North of the Solway Firth that cuts between Scotland and England, Annan has historic connections with famous names in Scottish history but lacks tradition as far as senior football is concerned.
Its location, almost walking distance from the border, was the setting for Robert the Bruce’s battles and Bonnie Prince Charlie’s retreat – but has done flagship club Annan Athletic few favours.
Unlike neighbouring Gretna, there is little record of football in Annan before Athletic were formed in 1942, perhaps specifically for the Dumfries & District Youth Welfare League, a war-time tournament.
Like Gretna, Annan then played in the Carlisle & District League south of the border. Further gerrymandering of the gazetteer saw Annan then join the South of Scotland League, then the East of Scotland – while keeping their reserve side with clubs from Dumfries and Stranraer.
While the team bus driver has been kept on his toes, the one constant in all this has been Galabank, the club’s riverside home since 1953, replacing the previous Mafeking Park. Near the river the town is named after, the ground in turn has in turn provided the club with one of its nicknames, The Galabankies. It recently also hosted South of Scotland club Mid-Annandale, otherwise based in Lockerbie – yes, that Lockerbie.
Neat Galabank was the main factor in the Scottish League choosing Annan over four other candidates, including Edinburgh City, after the controversial demise of Gretna in 2008. Scottish Cup finalists in 2006, missing out on the trophy on penalties, Gretna had been bankrolled by a Walter Mitty character known as Brooks Mileson, a life-long Carlisle fan later to die, penniless, in his own garden pond.
Gretna’s dissolution gave the green light to Annan, who joined the lowest league tier in 2008 and, despite a handful of near misses for promotion, have stayed there ever since.
Justifiably outraged Gretna fans soon formed Gretna FC 2008, playing most of their first season at the Everholm Stadium, a multi-sports ground alongside Galabank in Annan. Later moving back to the original Gretna’s old ground of Raydale Park, in 2013 the club were founding members of the Lowland League, offering automatic promotion to the Scottish League.
Keeping in tune with their roots, Gretna FC 2008 feature an anvil on the club badge, a symbol of the runaway weddings with which this border area is most associated in popular culture.
There’s no airport particularly close to Annan – the one with the easist transport links there is Glasgow Prestwick 129km (80) miles away. A train every 2hrs from the airport terminal to Annan (£16) takes 2-3hrs, changing at Troon and Kilmarnock. The last leg of the journey is the train that comes every 2hrs from Glasgow Central (£16), exactly 2hrs away.
From Edinburgh Waverley (min journey time 2hr 40min), you’ll need to change at Glasgow or Carlisle – tickets best booked in advance online, cheapest £13.
Annan station is a short walk up St John’s Road to the town centre, a longer one (15min) to the ground carrying on in the same direction over the High Street.
For some reason, there is no bus service up Lady Street/North Street parallel to the river – Stagecoach Cumbria & North Lancashire and McCalls Coaches provide links with Dumfries and Carlisle. The local terminus is on Butts Street, near the High Street. Traveline Scotland has details of tickets and timetables.
Donna’s Taxis (8 Cumberland Terrace, 01461 201 111) are based near the High Street, close to both station and football ground.
Best choice for the travelling football fan is the Corner House Hotel, not least because it’s nearest to the ground and the most popular pre-match sports bar. Smart, family-run and modernised not too long ago, it contains 18 en-suite rooms and a busy coffeebar, all set behind an authentically historic sandstone façade from the 1800s.
Close by, the Queensberry Arms Hotel comprises 21 affordable en-suite rooms, restaurant and bar, all within a historic coaching inn.
Equally stately looking, the Firth Hotel on Scotts Street, a continuation of the High Street, is a family-run B&B in its own grounds, with a bar and breakfast room.
Halfway between Annan and Lockerbie, the Ecclefechan Hotel in the small, quiet settlement of Ecclefechan dates back to the 1730s and is ideally suited to a relaxing weekend of golf, hiking and fishing. Nearby at Carlyle’s Monument, the hourly No.383 bus runs into Annan 25min away, Mon-Sat daytimes only.
Pubs line Annan’s High Street, the ones nearest to the river and Lady Street handier as pre-match options.
Small, lively Back to the Buck sits diagonally opposite pre-match haunt The Shed, under the same ownership. Doesn’t look too promising from the outside but friendly once you get in, chivvied along by drinks offers.
Station House, formerly Station Inn, stands right on the platform when you come in by train, handily providing TV sport.
Annan is surrounded by attractive pubs, starting with the Wayside Inn, recently modernised, with plenty of TV sport, digital jukebox tunes, darts and pool. Set on Annan Road at Eastriggs, on the regular Nos.79/179 into Annan four miles away.
Overlooking the Annan in Brydekirk, the Brig Inn (5 Bridge Street) makes best use of its waterside location, a popular alehouse also close to the hourly No.383 bus for Annan three miles south.
As rustic as its name suggests, the Farmers Inn in Clarencefield, five miles west of Annan, offers fine ales and food, plus lodging if required. The hourly No.79 bus runs into Annan.