• Derek Bell


Once the new reality had sunk in this was the first fixture many Dream Team fans looked out for. The one that feels like a Derby game despite the fact the Edinburgh teams are as near Berwick as Galashiels is. For Borders based fans though there can be no doubt this is the big away game. It appears that there will be a reasonable away support present on Saturday getting a taste of brutalist modern architecture in the shape of one of the most famous football stands not in the main leagues. Sadly no-one will be in it for health and safety reasons.

Gala Fairydean Rovers have existed since 1894 but not always as GFR, after only 13 years they split into Gala Fairydean and Gala Rovers with Rovers being the reserve team. With the outbreak of the First World War both teams ceased to operate with Fairydean starting up again in 1919 and becoming founder members of the East of Scotland League in 1923. A league they would go on to win 8 times and be runners up 7 times. They were runners up 6 times and Champions twice between 1981 and 1996.

It wouldn't be until after the Second World War that Rovers would be re-born, this time as an amateur team in the Border Amateur league. However, the clubs retained close links from then on both contributed to the cost of the famous Peter Womersley stand in the sixties.

The clubs went back to their roots in 2013 when they merged and once more became Gala Fairydean Rovers. This was followed by admission to the Lowland League in it's first season. They have finished 10th, 8th, 11th, 10th, 13th and 8th in the subsequent seasons. They have applied for League status on four occasions to no avail.

There was some surprise in the close season when the club dispensed with the services of manager Dean Shanks and his coaching staff after what had been seen as a relatively successful season with a creditable 8th place finish. Shanks was to be replaced by Neil Hastings who had been Johnny Harvey's assistant at Shielfield with Eddie Mangan as head coach and a former player Shane Greene promoted from his post as under 15's coach to Director of football.

There were dark mutterings around the managerial changes on social media and boardroom resignations following the decision. With the new Chairman taking some flak. The vast majority of the playing squad also departed (any of this sounding familiar?).

Some fans were suggesting that the new chairman wasn't happy with the direct style of football played under Shanks and that too many of Shanks team were Edinburgh based and had little connection with the area. The suggestion being that the club would like to have more local players and be playing a more attractive brand of football - ambitious aims and not necessarily ones to disagree with, the concerns being that local Borders players simply were not up to Lowland League level and often had an attitude problem and didn't take their football seriously enough (seriously, any of this sounding familiar?).

Some saw the hand of Gala man and the club's Ambassador of Football John Collins in the decisions - he had Hastings as part of his coaching team when he was at Livingston and was quoted as saying "Neil is an excellent coach and has a good way about him. He coaches nice, attractive football and I think he will be an excellent signing". It's good to a club like Gala use their local football superstar (and whatever your opinion of Collins is it can't be denied that he ticks that box) to help raise their profile and Collins has certainly been at matches so far this season going by the odd selfie on Twitter from away fans. Maybe it's time we made those calls to Trevor Steven and Lucy Bronze, or given our Dun/Berwickshire support we could drag Pat Nevin along.

Coming into the season on such turmoil (a feeling we can understand) fans needed some good news and this was delivered in the signing of Danny Galbraith from Edinburgh City. Local lad Galbraith started as a Heart's youth player but was signed by Manchester United for £50k when 16, sadly for him his three years at Old Trafford were marred by injury and despite having played in a FA Youth Final and for the reserves he was released.

He then had a chequered four years at Hibs which ended after he had been ordered to train with the first team squad, officially to recover from a hip operation but rumoured to be due to a fallout with manager Pat Fenlon, the cub rather strangely clarifying he had not been subject to disciplinary action.

He then moved to Limerick before a spell at Gillingham. Then came the highlight of his playing career when he joined the mighty York City* unfortunately as one of Jackie McNamara's signings which saw City relegated to the National League and he was still there the following season (2016/17) which saw them slump even further. He joined Edinburgh City December last year. Galbraith has had a difficult time with injuries throughout his career and his often found himself falling out of favour following managerial changes. Hopefully for Danny the return to home territory will give him the opportunity to get plenty of games and to lead the team.

The pinnacle of Danny Galbraith's career....well maybe

As I said at the beginning this was the match many of us looked for first when the fixtures came out but it has taken on more importance already given the starts we have both had to the season.

GFR have lost all three home games - to Cumbernauld, Spartans and Shire, won away at Vale and Dalbeattie, drawn away at CSS and lost at University of Stirling last weekend to a late goal. They also suffered a bit of a hammering at home to Tranent in the Football Nation Qualifying Cup.

The results don't necessarily tell the whole story though as they have had periods where they have been on top in games. By all accounts they were unlucky in the home game to Spartans and had chances to get more form the CSS and Uni games. They have struggled a little to get a settled side due to injuries and new arrivals. They have a couple of players on loan from Hibs in Dino Leddie and Yrick Gallentes

Living in the Borders I went along to the opener against the Colts and last midweek for the Shire game. In the first they were clearly a side just getting to know each other and looked a little frail at the back while trying to play a passing game. The local paper seemed very harsh following he Shire defeat suggesting they were totally overpowered and that Shire dominated. I didn't see it quite like that - the better team won but GFR had their chances and some decent moments. They do seem to lack a clinical striker to get on the end of some of their better moves. Having said that they still forced Jamie Barclay in the Shire goal into two decent saves. They were also missing Danny Galbraith that night.

From what I've seen they are keen to play out from the back and will happily pass the ball along the line looking for a decent out ball rather than just hoofing it forward. They are capable of quick breaks though with the full backs getting forward and linking with the midfield. I thought both full backs were decent getting forward and the whole defence is pretty comfortable with the ball a their feet. However, defensively I have been less impressed and thought they were a bit vulnerable to players running at them, Shire won plenty free kicks by going direct at the back line. They can also be quite physical in midfield. This game will be a test and I'm hoping we bin the formation experiment from last week and get Euan Smith and Ciaren Chalmers back into the middle, go back to two up front. I'd also be tempted to get Brian, Lumsden and Forster back in. Although I have some concerns we could be exposed again in wide areas if we give Gala too much possession.

We are currently a place and four points behind them in the league and to a certain extent this feels like a game that could define the way our season goes even if we do have games in hand. Lose this game and we are starting to be cast adrift and will be firmly in the bottom five with our eyes very much over our shoulder, win and we can start to think about getting into that middle group of teams. Gala are likely to be looking at it in the same way - a chance to build a gap between themselves and the bottom five and to get into the mid-table mix.

It's good to have a more local rival in the league but rising above the rivalry and taking a broader view I'd like to see GFR progress as long as it's just behind us. The Borders needs a football team, it may be seen as a rugby heartland with little interest in football but that's far from the truth and a bit of a cliche these days. There is a huge appetite for football across the ages but sadly it is mainly served by people jumping on buses (or trains now as well) to Glasgow, Edinburgh or Newcastle (again something Berwick fans understand oh so well).

Familiar faces in the GFR squad are Phil Addison and Kieran Ainslie, while Ricky Miller and Grant Rose are returning to familiar territory.

*Possibly the author's other team

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