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My various rantings on Scottish football have probably been boring all you bar one person all week (and there’s every chance that they’re boring him too), but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to give a mention to East Stirlingshire – possibly the worst team in the history of British senior football. This is a team that has amassed a grand total of 66 points in the last four seasons, has a wage cap of £10 per week, and has the only unpaid manager in the whole of British football. Clearly, there’s something going on here that deserves my further attention.
They’re so bad that the story goes that the other Scottish League teams are trying to get the League to bring in promotion and relegation just to get rid of them. But, having said all of the above, one can’t deny that there’s something inherently charming about a team that is completely wretched, week in week out, and that just doesn’t seem to really care. Also, their website (although it has one or two irritating noises on it) is humourous and good-natured (if you want to check this for yourselves, I’d suggest a quick visit to their Player Profiles section, where right-back David Harvey names “scoring two own goals against Queen’s Park” as his “Most Memorable Moment”). It’s also notable that only one of the players isn’t single. It would appear that the chat-up line of, “hey, baby, you might have heard of me – I play for East Stirlingshire” doesn’t work. Mind you, on a maximum wage of £10 per week, they’d hardly be able to keep the average gold-digging WAG in the syle to which they’ve become accustomed.
Of course, East Stirlingshire’s one big contribution to world football is that they gave Sir Alex Ferguson his first break as a manager. Ferguson was paid £40 a week when he joined them in 1974, and when he joined them they had just eight players, and no goalkeepers. Unsurprisingly, he lasted just six months at Firs Park before being tempted away to the bright lights of St Mirren (funnily enough, East Stirlingshire were above St Mirren at the time that Ferguson jumped ship, but you see what I mean).
During the 1970s and 1980s, Meadowbank Thistle earnt a cult support for their ineptness (which dried up when they got fed up with being rubbish, changed their name to Livingston and moved thirty miles from their Edinburgh base). In the 1990s, Cowdenbeath were nicknamed the “Blue Brazil” in the 1990s and the same phenomenon happened (in case you were wondering what happened to them, they won the Scottish League Third Division under the managership of the former Bolton, Wolves and Hibernian striker Mixu Paateleinen – he must occasionally wake up wondering how his career ended up with this bizarre outcome). East Stirlingshire, for whatever reason, don’t seem to inspire the same amount of affection. It’s a pity. Players who play for ten pounds a week and a ground with a sheer brick wall at one end of their ground… Such eccentricities should be nurtured and encouraged. If you lived there, wouldn’t you rather be involved with this sort of thing than the underlyingly sectarian, money-drenched nonsense that follows Rangers & Celtic around?
Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.
I think they’ve been called the Blue Brazil for quite a while.
Other than the stock car track around the pitch, the only particularly interesting thing I can think of about Cowdenbeath at the moment is this song, to the Addams Family tune
“They come frae near LochgellyThey’re dirty and they’re smellyThey huvnae goat a tellyThe Cowden Family”
Anyway. Scottish football does have some pretty good nicknames, from the Bully Wee and the Arabs to the Maryhill Magyars and so on.
Personally, I think our most ridiculous club are St Johnstone, but that’s mainly because their three fans are all Tory farmers who arrive at away games on the same tractor.
The Shirey Pirey are kind of fucked on all levels when it comes to getting any support.
As with all other teams in Scotland, crowds are lost as thousands of people head for Glasgow every week, to cheer on the Old Firm instead of supporting their local teams.
For those who still want to support their local team, East Stirlingshire have to compete with cross-town rivals Falkirk. As well as being a much more successful club, Falkirk also carry the name of the town and are easier to identify with for the casual, local football fan. (due to the common abbreviation of ‘East Stirling’ many people assume that the team are based in Falkirk’s becastled neighbour town to the North)
Even if you are the type who thinks of Falkirk as too big a team, their fans as glory hunters and prefer a local team who ply their trade in a lower division, The Shire are once again out-done by near neighbours. This time Stenhousemuir.
Stenny have a bit of a cult following, with a Norwegian supporter’s club that makes an annual trip to Stenhousemuir every year. The Warriors even had a period a few years back where they had a couple of great results in the Scottish cup (Aberdeen were a scalp if I remember correctly) and they also won the Bells Cup (for teams outwith the Premier League).
So once you filter out all the people attracted to the other clubs, there are just not enough people in the Falkirk area to go and see East Stirlingshire. I don’t know exactly how big their support is, but I would be surprised if they had many crowds over a couple of hundred in a season.
The owner tried to rename the team and move it to the athletics stadium in Grangemouth (against the wishes of all club supporters), but was blocked. It’s believed by the fans he simply wants to cash in from the sale of their ground – it’s a shithole, but a prime town center location for housing/retail. While he is in charge it’s unlikely the club will receive any kind of investment that might, for instance, provide the manager with a salary.
I am torn in two about the club’s fate – as a fan of Falkirk myself, I would love to have a close local rival of a similar strength. Competetive derby games are great and over the years we have turned our attention to Dunfermline Athletic, since there is no real challenge from anyone closer.
The other side of me looks at the Shire and thinks, “Thank fuck it’s them and not us.” I hate to see any team disappear (and Scotland has had a couple go in recent years) but when even the local junior teams have larger crowds, better players and better prospects, you have to fear for the future of East Stirlingshire.
Whoops… blogger put my real name up there. INTERNET DISASTER!
I have to agree with Colin about Cowdenbeath’s nickname – they have been ‘The Blue Brazil’ for many years. Almost as long as Brazil have been known as ‘The Yellow Cowdenbeath’
I have never been to a football match at Central Park, but my dad used to take me to the stock car racing when I was a nipper. Groundskeeper at Cowdenbeath must be the most soul destroying job in the world – I can remember countles occassions when a car tore onto the pitch, gouging a huge trench in the playing surface.
I think the stock car people actually own the stadium now – it pulls in a bigger crowd than the football.
I remember quite quite vividly a description in “When Saturday Comes” of one man’s visit to Central Park when it was at it’s lowest ebb. The mental image of a pitch covered in ruts caused by cars skidding off the track and onto it, surrounded with tractor tyres will live with me for a very long time.
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