As 2018 draws to a close, I take a look back over the last 12 months of shooting non-league football and Scottish Championship bike racing.
I've been to 51 matches in the last year and when you include 3 going to extra-time and 2 penalty shoot outs, that adds up to almost 4,700 minutes or 78 hours of football. In that time, I've seen 128 goals, 15 hat-tricks, 4 OG's and just one nil-nil draw. Averaged out across the year, that's 2.5 goals per game or roughly a goal every 36 minutes.
Of course it hasn't all been about the ball - there's been plenty of bikes in there too. I've been to six race meetings across the 2018 season, including the first Knockhill 100 endurance race and the amazing spectacle that is the British Superbike Championship. When you add in the pre-season testing and a very special trip to the James Whitham Superbike School at Mallory park, I've probably seen around 500 laps of high speed action this year.
It's mostly been cold, I haven't seen a single half & half scarf and hardly any of it has been live on Sky, but I've enjoyed every single minute of it. So join me for part 1of my review as I look back at the first six months of the year as seen through a big lens on fast shutter.
January: Matches 4, Goals 12
The New Year kicked-off on 02 January, when Kelty Hearts shook off the hangovers with a friendly against Kirkintilloch Rob Roy, Jordan Sheerin scoring the only goal of the game. It was back to Kelty four days later for a local derby against Burntisland Shipyard. Sheerin got the first goal of the day, and with Errol Douglas, Scott Taylor MacKenzie and Brian Ritchie also on the scoresheet , it was 3 points and a comfortable 4-nil win for the home side. A week later, I managed the feat of watching two games in one day: first heading up to Kinross Campus to see the local youth team lose 3-0 to Pitreavie. As the away side are coached by my work mate, and the home side were wearing green & white hoops, I wasn't too disappointed. It was then a quick dash to New Central Park to see Kelty in Challenge Cup action against South of Scotland league leaders Threave Rovers. Sheerin hit the net again, to make him my top scorer of the month, and even though Scott Dalziell added a second, the game finished 2-2, with Kelty eventually being knocked out on penalty kicks.
February: Matches 3, Goals 27
February is usually the month that the Scottish weather takes its toll on the fixture list and I only managed three games in the month. All three were at New central Park, and despite the lack of matches, there was no shortage of goals. With wins over Tynecastle (5-0), Coldstream (9-0) and Peebles (12-1), Kelty managed to rack up an impressive 26 goals in the month, conceding only 1 in the process. Most of the side got in on the act too, with 6 for both Stuart Cargill and Scott Dalziell, 4 for Stephen Husband and 2 a piece for Brian Ritchie and Ross Philp.
March: Matches 4, Goals 17
Compared to February, March was a relatively quiet month, with just the seventeen goals scored in the four matches. The Beast from the East meant the first couple of weeks were a write-off and the show had to be shoveled off the astroturf in order for Kelty to play their friendly match against Brentford. The Bees fielded a strong side, and ran out comfortable 4-0 winners on the day. Kelty had bigger fish to fry in the month though, saving their best for a convincing 7-2 away to Burntisland Shipyard in the first round of the King Cup, setting them on a journey that would take them all the way to the final. In between those two games, I had back to back visits to Kiers Park to see Hill of Beath. On a nice spring evening in early march, the Haws lost narrowly to Superleague runners-up Linlithgow Rose. A week later, on a freezing cold spring evening in mid-March, they won 1-0 in a friendly against Thornton Hibs, Lea Schiavone scoring the only goal.
April: Matches 3, Goals 9. Race Meetings 1
By April, we were getting to business end of the season, and 3 important matches for Kelty. The first at home to Leith finished 3-1, thanks to a double from Stuart Cargill and another from Stephen Husband, to set up a double header league decider against Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale. With both sides undefeated all season long, Kelty headed to Saughton knowing a win would clinch the title. It wasn't to be though, and thanks to an unbelievable performance from LTHV keeper Kevin Swain and a bullet header from Nico Gibson, we headed home on the wrong end of a 1-nil scoreline. Kelty had the chance for revenge just seven days later at New Central Park in the final league game of the season. Goals from Cargill and Carstairs got the home side off to a perfect start, but a Swanson penalty just before half-time set up a nail-biting second half. It's was a nervous 45 for the Kelty fans, before Scott Taylor MacKenzie made the game safe with 5 minutes to go to kill-off his old side, win the league and set-up a promotion play-off against Threave.
April wasn't all about football though, it also saw the first race meeting of the year at Knockhill. With 33 races across 7 different classes, there was certainly plenty of action on the track all weekend. Performance of the weekend had to go to Hawick rider John Dean, back after missing a whole season due to illness, the won all five Superbike races on his bright orange BMW and establish himself as one of the favourites for the 2018 crown. Crossgates brothers Greg & Sean Gilfillan were also back on the grid, and with Perth's Rory Skinner competitive in the 600cc, Kinross rider James McLaren winning in the 400cc class and Declan Connell (Dunfermline) and Logan Turner (Cowdenbeath) in the 125cc there was plenty for the local fans to cheer about. April also gave me the chance to attend a trackside training session at Mallory Park with legendary BSB photographer James Wright, which has helped improve my photographic skills in all areas.
May: Matches 6, Goals 26. Race Meetings 1
With the end of the season in sight, there were still plenty of loose ends to be tied up, including the last few Superleague games for Hill of Beath before heading off to join the East of Scotland league in the mass exodus from the SJFA. Wins against Jeanfield Swifts (3-2) and Kennoway Star Hearts (0-2), followed up by a 1-1 draw against Dundonald helping them to a 7th place finish. A mile along the road, a Brian Ritchie hat-trick helped Kelty to a stunning 6-0 win over Threave Rovers to make it 10-0 on aggregate, and more importantly, win them promotion to the Lowland League. But the highlight came at the end of the month, with the trip to Kings Park in Dalkeith for the King Cup final. Kelty struggled against a determined Preston side, needing a second half penalty from Stephen Husband to earn a draw and take the match to extra-time before eventually winning the con penalties. Scott Christie's celebration after saving Gotlin's spot-kick was probably my moment of the year and brought to a close the most enjoyable season of football I can remember for a very long time.
At Knockhill in the second round of the season, Kirkcaldy's Jodie Chalk proved that the girls are just as quick as the boys with wins in the 500cc class. Greg Gilfillan was back up to speed, winning in the Superbike class while Sam Munro and Willie Monie were doing the business in the F600 races. James McLaren was once again the class of the field in both 125cc and 400cc races, proving he can be quick on any capacity of machine.
June: Race Meetings 1
With the football season over, the focus on the month was on the race track, with the inaugural Knockhill 100 endurance races. Twenty teams, of two riders each, entered the event and with Le Mans style start it promised plenty of action. The format was simple - the first team to complete 100 laps would win. Each rider could do a maximum of 20 laps before handing over to his team mate, meaning that pit-strategy would be as important as outright pace. In the end, the Kawasaki team of Sam Munro and Rory Skinner completed the distance in a time of 1 hour, 36 minutes and 18 seconds to take the chequered flag, 13 seconds ahead of Matt Paulo & Willie Bergin, with Lewis Paterson and Paul McLung coming home third.