I am writing this at 8:30am on a Sunday morning, I’m in Spittal and my wife Ruth has gone out for a run with her sister (Ruth is training for her 1st marathon). The tv is pretty dire and the Pippa has been out for her walk so I might as well kill time somehow. When we get home later today I will have covered 3208 miles following Berwick Rangers this season. 18 home games an 9 away games. Currently I’ve missed 2 home games, 1 in September that happened to be my Dad’s 80th birthday party and a rearranged midweek game against Peterhead. Rearranged games are a pain, it’s difficult to get to them in a reasonable time, travelling down the Edinburgh bypass in rush hour isn’t my idea of fun, it can take a journey that normally takes 2 hours and easily extend it to 3+ hours. Then about 2 hours at the game and back home for around about 11pm. It usually takes me a while to get settled too after such a drive, it’s hardly relaxing and then it’s off to work in the morning. It’s something the players obviously have to face, not all live quite as far away but they will be in the stadium longer after the game so who knows what time they will get home. Players also have a the added disadvantage of having to get to the game earlier than me. Players can’t turn up 15 minutes before kickoff.
I very much enjoy the game at this level. It’s only my 3rd season supporting Berwick but I feel like an old pro who has been there for years. The club have been extremely welcoming and friendly. I sat pretty anonymous for a season, turning up for kick off and leaving at the final whistle. Now I have started a small Supporters club with a banner in the stadium, advert in the programme, player sponsorship, 2 black and gold bond numbers, season ticket holder, and a weekly scheme number. This sounds expensive but it’s around the price of a season ticket at one of the Scottish premier league clubs where you are just a face in the crowd and to be honest the football can be pretty dire at that level anyway. It’s also been fun for my dad. We’ve been to Shielfield a few times this season and he’s very much enjoyed it. He used to play junior football back in the day but a split kneecap put an end to that. We’ve also gone to a fair few away games. My folks live about 10 miles away from me in Fife so it’s easy to pop down and pick him up. There are a good few clubs that are an hour or so away and all have pretty decent parking close to the ground so he can hobble in. This season we’ve been to Stenhousemuir twice, Stirling, Clyde, Cowdenbeath and Edinburgh City. We even went to Motherwell to watch Berwick in the Betfred cup and Arbroath in the Scottish cup.
We have even ventured to Forfar and Queen’s Park in previous seasons. Queen’s Park was quite the experience, I’ve never managed to park so close to the National stadium for a football match. Normally we park miles away and have to walk. We even had a look around the museum before the game. Nothing like 400 people in a stadium with a capacity of just over 52,000. A trip to Montrose is also on the cards for this season. I’ve dragged my friends Gordon and Tom along to some of these games. My brother Thomas who lives outside Lanark has come to a few away games too, Motherwell, Forfar, Queens Park and Arbroath.
I think fans tend to forget the part-time nature of the football club and the difficulties that this can bring. It must be difficult for players travelling to games especially midweek fixtures when they have work and family life to content with. The players are obviously playing for the love of the game, it’s certainly not the money. It’s certainly not for the 7 hour bus journey on a Saturday morning to Peterhead or Elgin or the rearranged midweek fixtures. Added to this is the 2 training sessions each week in Edinburgh and it’s a lot of time and travel. I’m not even sure the players wages will cover the cost of the travel in some cases. All this and work coupled with family life is a lot to fit into a week. I think fans can sometimes lose sight of this, especially that odd fan screaming blue murder at every mistake on the pitch. Mistakes will happen, they happen at every level of the game, every level of life but the players need to be cut some slack. A bit of perspective is called for. It’s £12 for a ticket, £8 a game if you buy a season ticket so it’s unrealistic to expect premier league football.
Yes the club are in debt of about £90k but nearly all clubs are in debt. Fundraising events can chip away at this but with a support of around 400 per game including away fans, the base from which you are trying to extract funds from is likely to be the same few people every time.
£90k does sound a lot but it’s not so huge that it can’t be whittled down. A decent cup run would clear a chunk of it but that is not something the club can bank on. Perhaps this season with a reasonable core of a team we can take a bit of a higher position in the Betfred cup. At the conclusion of the group stage of 2017/18, fifth-placed teams received £17,000, fourth-place teams received £19,000 and teams finishing third took home £21,000 and the money is to be increased for the coming season. It’s a cup heavily weighted and seeded but a push could see us in 3rd spot and £4K better off than our 5th placed spot in this campaign.
The Betfred cup starts in early July so it’s not much time to get a team together, luckily we seem to have players on reasonable lengths of contracts that should be still there in the summer giving the squad a bit of consistency. I would imagine keeper Robbie McCrorie will be off back to Rangers but Sean Brennan should be a capable keeper to take his place. He put in some good shifts last season and has been doing well in the under 20’s. I really would like to see him given a chance in the first team (if he stick around that is).
Still it’s all looking positive for Berwick, the team seem to be playing well and Cowdenbeath have had a shocking season so Berwick should be comfortably distanced from the bottom spot and the relegation playoff. Robbie Horn is pointing the team in the right direction and hopefully he will get us a higher league position next season. Playoffs? Dare we dream of such a position? Of course we dare but realistically Berwick have hovered around the bottom half of the table for years and without a cash injection it will be difficult to break out of that cycle but it’s not impossible.