There's a crowd of 517 at Galabank for Annan Athletic versus Albion Rovers, fourth plays first in the third division of the Irn-Bru Scottish League. This total includes a West Bromwich fan bemoaning the price of tickets in the Premier League ("Forty quid they were asking for us at Old Trafford") and two people I saw waiting for the 9.24 train all the way back in Newcastle. Albion have been involved in Scottish professional football for more than eighty years, Annan, who played in the Carlisle and District League until 1976, for just over two. In 2008 they beat Cove Rangers 17-12 in the third round of voting to replace Gretna, nine miles and one stop away on the train between Glasgow and Carlisle. It shows in their ground: next door to a carvan park and camping site, there's nothing but hard standing on three sides of the pitch and a road opposite the only stand. The players get changed in a room next to the bar and come out of a yellow canvas tunnel. The away fans' tea hut is in a garden shed.
We drink in the railway station bar and the Blue Bell Inn, buy fish and chips in the building where Robert Burns wrote The Deil's Awa' Wi' Th' Exciseman, and pass the public park where Gretna 2008 started out in the East of Scotland First Division. Sightseeing over, we arrive at the ground just in time to beat a coachload of Albion fans to the bar. The clubhouse walls are covered with old team photos, Sky Sports is on mute, and you can see the pitch through a metal grille on the window.
"We love the Rovers, we do," sing the Albion fans as the match gets underway and a pass goes over the road and bounces in some trees. Annan's young goalkeeper makes a one-handed save, tips a goalkick away for a corner, and picks a shot up off his feet before Annan take the lead with their first real attempt of the game.
The theme from the A-Team plays as Albion run out for the second half, but it's Annan's plan that comes together while I'm still waiting in the queue for a lukewarm Bovril. Aaron Muirhead crosses, a wall blocks my view, and then the crowd go up and Muirhead pumps his fist in the air. Albion score from a corner, Annan knock a third in off the post and bring on their new Spanish forward, who comes from Almeria via a loan spell at Raith. A defender's knee stops a fourth goal, but then Albion's goalkeeper loses out in a tackle, the ball goes sideways and Chris Jardine pings it into the still unguarded net.
Only a single goal from Stranraer keeps Annan off the top of the league.
Date: 16th October 2010