strange hybrid between pre-season friendly and grim-faced competitive seriousness. The first couple of rounds usually attract the same kind of attention as a microscopic bug being flattened by a motorway windscreen. Until the quarter-finals, fans of losing sides tend to adopt the disdainful “ach well, it’s a diddy cup anyway, the league is more important”. Then comes the last eight and the supporters – whose team’s last silverware was a narrow extra-time triumph over the Shire in the 1973-74 Skinflats Invitation Shield – begin to dream of a raw Sunday afternoon at MacDiarmid Park in November, a gigantic and ludicrously cheap breakfast at the Tesco next door, and the opportunity to be seen on BBC Alba wearing an embarrassing jester’s hat in club colours. Such is the sparkling glitterball glamour of the lower leagues.
Certainly, the travelling support of the Honest Men were reaching for a well-thumbed excuses notebook after a quite humiliating implosion at the hands of a new-look Shire. John Coughlin’s sorry cloggers – refashioned with a lump hammer and a malfunctioning welder over the summer in order to make them look something more like a football team – had a notable success. New signing Nathan Shepherd, a winger from Stranraer, tore Ayr’s rickety back four apart with a fine display and in truth, the former One Team in Falkirk (Town Centre) were never in much trouble. It’s a deeply embarrassing start as manager for the hapless Mark Roberts, as the shortcomings of his still undercooked team were shockingly exposed. It’s certainly a very bitter contrast to the Somerset Park side’s cup exploits from last season.
Also reddening more than slightly were the genetically engineered Franchise FC (West Lothian) as they limped back from Galabank with two engines on fire and a dead tail-gunner. “Yogi” Hughes was brought in after “Bobo” Bollan was quite unjustly sacked last season, apparently as he would “conshintrayt mair oan eh yoof”. Alas! The Franchise, with a team packed with “yoof” such as, er, Iain Russell, misfired dismally and were torpedoed by a late-ish strike from Nanna’s Graeme Bell.
At Borough Briggs, Elgin Academy Sixth Form and the ghastly Red Schichties clearly decided it was far too early for the football season to start, and so had a brief set of tennis instead. The Maroon Malevolence made a name for themselves as a free scoring team last season, but also as one who simply couldn’t defend. Little seems to have changed over the summer for KK wannabe Paul “Peanut” Sheerin in the Castle Greyskull tactics room (also the burger van on matchdays). In any case, the game went with serve until Hellgin went into the twelfth game of the first set needing to force a tiebreaker, only, unfortunately, to have their serve broken by the visitors, hence losing the match 5-7.
The other really eye-catching result came on Station Park’s new 4G underlay, where Faarfir faced off against JJ’s relegated Pars. Uncle Fester has been hyperactive this summer and made some surprising signings, most notably that idle carpetbagger Gavin Swankie from the Smokies – his Greig Henslee-type move across bitterly divided Angus caused sustained breakdowns on all available messageboards. In any case, the Bridies prevailed 3-2 against a Fife side still badly smarting from a truly shocking season in the Embarrassing Cartel League last term and their failure to regain their place in the Confederation of Dunces after the collapse of some team from Glasgow.
One of the Faarfir new boys, talented striker Omar Kader, had opened the scoring, before JJ’s grim side route-oned their way into an expected lead. But they had reckoned without a bunnet-throwing high tempo grandstand finish from the home side. Faarfir brought the scores level early in the second half, and were given a helping hand near the end from Pars #1 Paul Gallacher. A late decisive fumble from an otherwise innocuous Swankie cross made for a grim trip back down the M90 for the visitors, with an hour-long excoriation from a choking Jeffries, jowls puce with rage. It certainly looked as though poor Gallacher had been taking summer coaching lessons from the now-departed Chris Smith.
Two other games were noteworthy as they featured the cup debuts of Highland League teams. Journey of the day was undertaken by Turnbull Hutton’s Shock Troops, as they headed up to the roof of the Scottish mainland to face Wick at Harmsworth Park. The Scorries have had a slightly quiet time – and a change of management – since their eye-catching cup run two seasons ago. Back then, they should have, fitness permitting, sent the Hedge Trimmers packing in a much-postponed third round tie and inked an early P45 for the arrogant Duff Jimmy into the bargain, but they failed to press home their advantage in that game. The gap was bigger yesterday – largely as Raith actually paid their opponents the respect they were due – and although the Scorries battled gamely, they were eventually downed by a fusilade of Fife grapeshot. 4-2 was the final score as Grant Murray started his new regime successfully with a new-ish team, following John McGlynn’s summer departure to FK ”Romanov” Gorgie.
The other Highlanders, the Inverurie Model Railway Society, headed for a winnable tie at Links Park, with the Mo seemingly stuck on the signings starting blocks. And, indeed, a chilly frisson of self-doubt began infiltrating the Dynamo, as the Highland League visitors took the lead after quarter of an hour. However, Paul Watson – Montrose’s only real signing to date – equalised with a trademark dead ball thunderbolt on the half hour, and later goals from the soon-to-be-gone Martin Boyle, Garry Wood and Terry Masson made the game safe. By all accounts, this was a nerve-racking Festival of Incompetence, riddled with Keystone Cops defending and laughable attempts to get the midfield grand piano up the game’s staircase. The Gable Endies will be happy with a win after a less than convincing pre-season, but will know that a lot of work lies ahead before the transfer window closes.