Cove up for the cup and a bright future

Aberdeen-based Cove Rangers travel to Formartine this month for a Scottish Cup fixture that will see one of the Highland League rivals in the draw for the last 16. For ambitious Cove, the season may also be highlighted by promotion to the Scottish League and a move to a new stadium in town. Tony Dawber speaks to supporters’ club chairman Ian McIntosh – and Aberdeen fan Kevin Rinchey about a potential city rivalry.

Pitmedden is a tiny Scottish village of barely 1,000 souls. On January 31st, this speck on the map, in windswept countryside more than three hours’ drive north from either Glasgow or Edinburgh, hosts a historic cup battle.

The village is home to Formartine United, who welcome Highland League rivals Cove Rangers for the rescheduled fixture, the winners to reach the last 16 of the Scottish Cup.

Formartine, backed by colourful, deep-pocketed chairman Atholl Cadger, have been making waves in the north of Scotland for a while, but it is the visitors who stand on the verge of a major breakthrough.

Until 1986, when unheralded Cove joined the Highland League, they were virtually unknown outside the southern outskirts of Aberdeen where their humble Allan Park home lay.

That’s all changing now, and in more ways than one.

Allan Park is gone, sold to developers. In a few months, Cove should move into new, state-of-the-art Calder Park, to be known as Balmoral Stadium after a newly signed sponsorship deal.

On the field, progress has been equally dramatic.

‘We have a great football committee and one of the best management teams in the Highland League,’ said Cove supporters’ club chairman Ian McIntosh. ‘Through the whole of 2017, we went unbeaten in the league, a great achievement.’

Unsurprisingly, Cove are top of the table, with an eight-point lead and a game in hand over second-placed Fraserburgh.

They look set fair for the end-of-season play-offs, where victory would see them realise the dream of kicking off at the new stadium as Scottish League members.

Cove are currently domiciled at fellow Highland League outfit Inverurie Locos, and the 35-mile round trip has meant support has flattened out despite flourishing fortunes.

McIntosh expects a steady increase in gates once the club moves back to Aberdeen and into the new stadium.

First, Scottish Cup glory beckons. A win at Formartine 16 miles away would be significantly raise Cove’s profile in Scotland and beyond.

‘I will be running a supporters’ bus, with a lot of fans travelling by car or public transport,’ said McIntosh.

‘Cove fans are very vocal and there should be a great atmosphere,’ he added, in anticipation of hearing the chant, ‘We are blue and white and high like dynamite’, echoing around North Lodge Park.

McIntosh is also expecting a number of fans of near neighbours Aberdeen to lend their support.

But, in the longer term, will followers of Aberdeen accept a new Scottish League neighbour? Lifelong Red Kevin Rinchey thinks so. ‘Most Dons fans would welcome them. It was the same a few years ago when nearby Peterhead joined the league,’ he said.

‘If it were to happen, it would be a great idea to have Cove home games on a Friday night to allow Dons fans to go and support them.’

And he conceded that he would love to see Aberdeen repeat the success of their smaller neighbours in securing a new stadium. ‘Calder Park had its troubles to get permission but now seems on schedule to be a state-of-the-art ‘wee’ stadium and a real asset for the community.’

‘Hopefully, at the end of this month, Aberdeen City Council will give the same support to the Dons to build a larger, top-notch 20,000-capacity stadium with training facilities. If it doesn’t get the go-ahead, it would be a huge step back for both club and city.”

Two league clubs and two shiny new stadiums. Is that what the future holds for the Granite City?

Possibly, but first, Formartine.

Formartine United-Cove Rangers, 8pm, Wednesday January 31st, North Lodge Park, Oldmeldrum Road (AB41 7PA).