Support your local Gunfighter.
With the summer approaching many of us are facing up to the prospect of missing out on live football. The summer sunshine offers a few obvious alternatives - a good beer garden, a barbie with friends or a chance to kick back and relax - but whilst those things may ease the withdrawal symptoms, the two months between cup final relief and opening day optimism can often feel like torture. Of course in recent years Setanta has ensured that we get that feeling all season long. Sunday televised games leave many of us at a loss for something to do on a Saturday and the dreaded trip to Ikea with a significant other sends shivers down many a poor bloke's spine.
There is an alternative. Its something we all threaten to do from time to time but rarely see through. We could take in a lower league game at our local ground.
Last weekend saw all three lower divisions effectively on the line. St Johnstone's fate was in their own hands whilst both Raith Rovers and Dumbarton needed a little help from others. Clyde were battling bravely against relegation to the second division and the play-off spots were still up for grabs. There was plenty of football on offer for those of us needing a fix and whilst many supporters of big teams talk a good game, how many gave up their pleasant Saturday afternoon to support their local side?
Dumbarton had the chance to secure the 3rd division in all but name with a win over bottom-placed Elgin City and a slip-up from 2nd-placed Cowdenbeith. I dislike referring to their new ground by the rather awkward Strathclyde Holmes Stadium - for me they'll always play at Boghead (in the same way that Airdrie United may play at the Shybury Excelsior but fans will still fondly refer to New Broomfield) - and its difficult to justify a ground with a single stand as a stadium. In the shadow of Dumbarton Castle, the SHS is a neat little ground with passable, if a little spartan, facilities and a tight pitch. Around 1500 fans turned out to support the Sons - almost double their regular gate - and the key will undoubtedly be to keep those fans coming back. £11 a ticket isn't peanuts for a style of football that can kindly be branded as "naive" and yet nobody can have left the game feeling anything other than thoroughly entertained.
Six goals and a blood and guts performance that's sadly lacking in many top flight matches. The passing wasn't slick and the tackles were often full-blooded but there was a refreshing lack of cynicism in the game. Players didn't dive - if somebody was down then it was the result of a meaty challenge - and there was none of the so called "good fouls" that defenders are taught to concede in the top flight. Ex-Gers youngster Derek Carcary bagged four goals, the first Son to do so in 36 years, and both he and Stevie Murray showed the class of their SPL apprenticeships with some deft touches, penetrating runs and cool finishing. Elgin, for their part, were truly pitiful and yet they steadfastly refused to camp on the edge of their own box with all eleven behind the ball.
I've repeatedly called for a reduction in the number of sides in the Scottish professional ranks and I stand by that. Too many teams have poor supporter facilities and harbour absolutely no ambition of progression. I don't see Dumbarton returning to the heady heights of the days of their founders but there is a lot to like about the small town club. The atmosphere was friendly - fathers and grandfathers were there with their sons and it was a refreshing change to hear a crowd backing its team without any of the abuse that often accompanies it. Volunteers handed out printed team sheets - something that those who attend our youth and reserve games will be familiar with - and the official match programme contained pieces written by supporters.
A club like Dumbarton couldn't support one matchday fanzine, let alone two, such as Follow Follow or Number One and yet it was deeply satisfying to see real fans showing real passion with some degree of eloquence. It was also encouraging to see the Dumbarton Supporters Trust not only mentioned but out and out backed in a club publication. Dumbarton realise that they simply cannot exist without the active backing of their supporters and whether it was a sponsored walk from Loch Lomond to the Sons home ground before their penultimate home game of the season or that night's end of season dance, the relationship enjoyed between the Dumbarton board of directors and their team's more active supporters is something that many clubs would do well to learn from.
I know this will stink of nimbyism but whilst I want to see smaller clubs merge and combine resources, I honestly believe that Dumbarton have something to offer both their community and Scottish football. Those of us who care about the game we claim to love would do well to take a break from all the nonsense of league splits, favourable fixtures and conspiracy theories and enjoy the simple pleasures of the lower leagues. It's healthy and refreshing to see football played and enjoyed without cynicism and it would be a real loss to the game if apathy were to force decent community clubs out of the game.