Saturday, 7 May 2011

Livingston - Almondvale Stadium

21st November 1998

Livingston 2-1 Alloa Athletic

Hailing, as I do, originally from West Lothian I feel I should have some connection, some empathy with Livingston FC.  But the reality is I do not, and I am not totally sure why this should be, although I have attempted to analyse why on numerous occasions.

Firstly, I think it is because I always held a soft spot for Meadowbank Thistle – they were the club who were bought over, renamed and relocated to Livingston, against the wishes of pretty much all of their (admittedly small) fan-base.  

Thistle were, back in 1974, the first new club I can recall being invited into the Scottish League, and I think many football fans of my generation watched their progress with mild, if not quite avid, interest.  I went along to see them play at Meadowbank Stadium on a couple of occasions.  

One particular game which stands out was a League Cup tie with Stirling Albion in 1988.  Losing by 2-0 the visiting fans attempted to taunt the home support with “We’ve got two stands, you’ve got one!”, which led to the instant and, rather witty I thought, rejoinder  “We’ve got two goals, you’ve got none”, which certainly endeared the Meadowbank Thistle support to me.  And, although no-one can deny the very real success eventually enjoyed by Livingston FC, it is often forgotten that Meadowbank Thistle were only denied promotion to the Premier league in 1988 by another of the irritatingly frequent league reconstruction dogs' dinners.

I recall, when Bill Hunter finally succeeded in prising Meadowbank Thistle out of Edinburgh, thinking he had better give serious consideration to what he is going to call the transplanted club.  

If he was hoping to engender support from within all of West Lothian, then West Lothian Thistle or somesuch seemed logical.  The name Livingston FC carried with it a bit of baggage: Livingston was a purpose built new town, and to the rest of us West Lothianites it was like a foreign organ forcibly grafted onto the body of the county, populated by aliens (mostly rehoused Weegies).  Additionally for anyone who already followed junior football in the area, Livingston meant Livingston United – one of the enemy.

A further reason I failed to bond with the new senior club on my doorstep is that I was, at the time of the relocation Secretary of Bathgate Thistle and, following negotiations which had been both lengthy and convoluted, the club had just (or so we thought) secured agreement from both West Lothian Council and SportScotland to help fund the installation of concrete terracing at Creamery Park.  

Imagine our frustration upon subsequently hearing from the Council that funding would not be forthcoming, as they were going to plough all their pennies into sponsoring Livingston FC.  Without the Council committment we had to turn down the SportScotland grant.

And do not get me started on the whole concept of a senior football club being bankrolled by the local council – a grant to a junior community club for public facility upgrades was one thing, but sponsoring a senior club to help it eventually compete with the Old Firm was quite another.  Is that really what the Council Tax is for?  

Anyway, thus it was that, upon my first visit to Almondvale Stadium, there was no feeling of dropping in to lend my support to my home county club.  It felt just like visiting Stenhousemuir, Stranraer or Arbroath or anywhere really. 

Outside Almondvale Stadium.

The ground was still uncompleted back in 1998, this being the open end
with only two souls taking the advantage of the free view.

That being said, by way of compensation, there was all manner of diverting stuff served up during the afternoon.  First there was a partial flodlight failure, which led to play continuing with one end of the ground being enveloped in a murky gloom.  And it was during this slightly surreal period that the home side took control, scoring twice in a three minute spell just prior to the break, through John MILLAR and then Charlie KING. 

Then during the half-time break, the referee, who had earlier taken a hefty dunt with the ball to the side of the head, had to retire with a replacement linesman being procured from the crowd.  An old geezer wandered out with the flag second-half, and I thought to myself: “This is quite nice.  Some third-rate whistler, who probably does a couple of pub-teams each Sunday is getting 45 minutes in the limelight here. Good for Him”.  

It was only when I picked up the following day's paper did I discover the “Old Geezer” was in fact Brian McGinlay, once Scotland’s Top Referee.  The years had not been kind. 

The lights were back on to greet Mr McGinlay, but Livi’s performance dipped alarmingly, and in the 72nd minute Alloa’s Willie IRVINE brought the visitors back into contention converting a neat pass from midfielder Stuart Mackay.  But 2-1 it finished, and Livi continued their seemingly inexorable council-tax funded rise to the Premier League.

Panorama of Almondvale Stadium, Livingston