42 Grounds: Ground 7: Shielfield Park

Following an international break full of drama and goals, the return of domestic football is always welcome.

International football is one of those things which divides the average football fan.

The club v country debates rage on. For every ‘foot soldier’ happy to follow Scotland to every corner of the world there is someone furious at the break in league football.

The momentum of a winning run could be halted or that struggling team might just get their act together over the international break.

Of course for some teams these fixtures cause disruption and fatigue. Players travel thousands of miles to play a competitive game, disrupting preparation for club duties.

International selection and the associated issues are unlikely to affect Berwick Rangers or Elgin City, but that doesn’t mean today’s game was completely devoid of an ‘international’ link.

For those unfamiliar with the exact location of Scotland’s many football teams, a quick glance at a map of Scotland is unlikely to shed much light Berwick Rangers.

The Borderers are based in the north of England. As much as many have hailed ‘cross-border’ football in the context of the reformed Challenge Cup this week, Berwick have been crossing a border for over 100 years.

The natural question I ask myself as I sit on the train is, why?

The trusted friend of a curious mind, Google, points me towards Reddit. Although there is little by the way of ground breaking analysis offered. One user advises: ‘No one knows. They just do.’

Others suggest it is a decision based on geography with the town just two miles from the border with Scotland.

Perhaps a Berwick Rangers fan or knowledgeable reader might be able to shed some light.

The history of the town itself is interesting and worthy of several pages of writing in its own right.

Occupying a prime strategic position in a time fraught with conflict the town was the site of conquests and conflicts over a period of several hundred years.

Since 1746 Berwick has been ‘south of the border’, despite recent calls from Scottish politicians for a shift in the line of demarcation.

On the train I can’t help but feel a sense of excitement about heading to the ground for the first time.

My Saturday enthusiasm is not shared by all of my fellow passengers though.

I can’t help but overhear the story of someone that had been booked on a cancelled sleeper train to London.

When we travel on public transport we put our fate in the hands of those in charge of ensuring it runs smoothly.

We hope that when the inevitable disruption occurs, we’re not in a rush.

The stories I hear about a person missing a long haul international flight and another likely to miss the scattering of ashes are extreme cases.

They certainly put my fears over missing a train to a game this season in to perspective.

Arriving in Berwick-upon-Tweed I set off for Shielfield Park along with a fair contingent of Elgin City fans.

The ground is quite far from the station. I had read online that it would take 20 minutes but Google Maps said it would be closer to 40.

The reality was somewhere in the middle, talking around half an hour and getting me to the ground ten minutes before kickoff.

The catering at the ground was provided by a fish and chip van.

It was hard to say whether this was a stroke of genius or an act of blasphemy. Not many Scottish league clubs differ from the standard fare of pies and bovril.

Curiosity got the better of me though and even when not particularly hungry the prospect of chips and curry sauce at the football was too good to turn down.

The first thing that will catch the eye of any first time visitor to the ground is the speedway track that stretches around the outside of the pitch.

Often this would leave fans distant from the action, desperately squinting to follow the action.

While standing behind either goal is probably ill advised, the stands at the side of the pitch don’t feel too far away. We can hear every shout.

The Elgin support, in double figures, added to the atmosphere with both sides willing to engage in the kind of ‘banter’ that football fans often do well.

The terracing, shared by home and away fans.
The long main stand running alongside the speedway track.

While the fun fair might have being taking place behind the main stand, there was plenty of amusement to be found on the pitch in the first half.

The Berwick defence was comical at times and it was no surprise to see them concede two goals before half time.

Shane Sutherland opened the goal in the 11th minute as he followed up on the rebound from a tidy save.

The second goal was a shot dragged wide by the Elgin player. Kevin Walker in the Berwick goal made a desperate dive and managed to scoop the ball over himself and in to the net. Even the Berwick fans had to laugh.

The humour didn’t last long as the ball was passed straight out of play by a player in black and gold once too often for the home fans and a significant number began to voice their disapproval.

Just as I began to fear a mutiny, Greg Hurst on loan from St Johnstone, finished neatly to pull a goal back for Berwick just before half time.

The second half was a similarly high scoring affair with Elgin City taking advantage of The Borderers slack defending as they attempted to push for an equaliser.

Craig Gunn was able to take advantage in the 75th minute as a low cross in the style of Matt Ritchie dropped irresistibly at his feet. It was a tap in which sparked wild celebrations from those clad in black and white.

Berwick pulled one back almost immediately through Hurst and both sides looked determined to push for the next goal.

That man Gunn found himself in on goal again and his cool finish in the 86th minute meant that the away team would take all three points.

It was hard to tell whether it was the case that Elgin were very good today or Berwick underperformed. As the away players and fans celebrated at the end there was no doubt that this one was a special victory.

The players made sure to clap the well travelled fans, as the home side drudged off to the occasional disgruntled shout from fans.

The manner of defeat was a source of frustration for the home fans, and they will certainly  be looking for an improvement in the weeks to come.

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