My first football trip to the UK of 2018 has two main features. Football memorial gardens and Archibald Leitch – the great stadium architect. A year ago, there were still nine stadiums with Archibald Leitch stands remaining in the UK. But last summer, the grandstand at Tynecastle was demolished, leaving only eight. Of the eight clubs, Everton and Dundee FC have announced plans of moving to another stadium, Crystal Palace have announced plans to replace their Archibald Leitch stand, Portsmouth are once again contemplating a stadium move; and some rebuilding at Raith Rovers’ Starks Park is also due. Only Fulham’s and Glasgow Rangers’ stands are listed – I am not up to date with discussions at Ayr United. The Archibald Leitch stand is a doomed species, and if you want to see them and savour them, it seems to be the last call.
The two main matches of my tour, therefore, are at Portsmouth and Crystal Palace with tickets purchased for the two Archibald Leitch stands (although I do also pop in at Fulham’s Craven Cottage). Then – via Peterborough – I am off to Edinburg again, where I visited the Archibald Leitch stand at Tynecastle twice last year. So why Edinburgh? Well, as the stand was demolished at the end of last season, Heart of Midlothian announced that supporters could sign up for the possibility of buying a brick from the grandstand. An Archibald Leitch brick! I had to do that, of course, but in November, I got an email from Hearts telling me that I had to go to the ground to pick up the brick in person within a couple of weeks. With no trips scheduled, I wrote to my friend in Edinburgh, Siobhan, and asked, if she could pick it up for me. And I promised to come and get it, within a few months.
Apart from picking up my brick in Edinburgh, I have arranged a visit to the Archibald Leitch stand at Starks Park in Kirkcaldy; a visit to the memorial garden at Dunfermline – and, finally, I have got a ticket for Hibernian – Hamilton to take my tally of Scottish Premier League grounds to four.
As the time for my midweek Peterborough-Edinburgh detour approaches, the weather forecasts get increasingly worse. There is a yellow snow warning for Scotland. I start to consider a plan B. I could go from Peterborough back to London instead and take the opportunity to visit the new Wembley for the first time, where Tottenham will be playing Rochdale in a cup replay. But, I have prepaid my train tickets and my hotel in Edinburgh. And I have a brick to collect.
On the Tuesday night, Hearts’ match in Edinburgh goes ahead as scheduled. So does the match in Peterborough, although the referee stops the match to get the lines cleared of snow. Conclusion? I decide that if the first morning train leaves for Edinburgh, and the match is not called off by then, I will go ahead with plan A. Long live Archie!
Early Wednesday morning. I get to the station at Peterborough. The first train towards Edinburgh has been delayed for 40 minutes, but that is due to a technical issue. And it has passed through Peterborough, when my train arrives, bang on time. It is on!
I get on the train, turn on my laptop – and start working. But then ….
First, Hibernian call of the evening’s match; and the other matches in Scotland are called off as well. Then, as the train is running slowly and behind schedule, I email my contact at Dunfermline, Michael, and tell him that I may be slightly delayed. He writes back that the stadium has been shut down for the day due to the weather.
I get into contact with Judith in Kirkcaldy. She wants to know, if I will make it. I confirm – even though I might be delayed. So – the brick and the Archibald Leitch stand are still on. After all, those are the two most important things seen a long term perspective. And with neither a match in the evening nor the trip to Dunfermline, I will have plenty of time to see the Archibald Leitch stand in Kirkcaldy and pick up the stone in Edinburgh, despite the delays. So, actually, I am feeling quite relaxed about it. I will even have time to check in my luggage before going from Edinburgh to Kirkcaldy.
We are an hour delayed, as we arrive in Edinburgh. That is ok – there is time to check-in at the hotel and get on the train to Kirkcaldy. I write to Judith that I am on my way. She answers that the stadium has been closed down because of the weather, but she has stayed behind to let me in for a look. She advises me to get a taxi at the station – and make sure that it will wait for me during the visit to the ground.
Just as I arrive at Kirkcaldy station at 2 pm, I get a text from Siobhan, asking about my whereabouts. I answer that I have just arrived in Kirkcaldy. “Keep an eye on trains”, she writes, “You don’t want to get stuck in Kirkcaldy”. That message is immediately followed by another: “Just heard that every train is stopping at 3, maybe head back to Edinburgh”. In fact, Edinburgh is shutting down, and Siobhan and everybody else is hurrying back home while they still can.
My first instinct is to head straight to the other platform to get back to Edinburgh. But, then the thought of being close to an Archibald Leitch stand gets the better of me. I go to the ticket office at the station. “I have just been told that the trains will stop at 3. Is that right? I have to get back to Edinburgh.” The lady at the counter calms me down. “Oh no, they will not stop until 6. There are still plenty of trains for Edinburgh.” Relieved, I exit the station – but there are no taxis.
That doesn’t put me off, either. After all, I am Scandinavian. And although it is snowing, and it is windy, there is not that much snow. I start running through the snow towards the ground. There is hardly any traffic in the streets. As I get to the ground, though, I am feeling a bit anxious. Judith asks me, if I would like a coffee. I thank her but say that I have probably better get back to the station as quickly as possible to make sure that I get train. She agrees that that is the wisest thing to do – although she does point out that there is a hotel in Kirkcaldy which I might notice on my way back towards the station. Just in case.
We make a dash out in the snow to see the stand. Everything is closed down, so I don’t get inside and see the concourse. I ought to run to the opposite of the ground to get a photo of the stand from a distance. But by now, I sense that time might be crucial – the thought of getting stuck in Kirkcaldy has grabbed hold of me. So, after a few photos, I say goodbye – and run all the way back to the station.
I arrive at 2.45. The 2.41 is delayed. Great! I will make that one. Siobhan texts me that she has left my brick witg the hotel reception on her way home. I thank her – I am on my way back to Edinburgh.
The 2.41, however, never comes. There is no further information on it. But the 3.01 is, according to the information board, on time. That is until 2.57, when the board suddenly tells that it has been cancelled. Along with most of the other trains on the board. 15.21 is the next train.
My increasing worries turn to a state of panic shortly afterwards. The lady from the ticket office comes out in the corridor and shouts that all trains have been suspended! Bus services have been suspended, too. Disbelief and shock all way around. Some people claim refunds for their tickets, others just leave the station. We are just a few staying behind, looking bewildered.
With the trains and busses stopped, there only seems to be two ways of getting to Edinburgh left. Hitchhiking or a taxi. As I have never had much luck hitchhiking, I go outside the station building to look for a taxi. And I am lucky. A taxi drives up and drops a passenger. I ask the driver, if he can drive me to Edinburgh. He thinks about it for a few seconds, makes a call on the radio – and tell me that he has to do another tour but will be back in 20 minutes. Hope! The next step is to cut my expenses, as I guess it will be quite costly. A man and a woman, both in their 40’s, seem to be discussing what to do. I approach them and ask, if they are heading for Edinburgh. Yes, they are. And they brighten up a little, as I tell them about the taxi coming back in 20 minutes. “I thought the bridges were closed”, the man says.
I hadn’t thought of the bridges you have to cross to get back to Edinburgh. For the trains, they shouldn’t be a problem. But as they are steep, I imagine that cars without winter tyres may have problems crossing. Well, the taxi driver must know about that.
Another taxi drives up to drop a passenger. As 20 minutes may be decisive, I ask this driver as well. “No taxis are allowed to drive in this weather” he says. “The insurance won’t cover, because it is a red alert now”. I begin to doubt that the first driver will return – but, at least, I now have two fellow travelers to consult with.
The lady has a long look at her smart phone. “It looks like this train is moving” she says and shows us the travel page for the 15.21. We stare at the screen. And, yes, it does seem as though the cursor indicating the position of the train along the line moves a little. Suddenly, it jumps to the other side of a station. It IS definitely moving. I go back to the lady in the ticket office. “Excuse me, but do you know if the train approaching will continue all the way to Edinburgh?” I ask her. “All trains have stopped”, she just repeats.
It is quite surreal. Three persons standing in an almost deserted waiting room, staring hopefully at a smart phone, accompanying any movement of the cursor with the nervous excitement of a football manager on the verge of a cup final triumph, but still with 10 minutes of relentless pressure from the opposition to see through. Two minutes before the train is due, we step out on the platform. We want the driver to know that even though most people have left the station, there are still some passengers in Kirkcaldy to pick up. The thought of the train just driving through the station, straight to Edinburgh, is the ultimate nightmare. Finally, we can see the train approaching. And it stops! I would have thought that it would be crowded with people trying to get back to Edinburgh. But, actually, it is half empty.
This is too good to be true. I have a nagging feeling that something will go wrong. Maybe all the bridges, including the train bridge, are closed? If only I can get across that. Then there will just be about 15-20 miles to Edinburgh, and in worst case, I would be able to walk back to Edinburgh from there. I have been walking an average of 10 miles a day so far on my trip.
I needn’t have worried. Without any delays, the train gets all the way back to Edinburgh. It is only 4 pm. I have half the afternoon to spend there. I take a walk up Princess Street, hoping to find some shops open. But they are all closed. This is surreal too. That a city like Edinburgh has ground to a halt because of a bit of snow. It is not that bad.
I then decide to go to Hibernian’s ground, Easter Road. There must be somebody there informing people, that the match is off. And maybe they will allow me inside to take some photos of the snow-covered pitch as a compensation for missing the match. I get to the ground. But it is completely deserted. When I visited an early morning last spring, I was stopped twice by security, as I walked round the ground to take photos. Now, all security had run off because of the snow. Hastily, it seems. Only a short, printed message on a sheet of paper in the window and on the door of the ticket office, and on the main entrance to the club reception.
When I get back to my hotel, I go to the reception to pick up the brick. “A friend has handed in a carrier bag for me this afternoon”. The hotel receptionist looks around in vain. “No, I can’t see anything. What does it look like?” This could be the final straw. If somebody has managed to run away with my brick! I don’t know how to describe it. “Well, a normal bag, I guess. A little heavy.” “Ohhh! Your brick!” And she picks up a big box from the floor. She hands the box over to me – and it feels as though it is falling apart under the weight. I am satisfied that it must be the right one without looking.
I get to my room – and unwrap it. There it is! “CLEGHORN TERRACOTTA CO Ltd GLASGOW”. There is a certificate of authenticity and a small “Archibald Leitch Stand” sign to stick on it. Fantastic! I have a long look at it. It has been worth it. And I did get a glimpse of the Archibald Leitch stand in Kirkcaldy. I made the right decision when I opted for plan A rather than plan B, I think.
I get plenty of time to rethink this. Edinburgh is cut off from England by the snow. I spend four days in Edinburgh, desperately searching for information about the progress of clearing the railroad track of snow; slipping and sliding on the steep streets of Edinburgh in my search for a vacant hotel, carrying my bag with the added weight of the brick, as it is impossible to drag it on wheels through the snow; figuring out new plans A, B, and C to escape or find a football match somewhere.
It is definitely better to be stuck in Edinburgh with my luggage rather than in Kirkcaldy without it. But shops and museums are closed; and streets are difficult to walk as pavements are not cleared of snow. I see a shopkeeper polishing his shop window, trying to lure customers to come inside, but leaving the pavement covered in snow. Talk about priorities.
At least, the unplanned stay gives me time to visit Tynecastle and see the stand that has replaced Archibald Leitch’s grandstand. Not that the sight itself is uplifting. The new stand looks so grim – lifeless and soulless. Maybe a bit of sunshine would have helped. But it doesn’t look like a football ground at all, rather some municipality offices built in the 1980s. How could they? Replace the warmth of the Archibald Leitch’s terracotta bricks with this?
I also get the chance to go to Glasgow and see Celtic play, before I finally – on the fourth day – manage to get a flight out of Scotland. Not to England to complete my round trip, but to Copenhagen. As I am about to depart for the airport and I lift my bag, the thought strikes me that it may be too heavy with the brick. What shall I do if it is? Or maybe the brick looks like a bomb in the security scan, and my bag is taken off the plane! I suffer from a feeling of desperate anxiety until the moment I am reunited with my bag at luggage reclaim in Copenhagen. It is still awfully heavy! I made it back to Copenhagen with an authentic Archibald Leitch brick!
The brick is now on my windowsill, so I can glance at it whenever I work on my computer. It is not just a brick. I will always think of Archibald Leitch, when I look at it. And of Kirkcaldy, snow, trains, slippery slopes in Edinburgh and hotel rooms. It is priceless. Memories are made of this.