The Fitba Nomad End of Season Awards 2020

Coronavirus has seriously screwed up the end of the footballing season but for me I was almost done anyway, my third campaign cut short with only three games left. All Scottish football was closed down on Friday 13th of March, twenty four hours before I was due to travel to Beith Juniors for their SJFA West Region Premiership fixture against Kirkintilloch Rob Roy. After that all I had planned was an Easter holiday’s visit to a Dundee or Aberdeen Junior side (East Craigie or Hermes most likely) before finishing up with a long anticipated trip to Fauldhouse United. My apologies to the three clubs, and the pubs that surround them, who’ve missed out on a chance at glory this year, your time will come again whenever next season kicks off.

That said, let there be no talk of ‘tainted titles’ here. This season’s ‘Pub of the Year’ and ‘Club of the Year’ would be well worthy of the awards in any season, even the honourable mentions could have challenged for those coveted prizes. My two winners are truly exceptional and excellent for the reasons I’m about to outline. In a season where every trip was a good one, where I saw games at every level and gender, where I went as far north as Inverurie to the distant south of Manchester; this pub and this club managed to rise above the rest to be my champions.

The Fitba Nomad Pub of the Year 2020

Overall Winner: The Tartan Sheep, Kilmarnock

It was a surprising mild January day in Ayrshire, on my way to a Scottish Cup clash between Kilmarnock and Queens Park, when I entered the greatest pub I went to all season; The Tartan Sheep. What looked like a funky café from the exterior turned out to be a beautiful wee place that really has it all. Firstly a fortune has been spent on some high quality décor that blends together the quaint & old fashioned rural pub with the flashy and modern. We have tartan carpets and a massive old hearth mixed with LED lights and a mahoosive telly. Such a good picture on that TV, with a game on, it makes you feel like you’re sitting in a hospitality box at an English Premier League ground.

Talking of hospitality the service at this place was tremendous, with experienced barman Andi running the place very smoothly. At a highly polished dark wood bar covered in awards I opted for a £2.50 pint of Caffreys, which ran out half an inch from the top. Despite my willingness to pay the full price, it was insisted that I only pay for a half (worth pointing out I was just a random punter to the guy, at this point he was unaware I was in writing about the place). Then my £1.25 ‘pint’ became accompanied by a free scotch pie that were being distributed in vast quantities to regulars and visiting Queen’s fans alike. Nice places tend to fear twenty or so away supporters when they arrive through the door, but here they were made to feel like most welcome guests. Always nice to see football fans being treated well for a change.

In conclusion we have a pub with everything; clean & tidy, smart & cosy, friendly & welcoming. The drink selection was good, particularly when it came to spirits, and the a staff member running the show genuinely cared about providing excellent service. The Tartan Sheep is at 4A John Finnie Street, when the virus is gone and the pubs reopen you must get heading to my Pub of the Year.

Read the original Kilmarnock blog here:

Honourable Mentions

I love BrewDog bars, as I used to frequent one daily, and had the chance to visit three of them for the first time this season. While the Manchester and Inverurie branches were good however, BrewDog Carlisle holds a special place for me now. A real regulars BrewDog like the flagship bar of old, the staff I met were genuinely lovely folk and even the bouncers are relaxed and friendly.

Peebles has no lack of quality boozers but The Bridge Inn is a truly special spot. Beautiful doesn’t do this old Victorian pub justice with views out across the Tweed bridge, a beer garden that looks like it should belong to The National Trust and antique urinals that women visitors are sadly missing out on. Looks alone might get it a mention here but add to the fact that it is a CAMRA award winning pub with an ace selection of single malts and it moves into the highest echelon of Scottish pubs.

Finally I like a social club and none was better this season than Greenock Celtic Supporters Club, a mammoth two story facility where I was given a full guided tour. Excellent drinks selection for a club (Four Roses Bourbon!) as well as being cleaner and better looked after than the Sistine Chapel. All that aside it is the charitable aspect that needs to have a light shone upon it. This club raised £28,000 for good causes in 2019 and in excess of £150,000 in the last five years. Incredible.

The Fitba Nomad ‘Alistair Stalker Memorial’ Club of the Year 2020

Overall Winner: Carlisle United, English Football League Two

Yes I understand that ‘Scotlands Most Prominent Groundhopper’ etching the name of an EFL club on to the trophy that bares his late father’s name may seem like sacrilege but I’m sorry, I had no choice. Carlisle United are my team of the season and the main reason are it’s fans. From the moment I announced I was heading there on social media the response was overwhelming; supporters saturated me in club history, they provided guides on where to drink in town and as game day approached they wanted to meet. Special thanks to Lee Rotherham, who I met for a pint (which he bought) and showed me just how passionate the Blue & White Army are, as well as the guys from who allowed me to make my podcast debut. Even after I released my blog the response was humbling. A few of my articles have had more readers but none have resulted in me getting so much positive and friendly feedback.

Fans aside I loved that a club the size of a Motherwell or Dundee up here had the friendly community spirit of a Kelty or St Roch’s. Big club, humble club. I adored Brunton Park with its Paddock and Warwick Road End contrasting with a more modern, yet misaligned, ‘Pioneer Foods Stand’. In Scotland places like Brockville, Muirton and Kilbowie have been torn down, yet Carlisle’s ground still stands and harks back to them. Finally I fell in love with the town itself; beautiful, friendly, reasonably priced and safe, it’s everything that there local club is too.

Read the original Carlisle United blog here:

Honourable Mentions

This season I finally visited Celtic and it is impossible not to be astounded by their fans, stadium or that awesome (almost) nine in a row winning team on the park. That Kerrydale Suite which services hundreds of season ticket holders for food and drink before kick-off just blows my mind. You might not get the personal touch at such a big club but seconds before the match begins, when the huddle is formed and You’ll Never Walk Alone echoes all around, you are experiencing something truly special in world football.

My day out at Bo’ness United was incredible. The Corbie Inn and Richmond Hotel are certainly great but a grand old Junior ground packed to the rafters for a huge derby against Linlithgow Rose was even better. Massive club with great ambition, expect to see them in an SPFL game near you soon.

Finally Peebles Rovers may have provided me with one of my finest days out ever. A great club with one of the most picturesque parks in the land and a game against Nithsdale Wanderers that will be remembered for ages. Once again I’d like to thank Brown Brothers Renault & Dacia (and Colin MacDonald), the club sponsors for funding every aspect of that awesome trip.

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