So it's to sunny Arbroath that Rangers head to resume their post-winter campaign. A smallsville seaside town close to my heart having spent my teenage years honing valuable lifetime skills like drinking and pie eating the envy of any metropolisian.. I left in 1989 so many of the memories are getting rusty but I've been back enough times to know where the best pies still are (Fleming's steak, always) So what about Arbroath town do people need to know? Well, with a population of c.27,000 its the biggest in Angus county. It's situated about 17 miles up the east coast from Dundee (the sandwiched stretch of coast being a golfers paradise and includes the infamous Carnoustie course) and is a mainline train stop on services to Aberdeen. It's thriving days are perhaps behind it as industry has changed and tourism (how many Bears over 40 holidayed in a caravan there is their youth!?) has fallen in recent decades but it still retains its historic character and sunny disposition - it is Scotland's second most sunny spot after all.
It is also home of the dilapidated but still impressive Arbroath Abbey from where, in 1320, Scotland's nobles signed a national declaration of independence for Scotland and sent it off to Il Papa in Rome. Well hey, remember there was no New Labour, USA or Jack McConnell to rubber stamp in those days.
Arbroath is home to the famed 'smokie' a uniquely delicious smoked haddock (best eaten cold), a lengthy beachy promenade, a Royal Marine base, the Switchies (Pleasureland), and of course, the world record result of any football team - 36-0 in 1885 against Aberdeen Bon Accord in the Scottish Cup. The happy tale of that day is that if there had been nets that day the score would have been more but time was wasted in retrieving the ball after each goal. I recall the top scorer that day was Petrie with 13 (another record) but I cannot confirm that Bon Accord's goalkeeper bore the surname, Douglas!
Talking of goalies the Arbroath keeper that day is said to have not touched the ball once. In modern times, one can amuse ones self for hours by posing the hypothetical question - if Celtic lost a game 36-0, how many goals would they claim were offside? The crowd of 4,145 for the upcoming game is changed days from the record attendance set in the fifties also against Rangers of just over 13,500. The ground is just adjacent from the North Sea which helps produce an unusually high quality playing surface but if Amo slices any free kicks on the day there could be a few injured cod out there! And when it is windy, boy is it windy!
Visitors for the day will no doubt want to soak up the culture and fare available in downtown Arbroath. Smokies can be bought in the harbour area from the various smoke houses, easily spotted with their keen advertising. The biggest concentration of pubs in Arbroath is on the West Port, which is about 5/10 minutes from the ground and where the train station can be found. This is where nightlife Arbroath happens and many a eventful pub crawl had I in this area in the heady days of the 80s..
There are a small number of pubs beside the harbour which may prove a more picturesque setting for a prematch pint such as the Smugglers and Fisherman's.
The nearest pub to the ground is 'Tuttie's Neuk' which is across the road from Gayfield and on most matchdays is used as a half time quick pint venue (I aint kidding!). By nice coincidence its also home to the 'Arbroath Smokie Bears RSC'. Gavin Hamilton, a big bluenose, now runs the pub and no doubt will savour the day from start to finish - the venue is likely to be packed on the day (already three RSC buses are booked in) so anyone wanting to get there should get there early or give Gav an advance call on 01241 873627.
Also within sight of the ground is the Seaforth Hotel which is hosting a corporate deal for the day at £85 - details available directly from the football club, the hotel or again try Gavin. Any fans arriving after these venues are full may wish to venture to the West Port or the harbour area. Most pubs have changed names since my day so I cant vouch for their current quality, but there are ample venues within easy walking distance of the ground.
Younger Bears with a notion for spending Saturday night in Arbroath would be best placed in either the West Port which has a couple of late venues or more likely Arbroath's only nightclub, a relatively large club and still worthy of a visit for those so inclined. Originally opened just over 20 yrs ago and best loved as 'Smokies' a youthful Sgt could be found on Saturday nights selling hot dogs, hot potatoes and burgers to warring locals and marines, Jo Boxers, Sinitta and some famous 60s star whose name escapes me as I write, it nowadays goes by the name of 'Waterfront'
Handily, it is found by the waterfront between the harbour and the beach, not far from the ground.
In my living memory this will be the 4th time Rangers will have met Arbroath and much to my astonishment I've not attended any of the previous three fixtures - the more recent ones being a 3-0 victory at Gayfield in 92/93 in the SC (very similar circumstances to this fixture) and a 4-0 victory at Ibrox (90/91?) which is best remembered for Lyndsey Hamilton missing out on his long awaited debut by the very sudden arrival of Bonny Ginsburg. I was i the wrong town at the wrong time on these occasions.
Without doubt though the most painful memory was missing a midweek League Cup game in the ate seventies at Gayfield when about 9/10 yrs old, laid low by a bad ear and throat infection, my mother failed me on a late fitness test and my dad took my heathen brother with him instead of me.
Gutted. I'm sure Rangers won 2-1 and my dad told me Bobby Russell scored. Like many I have a soft spot for one of my several 'home towns'.
Arbroath who did marvellously last season to get promoted to the First Division but I wouldn't embarrass myself or true 'Red Lichties' by calling myself a fan. This season though has proved the step up to be a little too much and Arbroath are almost certain the find themselves back in Div 2 come next August.
Nevertheless, the Rangers game will be a great occasion for the club, Sky's money will be welcomed but please, no one mention Berwick!
Enjoy the day out Bears but pls leave any England tops at home!