For the last two years “Partizan” has been quietly seething on a faraway mountainside, with only a First World War rifle and a disintegrating charity shop-sourced copy of Hunter S Thompson’s collected works for company. At the weekend, he staggered down the steep slopes from his remote abode to log on at the dial-up internet café: as always, no-one in Scottish football is safe…
The first weekend in October seems a tad early to be bothering with the Scottish Cup. After all, the cricket season has just finished and the weans have just started half-term. Back in the day, the constitution of the early rounds of the cup were shrouded in mystery; no-one really knew how teams qualified, with a fair few included because, well, they’d just always been there or because they had invested half a season’s gate money recycling a rusting pitch railing from the local asset-stripped factory.
But we’ll come to The Shire later. In these days of flip-chart streamlined managerial “efficiency”, with every round now organised as meticulously as the dandruff on Stuart Regan’s Ralphie Slater tin flute, the old random shamateurism of the cup’s early rounds has gone. Sadly, this early into the season, so too has a lot of the interest. The days of wee Chic turning up to a small hamlet to patronise an octogenarian chairman for Sportscene before being ceremonially water-boarded in a pool of centre circle mud by a raging first team have gone too. No-one really seems to care until the later rounds, held at more traditional times in the season.
But enough of the cheerless girning about things not being what they used to be – what actually happened on Saturday? This was one of the rare seasons where there was no humiliation for a league side, with stomach-churningly awful days being recorded by the Highland League participants.
The stand out result was perhaps the feeble showing by the Inverurie Model Railway Society against Hurlford, one of the junior entrants. The Kilmarnock alleycats, who ten years ago were playing in the Ayrshire district league in front of two old men and a burnt-out Hillman Avenger, are now very well resourced and supported. Three goals saw them easily on top against a lacklustre and slipshod Trainspotters XI, who were left to bemoan “the wrong type of opponent” for the cancellation of this season’s cup locomotive.
There was a rematch and a chance of long nursed revenge for Annan Agricultural against No Fans Rangers in the Allan Park broom cupboard. Daryl Nicol, after a while spent sulking offshore following his huffing out of the Bottom Endies three seasons ago, gave the Galloway Goatherds a horrible sense of déjà-vu. After all, Harry Cairney’s pisspoor cloggers were ejected from the cup at the same venue not so long ago. But alas, for the beleaguered photocopier salesman John Sheran! The bespectacled galoot – the man with the counter-Midas touch in managerial terms – saw his side pack up with altitude sickness and the Black and Golds sneaked out with a 2-1 win and a partylite-shops’ worth of smug Christian Bale masks on their coupons.
The Bully Wee travelled to Turra in the village’s biggest day since Gladstone inaugurated their postbox in 1870. With money to burn, Turra must have fancied their chances against a side experiencing a season as bleak as a Cumbernauld roundabout in early January. Wee Barry Ferguson had been manfully living up to brother Deek’s managerial prowess in relentlessly piloting his side to the bottom of the League 2 table whilst releasing some of their more experienced players. Tactically, wee Bazza has been drifting about like an empty bag of Monster Munch in a windy car park, as league results have shown. But it all came together for him yesterday as he overcame Ross Jack’s grim side to progress 3-0. Jack – a man with a demeanour leading to the suspicion that he needs a good course of prune juice and some figs – will have been choking with rage at the ineptitude of his well-remunerated cloggers.
Morfartine crashed at Berwick after an Icelandic-saga of a journey from the north-east – and one which redefined pointlessness, alas. The only brief spark in an otherwise howling void of fail was the performance of Forres Motor Repairs (Closed on Sundays). The gold and chocolate Can-Cans did enough to secure a replay against Barry Wilson’s fulsomely atrocious Elgin side. The Can-Cans didn’t pull up any trees themselves in this match but they will be more than confident of salvaging some of the Highland League’s badly tarnished lustre in the replay. Meanwhile, Hellgin remain a very puzzling side; capable of beating any club in the bottom division, but just as likely to look like an amateur team who stumbled out of two jalopies outside the ground five minutes before kick off.
Given this grim attrition rate for the Highland Leaguers against League 2 opposition, it was just as well that some of them were playing each other, or sides fae the juniors. The Gretna of the North shredded Danks O’Bee 5-0 in Sutherland, and the Wee County edged Huntly out of the door, 2-1, in a tight game. Huntly are fast becoming the Lochee Harp of the Highland League: a once tough and feared side whose best days are receding ever more quickly in the rear view mirror.
Further south, there are three games to take note of, in particular. Edinburgh City faced what looked like a tough game on paper – a home tie against the Talbot. Despite variegating predictions of at least 25,000 Talbot fans making the journey and selling out Meadowbank stadium for the first time since Seb Coe was actually an athlete, not so many people turned up at all – and just as well, as City, with the winds of success billowing their sails, left Talbot’s back-firing Vital Spark a small dot on the horizon. Two-one to the Lowland League pacesetters after a strange choking from the Ayrshire side.
The Anvil Abusers clashed with the Spiders in a game you would have had long odds in the summer of 2007 for taking place so soon. And in a nip and tuck affair, the ruddy-cheeked endeavour of the Raydale Recidivists looked likely to secure an all-expenses midweek glamour trip to Airdrie. Alas! A late toe poke saw another triumph for the Gentleman Pipe Smoking Amateurs after 90 pitiless minutes of attritional Gusball.
A disappointing sub-300 crowd took in one of the most entertaining games of the day – an oily wrestle between East Kilbride and Spartans. Kilby, settling down nicely again after a tumultuous summer behind the scenes, had the lead twice against their ancient-world opponents before slumping themselves into a 2-3 deficit. Some late quantitative easing saw parity restored, a 3-3 draw and the chance to do it all over again very shortly. I am sure that both these teams will be in League 2 within a decade; Spartans have been very close for as long as I can remember, whilst Kilby have a very ambitious – and wealthy – series of backers supporting them.
Gubbings of the day featured two seven-goal demolitions: Culter took a shock early lead at Stalag Luft Bo’ness before being caught in the spotlights and left machine-gunned on the barbed wire. And it was a peever for Threave at the MFI Flatpack Power Station Park; they were on the wrong end of seven of the best from Gary Naysmyth’s Bores of the Season, administered with the heaviest Lochgelly tawse. Ouch.
Finally, it would be remiss not to mention the Angus derby, briefly. The Bottom Endies travelled more in fear than trepidation after having been comprehensively done in by the Maroon Malevolence in the league a few weeks back. And it looked very bleak again for the blue half of the Angus Coast, as Wee Mooro’s Tatty Beetroot Stains took the lead twice in the first half. David Crawford, clad in livid purple, obliged by letting a weak header from Garry Wood go straight through him and gave the resurgent Mo a platform for a much improved second half showing. Paul Watson’s equalising thunderbolt had the air of divine justice about it, scored from under the weight of scorching abuse from the seething agglomeration of Gayfield troglodytes. Two-two, a fine cup tie, and all still to play for for both teams.