Forfar is close enough to Dundee for football to have developed early on – but the county town of Angus has always maintained a certain air of independence. The identity of this former textile centre is wrapped up in its scenic Strathmore valley location, in its historic links to Robert the Bruce and, of course, in a potatoless pastie revered throughout Scotland as the Forfar Bridie.
Other clubs have bulls, bears and bees as mascots – in the summer of 2016, perhaps in an effort to assuage the disappointment of yet another relegation to the lowest league tier, flagship club Forfar Athletic announced the launch of Baxter The Bridie.
The football stadium where Baxter struts his stuff during the pre-match warm-up might be called Station Park, but it’s 50 years since the last passenger train left Forfar, the line a victim of the Beeching cuts. The closure of the namesake station and goods yard left the ground marooned in a non-descript industrial area north of the town centre. All the same, football has always been a main focus in Forfar, and the artificial pitch at Station Park is in regular use.
Organised football was first played in Forfar in the late 1870s/early 1880s, a club called Angus FC, later Angus Athletic, about whom little is known – only that their second XI split away to form Forfar Athletic in 1885. The Angus first team had joined with Forfar West End in 1883, causing the rift.
West End still exist, a Junior (ie non-League) side based at Strathmore Park on Craig O’Loch Road west of town, although they give their official foundation date as 1892, presumably after a split from Angus. They currently compete in the Junior Football East Region Premier, aka McBookie.com East Region Premier.
There was also a Forfar East End, established in 1881, who later merged with Forfar Celtic (1891) to create Forfar Albion, another Junior outfit who play at Guthrie Park.
Forfar Athletic quickly gained the nickname of ‘The Loons’, an acknowledgement that local folk were watching a second-string outfit. In 1906, Athletic broke the Dundee/Arbroath monopoly of the Forfarshire Cup, having first won the County League crown in 1898.
Forfar gained League status in 1921 though rivalries with Dundee rivals have usually been played out in rare meetings in cup tournaments. Lower-flight dust-ups with Brechin and Montrose are more the norm, along with Arbroath.
It could have all been different if The Loons had won just one of the three play-off ties for a place in the second tier, losing out in 2011, 2013 and 2015, all under the since departed Dick Campbell.
All the same, longevity and tradition count for a lot in these parts – and Forfar have been based at Station Park, train or no train, since 1888.
Forfar is a rare case of a town being able to host a UK league club without any rail connection to the outside world. The nearest station is Dundee, 23km (14 miles) away – its underused airport is 34km (21 miles) from Forfar.
From the Forum Centre in downtown Dundee, Stagecoach bus Nos.20 and 21 run in tandem every 30min (every hr eve & Sun) to Forfar’s main East High Street, journey time 35min (tickets £3.60/return £6.90). Buses then go on an extra 10min to The Mart, the nearest stop to Forfar’s Station Park north of town. It’s steepish trek walking from East High Street to the ground but easily doable.
Other bus companies also serve Forfar. Check all times at Traveline Scotland.
East High Street also has a taxi office 01307 466 664/01307 462 040) at No.76 – the going rate from Dundee is about £30.
Atholl Cottage is the nearest lodging to the ground, a smart, comfortable B&B run by a friendly couple. Another convenient guesthouse, Strathdeveron is in similar vein, two en-suite room and one with shared facilities, in a standalone stone house dating back to 1908. In each, rates include a Scottish breakfast. The ground is less than 10min away, heading for the nearby roundabout at Market Street, then second left up Carseview Road.
You’ll find a cluster of lodging options at the main junction of East High Street and Castle Street. The landmark, newly renovated Queens Hotel was a coaching inn back in the early 1800s and is now offers pleasant, mid-range accommodation in nine en-suite rooms, with plasma-screen TVs, and a lively lounge bar downstairs. The nearby Chapelbank is equally historic but has gone boutique, offering four stylish rooms, nouvelle cuisine in its bistro and free parking. Slightly closer towards Station Park, Chris Horsburgh’s B&B (34 Canmore Street, 01307 468 285) is compact but clean, tidy and friendly.
For a sense of space, and spectacular views across Strathmore valley, Kinettles Castle is luxury itself, 11 superior guestrooms, Scotland’s Young Chef of the Year in the kitchen and a private wine cellar. It’s just over 4km south-west of Forfar on the A94.
Pubs line the town’s spinal thoroughfare, East and West High Street. Starting west and working east, the classic Old Reid Park Bar is a fans’ favourite (look out for the Loons Ale) with TV sport, live music, DJs, poker nights, great pub grub and blue drinks on fire for the ladies.
Tucked away down a narrow passageway off West High Street, The Osnaburg is another convivial spot to watch the match, although food has become the main focus since a change of ownership in 2015. Steak pies are the main draw at the traditional Queen Street Tavern, a couple of minutes’ walk from East High Street – but decent ales, cosy furnishings and 1am closing at weekends also encourage you to stay for a drink or two.
Back on East High Street, the Burns Bar is a small, traditional spot for serious drinkers while, further along, the Old Mason’s Arms is marginally more sensible, just as much fun – and lays on occasional live music.