42 Grounds: Ground 35: East End Park

This morning was spent watching fixtures from across the country falling victim to the weather. One after another they fell, from Brechin to Clyde, nowhere seemed particularly safe. It was easy to see why. One look out the window showed the remnants of a snow storm which had fallen at some point either yesterday or overnight. If the clubs’ Twitter feeds were anything to go by, this was a pattern repeated elsewhere.

Thankfully, and just by chance, there seemed to be no doubt about the game in Dunfermline. The club confirmed that their undersoil heating was on, and the game was likely to go ahead. I planned the fixtures a long time ago, of course, so it was nice to get a lucky break with my choice.

After sliding down to the train station, in an effort which took almost twice as long as it usually would, I was able to board a train bound for Dundee. That would allow for a change towards Inverkeithing before the final leg of the journey in the direction of Dunfermline.

Every season there seems to be at least one weekend of widespread disruption, and today seemed to be that day. With four games called off, it could have been a lot worse. However, close to a third of all games scheduled being cancelled is hardly a cause for celebration. Let’s hope this weekend is the only bad one this season…

I have been at East End Park several times in the last few years, as Dunfermline shared a division with Stranraer. The games between the sides tended to have an impact at the very top of the league, and were always worth going to. At the same time, they almost always ended in disappointment for my team.

With today’s opponents St Mirren seven points adrift at the bottom, I had a feeling that today’s game might follow the familiar pattern of games I’ve attended, with a home win.

On paper, at least, it looked like St Mirren needed the points more. The home side were sitting somewhat comfortably in sixth position, putting pressure on the teams above them. However, in what is a very tight league, the Pars could easily find themselves drawn in to the battle to avoid a spot in the relegation playoff.

It’s almost hard to believe that today’s game could be a battle between two teams at the bottom half of the Championship, when both teams have, at various points, been established top flight clubs.

For the Pars, the five years since they were last in the top flight, have been challenging.

As has been the case far too often in Scottish football, financial troubles hit and the fans were left to pick up the pieces. The brutal process of administration led to sanctions and points deductions, and question marks over the future of the club.

The ‘Pars United’ agreed a deal with creditors to secure the future of the club. Eye-watering debts of £10 million were paid or written off, and the fans group took control of the club. History has generally shown that there is nothing that can unify fans behind a club like financial trouble, and this proved to be the case for the Dunfermline Athletic fans that clubbed together to save their club.

On the pitch, survival as a club came at a cost. Dunfermline were relegated to the third tier of Scottish football.

That led to a process of cost cutting as the club adapted to its new reality. In Jim Jefferies they had a manager with experience at the highest level, and the Pars kept a full time squad that looked capable of winning promotion. Unfortunately, they couldn’t choose their opponents in the league, and a strong Rangers side finished almost 40 points clear in their first season in League One.

A second season of disappointment was not good enough for a club the size of Dunfermline, and when it became clear promotion was not going to be achieved, Jefferies left his position. John Potter took over as the board sought a longer term replacement.

That came in the form of Allan Johnston, a man who knew what it would take to get a full time team out of the third tier, having done so with Queen of the South. He also had something to prove with a spell in charge of Kilmarnock ending less successfully.

He bought well, and led his team to promotion. The likes of Joe Cardle and Ben Richards-Everton were quality additions, that played their part in a comfortable title win.

The fans continued to support the club throughout what was a difficult period for the club. The realisation that the survival of their club had to be a priority saw crowds staying at a fairly consistent level, even when it looked like they would be trapped in League One for a long time.

Back, arguably, to where they belong, the club have to prioritise survival this season, before looking to establish themselves in the second tier again. Johnston went for quality with his summer signings, with the likes of Nat Wedderburn, Lee Ashcroft and Gavin Reilly adding to the strong squad which had won promotion at the end of the previous season.

East End Park is a big stadium. It always looked out of place in League One, with close to 11500 seats spread out across four impressive stands.

Today, the stadium seemed busy, with three of the four stands occupied by fans. I sat in the North West Stand, which is the smaller stand opposite the main stand. Two large stands sit behind both goals, and a good number of home fans sit in the Norrie McCathie Stand. The atmosphere was helped by a decent number of St Mirren fans, and the feeling that both teams needed the points.

The game started in an exciting fashion, with a St Mirren free kick whizzing just wide of the target. Almost immediately at the other end the home side spurned a chance of their own.

The early signs which suggested an enthralling game was in store were, sadly, misleading. Dunfermline created a few chances, with Michael Moffat causing problems for the Saints defence with his intelligent flick-ons and runs. Jamie Langfield had to be at his best to deny him on more than one occasion.

Referee Willie Collum became the centre of attention when he refused what looked like a fair penalty shout for the home side, and the Pars sitting near me were livid. They cakmed slightly when an almost identical situation did lead to a penalty shortly after. Kallum Higginbotham stepped up to send Langfield the wrong way and open the scoring.

The second half started in a similarly exciting fashion. The away side won a corner, which was headed towards the goal by Gary MacKenzie. It caused all kinds of trouble for the home defence and found its way in to the net to level the scores.

Anyone that might have expected the game to open up after that point would have been wrong. It was a fairly tepid second half, with neither side possessing the quality required to win the game.

Perhaps the best chance came for Dunfermline with some excellent skill leading to a majestic cross field pass, which was brought down brilliantly at speed by the onrushing winger. The winger cut it back perfectly for Moffat to fire his side in to the lead again. Until that point it was silky soccer, but it didn’t last. An unfortunate bounce lifted the ball before contact, and the helpless Moffat missed the open goal from less than six yards.

Both sides kept pushing, but ultimately they couldn’t be separated. Neither set of fans was thrilled with the draw, but both seemed satisfied with the point.

It was a hard fought battle between two sides that looked capable of better. The desperation for points, from the away side in particular, along with the freezing cold weather affecting the pitch, meant the game was at times scrappy.

Having taken time to rebuild, Dunfermline look like a side that will be able to steer clear of relegation this season and ensure survival this season. Sadly for the Saints, the table is looking bleak, having made up no ground on their relegation rivals.

Whatever happens, the Pars know all too well that whatever the game brings, the most important thing is having a team to support. Through the hard times, they stuck with their club.

That will make the good times all the sweeter at East End Park when they return, and the club establish themselves as a threat in the Championship once again.

Dunfermline Athletic 1 St Mirren 1

Attendance: 4108

 

 

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