The Dream Team return to action in the Betfred Cup tomorrow, having sat out the midweek fixtures, facing the 172 mile trip west to Stair Park to face Stranraer for what Border TV always considered a derby match. For those of you requiring directions from Berwick point the car Westward and keep driving, if you hit the Irish Sea you've gone a few yards too far.
Up till recently Stranraer are one of those teams we played pretty much every season with us following similar paths. However, we haven't faced each other since 2011/12 as we have forged different routes. Our last visit to Stair Park was on 3 March 2012 with Ian Little in charge. We came away with a 3-1 victory, goals from Stuart Noble (27m), Fraser McLaren (68m) and substitute John Ferguson (74m) countering one from with Stuart McColm (45m).
Our overall record confirms how evenly matched the clubs have been over the years. In all competitions we have played each other 143 times with Berwick having 57 wins to Stranraer's 56 and 30 draws.
The car park at Stranraer has a place of notoriety in the history of Berwick Rangers. On 2 October 2004 it infamously became the spot where Paul Smith, the longest serving manager at that moment in time in the Scottish League, was sacked following a 2-2 draw leading to a bit of a stooshie in some parts of the Scottish media. At the time Smith was quoted as saying " I have taken the club from second bottom of the league, won promotion and kept them in the Second Division and yet I was sacked in the car park while people walked about. It was totally unprofessional." If my memory serves me right Smudger had the advantage of being mates with a particular journalist who may have helped give the story more legs than ot actually needed.
Last season saw Stranraer finish in 8th place in SFL Division 1 just outside the relegation play off place, in the end finishing five points above Stenhousemuir who entered the play off. That said they were only 9 points of the final promotion play-off place.
Stevie Farrell has been the man in charge since 2017 having previously been Jim Aitken's assistant between 2012 and 2015. To date he has taken charge in 101 games with 34 wins, 21 draws and 46 defeats to his name.
Stranraer benefited from Rangers liquidation in season 2012/13 by being promoted as a result of the additional promotions created by Rangers' expulsion. The finished a place above the relegation play-off that season but followed that up with a third place behind full-time Rangers and Dunfermline in 13/14 and then second behind Morton in 14/15. Losing out in the promotion play-off semi-finals both times a feat they were to repeat in 2015/16 after a fourth place finish. The following three seasons have seen 7th, 5th, and 8th placed finishes.
Over the Summer Farrell did some rejigging of his squad especially at the back with goalkeeper Dale Burgess arriving from Renfrew; defenders Scott Robertson and Jordan Allan from Airdrieonians and Stirling respectively along with ex-Berwicker (2016/17) Lee Hamilton who was without a club having left Stirling. Midfielders Grant Gallagher and Ryan Thomson joined from Airdrieonians and Dumbarton. Finally ex-Dundee and Falkirk striker Mark Stewart joined having been without a club since leaving Stirling earlier in the year. Stewart, Thomson and Robertson all returning to Stair Park after time away.
Captain is the experienced Jamie Hamill formerly of two spells at Kilmarnock which sandwiched three years at Hearts. Up front they also feature 19 year old Nigerian David Dangana who is on loan from Aberdeen having signed a new contract for the Dons.
Pre-season was a mixed bag for Stranraer, losing their only home friendly to Coleraine whilst winning away at Benburb, drawing at BSC Glasgow, losing at Annan and Blyth Spartans.
Their first Betfred game was in midweek where they narrowly lost 1 - 0 to Falkirk away.
Tensions between fans in El Borderico, as in any derby match, can run high and none more so than in January 2003 when the Stranraer support were 'bombarded' with celery at Shielfield. There has also been flag gate, the details of which are lost in the mists of time.