Today I am off to Camelon, a place I have passed through literally thousands of times in cars, buses and trains (the automated announcer on the latter always pronouncing it rather plumily as ‘Camel-on’ instead of the proper ‘Came-lun’). Whether being driven to Falkirk’s Cineworld picture house, or heading to Glesga for a day out, this town has just been a point in the journey that I haven’t given much thought to, that is until today. This afternoon I’m off to see yet another two teams that have just departed the SJFA for the East of Scotland Football League, it’s Camelon Juniors vs Perth’s Jeanfield Swifts.
From a village with a population of only around 4500, famed as the location where the Forth & Clyde Canal meets with the Union Canal, ‘The Mighty Mariners’ have a fascinating history. Established in 1920 the club began life as a nomadic Junior side without a ground to call their own until a local farmer, impressed by the volume of Great War veterans in the squad, donated the land that was to become Carmuirs Park. In 1952 they made it to the final of the Scottish Junior Cup, losing by one goal to nil against Ayrshire’s Kilburnie Ladeside at Hampden Park in front of 69,959 (the second biggest cup final attendance in the tournament’s history). Prior to falling at the final hurdle The Mighty Mariners had seen off the likes of Tranent, Bo’ness United, Pollock and Whitburn en route to the national stadium.
That final aside success eluded The Mariners until a golden decade in the nineties when Camelon made the final in consecutive seasons, winning the trophy with a 2-0 win over Whitburn in 1995 (The Mariners’ 75th anniversary season) and narrowly losing one nil in extra time to Tayport the following year. That decade also saw two East Region Championships and an East Junior League Cup arrive at Carmuirs Park, where improvements were made including a large enclosure added to the pavilion meaning covered terracing on two sides of the pitch. According to the club the park was “one of the best stadiums and playing surfaces in Scottish Junior Football and even the envy of many senior clubs”, a claim I look forward to testing this afternoon.
Camelon has supplied the wider footballing world with a number of notable names; 1952 cup finalist John Hansen Sr was father to brothers John Jr and Alan, both of whom were Scottish internationalists who’s legacies are well know. The club has provided a few stars to both Rangers and local SPFL side Falkirk too, one of the most notable being goalkeeper Jerry Dawson who played for both clubs from the twenties through to the forties as well as representing Scotland between the sticks on fourteen occasions.
As a child of the nineties however the biggest name to come out of Camelon for me is Falkirk legend Kevin ‘Crunchie’ McAllister, while he also enjoyed successful spells with Chelsea and Hibernian it was at The Bairns that he made his name. Held in such regard by Falkirk fans he was voted their ‘Player of the Millenium’ over such other Brockville icons (and contemporaries) as Simon Stainrod, Richard Cadette, John ‘Yogi’ Hughes and some bloke by the name of Chris Waddle.
Today then it is just a couple of stops on the train to ‘Camel-on’, only a few miles from home. It’s two former East SJFA big guns facing off in the new land of the East of Scotland Football League. Both sides are performing well in Conference C, a point between them near the summit of the table, both looking to clinch silverware in their first senior season. So many times I’ve passed through this place, finally it’s time to step out into it.
In the lead up to today I’d been warned by a few friends and colleagues who claimed Camelon to be a ‘rough place’ but I arrive in a nice town, the only visible danger coming from the rather busy Glasgow Road. Crossing it safely in front of the Sheriff Court I enter my first pub of the day: The Roman Bar.
Despite its name it is clearly a Rangers boozer with blue upholstered booths, bright blue pool table and Tina Turner’s ‘The Best’ being the third most played track on the jukebox. It’s a big place too with a, really high, horseshoe bar and enough seating for fifty plus. A pint can of Greene King East Coast IPA is on offer at two quid.
It is quiet just now but must be busy on darts night as the place is equipped with three dart boards each with a spotlight and carefully measured oche. I’d love to be hear when it’s mobbed, bet it is a riot.
Just along the Street, across from a boat shaped Tesco, is the crumbling art deco exterior of The Mariner Bar. Inside I find a vast well worn space with very friendly regulars and staff. I enjoy a pint of Guinness while a local shows me pictures of his ferrets and I’m shown the newly refurbished lounge. A great old place that would shine with a wee investment into the bar and the outside.
I walk through town to the beautiful waterfront and into the equally stunning Canal Inn. Simply gorgeous old building with low ceiling and lower wooden beams across it. There are a solid selection of beers and malts with me opting for a hauf & a hauf as a result (Moretti & Highland Park £4.50). I kinda feel an establishment such as this should serve cask ale, my only fault. This place is really friendly too with locals and staff eager to chat. This and the view of the canal out the window makes this place almost perfect.
Crossing the canal I see my final stop The Union Inn, a braw white building next to the water with boats tied up outside and swans stoating about. On a bright day the interior feels very dark and would probably look better on a winter’s night with the fire roaring. I pay £3.30 for a fine Italian lager I’ve never heard of before, punters engrossed in filling in coupons. I enjoy my final pint before heading to Carmuirs Park.
I first catch sight of the park through a gate and I am actually blown away. I don’t think I’ll ever see a prettier ground on my travels. Inside I get an uninterrupted view of a bowling green pitch and main stand with a cover that shelters three quarters of the southern touchline. Three sides of the pitch have concrete terracing with the northern side covered goal line to goal line with a bright red enclosure.
Inside the main stand is Club 1920, a new area for fans to gather before the match and buy a pie and a pint for four quid. (There is a Camelon JFC Social Club outside the ground but it is not run by the club. ) It is a lovely but simple affair, a fridge with cans and the optics holding the essentials.
In here I get the opportunity to speak to the chairmen of both clubs. The Mariners’ head honcho discussing the club’s strong desire to join the senior ranks while Swifts Chair chats about moving grades due to having little choice such was the mass exodus. It is interesting to get contrasting views.
Two fit looking young teams emerged for the kickoff and give their similar high league positions I was anticipating a thriller. Alas due to a stunning degree of buffoonery my prediction proved wrong.
Things began well and even but by half time full farce had descended and left a loss for the home side a done deal. The Camelon ‘keeper, who is an excellent shot stopper I should point out, made two mammoth blunders while passing the ball out resulting in a pair of easy Jeanfield goals. Added to that a beautiful looping header of an own goal and the not so mighty Mariners went in at the break three goals down.
Back out for the second half and Camelon did get it together scoring a good goal just a few minutes in and giving the roughly one hundred in attendance a glimmer of a chance at a comeback. It wasn’t to be though, a very excellent Jeanfield goalie frustrated the home side and two late goals put the game well beyond reach.
What a day in Camelon, a really friendly place with cracking pubs and the most gorgeous fitba ground in Christendom. If it wasn’t for the errors of the first half we could have had a fantastic game given the quality on the park.
I often think about finding a club to settle down with. After today the thought of a short train journey every fortnight followed by a pint in The Mariner, hauf and a hauf at The Canal Inn then a game at Carmuirs seems really, really attractive.