James Cusick: Hospital patients swelling the gate – welcome to life in the Scottish Third Division

There won't be many supporters (or pies) but Rangers and their fans will get a warm welcome

Never volunteer – for anything. My last Old Firm game, Glasgow's serial re-enactment of the Battle of the Boyne, was a faded schoolboy memory. Nevertheless, I thought the sports desk wouldn't resist the offer of my intellectual insight into the weekend's Celtic-Rangers game.

What happened between then and 3pm that Saturday, requires language I couldn't possibly repeat here.

So no Ibrox Park. No massed singing terraces. No sectarian warfare. Instead of Scotland's gift to the beautiful game, I was sent to the other end of the spectrum: Stenhousemuir versus East Stirlingshire at Ochilview park, so called because you could, eh, see a view of the Ochil Hills, which you mostly couldn't because of the relentless rain.

In military terms this was a bar fight rather than Bannockburn. With barely anyone there, the small covered terrace looked like acne – single spots everywhere, the odd isolated eruption here and there. I was told the attendance was "the usual".

As a "treat" for the patients of the nearby Bellsdyke Hospital, just outside Falkirk, which helped those with enduring mental health problems, a section of the wooden rail that surrounded the pitch was reserved. So they stood, shouting as enthusiastic fans do – though I failed to pick up if they were Stenhousemuir or "Shire" fans. Apparently no one knew, or cared.

Knowledgeable football reporters told me to make sure I got the match programme. So I did. I counted only nine men on the Shire's team. Number 10 and 11 were named as "trialist", which insiders knew meant locals who might have a bit of talent.

With real sports writers back in Glasgow surrounded by the global importance of the Old Firm diaspora and preparing their notebooks for front-line action, I was in Ochilview's press box. When I say box, I mean hut, a B&Q sized wooden hut. There was a bench and a window, though the last time it had been cleaned Lloyd George had just delivered a Budget. A young boy shrouded by an oversized Parka was sitting inside. He stood and waved at me, probably shocked at the sight of a reporter who wanted to write about this game. I hadn't the heart to ask him to leave.

A man in a tie and a pullover, who said he was in "the committee" came to tell me there would "freshments" in the committee room at half-time. His small son, wearing the same tie-pullover combo, told me: "Be quick, the pies run out."

The Shire once had aspirations of class. The delusional former Scotland manager, Ally Mcleod, described as a "well-respected figure" in the club's official biography, suggested they hire a young gun from Rangers. Sir Alex Ferguson was East Stirlingshire's manager for 117 days. He cost them £40 a week – part-time. The success he brought almost overwhelmed the fans: victory over Falkirk, the first in 70 years. Manchester United? Must have been on the phone immediately.

I can't remember who won the game. It was all dull kick-it-up-the-park monotony – like Wimbledon on a good day. But I remember the mood in the committee room as "optimistic".

Don't read too much into that. The Shire have finished bottom of the Scottish Third Division for three years running. A recent match programme stated: "It could have been a lot worse".

This is all a long time ago. Pre-Millennium. The Shire have collected silverware since then – the Stirlingshire Cup.

At Ochilview there's a new covered enclosure, new floodlights, new perimeter fencing and a Tarmac car park. New hospitality suites with their strict shirt-and-tie dress code, now boast a "bubbly" reception, gourmet luncheon, and "viewing gallery" for £65. Pies, like the old press hut, have been relegated.

Sadly, as things stand, the Glasgow giants won't be playing Stenhousemuir next season. They are now a tier above the once-great club in the Second Division.

But East Stirlingshire – who ground-share Ochilview with their neighbours – will be looking forward to the unexpected challenge of New Rangers FC in the Third Division. For all the big-time football reporters who have missed out on the delights of the other end of Scottish football, their time has finally come.

Grounds for concern: The fourth tier

Value for money

The average Third Division season ticket for an adult is £145, working out at just £4 a match. Montrose are the most expensive at £180 and East Stirlingshire cheapest at £120. The cheapest Rangers season ticket last season was £425.

An open playing field

In contrast to the duopoly of the SPL, there have been 17 different winners of the Third Division since the league adopted its current format 18 years ago. Livingston are the only club to have won the league twice – in 1995-96 and again in 2009-10.

Borrowed seats

Elgin City boast the highest average gate at 628. Their Borough Briggs ground has 478 seats, all of which were taken from Newcastle's St James' Park in 2000. Queens Park play at 52,000-capacity Hampden Park, but average a gate of only 519.

Home-grown talent

The league struggles to attract big-name stars and there is only one player from outside the British Isles. That is France's Zakaria Belkouche, a centre-back for Stranraer. In contrast, the SPL has had 603 foreigners since 1998.

Will Aitkenhead

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Nadine Gordimer died peacefully at home yesterday
people
Arts and Entertainment
Neil Young performs on stage at Hyde Park
musicAnd his Hyde Park set has rhyme and reason, writes Nick Hasted
News
Women have been desperate to possess dimples like Cheryl Cole's
people Cole has secretly married French boyfriend Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini after just three months.
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Extras
indybestThe tastiest creations for children’s parties this summer
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Paolo Nutini performs at T in the Park
music
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor