Friday, December 2, 2011

Spotlight on......Berwick Rangers

12th November 2011

Irn Bru League Division 3
Berwick Rangers 2-0 Queens Park
Shielfield Park, Berwick-Upon-Tweed

Attendance: 449

The story of Berwick Rangers and of Shielfield Park is an interesting one. Firstly, I think everyone reading this probably realises that Berwick Rangers actually play their football in a region of the UK officially known as “Englandshire” - and more specifically, in Northumberland. The club joined the Scottish Football League in the 1950s after having previously played in the East of Scotland League, alongside other borders teams and are one of only a select group of clubs globally who play football outside of their own "national" league system.

Berwick Rangers have had a reasonably settled time at Shielfield Park since the 1950s, with the exception of a traumatic decade from the mid 1980s until mid 1990s when, due to financial problems, the club had to sell Shielfield Park to the local council, who leased it back to the club. After nearly going bust in 1992, the lease was sold to a greyhound company who proceeded to lock the club out of the ground, forcing them to share with other league clubs, before finally relenting and allowing the club back in for part of each week. All this ended in 1995 when the club's supporters eventually bought the lease out.

Today the ground is used by the Berwick Bandits Speedway Team during the summer and, as a result, has a multitude of quirks which makes it a nice one to visit.

The Stadium (quirkiness and comfort) 9/10

There's no indication of where the ground is, at all, on your approach. Had it not been for a flat-capped old man I reckon I might have found myself walking for a bit longer. However, when you do finally turn the corner, Shielfield is a glory to behold – if you like the sort of stuff I do, which is a proper old ground!

The surrounding grassy area appears to be used as a car park, which is fair enough I guess, and both sets of fans seem to enter via the same set of turnstiles which again, makes sense. That said, Berwick seem to impose a very strict fan segregation system...

No exceptions! (except that it isn't enforced in any way...)

What's immediately striking is the shape of the place. The cinder track surrounding the playing area gives the ground an oval shape meaning open and seemingly unused areas behind each goal. The Main Stand, which I was in, is a small and covered area with seating (picture 1). Opposite is another mostly open terrace with a small, covered, standing area, known as the 'Ducket enclosure' (picture 2)

A club shop, selling old programmes as well as other goodies, sits within the ground and offers an interesting browsing experience, while the “Pit Of Tyres” is more tempting than you'd think for those of us who can't be trusted to walk past stuff like this without launching themselves in.

I guess the presence of a random stretcher right in front of me as I took my seat suggests that Berwick Rangers have had to deal with risk-takers like myself in the past. Either that, or they were expecting a particular raucus ninety minutes ahead!

Catering (quality and price) 5/10

Catching my breath after the initial experience of the stadium, I was surprised even further to spot a Burger van inside the ground, acting as resident catering offering. Now, i'm a bit of a traditonalist when it comes to football grounds, their catering and the style of food that is served. This meant that Berwick's offering of a chip-shop style pie didn't go down particulaly well, i'm afraid....and nor did the tea. Not the worst i've had, but not hugely good fun to get cracked into! Totalling at £3.30 I felt a bit done!

Fans (scored on both atmosphere & conduct – sporting behaviour, welcoming nature etc) 16/25

The Berwick fans around me were a bit of a bizarre mix. There was the usual nice collection of fathers and sons, of all generations, in situ – this always gets a club a few plus points. Also present was the old man pairing...again nice. However, I was absolutely baffled by these two ladies who arrived just before kick off. They seemed to be mother and daughter with the latter around 70 and the former around 50.

At kick off, the younger of the two women handed the old lady a blanket and a bag full of goodies from Greggs, before spending most of the first half on the phone to her friend! Thankfully, the old lady was getting right into the match, else i'd have had to place a call to Help the Aged!

I must admit though, that there wasn't much of an atmosphere over my side. Fans didnt really get hugely excited, even when their team played decent stuff. There did appear to be a better atmosphere across in the Ducket, so it could be that I just sat in the wrong part of the ground.

Entertainment on the pitch (quite self explanatory) 18/25

The first half of this match was nothing short of brutal, i'm afraid. The home side displayed some of the horrendous characteristics that had them ruin my day to Stranraer earlier in the season – long ball, disjointed and all round....manky. However, in the second half, a different team took the field. The home side were very impressive indeed, pressing high, using the wide men very well and asking all sorts of questions of a Queens defence who must have thought they were in for the easiest afternoon of their lives at half time.

In the end, two goals in the last ten minutes gave Berwick the deserved win, with Stuart Noble and substitute Damon Gray on target. All this despite Darren Gribben's missed penalty (clip below)

A couple of home players worth a mention:

I'll start with Ross Gray who is a very talented boy indeed. He is absolutely tiny, which makes him both a frustrating player to play against but, unfortunately, an easy target for the bruisers. He had a particularly impressive second half though, switching from right to left and cutting in. Quick feet and a clever eye for a ball, he's a very decent player.

I also felt that Lee Currie had a very good game in the midfield – especially so in the second half when he managed to get his foot on the ball a bit more and dicate play. Offered a nice link between midfield and front and always seemed to be an out ball for the centre halves. Good player.

Value for money (what you get for your buck) 22/30

Well, for a start, it was only £10 to get in, which is never bad. The stadium is mental and is as quirky as you'll find in the Scottish League. The catering didn't really do it for me, and a lack of atmosphere one way or another on the day also hasn't gone in Berwick's favour. The second half performance has saved them from a less than flattering score, but the first half horror show can't go ignored. All round, i'd say that Berwick is worth getting along to if you fancy a nice away day – the town is fantastic as well, lovely place – but i'm not sure it'd be my first choice every week and on this evidence certainly, unfortunately isn't up there with the Best Supporter Experiences.

Overall Score for Berwick Rangers: 70/100

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