Having visited grounds in the relative luxury of the Championship and Premiership last weekend, I decided it was time for something a bit different this week.
As an avid collector of Stranraer FC programmes around 10 years ago, I was intrigued by the player interviews they did each week.
Almost without fail the answer to ‘the worst ground you have played at’ was Cliftonhill.
Was this fair? How would my experience be as a fan? The last time I was at Cliftonhill was around five years ago, had it changed since?
These were the questions that occupied my mind as I boarded the train heading south.
I sat at a table and was joined by an Italian couple in the middle of a rail tour of Scotland.
As they marvelled at the coastline passing by outside the window they spoke at great speed in Italian. Having taken Italian lessons for a year I was sorely tempted to join in and test my abilities.
I hesitated. How could I explain what I was up to. From what I could gather they were keen Juventus fans and their experience of football is probably a million miles away even from the most glamourous of Scottish clubs.
Cliftonhill though, I wonder what the Italian translation is…
Arriving in Queen Street (for the first time in months) I look for the lower platforms. I’m not too familiar with the local lines that run between the small central belt towns surrounding Glasgow.
The trains aren’t well signposted and I only end up on the right platform after an educated guess. Perhaps this could be clearer for tourists looking to use the line.
My destination is the colourfully named ‘Coatbridge Sunnyside’, although the grey weather doesn’t quite match the name.
The next stop was Cliftonhill.
This blog is about celebrating the best of Scottish football as too many people line up to give it a kicking. However, if each post was unrelentingly positive then it wouldn’t be much of a read.
With that in mind, I’ll start off with some negative but necessary truths about Cliftonhill.
The ground has in the past been in a poor state with overgrown weeds and the like more prominent than anything else.
Terracing opposite the main stand used to sit bare, ugly and perhaps dangerous.
The ground had character, there was no denying that. However, if your only experience of football was the grandeur of Ibrox or Celtic Park then this ground was always likely to disappoint.
The last part remains true.
There have been improvements though. Massive improvements, but the ground is still not beautiful in the way that some might convince us it should be.
Work has been done in almost every area of the stadium to make it more aesthetically pleasing.
The hulking main stand has been tidied up, from the outside it appears to have been modernised with a lick of paint.
Above the turnstiles is a large and modern sign displaying the club name and badge proudly. I certainly don’t remember this from previous visits.
Inside the biggest change is noticeable in the terracing opposite the main stand. It looks safer, cleaner and more modern.
Large signs reading ‘Welcome to Coatbridge’ and ‘Home of Albion Rovers’ are a nice touch.
Better still, the terracing behind the goal looks great. A bricked off space perfect for accommodating teams with larger supports.
Cliftonhill has had a hard time in the past, perhaps rightly so. However the club have clearly worked diligently to shake off those criticisms which now seem unfair.
As I enter I am given a fixture list encouraging me to come along for the family friendly atmosphere. This is a great touch.
Fans whom I believe to be locals take on the jobs. The stewards and ball boys are enthusiastic and enjoy chatting with their fellow fans.
All of this combines to create the image of the community club that Albion Rovers tries so desperately to be.
Of course I can’t comment on the players’ perspectives I read all those years ago, but as a fan the experience has definitely improved.
Managed by Darren Young, the Wee Rovers came so close to the promotion playoffs last season, missing out by only two points.
Facing a Brechin side which only narrowly avoided the drop last season the fans around me were hoping for three points.
The Coatbridge men started the brighter although they struggled to create any real chances.
As Brechin grew in to the game, in the 29th minute a Rovers player made one of those challenges you only see in the lower leagues in Scotland.
Sliding in he cleared out the Brechin attacker posing no threat to the goal he defended whatsoever.
All of this took place in the box. Penalty, 1-0 and the team in yellow were up against it.
The fans around me were not best pleased at half time and as the second half began a few voices started to question the performance of their team.
Albion Rovers created a few chances but in the second half it was again Brechin that got an all important goal.
A well worked move of several short sharp passes ended with City stalwart Andy Jackson slotting the ball in to an empty net from six yards.
The goal of the game almost came towards the end of the match with an acrobatic overhead kick from Albion Rovers number nine being pushed on to the post by the outstretched Graeme Smith.
Beyond that extraordinary moment, the Wee Rovers were fairly ordinary today.
As early as two games in, some Rovers fans are already worried that the season might not be as successful as they hoped.
One final note, the attendance of 228 was met with some disappointment from the home fans.
It may be a source of great frustration to many that despite all of their efforts to attract the community, they still struggle to attract fans in the numbers they hope for.
One can only hope that over the course of the season their hard work is rewarded.
Albion Rovers 0 Brechin City 2