The Fitba Nomad End of Season Awards 2021/22

The Fitba Nomad Club of the Year:

Airdrieonians Football Club

The Reasons Why: If you had told me at the season’s start that an adventure to Airdrie would be my best, I’d have been very surprised indeed. Nothing against The Diamonds or the town itself, but it is a fact that trips to SPFL clubs tend to lack a certain something with many fellow groundhoppers tending to stick to non-league fitba as a result. My one bus and two train trek to Airdrieonians back in February was very much the exception however, as a fantastic day unfolded.

Things actually started to go well a week before I headed to North Lanarkshire, as I began building up to my visit with the usual social media posts about players past and famous victories. I do this before every trip and get usually a few comments from fans, however when I started posting about The Diamonds I was inundated with likes, shares and amusing anecdotes. When I asked what pubs I should imbibe in, not only did suggestions come in thick & fast, but invites arrived to meet for a pint and one group of guys even asked me to join them at a local Italian restaurant for lunch. The amount of support I received ahead of arrival in Airdrie was unprecedented, not only for an SPFL side, but from any side I’ve ever visited.

Then on the day, the pub recommendations couldn’t have been better as The West End Bar, Cue Here & The Albert Bar were all top class shoaps. In each I was greeted by folk, some Airdrie supporters others just residents, and was made to feel most welcome. In the West End it was the landlord who filled me in about his very smartly decorated pub as he unloaded a delivery from the cash & carry. At Cue Here, the most stunning pool hall ever, the owner bought me a pint as I spoke with staff and regulars about the game and a hundred other topics. Finally in a busy Albert, where a lone bartender issued perfect pints of Guinness, I got a chat with some local worthies after they asked me if “I was that boy aff the Internet?”. As pub crawls go it was pretty damned near perfect.

After such a great start to the day I would have taken a less that stellar performance from the home team, but instead I saw a clinical and dominant performance from an Airdrieonians side that had been undefeated in the league since their December 7th trip to Montrose. The Links Park side were ironically the opposition I would see The Diamonds face and the Excelsior Stadium club took them apart in a 4-1 victory, a win so emphatic it surprised even some of the most hardcore support. It was to be an important result in what was a great campaign for Airdrie, who would go undefeated until they faced The Gable Endies once again in the first leg of the Championship play-off. The Diamonds would progress after a thrilling 6-4 win in the second leg, before Queens Park eventually ended their promotion hopes at the final hurdle.

To read my full adventure to Airdrieonians click the link:

Honourable Mentions

Lochee United & Saint Anthony’s

The Reasons Why: I’ve known for years that Lochee United are a kind and generous side, ever since my mate’s stag years ago when the club president came to pick us all up ahead of kick-off in the team bus. Returning to Thomson Park it was heartening to see the same folk running the place and I was blown away by the offer of free hospitality. Soup, roast beef and plenty of liquid refreshments were consumed and while it sounds like I’ve been bribed to write nice things it really was a brilliant day besides it. On a beautiful summer’s afternoon, at a gorgeous ground, I enjoyed the company of sports journalist (and more impressively to my Mum, former Bunty editor) Jim Davie. The team on the park weren’t half bad either, the Midlands League giants putting on a commanding and entertaining performance against an eager Blairgowrie. The pubs beforehand weren’t much to write home about, but being able to walk in my Lochee born grandfather’s footsteps was the cherry on top of a fabulous day.

At Saint Anthony’s I was spoiled too. There were a couple of tinnies and plenty of ‘Govan Crumpet’ in the McKenna Park committee room, followed by after match Domino’s Pizza with the boys at The Old Govan Arms. Once again however a club hasn’t used inducements to get a mention, it was the people at The Ants who made the day special. First of all those working behind the scenes to keep the club moving forward were an excellent bunch, many of which belonging to the McKenna family dynasty that the park is named after. Three generations of McKennas were present at my visit and Martin in particular made sure the time I spent with Saint Anthony’s was special indeed. Then on the field we had a team that not only knew how to play football, but they were a delightfully diverse squad that truly represents modern 21st Century multicultural Glesga. Amongst the side I saw dish out a doing to Lanark United we had Dutch Iraqi, Zimbabwean and Czech Congolese guys, all playing as one effective unit then hanging out together afterwards like they were all pals from as far back as nursery. As I said at the time “People Make Glasgow and, for a good number of reasons, that is definitely an Ants thing.

The Fitba Nomad Pub of the Year

Staggs Bar/The Volunteer Arms, Musselburgh

The Reasons Why: No this isn’t a compromise where two pubs are tied as winner, rather our East Lothian located victor has more than one name. If I remember correctly no one recommended this place to me, I came across this incredible boozer by chance and entered only because my local back home is a Volunteer Arms too. From outside she looks promising, but the humble exterior in no way prepares punters for the gloriousness that awaits inside. At the time I described her as “Nirvana, Valhalla, Sto’Vo’Kor and Elysian Fields all wrapped up into one” and today it is a claim I still stand by.

The first piece of awesomeness was the selection of drink, with four Oakham Ales permanently on cask and another couple of guest beers on rotation. It was a guest ale for me, with my pint of ‘Scotland’s greatest beer’ Fyne Ales Jarl pouring perfectly. If beer ain’t your bag then Staggs can certainly sort you out for wine, as they have an extensive list written in chalk above the bar matching the ale board for variety & quality and even as an ale man a glass of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc or Argentinian Malbec was quite tempting. Don’t like wine either, well this Volunteer has malts, gins and other spirits galore too.

For 164 years Staggs Bar has been run by the same family, meaning they have been in-charge since long before the Forth Rail Bridge was built. In this time, not only have they worked hard to provide top class refreshments (with a wall of CAMRA awards testament to this), but have lovingly maintained a beautiful interior. As you might expect it is all warm wood; bar, tables and walls with brewery mirrors and framed photos of Musselburgh past. Yes it is pretty typical, but is done tremendously well and is also immaculately kept. In a post pandemic world, where even total dive bars are five thousand times cleaner than they were before, I’d bet Staggs was always spotless before anyone ever heard of Covid-19. The decor, the cleanliness and the friendly staff meant I never wanted to leave and made me look at house prices in the surrounding area. What a shoap!

To read about my adventure in Musselburgh in full click the link:

Honourable Mentions

The Thornwood Bar, Glasgow & Cue Here, Airdrie

The Reasons Why: I had such high expectations for The Thornwood before I arrived, that I did the rare thing of making it my only stop on the way to Saint Anthony’s. By following the place on social media and by listening to reports from friends, I knew she was special and she did not disappoint. An auld Glesga shoap reinvented, on Dumbarton Road lies a craft beer palace that serves brunch, cocktails and has an extensive gin list. A beautiful place as well, the fact that it appeals to all sorts of drinkers; from ‘ladies who lunch’ to pensioner regulars is Thornwood’s real charm.

Cue Here caught me off guard, why were the good people of Airdrie sending me to a dingy pool hall? Pool hall yes, but not dingy in the least as the place was vibrant and busy as I walked through the door just after twelve. Two great things in this place, first are the friendly & chatty staff & regulars, second is the utterly unique decor. This place is a veritable modern music museum, with memorabilia from Dolly Parton to Radiohead adorning every inch of the walls. There is also something special about the place that I find really hard to describe, I recommend you visit yourself to see what I mean.

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