That’s my season over. It started away back on July 2nd when I was missing my fix badly enough to go along to Cliftonhill to see Albion Rovers lose 3-1 to Motherwell in a friendly, with torrential sunshowers coming along every 15 minutes to test the leaks in the old stand. Since then I’ve seen Internationals with Scotland (men and women), Premiership in Scotland, England, Portugal, Iceland, Northern Ireland and Faroes, Highland League, U20 Development, East and West Juniors, Northern League in England, and meanwhile tried to keep tabs on Whitehill Welfare and ICT.

I nearly called a halt after the Junior Cup Final last week – I like a few weeks off to get away from football, even briefly.  But I saw more fixtures go up and decided to go for an 87th and final game of 2016-17 and make it a day trip to Largs for something a bit different.

I managed to tempt my missus along for company on the drive with a meal out as a bribe, so we set off early in the afternoon and covered the 81 miles to Largs in dull, showery weather, although the forecast was for an improvement later.

IMG_2185When we reached Largs we hopped on the Calmac ferry Loch Riddon which was just leaving for Cumbrae. If you’ve never been over, it’s a 10 minute hop to Cumbrae slip but another 3 miles into Millport by connecting bus. We had planned to walk to Millport but the weather was still dodgy. Arriving in Millport we discovered The Wedge, which is reputed to be Britain’s narrowest house…

IMG_2186Feel free to avoid the next bit as I slide into ‘Sunday Post Reader’ mode. Next door was the Round Island Cafe which I can highly recommend for their coffee, scones, and a great selection of craft beers from the Tempest Brewery amongst others. Quite a few cafes and pubs in Millport but I’d be surprised if this one was beaten.

Although it was a Monday, it was mid June and Millport was pretty deserted I thought. The only sign of life was a huge party of foreign youngsters who had hired bikes.

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I then had to keep my part of the bargain as Mrs Mantis is a keen geocacher (don’t ask), so we spent an hour or two ferreting around the town for caches. I did discover that there’s a Howitzer Gun from WW1 which lies partly buried under a wall on the shore and nobody’s 100% certain how it got there. There were actually two and the best guess is they were just used for foundations.

By this time we had to get going back to the ferry slip. The other vessel, the far more modern Loch Shira, quickly took us back to Largs. Here you can see it coming in with Largs in the background.

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By this time it was only two hours to kick off and the tension was mounting (OK, I made that bit up. Largs were playing Auchinleck in a meaningless end of season game and down by the ferry terminal Largs was just getting on with its business).

We headed into Nardini’s who, at the back of their famous cafe, have the Ristorante 1890. For the record, I can recommend their Gamberi (King Prawns with spicy tomato sauce and baked bean mash) and their Pizza Parmigiana. Also the amazing ice cream and Italian coffee. The Moretti was welcome too.

IMG_2202So… half a blog and we haven’t got to the fitba. Barrfields Stadium is a 10 minute stroll from Nardini’s cafe. Along the seafront, turn up Beachway, into Brisbane Road and there it is, a proper wee gem of a ground. Ancient terracing in a huge oval, a barrel-roofed stand, and…. ok, a 3G pitch. After a feed like that, there was no way I was trying the pies.

IMG_2193Largs Thistle were formed in 1889. Their main claim to fame is winning the national trophy in 1994 when they beat Glenafton at Ibrox. They were also runners up to Linlithgow in 2010 at Rugby Park. In recent years they have yo-yo’d between the top divisions, coming up to the Premier last season as runners up to Cumnock. A year later, and they are yo-yo-ing back down again.

IMG_2201Thistle have been playing at Barrfields since 1930. In the early days the ground is said to have held crowds of 9000, although the record is given as 6512 v Clydebank in 1952-3. The stand can take 800 and the new carpet dates from 2012. A notable former manager is Erik Sørensen who played for Morton and Rangers, with probably the most prominent former players being Gordon McQueen and Tommy Turner.

So here we were on a Monday night in mid June. Thistle’s final fixture of the season and everybody bustling about selling raffles, programmes and pies. And a weirdo from Midlothian paying his £6 to stand amongst the Ayrshire stalwarts.

IMG_2200Relegated Largs were playing Talbot who were destined to finish 4th unless they won by a barrowload so it was a dead rubber. Talbot rested players with Wednesday’s Cup Final against Cumnock in mind. When the teams came out I got them mixed up as Largs were in the black and gold, but the penny dropped when I caught sight of manager Tucker Sloan wearing no 7, 52 years young and counting, and realised Talbot were in their blue change strip. Tucker lasted a creditable 80 minutes before being subbed.

IMG_2199Talbot seemed to have the edge in the first half as Sloan hit the post, and you could imagine if they got their noses in front that would be that, but I felt that after the break Largs went for it and could have won.However it was a game of very few chances and defences on top. Wilson missed a good chance to break the deadlock for Talbot but it ended goalless. It was a nice evening for football and I actually enjoyed the game and the surroundings despite the lack of any real excitement. I estimated the crowd at about 180. Highlights do exist.

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