Taking on ‘The Dons’ at Recreation Park
There’s a rumble of excitement around the town of Darvel. It began on 26th November when non-league Darvel FC defeated Montrose of League One knocking them out of the Scottish Cup with an impressive 5-2 win. Then, two days later, when the draw for the fourth round took place, the excitement grew, gaining momentum like a Mexican wave. Aberdeen were coming to town!
“Without a doubt it’s the biggest game that’s ever been played at Darvel,” John Gall, President of Darvel FC, tells me. “I think it’s going to be an absolute showpiece game that Ayrshire’s not had for a long, long time.”
The match, due to be played on the evening of Monday 23rd January, is to be shown live on BBC Scotland so will be accessible to everyone.
“The players are delighted about it. That’s all they’ve talked about… playing Aberdeen. And they want to put on a great performance for the TV. Can we beat them? Well, why not? There’s been a lot of football upsets recently, in the World Cup for example, so why can Darvel not do that as well, against Aberdeen?”
Why not indeed? Particularly as they’ve already seen off the mighty Montrose.
“We beat Montrose in the last round. They were hot favourites to beat us so who says we can’t do it again, if Aberdeen have an off day and we have an absolutely great day?”
One thing’s for sure, the whole of Darvel will be cheering them on.
“I think it’s going to be really exciting,” John says. “The whole town will be decorated in blue and white. I’ve had older guys in the streets saying, ‘John, this is absolutely brilliant, even though we’re in our eighties, we’ve never heard of a game like this ever to take place in Darvel. Hat’s off to you… you’ve stuck to your guns and you’ve kept the game in Darvel’.”
The club could easily have sacrificed the home advantage and asked for the tie to be played at Pittodrie or even at Rugby Park, Kilmarnock, but for John, this was never an option.
“It would’ve been easier if the game had been at Aberdeen and we just had to turn up, play the game and walk away at the end of it. Because it’s in Darvel we’ve got all the arrangements to do, but it’s an exciting challenge. The people of Darvel and Irvine Valley deserve a big team to come to them… they’ve stood by us for years and I think they deserve to have a game of this size in the town of Darvel. It’s really exciting.”
Truth be told, it might even work to the home team’s advantage. Big clubs have often been known to struggle at smaller, non-league grounds.
“The fans will be right on top of them and they’ll not be used to it. We’ll be hoping that’s a bit to Darvel’s advantage but I reckon Darvel will be more nervous than Aberdeen. Or… it could be the other way about, you just never know.”
Either way, the profits from the tie will be a very welcome bonus.
“This will ensure our future for another good few years. Also, it will give us the money to put a better infrastructure into the club with new facilities for the fans that will be there for the future.”
In fact, improvements are already being made, albeit on a temporary basis.
“We’re making improvements to the ground and we’re building extra standing areas for the game. That will put our capacity up by another 2,000 so we’re hopefully going to have about 4,000 at the game.”
Not bad considering the usual capacity is 2,200.
“The town’s only got 5,000 and we’re hoping to have 4,000 at the game… 2,000 Aberdeen and 2,000 Darvel, so approximately half and half.”
At the time of our conversation, work is about to begin on new turnstiles and a new standing area so no doubt the Mexican wave will start up once again, gaining momentum around the town. In the meantime, John admits to having a peek at Aberdeen’s website and reading what their fans have had to say about the upcoming tie.
“They can’t wait for the game. They’ve said what a difference it is for them to get a non-league team. We’re the first non-league team to face Aberdeen in the cup competition in 50 years! They also said if the game was at Rugby Park they wouldn’t go, but because it’s at Darvel they’re all desperate to get a ticket.”
Apparently, there was also a problem with the website crashing immediate after the draw, much to John’s amusement.
“As soon as it was drawn out of the hat, they were all asking, ‘Where the hell is Darvel?’ and the website crashed! But Aberdeen fans are as excited as the people of Darvel about coming to a small ground. It’s amazing.”
It’s hard to believe they’d never heard of Darvel. Darvel FC was founded in 1889, are champions of the West of Scotland League Premier Division, and are currently (at the time of writing) two points clear at the top of the league. They’ll certainly know all about them after the cup tie, whatever the result.
“We’re at home to Aberdeen in this round,” John concludes, “and then if we’re at home to Kilmarnock in the next round that would be perfect for me. That would be the Kilmarnock Pie derby!”
As well as being President of Darvel FC, John is also the Managing Director of Brownings the Bakers, proud sponsors of Kilmarnock Football Club. He certainly has a lot of fingers in a lot of pies! So does he have something special planned for the ‘big match’? A Darvel Doughnut perhaps, or a cup tie pie?
“There’s every possibility we’ll be doing something… but I don’t know what yet.”
How about a lucky loaf?