As the end of 2016 approaches, and we prepare for the new year, I was pleased to be ending the year on a high, with a trip to Hampden.
I had initially wanted to go elsewhere, but as it turned out a trip to watch Queens Park was best for staying on schedule and getting home at a reasonable time to enjoy the later part of the Hogmanay festivities.
What is essentially the home of a Scottish football seemed like a nice way to round off the year though.
Queens Park are the only amateur club in the SPFL. While there may have been some controversy recently over that status, the club have maintained throughout that their amateur credentials can’t be questioned.
The club motto is ‘Ludere Causa Ludendi or ‘To play for the sake of playing’. The club has a proud tradition, partly through necessity, of bringing through young players. The inability to spend money on big name signings means that The Spiders have an extra incentive to produce their own players.
They have a good record of that over the years. Perhaps the best, and most recent example is Andrew Robertson. Having been released by Celtic due to a lack of size, the club were able to take him in to their youth setup.
Four seasons ago, he was one of Queens Park’s best performers, and he earned himself a move to Premiership Dundee United. An incredible debut season in the top flight saw him earning a move to Hull City, where he has continued to impress. Various papers have linked him with moves to some of the bigger clubs in England, such as Manchester United and Tottenham.
The ability of Queens Park to sign a player like Robertson should make Hampden an attractive place for a young player to learn his trade.
Those in charge of the club will be as ambitious as their peers at any other club in Scotland, but it has always been a part of the club’s philosophy to give their young players a go. The low pressure environment makes it much easier to do so than at any of Glasgow’s bigger clubs.
They have some of the best facilities in the country to help those players develop as well. From state of the art changing rooms to what should in theory be the best playing surface at any of the lower league grounds, they have a lot going for them.
The club are also based in Glasgow, which means that they have a large number of potential fans to appeal to. Their prices are very reasonable, at just £12 for an adult, or an incredible £2 for concessions.
That means they can appeal to fans of the bigger clubs in the city, when their own teams are playing away from home, to casual football fans, or to those desperate for a different match day experience than the one offered at Celtic Park or Ibrox.
The stadium itself is on a par with either of those. The Spiders play in the national stadium, with a capacity of over 52000. I doubt there will be many amateur teams anywhere in Europe with a similarly impressive stadium.
It’s always a slightly surreal experience being at Hampden for a Queens Park game. The stadium is eerily quiet, with only a few hundred fans taking their seats in the South Stand, with small sections set aside for home and away fans.
As an aside, the only surprise inside the stadium was that a steward asked an Italian and a German supporter not to film the game on their mobile phone, in two separate incidents. I’m sure this is a part of the rules upon entry to every ground in Scotland, but I have never seen it enforced. It felt unnecessary.
As I stood, ready for kick off I looked at the sparsely populated home end and I was surprised. I understand football isn’t cheap, and there are generally better things to spend money on, but £2 for a student ticket is an exceptional deal which deserves to be taken advantage of. If there is a cheaper ticket in the league then I look forward to seeing it.
The club are playing in League One for the first time in 9 years this season, after a playoff win over Clyde last season, and they have acquitted themselves well so far at a higher level. At the beginning of the day they were level on points with fourth placed Alloa, and based on form so far, it seems they might be in contention for a spot in the promotion playoffs at the end of the season.
Their opponents today, Stranraer, began the day at the bottom of the league, and in desperate need of points.
As kickoff approached, heavy rain began to fall. It was the kind of rain that would turn most normal lower league pitches in to something resembling a field. Thankfully, the Hampden pitch and drainage system held up well today, and the surface wasn’t affected.
The game might have been though. The first half was a fairly turgid affair. Neither side created any clear cut chances, although Queens Park had more possession and half chances.
Neither side lacked effort, and both were clearly up for the match, but there was a general lack of quality in the first half which came largely as a result of the challenging conditions.
The second half followed a similar pattern. A slight pause in the rain teased the players with the prospect of a dry second half, but when the rain did start again, it was even heavier.
The surface started to become slippy and players were losing their footing more regularly. At this point it looked like one of those games which was going to be settled by a moment of brilliance, or worse, a mistake.
The winning goal was closer to the former. Stranraer winger Willie Gibson found himself running in on goal, and hit a shot with his right foot from the edge of the box. The ball curled past William Muir in the home goal as he dived the his right to reach it.
The game would end with the away side winning 1-0, and the win moved Stranraer off the bottom of the table. Queens Park remain in fifth, having fallen three points behind fourth placed Alloa.
Fans of The Spiders will be pleased with how their 2016 has gone, and even if today’s result was slightly disappointing, they won’t be too disheartened.
The amateurs are keeping their traditions alive, and performing well on the pitch. They have a young team, and there were certainly players on the pitch today that may go on to develop in to quality players in the future.
Perhaps all that’s missing is a few more supporters to take advantage of the excellent prices on offer, but if the club continue to improve on the pitch, word will surely spread and more and more interested spectators will follow.
Queens Park 0 Stranraer 1