Easing in at East Craigie

During my last trip to ‘The City of Discovery’ I ventured up Lochee way to follow in the footsteps of my Dundonian grandfather. I walked the streets and spent time amongst the people of the community he was raised in, feeling a real connection to a relative long passed. This time I found myself crossing the Silvery Tay not in the pursuit of personal history but to address the complicated question about who is the oldest Junior side still in operation. A good few teams lay claim to that honour, including our hosts East Craigie who can trace their origins all the way back to 1880. In fact so sure are The Shipbuilders of their place in history the sign outside their ground proudly boasts they are indeed “Scotland’s Oldest Junior Football Club”.

The main problem with Craigie’s claim to be the oldest is that at least four long serving Junior clubs display years prior to 1880 upon their badges, thus they trace their formation back to before the birth of The Shipbuilders. Arniston Rangers, Kirkintilloch Rob Roy and Larkhall Thistle all claim to have been born in 1878, while Vale of Clyde came into existence as far back as 1873. One then might jump to the conclusion that the Craigie Park side are simply talking bollocks, but it isn’t that simple when one looks at the idea of being the oldest continuous Junior side. East Craigie it seems have a pretty good shot at being the side with the longest unbroken stint in the grade, one which The Rabs or Tin Pail cannot claim as they spent 1927 to ’31 playing in the breakaway Scottish Intermediate Football League. As for Larkhall their Lanarkshire League had two spells of abeyance, but since it was due to both world wars is seems harsh to count that as a real break. So then East Craigie aren’t really the club with the oldest unbroken Junior service, more likely second or (given my inability to find information on Arniston) possibly third. However with the Jags and the Gers no longer being under the SJFA banner, while Craigie remain, it is only a matter of time until it is a title they can call their own.

The past and the club’s place in it aside, our current crop of Craigie players are on the cusp of making history themselves. A side that never won the Dundee, Tayside or East Region Junior title are on course to win the inaugural Midlands League, sitting top of the pile after twenty seven games. It is a success story local sports journalist Jim Davie attributes to a young, skillful squad bolstered with quality additions from both Dee & United development teams. Key players include Grady McGrath, released by Dundee to score fifty plus goals this campaign and Scotland internationalist Lee Wilkie’s laddie Jack. If the form continues that first league title could be in the bag, however the opponents this afternoon Lochee United (my preseason pick to become champions)are always going to be a tough challenge for The Shipbuilders. Whatever the result, I was anticipating a whopper of a game ahead.

Pre-Match Pints

There ain’t many pubs in the vicinity of the fitba ground today, so taking advice from a couple of ex-Dundonian friends I visited a couple of classic city centre shoaps and a newer kid on the block that is an auld favourite of mine. First up was Tickety Boo’s in Commercial Street, who’s ancient exterior clashed with the enthusiastic young staff encountered inside. Instantly I am asked if it is food or just drinks today and opting for the latter receive a tasty pint of Beavertown Neck Oil in exchange for a hefty £5.60. As I’ve stated many times before; quality gear comes at premium prices. Sitting down I find the place to be quite the beauty, the central bar has a mezzanine balanced upon it like a giant bunk-bed, stained glass in upper windows have a mix of roses & thistles and the poetry of the mighty William McGonnagal is stencilled upon the wall. While not dining I have to say the menu looks good, all traditional bar lunch fayre at reasonable enough prices. The majority of starters are cheaper than my pint and no one is getting robbed at just over a tenner for a steak pie wi’ chips. Overall I felt like I was in a more worn and thus more loved version of Edinburgh’s Guildford Arms, which is no bad thing at all. Certainly a boozer I’d love to wile away an afternoon in.

Next up in a dark corner of Panmure Street is a small entrance marked by a dim orange lamp, beyond I found a deep, windowless, wooden clad cavern known simply as Caw’s. Half past eleven and the smallish boozer is busy with over a dozen punters each north of fifty, all brandishing pints in hand. Across the plain terracotta tiles I reach the bar, a women (one of those ‘any cheek & yer oot’ types) gruffly asks me what I want before pouring a pint of McEwans 80/- for a mere £2.80. Sitting down I watch regulars watch the horses as well the warm up for a Leeds United game. After tasting that pint I make a note to forget what I’ve said many times about quality gear and premium prices. This beer was all creamy & toffee flavoured awesomeness, the best value pint of beer you’ll find anywhere in the country. By far. Interestingly the 70/- and the lager are the same 2008 price too.

Sitting down I strike up conversation with a fine gent from the Ferry who had recently done hospitality at East Craigie and played for Lochee back in the day, he agreed with my assertion that Dundee is a special town for football and that the pubs aren’t half bad either. Also in his opinion, Caw’s is the last real local’s pub left in the city centre and the only one that doesn’t charge big city centre prices. He claims the place is a secret, a hidden unspoiled gem and perhaps I shouldn’t write about it so that it remains that way. I’m sorry but the place it too good to not shout about as it is a real call back to what proper pubs used to be. If you are in town go visit, by the second pint the landlady will warm to you I promise. Just don’t tell anybody I sent you.

Finally is a place I’ve been with family & friends many a time, a place I associate great days out in Dundee and even a stag do or two; Dukes Corner. This is the first time I have visited this vast converted primary school alone so instead of camaraderie I arrive for what is is famous for, craft beer and amazing burgers. At the long bar with seventeen ales to choose from I get a pint of Jarl (which I’ve long believed is Scotland’s best beer) and order The Duke, a cheeseburger with bacon, onion rings and mustard mayo. It ain’t Tickey’s food prices but as I’ve often said quality gear comes at premium prices! Sitting down at a table that has caught the spring sunshine I marvel at how unchanged the place is in the decade I have been coming here, although it makes me pine for the loved ones I have visited with in the past. After a Wetherspoons like hike to the toilet I return to find the scran delivered and it is glorious, apologies to St Andrew’s Brew Co your burger has at long last been beaten. With every scrap consumed and with the temptation to lick the grease proof paper it came on resisted, it was time to get a taxi up to Old Craigie Road.

The Ground

Standing in the shadow of the famous DC Thomson building , with a cemetery on two sides and allotments on one, Craigie Park can best be described as bloody huge. No wonder 8,000 were able to fit in here exactly ninety years ago when a Dundee Juniors XI faced Celtic to open a ground largely unchanged to this day. On three sides of the pitch we have large grass embankments and at the allotment end a smart new metal structure, with changing rooms and hospitality suite, stands next to a ramshackle structure it has now pretty much replaced. Inside that hospitality suite folk were having a rare time in a room dressed in the traditional garb of auld photos and opposition pennants. Here I’m lucky enough to receive a pint of Ossian and have a chat with some of the committee about the goings on at the club during this very exciting season.

Interestingly The Shipbuilders were forced to play much of the first half of the campaign away from home after work done on their pitch in the pre-season saw it ruled unplayable. Today it looks grand, sure it undulates a bit, but it seems green and lush after the winter and in better nick than some SPFL grounds I could mention at the moment. It is worth noting that even in the warm up players are getting quite muddy, a sign that the pitch might cut up a fair bit during the match. Also I need to point out that the surface is massive, a good twelve yards of turf separate the changing rooms from the touchline and you could park buses in both dugout technical areas. In a season where I’ve been in tight wee grounds at Musselburgh & Whitburn, Craigie Park feels like an incredible expanse of land.

The Game

With people still queuing to get in to join what was surely was a two hundred & fifty strong crowd the battle of two Midlands League big boys began. Boys indeed in terms of the hosts, who were as young and skilful as I had been promised, with a confidence on the ball beyond their years. At the back a bald and bearded elder statesman (who’s probably not even thirty) was pulling the strings for a side that in the first section of the game gave glimpses of why they sit top of the table. The Chee though are a class act and came with a plan; play hard, work as a unit and refused to give anything away. Despite said planning the first chance of the match fell to the home side when a corner was almost converted via a powerful heider. It was Lochee who scored first however when a mistake, by the otherwise capable Craigie goalie, cause United to take the lead and begin a period of dominance in the match. An offside minutes later prevented the visitors doubling the advantage and after a stoppage caused by an injury to the Chee ‘keeper, Lochee went up a gear as shots rained in on the home goal. First a striker latched on to a botched clearance, forcing an excellent save, before The Shipbuilders defence was carved apart like a Christmas turkey only for the final strike to be saved again. With half time looming the Thomson Park side were denied what may well have been a penalty, since none was awarded the Craigie bench cried blue murder at the lack of booking for simulation.

After the break East Craigie were desperate to avoid only their third defeat of the season, but chances for either side were few and far between. For twenty five minutes it was a tough midfield battle, with a bit of heading tennis, before there was even a clear attempt on goal. When it did come there was high drama as Craigie cleared shots from consecutive corners right off the goal line. Not long after a Craigie man blootered a great opportunity wildly over the bar, then United cracked their rival’s post with a stoater of a shot. In a tense half where the referee’s whistle affected the flow of the game there was to be no more goals, Lochee’s plan had worked, their heist was successful and largely deserved.

The Aftermath

Dundee is and always has been a great fitba town and a city of fantastic pubs with my fifth adventure to the land of Oor Wullie & The Broons proving it once again. Tickety Boo’s was very good indeed, Caw’s was a special place who’s ilk is sadly long extinct and Dukes Corner the perfect example of how a modern craft beer bar should be. The best thing is that with half a dozen or so clubs left to visit in The City of Discovery the number of quality boozers yet to visit is almost limitless. The Speedwell & Dundee Violet seem like an ideal combination for a day out next season.

As for today’s hosts, it would have been great to see them in the pomp they have displayed all season prior to today, however Lochee turned up and did exactly what they needed to do to keep the top two in the division from disappearing out of sight. Not the whopper of a game I anticipated but a tense match between quality sides. East Craigie slipped to second in the table with this result, albeit having a game in hand over Carnoustie Panmure, however if they keep their heads up and don’t let this defeat get to them they should be able to get back on top and claim that first ever title. Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s the Gowfers season now.

As for being the oldest Junior side the club admit that they pretty much know it ain’t true, however as I said most recently at Airdrie sometimes it is better to believe the legend than to give a damn about the facts. Interestingly one committee member said it was a claim that was made to make the club seem special and act as a carrot to encourage folk like me to visit. The truth is East Craigie don’t need it as the fact they are a warm and welcoming club who play good football in front of big crowds at a fine ground is reason enough to attract any lover of the beautiful game up the Old Craigie Road.

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