42 Grounds: Ground 12: New Douglas Park

The reduced train service on a Sunday meant a long day was in store as I set off for Hamilton just after 9 in the morning, expecting to be back over 12 hours later.

The plan early in the season, as mentioned, has been to do some of the further away grounds, with an eye to leaving shorter trips for busier periods in the year, and winter.

There are still plenty of long trips to come, but looking at the fixtures on the seemingly slow moving train I wondered if I had made the wrong choice, given a top flight fixture was taking place just a short walk from home.

Still, it’ll be worth it when it’s dark and cold, I tried to convince myself.

Hamilton are an example of a club that seem to be doing things right.

I remember watching the news growing up and hearing about financial troubles involving Hamilton Academical. I certainly wasn’t that bothered at the time and the curious ‘Academical’ part of the name was what caught my eye.

Reading about it now, the club suffered severe financial hardship in the nineties  and noughties.

Their plight was so bad that they found themselves playing Third Division football, something almost unthinkable now for a club as established in the upper echelons of our game as the Accies.

New Douglas Park (now known as the SuperSeal Stadium due to sponsorship) became the club’s new home in 2001 and the rebuilding of the club began.

The club was promoted to the Premiership seven years later in 2008.

A club which had previously had players go on strike leaving them unable to fulfill fixtures was now at the point of being ready for top flight football.

A lot of work clearly took place at the club, both off the pitch and on the pitch.

Hamilton’s willingness to give youth a chance saw them develop two players as good as any produced in Scotland in the last decade.

James McCarthy and James McArthur became regulars in the Hamilton first team from ages 16 and 17 respectively.

McCarthy would make close to 100 appearances for the Accies and McArthur over 150, with the majority made in their teens.

Of course there must have been a tremendous amount of talent there, but by throwing the players in at the deep end and having the courage to give them a chance, they managed to develop these players in to seriously sellable assets.

In 2009 McCarthy was sold for over £1 million and in 2010 McArthur earned the club around half a million pounds. These numbers represent significant sums to Hamilton, before even considering the add-ons and sell on bonuses the club have received from subsequent multi-million pound moves in England.

Even in today’s team there is evidence of young players coming through, for example Ali Crawford is a key player for the Accies and a product of their successful youth system.

The stadium is made up of two large stands, one running alongside the pitch and one behind the goal which hosts away fans. There is also a smaller stand running along the opposite touchline, which I presume is saved as an overspill area for fans of some of Scotland’s bigger teams.

Every seat in the stadium offers an unrestricted view of the action, with no obstructive poles or awkward angles to contend with.

The £150 for all over 16s and just £14 for under 16s, means that Hamilton’s season ticket is exceptionally good value. As a comparison, an adult season ticket for League 2 Montrose costs £175, even with fewer home games included.

At £150, assuming 19 home games in the season, each game costs just over £7.

The club have an artificial pitch which is used for community coaching and activities during the week. A large double decker bus sits next to the ground emblazoned with the Community Trust logo. When I looked it was closed but it at least suggests that the club are making strides to work with the residents of the town.

The attendances at New Douglas Park have been a talking point for years, with today’s 1705 exceptionally low.

With the club giving young players a chance, charging very little for a season ticket and very much working as a community club it really does seem that those in charge are doing everything in their power to attract fans. As I’ve said at other grounds, for some reason it just isn’t working.

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The home stand, enjoying the match in the sun.
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The away support taking shelter from the rain in the second half.

Those that were at the game today were treated to an entertaining match between two sides at opposite ends of the table.

Hamilton went in to the match as the team at the bottom of the league, while St Johnstone knew that a win could lift them in to second place.

Despite the apparent gulf between the clubs, this wasn’t evident on the pitch in the first half.

Both teams created half chances, with neither threatening the opposing goalkeeper. Perhaps the better chances of the half fell to St Johnstone as they flashed a header and a low shot just wide of both posts.

That remained true until the 37th minute when a Hamilton free kick was headed on in the Saints box to be controlled and finished by Greg Docherty.

Hamilton would have been the happier side at half time with St Johnstone frustrated by their lack of cutting edge.

At half time the Heavens opened and the conditions became more difficult.

In the second half both sides continued to create chances, with the home side having two good chances to extend their lead.

They would regret squandering those chances in the 82nd minute when the Accies keeper saved from a stinging shot but pushed the ball straight to the onrushing Liam Craig. His powerful left footed drive levelled the score at 1-1, much to the delight of the Saints fans behind the goal.

The game finished level with both sides likely to have been frustrated not to have taken all three points, but on reflection both will feel that the draw was the fairest result.

On the pitch the club continue to have success in developing and playing their own youngsters. Mixed with experienced players from Scotland and further afield, their youngsters can be sure that, if they are good enough, they will be given a chance to develop in the first team.

Off the pitch, the ongoing low attendances are likely to be a source of frustration.

It doesn’t seem like the club can do much more and perhaps they just need to keep plugging away in the hope that hard work with their younger supporters will pay off in the years to come.

BBC Match Report

Hamilton Academical 1 St Johnstone 1

Attendance: 1705

 

 

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