With no abiding interest in the play-offs and no tickets for Euro 2016, the football season seemed to be over by the May Bank Holiday weekend – but the chance discovery of the Potts Cup changed all that.
The competition, for teams in the South of Scotland, has a long history – the cup was donated to the Southern Counties FA by a Mr and Mrs EW Potts, proprietors of the Theatre Royal in Dumfries. That set the stage for the premiere edition in the 1901-02 season, with Maxwelltown Volunteers taking the final bow after playing Annan United in Dumfries. It’s not entirely clearly how the Volunteers were awarded the cup after a 3-3 draw but the drama was underway and has continued – give or take a few intervals during the war years – up to the present day. Since it’s not often you can say with total confidence that your name is on the cup, it was time to take Groundhoppers on tour.
This year’s script brought together Creetown, a team founded in 1895 as Barholm Rovers in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright and boasting a hat-trick of Potts Cup wins in the 1930s and a further success in 1982, and Dumfries-based Lochar Thistle. Both teams came off middling seasons in the South of Scotland League but Creetown – known as the Ferry – got to the final on the back of a quarter-final win over league champs St. Cuthbert Wanderers. Thistle, who had never previously won this cup in a 40-year history mostly spent piling up trophies in the Dumfries and District Amateur League, are relative newcomers to the South of Scotland League, stepping up in 2013-14. That debut season brought a run to the league cup final and they were probably slight favourites here.
For Creetown this was a rare excursion to a cup final. In the build-up to the game there was much mention of the eight years since the team last played for a trophy on the club’s Facebook and Twitter pages. And there were some challenges: Creetown is a small, remote community with a population of just 750. When people get involved here, they tend to stay involved – captain Andrew Houston marked his 22nd year with the club this season – but the costs of booking up transport to play a whole bunch of additional cup ties across Dumfries & Galloway had an impact on the finances. That didn’t stop large numbers turning out and making the most of the day. Fans, committee members and even a few injured players took the chance to dress up; club ties, shirts and suits and even the occasional waistcoat marked out the coastal contingent. Initially, though, the underdogs seemed plagued by nerves. The first 10 minutes or so were characterised by seat of the pants defending and only wayward Lochar finishing gave the game a chance to develop.
Gradually the Ferry settled, making a game of it in the latter stages of the first half but always seeming to be under slightly more pressure. When that pressure finally told in the second half, though, Lochar Thistle’s two goals owed much to good fortune and slack defending. The opener, claimed by central defender Craig McCrone was one of those awkward set pieces that bobbled through the box before being bundled in. The second, from substitute Wug Dempster, could have been cleared two or three times before it ended up in the back of the net.
The game also gave a chance to check out Palmerston Park, home of Queen of the South and also home of Heston Rovers, Creetown’s semi-final victims. Befitting Dumfries’ status as the biggest settlement in this part of Scotland, it’s a fairly imposing venue with a capacity of over 8,000. The main stand, an old-school affair built in 1965, dominates, but for the cup final spectator accommodation was limited to the all-seater stand opposite, which dates from 1995. Both ends retain large terraces and the overall effect is nostalgic. Few countries have a football history like Scotland – a glance at the list of former QoS managers turned up three names familiar to a visiting Sunderland fan in George Herd, Gordon Chisholm and Allan Johnston – and venues like Palmerston, built in 1919 and funded by the sale of local players to the big money teams of the English league, are woven tightly into the tapestry of the game’s early years.
The highlights of the ground today, though, are found outside on the Terregles Road where a series of murals recount the Doonhamers’ recent history – 2013 takes prominence, celebrating promotion to the Scottish Championship and victory in the Scottish League Challenge Cup. The Scottish Cup final appearance against Rangers in 2008 also features, as well as the surprisingly sight of a little mermaid recalling a trip to Denmark for a UEFA Cup qualifier against Nordsjaelland – the reward for that Cup Final battle against Rangers. As Copenhagen was swamped with blue-shirted Scottish fans, the Danish authorities praised the QoS fans for their friendly, party atmosphere, characteristic of a club with a fine reputation as a good place to play and watch the game.
Palmerston Park, Dumfries, Scotland
Potts Cup Final, May 28, 2016
Creetown FC 0 Lochar Thistle 2 (McCrone, Dempster)
Att: not announced