With a choice of games to start 2017, one in particular caught my eye. Arbroath v Montrose is a game that I’ve always wanted to go to. It’s one of Scottish football’s derbies, and while it may not be on the same scales as a Hearts v Hibs, for example, it doesn’t mean any less to the fans of the respective clubs.
I’m well aware that it can be the smaller local rivalries that mean the most. When Arbroath and Montrose play each other it is essentially town against town. There can be nothing more baffling when meeting a lower league football fan who hates a particular small (and fairly innocuous town) with a passion. It’s good fun of course, but the importance of regional bragging rights shouldn’t be underrated.
Angus is a bit of an unlikely footballing hotbed, with four teams situated within a relatively small area. When these teams share a division, it means entertainment, competition and a probable financial boost for the clubs.
There are some figures in the game who would like to see Angus United, a combination of the four teams. On the evidence of today, I say good luck in convincing four sets of fans to join forces… Of course, that’s not going to happen.
It’s not too far from Aberdeen to any of the Angus clubs, and with Arbroath on the train line, it’s simple to get to. With Montrose also on the train line, and just a short and cheap single away, it allows for big away supports going to both today’s fixture and the reverse at various points in the season.
Perhaps the only thing that could put potential fans off at this time of year is the weather. Gayfield is freezing. From my experience, it is the coldest ground in Scotland.
Last time I went, I felt the need to buy warmer clothes especially for that trip. The cold wind blowing in off the North Sea is punishing at the best of times, but standing next to it for 90 minutes requires a special kind of dedication from the regulars.
Arriving at the ground, the segregated areas for both sets of fans was clearly marked. Clearly those in charge were taking no chances in relation to any potential trouble today.
It was an important game. Arbroath were second in the table at the beginning of play, seven points adrift of top of the league Forfar. Montrose, despite an improvement in recent performances after the appointment of a new manager, were just two points clear of bottom spot. The Mo came close to being relegated from the lowest division in the SPFL two seasons ago, and they will be unlikely to want a repeat of that drama again.
Arriving at Gayfield, with my Montrose supporting sister and brother-in-law, we made our way to the away end. The ground was split evenly between fans, with a covered area of terracing behind the goal, half of the main stand and half of a long stretch of terracing running along the touchline opposite the dugouts for both sets of fans. The away end was busy, but the home end was even busier. The home portion of the stand in particular looked almost full.
While a local derby can so often disappoint, with two nervous sides desperate not to lose, today’s game was quite the opposite. It was a fast game with a good level of skill on display from both sides. Both sides clearly wanted to win. Neither looked happy to settle for a draw.
Despite being lower in the league, Montrose started the game strongly. They had pace down the wings, and the aerial threat and general presence of Chris Templeman to hold up the ball and cause problems. Alongside the smaller, and more nimble Gary Fraser, they make a formidable strike force.
On the other side, Bobby Linn continues to show a level of skill that suggests he could be playing at least one division higher. However, he seems happy at Arbroath and it shows in his performances. Today might not have been his best, but he caused the Montrose defence problems throughout.
In the first half, Montrose created all of the big chances. Early on some good work from Chris Templeman gave him the opportunity to chip a cross in to the box, but the ball was headed just wide from the centre of the goal.
Next, a well worked free kick ended with the ball dragged just wide from a half volley.
Just before half time, the Arbroath keeper made a great save on the line to deny Montrose the lead. The away side were surely wondering what they had to do to score, while the home side were probably grateful to get in level at half time.
The second half was much more even, and only a man of the match performance from Jordan Millar in the Montrose goal kept his side in it.
He made four or five brilliant saves, which without question kept Montrose in the game. It’s hard to remember what I’ve seen over the course of the season, but that was surely up there with the best performance of any player I’ve seen.
I was told the player was less favoured by the old regime, but if he continues to perform as he did today he will make the number one spot his own, assuming he hasn’t already started appearing on the radar of some of the bigger clubs in the country.
The second half had drama at both ends of the pitch, with an Arbroath chance followed up by a Montrose chance on several occasions.
Ultimately, the draw was a fair result and a goal either way, while obviously something I would have welcomed, would perhaps have been harsh.
Arbroath are without doubt one of the top teams in the league, and the new look Montrose side will be heartened by how well they matched them today.
Off the pitch, there was nothing but a good atmosphere and friendly banter. With an impressive 1700 fans in the stadium, it was obvious that the rivalry has not lost its appeal.
Perhaps, instead of saying that these clubs don’t deserve to be in the SPFL in their own right, we should be looking at ways to maximise the exposure for games like today. It didn’t have the quality of a top flight game, but it had excitement and drama. When it comes to promoting our game, surely that’s what matters?
Arbroath 0 Montrose 0