Without causing any offence to Heston Rovers, we had absolutely no intention of going to watch them. This was the definition of desperation from two ground hoppers who had been done over by the Easter weekend’s fixture list. We had watched Carlisle United the previous day and were all set to watch Celtic Nation with an overnight stay allowing us to tick off two Carlisle based sides.
However, plans changed when Shildon reached the final of the Durham Cup and their match at Celtic Nation was subsequently postponed. It was down to me to save the trip. I thought there would be plenty of teams up in that area of the world to save our weekend but I was wrong; very wrong.
Penrith, Kendal, Workington, Gretna, Annan and Queen of the South were all away from home which left us looking at matches in Newcastle. We were close to scrapping the weekend off before I stumbled upon the South of Scotland League which contained four Dumfries sides. Heston Rovers ground share with Queen of the South and had a local derby against Crichton; we were saved.
The original Heston Rovers formed as a youth club in 1978 in the Lochside area of Dumfries. The club has led a nomadic existence jumping from place to place round and near Dumfries, but remaining solely as a youth football club.
Heston would only create a senior team in 2008 after merging with South of Scotland Football League club Dumfries FC (a club formed of several mergers itself). Heston had spent years improving their Maryfield ground to bring it up to standard and in 2010 the club were allowed to play league games there.
2013 would see the club move to Palmerston Park, the home of Scottish Championship club Queen of the South. Matt and I both agreed that we would rather see a Queen of the South match there first but it was our only option, a return ticket to Dumfries from Carlisle it was.
Before we reached the station we had to drag ourselves out of bed. The previous evening on Botchergate in Carlisle consisted of drinking as much as we could. It was a true alcohol binge as we partied with the locals until the early hours of the morning. Matt woke me up, dancing around the room to his Scottish playlist which he had prepared on his Spotify. Deacon Blue appeared to be his band of choice, while I would have preferred some Calvin Harris or even better, some peace and quiet.
It was a beautiful morning with the sun beating down as we walked around to Bar Solo to drop our bags off for the day again. Our train was waiting for us and we boarded on to a beautifully clean ScotRail service to Glasgow. It was clean until I threw up halfway between Annan and Dumfries anyway. I cited travel sickness and heat as the catalysts before the whole carriage was shut off by a train conductor who was far from happy.
Matt and I grabbed our bags and ran down to the other end of the train; miraculously I now felt a lot better and felt I could face the long day ahead. In fairness, I was about to go to the toilet when a toddler decided that he needed to empty his bladder with the assistance of his mother, so it was their fault and not mine.
Upon arriving in Dumfries you can notice the pride that the locals have in their train station. It has won station of the year on not one, but two occasions, in 1986 and 1987 respectively. Personally, I don’t take kindly to towns that like to show off, so I vacated the premises swiftly, passing a collection of Queen of the South memorabilia in the reception area.
Opposite the train station is the Waverley Bar which was fairly quiet when we entered. Unsurprising of course as it was still before midday. The locals who were in attendance were keen to inform us that Queen of the South were not at home and that we had embarked upon a wasted journey. They thought we were slightly peculiar when they discovered we had travelled from Carlisle to watch the little known Heston Rovers.
Staring out of the corner window in the Waverley Bar you can make out the former home of author J.M. Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan. 6 Victoria Terrace was where he lived with his brother between 1875 and 1878 while he attended Dumfries Academy. Incidentally, the parents of Neil Oliver now live in the house, you know that boring sod off Coast? He’s was raised in Dumfries. Other people from Dumfries include the world’s richest DJ, Calvin Harris and BBC broadcaster Kirsty Wark.
Calvin Harris once provided a tutorial for his fans on how to make his infamous fly eye glasses that were the must have accessory when I was at school in 2006. During this Youtube tutorial, he purchased a chicken, filled it with bleach and threw it into the sea. A week later, the sea produced a pack of crackers which he then crushed with a shoe purchased from a shop in the town centre. A sprinkling of coco-pops and it was ready to be put into the River Nith where the shoe mysteriously made it’s way to a local church. The shoes was now ready to be put in the oven and after two weeks of preparation the fly eye glasses were ready.
I tried on numerous occasions to make some fly eye glasses following these instructions but unfortunately they didn’t work. I wandered around Dumfries trying to purchase some but I gave up and after grabbing some essential paracetamol from Boots I met up with Matt in The Barrel Pub which was next to a typically Scottish whiskey shop.
After Matt had finished another pint we headed further into the town centre and were drawn in by a pub down a small ginnel. It was named Hole I’ The Wa’ Inn and it was quite busy with many locals eating and watching the Arsenal v Liverpool match in there. Thankfully there were adverts for the pub’s local side Queen of the South which showed not everybody in the pub supported Liverpool.
I had mentioned to Matt in the weeks leading up to our trip to Dumfries that a groundhopper from home had visited Dumfries recently and had commented on how good the Wetherspoons is. Not that the two of us need an invitation to visit the local Wetherspoons we discovered it was on the way to Palmerston Park and it was soon on our itinerary. We passed a statue of Robert Burns who spent the last few years of his life in the town and we were soon at an impressive looking Wetherspoons called Robert The Bruce.
Slightly too late to sample the Scottish interpretation of a traditional Wetherspoons breakfast I opted to sit downstairs while Matt headed to the bar. Atherton Collieries secretary Emil rang me with our team news so I could do the official tweet as we hosted Northwich Flixton Villa at home in a key league match. Even when I’m in Dumfries I’m involved in my beloved club in a small way and I love it.
With 40 minutes to go until kick off we headed over the River Nith and saw the floodlights as we crossed the bridge. Unsure of exactly how to get to the ground we headed past a children’s play centre where three young women waved at us through the window. As flattered as we were, we soon realised that the three obviously had children and we pressed on through a winding estate to the ground.
“How do you get into the ground mate?”, “There’s no match today you know.”, “There is, Heston Rovers. How do you get into the ground?”. The bloke who was stood cleaning up an area behind the East Stand looked at us blankly before informing us that this is not an area in which he “regularly frequents” and with that we headed back into the estate. Very odd indeed.
Ten minutes later having walked around the whole ground we made it to the main entrance. A lovely old woman was in the middle of lighting her cigarette as we approached the turnstile. “Somebody always turns up when I try and have a smoke!” she said, much to the amusement of Matt and I. It cost me just £1 to get in and another £1 for a programme, far cheaper than the two of us had expected.
“The pitch is in good shape!” I exclaimed as I approached the fence. It was only then that I realised it was an artificial surface and we thought we would be in for a long afternoon. Thankfully, the artificial pitch was of a good standard and despite being able to hear the friction on the ball all afternoon a good match unfolded. Granted, the quality of play was poor but it was still entertaining.
Many of the Heston supporters were really curious as to why we had come to watch them and we were asked to explain our actions on many occasions. It was all nice though, even if they did give us the same strange looks that we had received all day. Derek, who runs the club’s Twitter account, came over and said “I see you made it to Wetherspoons then!” and from then on, Matt set about boring the pants off everybody with story after story about Stephen Dobbie who once played for Queen of the South.
Crichton were the visitors for this South of Scotland League match. They emerged from the small portacabins found at the corner of the ground in a plain red kit. We had to wait a further five minutes for Heston to arrive on to the pitch, in their black and white stripes.
Going into the match, Heston found themselves in fourth place while Crichton were in ninth, 14 points behind their local rivals. The other two Dumfries sides in this division are Dumfries YMCA and Lochar Thistle.
Heston fell two goals behind in the opening 10 minutes of the first half and both came from corner. The first was a looping header from Declan Hill that somehow wriggled it’s way through a cluster of bodies. The second was a close range drive from Clarke Chambers.
At half time, the crowd of what we counted to be 37 didn’t have much to do. There was no bar or food on offer for this match. We were informed by Derek that the people who are usually in charge of food were in Blackpool for the weekend. Whether they were helping to feed the locals on the Fylde Coast is another story.
Matt and I stayed in the East Stand trying to talk to a pigeon that had made a large nest above some of the seats. Fortunately the second half soon kicked off and we will never know how Heston didn’t go on to win that match after deservedly pulling back on level terms.
Sean Kevan was running the show for Heston up front and he scored both of Rovers goals. The striker, who is in to ‘hardcore gangster rap’ according to the programme grabbed his first from the penalty spot. His second goal was a well taken finish, but he missed far more easier chances and ultimately the visitors punished their hosts.
With a few minutes remaining Clarke Chambers scored his second of the afternoon to claim all three points.
As the final whistle blew we headed out of the ground and a few of the Heston fans thanked us for coming down and wished us a safe journey back to Manchester. One fan was even kind enough to walk with us through the estate so we knew where we were going before hopping on his bike and cycling off home. I was slightly envious that he’d be home in a matter of minutes and I’d be lucky to be home before 22:00.
On the walk back through Dumfries, I demanded that we strolled the scenic way down Whitesands which sits next to The River Nith. Devorgilla Bridge forms a centre piece to this part of the town, with a weir known as The Caul it really is worth a visit. The sheer speed and sound of the water is truly mesmerizing. I could have stayed there forever but we had a train to catch so slowly made our way to the other side of the town.
Arriving too early, we found ourselves back in the Waverley Bar where the Dumfries YMCA players had gathered after their match against St Cuthbert Wanderers. We were soon on our way back to Carlisle, on a train which was full of party goers on their way to Newcastle for the night. To me it seemed like a long way to go for a drink, why not just have a night in watching BBC Four?
Back in Carlisle we had an hour to spare before our train back to Manchester. We wisely spent this time in one of the few pubs in Carlisle which we hadn’t yet visited; The Griffin. Chelsea v Stoke finished on the TV and that signalled to us that it was time to head back home. After changing train in Wigan I got back late and went straight to bed, I think I deserved it.
Overall, it had been a great day in Dumfries considering the calamitous start that I endured. Hopefully I’ll be back in Dumfries again at some stage to watch Queen of the South. For the record, five days after we had seen Heston Rovers lose to Crichton, Queen of the South beat Rangers 3-0 live on BT Sport at Palmerston Park. This is a true example of how vast this facility can be, yet can still be used by the local community. Oh, and Status Quo will be playing there in the summer…
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 144 miles
- ADMISSION: £1 as a student
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £1