Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game
At the easternmost point of mainland Scotland – next stop Stavanger – the fishing port of Peterhead is one of football’s remote outposts. The Blue Toon, as both town and club are known, is home to Peterhead FC, a Scottish League destination since the year 2000.
A 350km-plus drive from fellow league club Ayr – 450km if you come via Aberdeen, location of the closest train station 32 miles away – Peterhead represents the longest trek in British senior football without the aid of rail. Ayr United, in fact, made that same journey in May 2016 to put paid to Blue Toon hopes for first ever place in the Scottish Championship.
Had Peterhead won the play-off, the 2016-17 fixture list would have featured the likes of Hibernian and Dundee United, a far cry from the decades of dust-ups with fellow fishermen Fraserburgh. Both prominent members and infrequent winners of the Highland League, the pair also challenged for the Aberdeenshire Cup, often with each other. Their Boxing Day derbies were the stuff of legend. The result that sticks out, though, was a Highland League Cup tie in 1974, a 10-0 pasting The Broch of Fraserburgh dished out to the Blue Toon.
The game took place at Peterhead’s Recreation Park, home of the Blue Toon after the club was founded in 1890. Some 20 years after football was first played around Peterhead, the ground was officially opened by the local provost and famed philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Tucked in from the lashing North Sea – the huge breakwaters weren’t built till later – ‘The Rec’ sat between the grid of streets planned serve the fishing community and the mouth of the River Ugie that separates Peterhead from its long-established golf club.
Wherever you go in Peterhead, you’re never far from fishing. ‘Blue Toon’ refers to the worsted stockings worn by the local fishermen.
In more recent times, oil, gas and golf have taken priority. Some 25 miles south in Balmedie, the Trump International Golf Links brings visitors and no little tax-dodging controversy to this rugged part of Aberdeenshire. While Peterhead remains cut off from the rail network – and talk of reopening the line from Aberdeen has died down – then a jaunt to see the Blue Toon will always be a long drive or juggle with infrequent buses.
Since 1997, the destination has been Balmoor, just behind the site of Recreation Park, now a supermarket. A neat new-build, standing out from the century-old grounds that lend lower-league Scottish football charm if not comfort, modern Balmoor helped persuade the league authorities that Peterhead would be a valuable addition to the clan.
Indeed it has. Entering the senior fold together with Elgin City, Peterhead FC have been a steady presence in the lower tiers, attracting the occasional bemused European groundhopper to Scotland’s wild north-east coast.
Arriving in town, local transport and timings
Aberdeen Airport is 9km (six miles) north-west of the Granite City in the suburb of Dyce, 52km (32 miles) south of Peterhead. One bus a day, Mon-Fri only, the Stagecoach 747, runs directly from the airport to Peterhead in the late afternoon, coming back early the next morning. Journey time is 1hr 30mins, single ticket £6.70. The alternative is to head into Aberdeen by Jet Service 727 (£2.90 single, £4.50 return) operated by Stagecoach, which runs every 10-20mins to Union Square (journey time 25mins). From there, Stagecoach buses 60 and 63 run every 30mins to Peterhead (1hr 10min journey time, single £6.70/return £12.10). Coming back, the 61 and 66 provide the evening service, until 11pm on Saturdays.
Buses come into Peterhead Interchange in the town centre. The ground is a 10min walk away, straight up Queen Street beside the bus terminal. Peterhead is small enough to be walkable – buses are run by Stagecoach.
With an office close to the ground, Peterhead Taxis (01779 568 000/07446 572 000) offer transfers to Aberdeen Airport for £35, and the bus and train stations for £40.
Where to Drink
The best pubs and bars for football fans
Pubs and bars dot the town centre – particularly close to the bus terminus. Those further up Queen Street are more suitable as pre-match venues.
A decent choice to start or finish any pub crawl would be the Harbour Lights, comprising two spacious bars and function room. Pub games, social events and occasional live music feature on different nights of the week.
By the bank buildings lining Broad Street, Bailie’s reopened in 2017 for TV sport, pool and darts.
Nearer to the bus terminus, the Cross Keys is the main Wetherspoons in town, set in a former chapel. Nearby Mambo’s is the local nightclub, opening at 9pm from Thursdays to Saturdays, with free admission before midnight.
Venturing further afield, on West Road at the edge of the town centre, the Grange Inn is a popular and lively local.
Where to stay
The best hotels for the ground and around town
Visit Aberdeenshire has an attractive database of hotels in the region.
The clutch of B&Bs and guest houses were Queen and King Streets meet is handy for both the ground and the bus terminus. The family-run Clifton House Hotel has a long maritime history, hence the prints and trinkets in the breakfast room – today it comprises 12 comfortable, en-suite guest rooms. The friendly Crawfords Guest House (61 Queen Street, 01779 477 540) is as cosy and welcoming as it gets. The Albert Hotel has a restaurant and the Lemon Tree pub attached, and offers evening meals. The Sa Coma Guest House (No.83, 07455 683 066) is the most modest of those on Queen Street.
For a guest house by the sea, Greenridge (Greenridge/South Road, 01779 473 072) by the junction with Links Terrace, by the bus stop for Aberdeen, is tidy and comfortable.
For a hotel in town, the mid-range Palace has 64 rooms, two bars (one with a pool table) and a decent restaurant.
Overlooking the River Ugie and the golf club beyond, the Waterside Hotel belongs to the unfeasibly retro Britannia group – hence the supercheap rates. It’s quite a trek from town, so it might be worth forking out a few extra quid for a room at the Palace.