“It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours, that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself”
Mention Arbroath to anyone, either at home or abroad, and it is more than likely they will have heard of the Angus town due to the famous 1320 document quoted above. ‘The Declaration of Arbroath’ is a letter written by Scottish Barons to Pope John XXII asking for recognition of the excommunicated Robert I (more popularly known by the moniker ‘The Bruce’) as the rightful King of Scotland. Medieval Latin proclamations aside, then there’s probably a tie for the burgh’s most famous institution; either it’s the Arbroath smokie, a salted & smoked haddock delicacy, or today’s hosts Arbroath Football Club.
Founded in 1878 and beautifully nicknamed ‘The Red Lichties’ after the red harbour light that guided boats safely home, Arbroath are famous globally for a couple of things themselves. First of all is their iconic 19th Century home of Gayfield, which I’ll get back to in a bit, followed by their world record for the biggest victory in a legitimate professional match ever. On September 12th 1885, exactly 136 years ago (at time of writing) The Lichties defeated Aberdeen’s Bon Accord 36-0 in the Scottish Cup. Arriving without proper kit the Granite City side saw themselves down by fifteen at the break before shipping another twenty one in the second half. Thirteen of the goals were scored by John Petrie and legend states that Arbroath goalie Jim Milne Snr never touched the ball, choosing to spend large parts of the game sheltering under a supporter’s brolly. Incredibly the score could have been greater, with referee Dave Stormont chalking another five off that afternoon. Also, in amazing cosmic coincidence, it should be noted that just a few miles away Dundee Harp recorded a 35-0 victory over Aberdeen Rovers on the very same day.
While having the world’s biggest win is certainly something to boast about, the Twentieth Century didn’t exactly give the club and its followers much to celebrate. Apart from a four season spell in the top flight under Albert Henderson, two national cup semi-finals; a 1947 Scottish Cup defeat to eventual winners Aberdeen at Dens as well as a 3-0 League Cup loss to Third Lanark in 1960, were Arbroath’s closest shots at glory. The Twenty First Century however has seen success, as the club find themselves in a somewhat golden era with silverware included. In 2010/11 a Division Three title arrived at Gayfield and another one was attained just six years later, both of these achievements being eclipsed by the winning of League One in 2018. Since then The Red Lichties have established themselves as a Championship side, finishing a respectable fifth and seventh in the division while facing big names like Dundee United, Heart of Midlothian and the mighty Alloa Athletic. As things stand Arbroath are the current kings of Angus, a division above arch-rivals Montrose and two ahead of Forfar Athletic. With Scottish fitba icon Dick Campbell at the helm this status doesn’t seem likely to change any time soon and a victory over recent Premiership side Hamilton Academical this afternoon might be a clear sign of certain Championship survival once again.
I received a few good recommendations for pubs further in the town, but given Gayfield is doon the front I decided to keep my drinking by the harbour and leave the rest for a trip to Arbroath Victoria at a later date. First up is not so much a shoap, more a restaurant, but it doesn’t stop The Old Brewhouse being an excellent place for a pint. The final building on the High Street before the water, it is an old building recently done up both inside and out. The interior is all tiny windows, wooden beams and wooden furnishing from an auld kirk with converted pews and choir chairs a plenty. It sounds dark & dingy, but in reality it is bright & fresh with toilets clean enough to sook a spilled pint off the floor. Menu looks smashing and I’d love to come back for scran sometime, but have no time today, instead go for the fancy Italian lager Menabrea. Alas classy restaurant setting means classy restaurant prices: £4.90 a pint is somewhat of a shock and being joined by my Uncle Davey for this pub crawl 20p change from a tenner is almost upsetting.
From fancy eaterie I moved to a braw auld yins boozer, one with white unicorn hoof prints coming out the door and heading down the street; The Commercial Inn. Inside it is a joy to see framed fishermen’s knots and a large model trawler as well as a fine group of older gentlemen enjoying late morning hauf & haufs (great to hear Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell blasting out a speaker too). Perching at a long grey bar I’m in for a treat upon ordering a Tennents as it may be the finest example of the lager ever poured, it was beautiful. For fans of the brand this place is a must visit, for haters of our national beer get ready to be converted. I really loved mine as I listened to the great chat of the fine bunch of chaps in attendance.
Past the smell of smokies being prepared and sold, I reached the harbour front and another fine old regulars shoap, Smugglers. The window sill inside is filled with a pirate diorama and Blackbeard’s ship is situated behind the bar. The place feels like an ancient smugglers haunt, but rather than mead or ale the modern drink selection is pretty good. I have a pint of Sharp’s Brewery Cold River Cider (a first for me) and, in order to keep with the theme, a Havana Club rum. My uncle was clearly in love with the place as he chooses to remain with an 80/- while I take the long walk to my final bar.
Finally we have the icon that is Tutties Neuk, the one unmissable spot on the route to Gayfield. A real fitba pub the busy pine clad bar has Arbroath crests emblazoned on cushions, mirrors, glasses and more. The Moretti is not the most expensive pint of the day & very good. While supping I spy a holy grail of my American whiskey obsession, there right behind the bar is a wee bottle of Hudsons Baby Bourbon, which the last time I saw in a boozer was going for eight quid a nip. Here in Tutties it is £3 a pop however so I quickly order a double to savour slowly. The place was filling with maroon clad punters ahead of kick off and the booze & chat is great. Popular place and it is easy to understand why.
From an iconic pub it’s across the road to the iconic ground of Gayfield. Famous for ‘that’ 1885 victory, being allegedly the closest stadium to the sea in Europe and for the extreme cold fans endure on her terracing in the winter months. With my nineteen quid eticket scanned I’m in and armed with a stunning steak & black puddin’ pie I go explore.
God she is a beauty, the perfect pitch (as impressive as I’ve seen in the SPFL since Stirling Albion) sits below a bowl of concrete terracing that surrounds three of the four touchlines. Wisely there is covering on all three sides too, that will give shelter from the elements unless the rain decides to come down horizontally. As I’m sure it often does.
The final touchline has an old main stand along it, filled with the only seating in the park and set low in a single tier for the idea angle of viewing. Those strange fitba fans with a fetish for floodlights will certainly gawp at the sight of the unusual lightning rig that bursts out of the stand’s roof. Overall she deserves her iconic reputation; expansive, yet compact there isn’t a spot without a good view of the action. She is a grand old lady of Scottish fitba, who’s charms would still enthrall me even on an Arctic January day.
I’ll be honest, a combination of a dull first half and a heid swimming in bourbon made this game hard to summarise. I could simply write the sentence ‘Arbroath were excellent and Accies were pish’, but you’d probably want a bit more than that. Essentially after creating a number of chances to get ahead in that 1st period The Red Lichties finally broke down Hamilton on the stroke of half time. Ex-Airdrie man Scott Stewart scoring a fine goal that had most of the 1234 in attendance in raptures.
With my whiskey stupor lifting at the break, thanks to a Bovril and a Lion Bar, I enjoyed a far better second half where Arbroath dominated completely. Just before the hour mark Stewart provided the assist for Michael McKenna to double the advantage. No one imagined Accies were coming back from this and that certainty was full realised when the visitor’s Jamie Hamilton saw red before the massive English journeyman Joel Nouble made it three. The cherry on top of a fabulous Lichties performance came with five minutes remaining. Nicky Low, who was brilliant all afternoon, struck an awesome free kick into the net sending the supporters home delighted with a huge victory and a third placed spot in the Championship.
Back in Tuttie’s Neuk I sat down with my Maw and Uncle Davey for dinner and reflected on an excellent day by the seaside. The burgh of Arbroath certainly knows how to do a good old fashioned regulars pub, with both Smugglers & The Commercial Inn being top class examples of the genre. If I were to move here it would be a tough choice deciding which would be my local out of the two, perhaps they’d have to agree joint custody. As for Tutties Neuk, it is as good as the legends state. A real supporters bar that fans of so many other clubs simply don’t have. Lichties loyal are lucky to have such a place for pre & post match imbibing.
As for Arbroath Football Club, well it is certainly a vital visit for any ground hopper or real fitba lover. Gayfield is perfect, a grand auld ground with all the mod cons and genuine old school aesthetics from every single gorgeous angle. That gloriously maintained grass surface got a performance played upon it this afternoon that it truly deserved, Arbroath were rampant against an awful Accies today. The Lichties won’t be going down this season, that is for sure, but what about promotion? Stranger things have happened…