• Derek Bell


Updated: Aug 5, 2019



Despite champions East Kilbride and ourselves being involved in Betfred Cup action i was kick off day for the rest of the Lowland League on Saturday. Not fancying the trip to Livingston to witness what in all likelihood would be another defeat I decided to travel to Netherdale to see some opening day action as Gala Fairydean Rovers entertained Cumbernauld Colts. A relatively easy decision to make as it's only 25 minutes up the road for me. It would be an opportunity to see how some of our opposition in the season ahead were shaping up and to get a sense of what the Lowland League is about.

Following a wet morning it was something of a relief to arrive at a dry Netherdale and to park in front of the iconic brutalist stand designed by Peter Womersley and built in 1963. Sadly the stand is not in use at the moment for spectators for health and safety reasons and GFR are working with various organisation to carry out the necessary work.

An iconic stand design

To make up for the loss of seating Gala have imported an old stand from Selkirk and placed it opposite the main stand, temporary seating may be a better word for it, which looked as though it might hold around 100. The rest of the ground is grass banks and a pathway round with a plastic fence keeping fans of the astroturf pitch. Behind one goal is the rugby ground (and it's not hard to see where the money is in Borders sport), behind the other a five aside pitch and an open grass playing field is fenced off behind the open side. It makes for a tight little ground and if we take a couple of hundred there it's will create quite an atmosphere.

Close to the edge

Colts arrived on the back of a seventh place finish in last season's Lowland, five points and one place above Gala. Both teams looking to build on what had been decent seasons. They had, however, reacted very differently to the relative success. Colts essentially sticking to the formula with a few additions to the playing squad. On the other hand Gala had torn up the book sacking manager Dean Shanks and his coaching staff and replacing them with Neil Hastings and Eddie Mangan, a decision that saw departures from the committee and the playing side. Some saw the influence of local boy made good John Collins in the decisions and there seems to be a feeling that the decision was made about a particular style of passing play being adopted. The signing of ex-Hibs and latterly Edinburgh City man Danny Galbraith (and another local) indicating he would be the fulcrum through which everything would run.

Consequently Gala would start with a brand new line up while Colts only had three new players - goalkeeper Grier, forward Wright and midfielder Warnock with forward Bonar on the bench.

In the early stages Gala gradually exerted a bit of control missing a couple of decent chances and having a goal disallowed for a narrow offside. Meanwhile the open side Assistant Referee was able to engage in conversation with the travelling Colts fans as to how he had ended up in Gala and trying to explain a free kick decision that had us all confused - he couldn't and failed to follow up on the instruction to find out at half-time and feed back to us. No doubt the authorities will frown this interaction but it was actually quite refreshing and maybe showed some of the differences we are going to notice in this league.

Gala's seemed to start with four at the back but this became a bit more flexible as the half developed and I would have said they moved more to a 3-5-1-1 with the full backs pushing forward and Galbraith sitting just between midfield and attack with a relatively free role. Gala were forced into using defensive midfielder Ross Aithison as a striker. The Colts defence looked shaky at times and this remained the case throughout the game but they were missing two defensive mainstays and having to use midfielders Arnault Bambo and Craig Murray as makeshift defenders. Keeper Grier, making his debut, looked a bit nervy as well. Colts main outlet was upfront was Martin (Marty) Wright their new signing from Bo'ness United. Wright finished last season top scorer at Bo'ness despite injuries and starting many games from the bench. Initially I thought he looked a bit of a lump but compared to the Gala defenders he was actually quite small, he was also very vociferous - in fact he never shut up moaning but also directing. Colts were forging some good breaks particularly down the left with O'Neill and Holmes trying to get Wright in through the channels. Naturally it would be from the other side that the opening goal came from a corner being played back into the six yard box by Murray for Wright to nod in from close range in the 34th minute. This lifted Colts and they continued to probe without any real clear chances. For Gala they continued to try and play the ball out of defence with Kinchant posing a threat on their left going forward and Chingalu trying to get some width on the right. As expected it was Galbraith they looked to to try and create the opportunities and he worked hard with no end result.

The other main drama of the first half featured two Colts players changing shirts as the ones they were wearing were too tight for the heat, and not because they had overindulged in the summer break.

Wright and Holmes look to put pressure on Gala defence

Confusing goals and discarded shirt

The second half followed much the same pattern with Grier struggling to deal with a cross but managing to block Kinchant's follow up, McBride then missing a header from inside the box. Colts then saw a shot from Team come back of the post. This would be short relief for Gala as almost immediately Stephen O'Neill played a sublime defence splitting pass that substitute Lewis Bonar got on the end of with a good finish for a debut goal. Only minutes later O'Neill would get the goal he deserved after a a scramble in the box to seal the win. Gala huffed and puffed a bit for the remainder of the game with some half chances but Colts had it pretty much under control apart from the odd jittery moment from their inexperienced defence.

From our point of view I'm not sure there is too much to be learned from the game. Both sides had injury problems causing them both to play players out of position and you would imagine Gala are in the market for a striker. As a neutral it was a fairly entertaining game with slightly different styles on display. I thought Wright could be a handful for any Lowland defence and his tendency to pull wide creates space in the middle and Holmes and O'Neill had some nice touches going forward. For Gala Galbraith will clearly be the big influence but Kinchant is a danger. Both goalkeepers looked a little small to me and both were a bit jittery.

It's ages since I've been at a game where you are so close to the pitch and at the same level and what stuck me was just how fit these guys are (though Craig Murray was begging the ref for the whistle as we entered the seventh minute of second half injury time) and the effort they put in. Standing at Shielfield we are so far from the action it doesn't always register.

The crowd sadly was probably only around 100, I suspect partly a victim of timing with the holiday season in full swing but also the general apathy to local football in the Borders which remains very much a rugby area or one full of football fans travelling to Edinburgh and Glasgow. I'd like to see a strong Borders team with a decent support but suspect that won't happen in my lifetime, still at least those of us in the Eastern Borders have the Dream Team. There was a small contingent from Cumbernauld including their Ultras - two young lads with a loud hailer and two drums, they had a ball and I don't think they stopped the whole game treating it like a European Final. I get that some may find them annoying but give them a bit of tolerance when they come to Shielfield they're just kids having a bit of fun at the football.

Cumbernauld Ultras taking a breather


GALA FAIRYDEAN ROVERS: Fraser Morton, Lewis Grant, Alex Chingwalu, Ben Herdman, Craig McBride, Niall Kelly, Levi Kinchant, Ryan Mayer, Ross Aitchison (David Bonnar 70), Danny Galbraith (C) (Jack Cowan 84), Marc Berry

Subs Not Used: Phil Addison, Kieran Ainslie

CUMBERNAULD COLTS: Jonathan Grier, Jeff Fergus, Greg Domenico Pascazio (C), Jordan Pirrie, Stephen O'Neill, Arnault Bambo, Martin Wright, Craig Holmes (Trialist B - Daniel Fitzpatrick 80m), Craig Murray, Lewis Warnock (Lewis Bonar 53m), Fraser Team

Subs not used: Trialist A - Ryan Gibson, Alexander Gilchrist (GK)

GOALS: Martin Wright 34m (CC)

Lewis Bonar 60m (CC)

Stephen O'Neill 63m (CC)

BOOKINGS: Martin Wright 38m

Stephen O'Neill 80m

Fraser Team 85m

Referee: Daniel Graves

Assistant Referee: Jack Frame

Assistant Referee: Ewan Pow


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