Home of the smokie, Arbroath is a unique destination as far as football is concerned. Its flagship club, Arbroath FC, still hold the record for the highest goals scored in a senior match, 36-0 against Bon Accord in the Scottish Cup in 1885.
The pitch where the game took place lay pretty much where the new Gayfield Park stands today, its East Terrace lashed by the North Sea not six yards away. No other stadium in Britain is closer to the sea – in fact, now that Rijeka are rebuilding the Kantrida on the Adriatic, this currently goes for Europe as well.
The club’s nicknames relate to Arbroath’s culinary tradition – The Smokies, after the salted haddock distributed and devoured around Britain – and its location. The Red Lichties doesn’t refer to the club’s maroon colours but the harbour lights that once guided scores of vessels safely home with their catch every day.
The maroon shirts are a nod to the local sandstone of deep red, while the badge on them depicts medieval Arbroath Abbey, where Scotland was first declared an independent nation in 1320. The ruins, up on the high ground in the centre of town, have become a place of pilgrimage for Scots the world over. Its round window, its outline still intact, Arbroath’s very own Big O, contained the original beacon that aided ailing mariners.
In footballing terms, the local historic landmark has long gone, the George Hotel on Commerce Street where Arbroath FC were formed in 1878. That same year, the new club entered the Scottish Cup and proved its worth straight away, beating Dundee Our Boys 3-0 then overcoming Dundee St Clements on a walkover.
Arbroath then went all the way down to Edinburgh to take on Hearts at Powburn, and led 1-0 at the break thanks to a goal by Jarrett. Hearts then got two back in the second half.
The following year another club was formed in Arbroath, Strathmore, although little is known about them or the pitch they played on at Darnley Park. Their records are often confused with another Strathmore, Dundee-based – the two met in the Scottish Cup of 1886-87, the Arbroath side the winners. After Dundee East End beat them 13-1 in 1887, they were never seen again.
Another Arbroath club crops up in the Scottish Cup records, Perseverance, about whom literally nothing is known, only the scant results and walkovers of the early 1880s.
Arbroath FC’s hallowed 36-0 of 1885 was, indeed, an anomaly, although the odd 18-0 and 20-0 does occur in previous years, both times against Orion of Aberdeen. Legend has it that it was Orion who were originally invited to play that famous game, and not Bon Accord – perhaps it would not have made much difference.
Back then, Arbroath were no bad side. They had won the inaugural Forfarshire Cup two years before, then several times thereafter, up to and past the turn of the century.
By the time of Bon Accord’s fated visit, The Red Lichties were based at seafront Gayfield Park, its opening on a former rubbish tip funded by public subscription. Even today, Arbroath FC are very much a community club, run by an elected committee of season-ticket holders.
For all the early battles against various teams from Aberdeen and Dundee in the Scottish Cup, it was Montrose who would become the main rivals, a reflection of not only of geography but, sadly, the lowly league position of each club in the Scottish League.
Recent cup ties between them have been tight, replay-then-extra-time affairs in front of near four-figure crowds.
The average gate at Gayfield Park these days is around 500 – and they can usually count on the odd football traveller making the trek to Scotland’s bleak east coast to see for themselves the ground where Arbroath FC put 36 goals past Bon Accord.
Underused Dundee Airport is the nearest to Arbroath, 30.5km (19 miles) away, with no direct public transport links.
Once you arrive in Dundee city centre, two trains an hour run to Arbroath (£6, journey time 20min). From Aberdeen (£20, journey time 50min), it’s equally regular. From Glasgow Queen Street, an hourly direct service (£26) takes 1hr 45min. Direct, hourly, from Edinburgh Waverley (£20), it takes 1hr 30min.
Arbroath station is in town, an easy walk to both harbour and football ground. If you need it, there is also a local bus service, provided mainly by JP Coaches and Stagecoach. Traveline Scotland has details of tickets and timetables.
Reliable Reid’s Taxis (01241 873 212) is based by Arbroath station.
The nearest lodging to the ground is the seafront Harbour Nights, a cross between a high-end B&B and a hotel. Breakfast involves, of course, smokies and a lovely view of the marina. Also close, and waterside, the Old Brewhouse contains three comfortable guestrooms, two with sea vistas, plus the ‘Captain’s Cabin’ for rent next door. The restaurant downstairs does pheasant and steak pies along with the invariable seafood.
Further up the High Street, the Townhouse Hotel makes a convincing case for loveliest lodging in Arbroath, with 11 modern, individually decorated rooms and its own bar and restaurant. Where the High Street meets Lordburn at a pedestrianised shopping precinct, the Blairdene Guest House dates back to the early 1700s, original features complementing the seven bedrooms.
Just east of the town centre, the eco-friendly, ivy-clad Old Vicarage B&B comprises three rooms in an elevated location with its own grounds. In the same vicinity, the Brucefield Boutique B&B has been designed with careful attention to detail. Each of these is a 10min walk into town.
West of town on the A92 that runs straight to Gayfield, the Five Gables Guest House is all stunning sea views and homely lodgings, in the former clubhouse of the golf course that runs alongside. It’s a 20min stroll to the football ground or several buses run into the town centre.
On the Forfar Road just north of town, the Rosely Country House Hotel echoes its early Victorian heritage, all wood panelling and stuffed animals. Unusual is the word you’re looking for. It’s 10-15min into town or wait for the hourly No.27 bus.
Pick of the pubs with TV football is The Pageant, recently refurbished, with three large screens, a pool table, dartboard, pub food and live music. Nearby on Market Place, the Corn Exchange is the local Wetherspoon, set on an Edwardian picture palace, while the Central Bar defines the term ‘wee local’, with TV sport and chatty regulars.
More contemporary, Coast is part lounge bar, part nightclub and part restaurant. Back on the High Street, the Fisherman’s Inn at No.57 is a warming local with a large bar at the back, and decent food served. Further down at the harbour end, the Commercial Inn fills with football banter thanks to the Arbroath-supporting landlord. Watch out for the sliding door to the bar that has confused many a first-time visitor.
Near the station, the classic Corner Bar fills with darts and dominoes players most nights, everyone else happy to chat and watch the match. The Station Bar itself is best known for its live music on Saturdays but also shows football on three big screens.