42 Grounds: Ground 1: Paisley 2021 Stadium

The first weekend of the 42 ground challenge meant that I had a free choice of which game to attend.

Looking at the fixtures, there was one that stood out.

The Renfrewshire Derby between St Mirren and Morton.

A trip to the Paisley 2021 Stadium it was then.

I set off from Aberdeen this morning at around half past 9, full of optimism for the day, the challenge and the season to come.

It was clear that I was not alone in my excitement as by chance I ended up in front of a Partick Thistle fan and behind an Inverness Caledonian Thistle fan. To my left was a Queen of the South fan and slightly further up I could see a couple of Dundee United fans.

The bright colours of shirts and scarves stood out in the busy train and there was plenty of laughing and joking between fans from all sides.

I wonder what those not bitten by the footballing bug were thinking as they looked round at the colour that surrounded them.

Would they understand the rationale behind travelling several hundred miles to watch 22 men chase a ball around a pitch? Is there a rationale behind it? Would they care?

As the family game of UNO beside me roared on competitively, I figured probably not.

Content with my book, I ignored the goings on around me and settled myself for the journey.

A quick change in Glasgow and I was Paisley bound. A ten minute trip was a blessing after the three hour first leg of the trip.

Paisley is a town with a population of around 80,000. An onlooker might presume that being a single team city the club would command considerable support based on that number. However, the previously mentioned ten minute trip to Glasgow, where three Premiership teams ply their trade means there is plenty of choice for football supporters in the town.

With around an hour and a half until kickoff I stroll out towards the ground, having read that tickets are selling well. I felt it might be a bit of an anti-climax to travel that far only to end up watching the game through a gap in the stands!

Just a 15 minute walk from the centre, the stadium is easily reached.

My initial reaction is positive. I suspect that few people look at the stadium and are instantly blown away by its beauty. However, it is a well designed stadium.

St Mirren are the only Scottish club that has been able to build a new stadium in recent years. Where Scottish grounds were once built to accommodate crowds that they could never hope to attract now, this one is a good size.

There are no bare stands covered by giant advertising banners or the like, even for quieter games the compact nature of the stadium makes the stadium look relatively full.

Everything is designed with convenience in mind. There is ample parking, ticket offices built in to the stands and electronic turnstiles that don’t require a paid member of staff to operate.

Inside the toilets are clean and efficient and the snack bar has plenty of space for servers to satisfy demand and prevent lengthy queues.

For those interested in functional, efficient stadia, this one must truly be a dream.

In Scotland, we expect our clubs to serve our communities. St Mirren seem to be doing this very well.

The giant dome outside the stadium where young boys and girls can have a kickabout before a game is a great example of this. The rebranded stadium name supports the town’s bid to become the UK City of Culture in 2021. Posters explain the ways that fans can get involved in the running of the club, with a fans group having recently taken over.

Off the pitch, St Mirren appear to be getting it so right.

On the pitch was a different story…

The stands were busy and the atmosphere built nicely towards kickoff.

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The stands filled for kickoff.

 

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The Morton fans travelled in large numbers.

 

Regional slurs came from all directions in the stands and the banjo music playing over the tannoy, a joke at the expense of the away side, was met with mirth by both sets of supporters.

While St Mirren appear to have made impressive signings over the summer, their starting 11 featured 10 players who were at the club last season.

Despite this, the team appeared disjointed and lacked organisation.

Morton, considered underdogs for the clash were creating chances and St Mirren seemed powerless to do anything about it.

Young striker Jai Quitongo (of famous footballing stock) ran the Buddies defence ragged and his pace was a constant thorn in the side of the aging Andy Webster.

It was no surprise then, in the 17th minute when Morton took the lead. The jubilation amongst the Morton faithful was clear to see and the inevitable wind-ups followed.

The reaction from the stands was unforgiving. As the game continued in a similar fashion the black and white clad masses vented their frustrations at half-time.

The second half wore on with St Mirren taking a long time to get a foothold in the game.

Manager Alex Rae made three attacking substitutions as he tried to give his team a fighting chance.

In the end, one of those substitutions, the returning John Sutton would rescue a point for the Buddies.

As a ball was hung up to the back post (one of the few crosses that met a black and white player’s head all day) the towering Sutton was able to head past the despairing Gaston in the Morton goal with 83 minutes on the clock.

This time it was the turn of those around me to celebrate. That the goal was scored in front of the Morton fans made it all the sweeter and the volley of insults between the fans picked up again.

With minutes remaining neither side was able to find a winner.

The St Mirren fans were relieved to have taken anything from a game in which they performed so poorly. The Morton fans will be pleased with their performance but ultimately disappointed with the result.

The long journey home gave me time to reflect on the experience.

There is no question St Mirren are in many ways a good example for others to follow.

A strong sense of community is clear in the way the club is run and this can only get stronger with fans now in charge of steering the it.

Over the course of the season the Buddies will be hoping that the quality of the product on the park can match the apparent quality off it.

St Mirren 1 Morton 1

Attendance : 4997

BBC Match Report

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