Forever revered for the iconic record scoreline of 36-0, achieved in a Scottish Cup tie in 1885, Arbroath FC have little silverware to show for the 130 years of football that came afterwards.
On the plus side, this remains a community club, based at the same edge-of-North-Sea location as 1885, a wind-blasted curio for the football traveller weary of identikit stadiums in out-of-town retail parks.
As opposed to nearest local rivals Montrose, Arbroath competed for several seasons Scotland’s top flight, even as recently as the 1970s. The shrinking of the Premier and second-tier First Division to ten clubs each in 1975 was not the only factor in the decline of the Red Lichties, so named because of the lights that safely guided fishermen’s boats into harbour. The decade also saw the departure of the most influential figure in the club’s history, long-term manager Bert Henderson.
From 1962 until January 1980, this former Dundee half-back, his playing career cut short, led the Lichties to consistent challenges for a spot with the elite in the old First Division. Rarely finishing below third place, and never lower than seventh, in the 20-team lower flight, Henderson’s Arbroath were extremely competitive and often inventive with it.
Post-Henderson, it’s been a different story.
Pre-Henderson, Arbroath enjoyed their best years around the time of that never-to-be-repeated victory of 1885. Formed in 1878, The Red Lichties had notched up a number of impressive wins before the fateful arrival of Bon Accord to Gayfield Park. Regularly tonking teams from Dundee and Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup, Arbroath also beat Rangers 4-3 in 1884 although the game had to be replayed after a post-match protest over the pitch dimensions.
A year later, Bon Accord were the visitors. Scoring goals at a rate of one every 2.5 minutes, Arbroath put 36 past the inexperienced Aberdonians, a young Jocky Petrie notching 13. While the result is obviously unusual, and certainly a world record for senior football that will never be surpassed, it should be noted that The Lichties went on to beat Forfar 9-1 and Dundee East End 7-1 in later rounds – and that several of their players soon went on to earn lucrative professional contacts down south.
Among them, making his Arbroath debut in 1886, was later Scottish international goalkeeper and four-time English league champion with Sunderland, Ned Doig.
The Lichties struggled to replace so much talent, even after being admitted to the Scottish League in 1921.
It took another decade before a quality team emerged once more. Though selling later FA Cup winner George Mutch to Manchester United, and goalkeeper George Cumming to Middlesbrough, Arbroath held their own in the top flight until the start of the war.
Despite losing First Division status in the post-war league restructure, Arbroath still managed to reach the Scottish Cup semi-final of 1947, losing 2-0 to eventual winners Aberdeen at Dundee.
The side inherited by the incoming Bert Henderson in 1962 had promise. Dave Easson, record-breaking scorer in 1958-59, returned to Gayfield Park, only to suffer a career-ending injury. It took Henderson another couple of seasons to nurture the strike duo of Dennis Bruce and Jimmy Jack as Arbroath claimed promotion to the First in 1968. Jack’s goals helped The Lichties achieve the same feat in 1972, this time for what would be a three-year, and final, stint with Scotland’s elite.
A sad, slow demise marked the end of the Henderson era, punctuated by two appearances in the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup. His 17-year reign was followed by two decades in the wilderness, before former Hibs and Newcastle defender John Brownlie got The Lichties back to the second tier in 2001.
A decade later, it was player-manager Paul Sheerin who gained Arbroath another promotion, this time as champions, a first. Goals from Gavin Swankie lifted The Lichties to the Third Division title, fittingly won with victory over Montrose.
The highlight of Sheerin’s four-year managership, though, was the 1-1 draw achieved at Celtic in the Scottish Cup in December 2012 – and desperately unlucky 1-0 defeat in the replay.
With suitable experience at Brechin and Forfar, Dick Campbell now looks like he is in for the long haul as manager at Gayfield Park – particularly after having brought in his twin brother Ian as his coaching assistant.
There is no ground like Gayfield Park. So close to the North Sea that waves spray against the East Terrace, it has been the home of Arbroath FC since 1880. It was here that Bon Accord were put to the sword by a record-breaking 36 goals in 1885.
Or rather near here, for that was the old Gayfield, the new one opened in 1925 at a 45-degree angle to its predecessor.
For decades, supporters braved the raging winds that blow in from the beach alongside. In 2002, the main stand was opened, with 800 seats now part of the 4,000 capacity. The rest is standing terrace, away fans allocated the Seaforth End, hardy home supporters the Harbour End, but with plenty of criss-crossing at half-time. Each section of terracing has a covering of some sort – you’ll need it if you’re getting battered by the elements in the East Terrace.
The ground is a 10-15min walk from Arbroath station, turning left past the Westport Bar down to the junction with Millgate Loan near the Anchor Bar, then right and all the way down. The nearest bus service, the No.50, is so infrequent it’s not worth bothering with.
Admission is a simple, cash-only £13 on the day, with £7 charged for senior citizens and children, and a special price of £15 for a parent and child.
There’s no difference in the rate for standing or sitting, but prices may vary for bigger cup fixtures and the like.
Open from 2.30pm on Saturday match days, a club shop stocks replica maroon shirts, hats and other standard paraphernalia as well as providing (why don’t other clubs do this?) a printed team sheet in the run-up to kick-off.
Bars in Arbroath town centre aren’t that far a stroll to the ground but those you’ll pass as you walk down from the station include the small, busy Anchor Bar on Westport, with TV football, and sport-focused The Millgate round the corner at 3 Millgate Loan.
Just off Millgate Loan on East Mary Street, the low-roofed Foundry Bar is a famed music venue so perhaps best visited post-match.
At the bottom of East Mary Street by the harbour, the Old Boatyard is more restaurant than bar but its marina-facing terrace just begs you to sit out over a beer should the sun be shining.
The classic pre-match bar for home and away supporter alike is the Tutties Neuk Inn, smack by the ground, known for its range of ales and bar snacks.
To the left of the main stand, the 36-0 Lounge has been snapped by many a football tourist. Opening from 2pm on Saturday match days, it’s usually happy to accommodate away supporters unless the game is segregated. Note the photo of the Arbroath line-up from that fateful day in 1885.