Monday, 31 December 2018

The Queens of the South are alive and kicking

Arriving in Scotland whilst the Old Firm derby is taking place you could be forgiven for thinking there are only two football clubs that matter to anyone in these lands, and when I arrive in the town of Dumfries on a fairly mild winters day all the pubs are rammed full of fans watching Rangers versus Celtic. There is however as we all well know, more to Scottish football than just those two Glaswegian giants, and I am in town to visit the home of one of the many other teams who ply their trade in the Scottish leagues, the interestingly named Queen of the South.

That interesting name is I guess a good place from which to start our gaze into this fascinating football club based in the heart of south west Scotland, so here goes... When local poet David Dunbar stood for parliament in the 1857 general election he referred to the town as 'The Queen of the South' in one of his speeches, the name stuck and became a popular nickname for the place, and when in 1919 a football club was formed in the town they took the name for themselves.

Now we have that mesmerising piece of information out of the way we can properly begin our story of this  grand old football team based in a beautiful market town . Like many of my football stories, this one begins at a train station. I depart my train a little later than I would have liked but there's still over an hour until kick-off so no harm done. I decide to walk immediately towards to the stadium. It's about a twenty minute walk not including stoppages and I pass some wonderful looking stone churches and old castle like buildings along the way, stopping only at a few pubs to keep myself updated on the Old Firm score. The first of these pubs looks like it could be a Glasgow Rangers supporters club with plenty of men in blue ranting and raving at the telly, whilst another pub much nearer the ground has a Celtic supporter in green and white stood outside but inside it is populated with many visiting Aye United supporters having a pre match pint before today's game against Queen of the South.

I soon arrive outside Palmerston Park which has been the home of Queen of the South Football Club since they were formed in 1919. In 1923 they were accepted into the new third division of the Scottish football league and by the 1930s were in the top division but have spent most of their post war history in the second and third tiers. Cup success had been limited with just the odd semi final appearance but that all changed just before the turn of the century when the introduction of the Challenge Cup for teams in the three divisions outside the top tier saw four final appearances for Queens and the club twice bring the trophy home. Then there was the Scottish Cup final in 2008.
A fantastic cup run saw Queens eventually find themselves at Hampden Park for a semi final tie with Premiership side Aberdeen. Despite being massive underdogs against a Dons side who had beaten Celtic in the previous round, it was the second tier club who came out on top in a 4-3 thriller to set up a return to Hampden for the Scottish Cup final where they would face the might of Glasgow Rangers

Scores of fans from Dumfries travelled to Scotland's national stadium to witness a cracking final and although Queens found themselves 2-0 down at half-time two quick fire goals early in the second half saw them level. Despite the heroic fightback from the underdogs it was odds on favourites Rangers who won the game however, retaking the lead 20 minutes before the end and holding on for a 3-2 victory. They may not have won the match but the Queen's of the South certainly did themselves proud against a Rangers side they were never given any chance whatsoever of winning by those in the world of Scottish football.

The 2008 cup final defeat saw Queens given their first foray into European football with a UEFA Cup place. Queen of the South's European adventure did not last long however, they entered the competition at the second qualifying round stage and failed to progress any further losing 4-2 on aggregate to Danish side Nordsjælland.

Back to today and there is large building next to the stadium, it has a decent sized car park and at first glance looks like a supermarket, but it is actually in fact the Queen of the South Arena. The complex as I soon discover hosts a ticket office, club shop, cafe, indoor football pitch, and even a hair salon!

With various signs outside the stadium saying 'no cash turnstiles, tickets purchased from ticket hatch', I have to work out where to get a ticket from, and that is when I discover the aforementioned 'Arena' and it's many delights. The queue to buy a ticket is only what I would call moderately long but the queue to get inside the ground is longer, and I enter the Palmerston Park about a minute after kick-off.

The home end with the most vociferous support is a large covered terrace, and with no turnstiles at the back of it you have enter through one of the turnstiles to the side where what seems to be an old main stand sits in the centre covering about half of the pitch. The uncovered terracing at the other end is empty whilst the away fans sit towards that end of ground in a more modern all seater stand that covers the full length of pitch on the opposite side from the older stand I mentioned. The ground of course comes with the obligatory large floodlight pylons, one in each corner. At my end however the pylons are covered in ugly scaffholding which does ruin the setting slightly.
I am stood behind the goal where the home support are rather vocal and are accompanied by a set of drummers making it a fairly noisy affair. In the centre of the terracing directly behind the posts many are congregated, whilst the crowd thins out towards the corners. At the back of the stand there is a hatch serving hot food. There is a healthy crowd amongst the seated stands today also and a more than decent away following who have travelled almost sixty miles from the coastal town of Ayr to be here. 2,349 I later find out is the official attendance.

As for the game itself, well it ends in a 1-1 draw with both goals coming in the first half. The home side take the lead 29 minutes in when Josh Todd opens the scoring to bag his sixth goal of the season as he finds the net from 10yds out after an Andrew Stirling cross. The equaliser comes 12 minutes later thanks to a Michael Moffat header. The visitors have most of the possession and more of the chances, but as the game progresses in the second half neither team really looks like finding a winner. At full time the Queen of the South supporters are able head home pleased to have gained a point against an Ayr side second in the table having lost only twice so far this season, the last of those coming over two months ago.

It's a walk back to the station for me after another enjoyable day out visiting an 'old skool' football ground with plenty of character and charm that you don't always find with new build modern stadia. Of course yes, the Old Firm may be the main attraction across the country, but outside of Scotland's big two football is definitely alive and well with loyal fans generating a very enthusiastic atmosphere on thriving terraces and in packed grandstands. At least this is certainly the case at Palmerston Park, Dumfries!

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