Entertainment, Sports

Dick Campbell and Arbroath lifting the gloom of a Covid-19-blighted season with fairytale Premiership push

DICK Campbell has been a manager for 35 years, longer than the vast majority of his Arbroath players have been alive, now.

During that time, the 67-year-old has taken charge of over 1,300 games, from League 2 to Premiership level, with seven different clubs.

So he is not someone who is going to get too carried away or downhearted by the outcome of 90 minutes of football.

But it was not difficult to detect his satisfaction with the result of the cinch Championship match against Inverness Caledonian Thistle at Gayfield yesterday or contentment that his charges had remained three points clear of their nearest challengers in the table.

“I’m not unhappy with the end result,” said Campbell after the 0-0 draw. “Nobody watching the game today would have argued with Arbroath winning.”

If the part-time Angus outfit maintain their remarkable run of form, remain in first place, lift the trophy and clinch promotion to the top flight come April it will be impossible to decry their achievement.

This game was a big test for them and they rose to the challenge admirably. Their display augurs well for the remainder of the 2021/22 campaign. They still have another 16 games to play and have much work to do before they are crowned champions. But if they perform as well going forward they have every chance.

Arbroath have been one of the great stories in Scottish football, in British football even, during this difficult Covid-19-ravaged season. They have lifted the spirits of lovers of the beautiful game far and wide as they have outperformed bigger and wealthier full-time opponents home and away time after time.

The number of season ticket holders at Gayfield has trebled to 1,000 during the time that Campell has been in situ. Only 494 of them filed through the turnstiles at the ramshackle ground yesterday due to coronavirus restrictions. But the sense of excitement among them was obvious.

It was certainly easy to see why no team had won at Gayfield in a league game since Caledonian Thistle last visited way back on July 31 when the match kicked off.

Derek Gaston, the home team’s keeper, struggled to clear the ball out of his own penalty box due to a fierce south-westerly gale that was gusting at speeds up to 40 miles-per-hour. 

Gaston, who joined from Morton two-and-a-half years ago, and his team mates are used to it. But for visiting sides adapting to the unique weather conditions can be a challenge. The wind is their hosts’ 12th man.  

Inverness tried their luck from long-range on numerous occasions in the first-half. Indeed, Kirk Broadfoot, the former St Mirren, Rangers, Kilmarnock and Scotland defender who is now Caledonian Thistle captain, took a shot from just inside the Arbroath half at one point in the opening 45 minutes. Scott Allardice and Aaron Doran also went close before half-time.

Colin Hamilton and his team mates dealt with everything that was thrown at them and forced a couple of decent saves from Mark Ridgers themselves. Joel Nouble, the on-loan Livingston striker, got two decent attempts on target.   

Doran, one of just two members of the 2015 Scottish Cup-winning team who is still playing at Caledonian Thistle, pulled up injured in the first-half and was replaced by Cammy Harper. Inverness were not quite the same going forward without him.

The Arbroath fans who had changed ends at half-time nearly had a goal to celebrate when James Craigen shot inches wide after being supplied by Anton Dowds. Jack Hamilton, another Livingston loanee, put the ball in the net shortly after replacing David Gold. But he was adjudged to be offside and score remained goalless.

“It wasn’t a day for fancy fitba,” said Campbell. “The wind didn’t half blow in Arbroath. According to the statistics, we had 58 per cent possession. They hit the bar once in the second0half. That’s the only attempt they had on goal. My goalie didn’t have a save to make.

“My players gave a lot. They’re part time players and it wasn’t a day for it. We’re playing Inverness and they want to win the league. I haven’t got any complaints whatsoever.”

Campbell is set to lose Nouble, who will return to his parent club, after the meeting with Ayr United this weekend, but he has brought in Jack Hamilton from the West Lothian outfit and is hoping his can boost Arbroath’s improbable title challenge with some more signings during the January transfer window. 

“I’m sure there are a couple of white rabbits that are going to come out the hat in the next couple of weeks,” he said.

When Dick Campbell took over at Arbroath nearly six years ago they were second bottom in the fourth tier. He had led them to the League 2 and League 1 titles and is now going for an unprecedented hat-trick. It would be foolish to bet against him pulling it off.

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