Match of Yesterday: Mark McGeown

Match of Yesterday: Mark McGeown

GOALS, celebrations, iconic moments – key incidents stick in the mind of football fans and players despite weeks, months and even years passing.

Whether it is a last minute goal, derby day delight, giant-killing or something much more personal, there are games which fans can recall every detail from, even years down the line.

In the eighth of our series – Match of Yesterday – we speak to former Stranraer number one Mark McGeown. The goalkeeper made more than 100 appearances for the club and, despite what some may say, did not score a goal away to Forfar…

Q. What is the match?

Mark: I was trying to have a wee think when you got in touch. I really was not sure. I would probably at a push say the first Hibs game in the Scottish Cup where we drew 0-0. I think that would have been in 2002. We drew with Hibs at Stair Park and then we went to Easter Road and unfortunately we got beat. I think that is the one that springs to my mind. I don’t know if there would be a more relevant one but I would probably say that one.

Q. What other matches did you consider?

Mark: I remember a game against Falkirk in the Challenge Cup. I think it was in the quarter-finals and we won on penalties. That was the first season I was there. Alan Blaikie scored the winning penalty, if I remember rightly. That was a cracking game. Falkirk were a league above us and we won against them at Stair Park. It was a great game where we took it to penalties and we beat them.

There was a midweek Partick Thistle game where they were going for promotion and won that in March time. We won that 3-1 and Paul Ronald and Ian Harty scored the goals. I would probably go with the Hibs game though because they were a Premier League team at the time. Their side had guys who had played in England and were internationalists. I think Tam McManus and Derek Riordan played, perhaps Garry O’Connor. That young Hibs team were coming through. We had not played for a few weeks because of the weather. We could have possibly stolen it in the last few minutes. We got a 0-0 draw but with a bit of luck we could have won that game. That is the one that springs to mind.

Q. In terms of the Scottish Cup, for a lower league club, it presents those chances to go and test yourselves against a bigger team. What do you remember in terms of the build up to the game?

Mark: I think it was the third or the fourth round of the Scottish Cup. We had beaten Clydebank in the round before to go through. At the time, we had two or three players who were really grabbing the attention. This was a chance to go out and show what they could do. Frazer Wright was a young centre half at the time. He was finding his feet and, if I remember rightly, he was excellent that game. I know he never got his move until a couple of years after that but I think that was really his introduction.

He was great that day and I think the forwards that day were Garry O’Connor and Derek Riordan, Tam McManus and David Zitelli. Frazer, along with Kevin Gaughan were great down at Stair Park. Nothing each did not flatter us. On another day, we might have got the goal to go through. Hibs at the time were managed by Franck Sauzee and I think the replay was probably one of the only games he won!

They were really there for the taking. In hindsight, when you look at it, we had a real chance to win that day. We were a wee bit unfortunate. Hibs were coming down having finished really well in the Premier League and having Sauzee as the manager given he had been a fantastic player. I think they had been in the Scottish Cup final the year before against Celtic under Alex McLeish. They had a bit of a reputation and a bit of a name, they were obviously expecting to win the game but we played really well on a heavy, heavy pitch.

Our Stranraer team, it was not as if we had many big, physical players. We had some tidy ball players like Alex Grace, Ian Harty and Stevie Aitken. It was not as if we were six footers chasing the ball into corners. We got the ball down and tried to play. Finlayson was really quick on the wings. Billy MacDonald had a reputation from his time at Partick Thistle. I’m sure we got a lot of credit in the newspapers for playing really well. Dexi Wingate was a good footballer at the back. Kevin Gaughan was good in defence. Sandy Hodge on the left handside got up and down and gave good energy. Alex Grace was a smashing wee player. Stevie Aitken kept the ball moving and was excellent. Harty was a smashing player.

Q: Do you look at the Hibs team and, for example, there is Ian Murray, who played for Scotland, Ulrik Laursen, who went to Celtic, (Ulises) De La Cruz, who went to Aston Villa, Grant Brebner, Gary Smith, John O’Neil, Garry O’Connor, Tam McManus, Derek Riordan, David Zitelli. Maybe some of the players were not at their peak and were still breaking through but there was certainly a lot of talent in that Hibs team?

Mark: John O’Neil got caps. They were a really good side. De la Cruz (pictured) was playing in the Premiership six months later with Aston Villa. They were a really good side, with really good players. I remember at the time we were going down to the game and the talk was the weather was not going to be nice, the park will be a mess, this will really suit Stranraer. That was not how we played. Sandy Hodge was probably our tallest player. He played out on the left handside of a five in the middle of the park. It was not as if we relied on physicality or strength. Kevin Gaughan had just come into the team and did great. The build up was Hibs will not want to come down to Stair Park, the pitch will be a mess and we were a physical side – but we were not. We played really well and I remember the highlights on the TV. That showed how well we played. The game could have gone either way.

Q: It must be nice as a lower league player that the Scottish Cup gives you the chance, if the result has been decent, as it was on this occasion, to see yourself on the TV?

Mark: There is that. Nowadays, everyone has got their own TV channel on YouTube and you can see the highlights. That was not the case then and this was one of the very few occasions when you could.

You ask any of the players in that Stranraer team and they all felt like they could do a turn in the Premier League. Billy MacDonald played in the Premier League, Sandy Hodge played in the Premier League, Frazer Wright obviously played there and Kevin Finlayson played in the Championship at least. Kevin Gaughan played in the Championship with Partick Thistle. All the players felt they were good enough to play in the Premier League.

There was also the chance to show that you could play there, you could go and show what you could do. When you played against Premier League teams you got a wee bit more time on the ball. It was not the rough and tumble of the Second Division. A lot of our boys would have been going there thinking they could play and that they were a good player.

Allan Jenkins came off the bench and he ended up playing in the Premier League with Gretna. All players at that level feel but for a break they could be playing in the Premier League. You always had that focus in your mind that you could hold your own. I thought we had a good team at the time and probably should have done better in the league than we did. I think our downfall in the league was the number of players we had. We probably only had 15 or 16 players at the time to rely on for that long season. There was a lot of travelling in the division at the time. We had a small squad. We were a decent side.

Q: In terms of the replay, what do you remember about that? I imagine it was nice to go to a big stadium like Easter Road?

Mark: I remember we used to meet up at the McDonald Hotel in Glasgow at the time. Before we got on the bus, Reporting Scotland were there to interview a couple of the players in case there was an upset at Hibs’ big stadium, with the big atmosphere and a decent crowd going through to the game. It was a midweek game against a lower league team.

Unfortunately, I think we lost a goal within the first seven or eight minutes. Then, I think we lost the second goal on about 15 minutes. We never gave ourselves a chance because Hibs were good, professional, came out of the blocks quick and got the breakthrough. They never got the breakthrough against us in the first game. I think in the first 15 minutes of the first game we did really well and held firm. Then, we really found ourselves getting to grips in the first game.

In the second game, the game was away from us by that stage. You go to play a team from the Premier League and you need to stay in the game for as long as you can. One goal would have been ideal but by 15 minutes the ball was burst. It would be a mountain to climb to get anything back at all. Hibs started moving the ball and they were really quite dominant in that game. They probably could have won by more but that is what it is: you need to either score first or stay in the game and in the replay we never quite gave ourselves a chance, which was disappointing. We just never got a chance to get ourselves into the game. They scored so quickly and then the second goal.

Q: What are you doing with yourself now? Are you still involved in football?

Mark: I am coaching at Queen’s Park. I am one of the youth coaches for Queen’s Park. I am up there looking after that and really enjoying that. I, obviously, retired playing for Queen’s Park. I played the last six months of my career before I turned 40. I had a great time and really got on well with the manager at the time Gardner Speirs (pictured), who is now head of youth.

Q: Do you still keep an eye out for the Stranraer score or any particular team?

Mark: I do with Stranraer. Unfortunately, for my sins, my big pal Eric Phillips (pictured) is the goalkeeping coach down there. I cannot really get away from it with Big Eric on social media. He does a great job down there with keeping Stranraer’s profile high. I am fully across that. Stevie Aitken was the manager there for a few years and I used to travel with Stevie. He still lives in Erskine and I met with him a few months ago. I’ve seen Stranraer a few times over the years and the same with Stirling Albion and try to get to a game whether it is Stranraer, Airdrie, Queen’s Park or whatever.

Q: One last thing, a chance to put the record straight once and for all, looking at your statistics for Stranraer it has you scoring a goal against Forfar. Not yourself?

Mark: There is a funny story about that. I was not even playing that day! I had been away for a few days up north with the kids and I was driving back down the road when my knee swelled up. I could not play in the game because my knee was swollen up. I went to the doctor and ended up in hospital with an infection in my knee. I don’t know if there was some sort of bite or tick. It was right below my kneecap and had swollen up. A couple of weeks later, Stranraer go up to Forfar to play and I am sitting watching Sky Sports and the results. I have got a cast on my leg to stop the infection from spreading and it comes up ‘McGeown, 90th minute, 2-2’. Sky Sports are saying it is McGeown and they have spelt it right and everything. I knew fine well it was Neil McGowan that had scored. He had signed in the end of January that year. He scored in the last minute and the next day in the paper two or three of them had McGeown had scored. One of the match reports said how I was up the park Schmeichel-esque for a corner in the last minute. So, no I never scored! I will claim it gladly but it was Neil McGowan.

Teams

Stranraer: McGeown, Wingate, Wright, Hodge, Gaughan, Grace, Aitken, MacDonald, Finlayson, Shaw (Jenkins 73), Harty.
Not used: Paterson, Blair, Weir and S O’Neil.

Hibs: Colgan, Murray, Laursen, De la Cruz (Townsley 59), Fenwick, Brebner, Smith, Arpinon (Riordan 77), J O’Neil, O’Connor, McManus (Zitelli 22).
Not used: Hurtado and Caig