On Sunday April 28, 120 Partick Thistle fans will get to live their dream by walking out onto the pitch to play in the Firhill Cup.
The competition was set-up by Davy Mains and Charlie Kirkwood three years ago and it gives Thistle fans the chance to play at the stadium in which they have been watching their heroes all season.
Davy said: “Charlie’s run loads of football tournaments and it was his idea. Every fan in the world of any team wants to play on that team’s park with the shirts. The first year he approached me and I sponsored one of the teams through my company. It was really good, a really good experience for everybody. My team won which is when I got bitten by the bug of helping Charlie to organise it last year and then this year as well.”
Although the tournament was set-up so the fans could play football. It is also a big earner for the club. In the past two seasons they have raised around £12,000 – which has gone directly to the manager’s playing budget – and this year they hope to raise close to £8,000.
Fans pay £25 each and that guarantees them at least three matches. The eight teams are split into two groups of four with the winners of each group playing off in the final.
Davy said: “The final gets a wee bit special. If you win your group you flip a coin and one of you is the home team and the other’s the away team. You go into the home dressing room and in there are 16 Thistle kits on the pegs with the numbers on the back, same in the away dressing room. We have a proper referee for that. We get everyone wound-up as we normally do the beat the goalie competition before the final. Then the run-out music comes on. The referee leads the teams out into the centre-circle and you play 20 minutes each-way – the group games are 20 minutes each – with the full proper kit, which is amazing. All my avatars and my pictures on my twitter and stuff like that are me wheeling away from scoring into the City end. It was immense. Everyone who has had the experience of playing in the Firhill Cup just says it’s a magical experience. It’s hard to put into words I think – the experience of being a fan in the stands and then actually getting onto the park. And although the crowd is not huge for the Firhill Cup you’ll still have maybe 500 people in the stands.”
He added: “In order to have it over one day you can’t really have any more than eight teams. We’ve gone up to 16 players on each team to try and accommodate everyone that wants to play. And this year we’ll probably play 12-a-side rather than 11-a-side, which is great because for old men like me it’s a big park.”
The event is set-up as a family-fun day, tickets are only £1 for Adults and it is free for kids. The players will hope to have a big crowd to cheer them on and this season have been putting in some extra effort to prepare for the tournament.
Andy Young, a Community Coach at Partick Thistle, volunteered to give the players professional coaching sessions in the lead-up to the Firhill Cup.
Scotzine reporter Adam Henderson attended the final two training sessions and will be writing an article on them before the Cup takes place this Sunday – including; interviews with the coach, players and videos of some of the highlights.
Davy said: “This is the first year we’ve done the Firhill Cup training program, which is just to give the guys a wee bit of formal coaching. We want them to feel as if they’re involved a bit more. Andy brilliantly volunteered to do it for free. We got a pitch in the Firhill complex for free and we get donations from some of the guys after. Which is absolutely brilliant because it’s what we can afford because we want it to be inclusive and not exclusive.“
The players will have plenty of incentive to play well as amongst the crowd will be their Jags heroes who take part in a role reversal by watching the fans from the stands.
Davy said: “Hopefully most of the first-team squad will come along. There’s no insistence on the players coming along. But this year before the Firhill Cup we’ll lift the trophy at our home game against Dunfermline. I’m sure the players will go out and have a few sherries afterwards and therefore most of them will be kicking about Glasgow. We’re also hoping this year that we’ll have the trophy at the Firhill Cup and everyone will be able to see the trophy and have their picture taken.”
Davy had several stories of current and ex-players who have attended in previous years. He continued: “Paul Paton came along the first year– ankle in cast – and his crutches, and spent two hours talking to fans. Second year he came along – that was him established in the team – and signed some shirts for us. We get guys like Gerry Brittain and Ian Maxwell who come along as well. Last year Jackie [McNamara] and Sid [Simon Donnelly] refereed some of the games. The year before we couldn’t get Paul Cairney off the pitch because he refereed five games on the trot. It’s great because the players contribute to the day tremendously – just by mixing with the fans.”
Charlie and Davy organise almost the entire tournament themselves. The only input the club have is setting the date.
Davy added: “The biggest difficulty we have is finding the right date. Last year was a nightmare because Thistle were sharing with Glasgow Warriors and we had to wait until we knew they hadn’t qualified for the play-offs and unfortunately that meant by the time we actually got onto the park there wasn’t too much park left.”
After Davy and Charlie set a date with the club. Davie said they have to: “….organize the players, put the links to sign-up out through social media and collect the money.”
He said the latter is: “basically standing about street corners waiting for people to come up and hand you £25 and walk away which is a bit weird at times. This year we’ve pretty much been at all the home games and a couple of the away games too.”
He added: “Charlie organizes the websites and the day stuff. I do most of the sponsorship and the business stuff. It’s my job to go round and talk to all the companies that sponsor Thistle or would like to sponsor a team and collect sponsorship money.”
Although they want to raise money for the club, Davy said: “The main driver for the whole thing is to have a fun day.”
He listed some of the family attractions at the event which help make it a fun day, including: “bouncy castles, slides, face painting, beat the goalie competitions and storytelling for kids.” They also have: “a football shirt auction where fans donate their shirts that they’ve grown out of or no longer want and we re-sell them back out.”
Davy said: “We haven’t quite managed to get sponges for the players yet – which we’ve been threatening to do for three years. We sell programs as well and we get donations of MacB water and McGhee’s pies as well.”
Firhill will open at 10am on Sunday and the Cup is expected to finish at 4pm. Both the club and organisers have said that everyone is welcome to come along and it’s only £1. More information can be found on Charlie Kirkwood’s website: http://www.kirkwoodscastles.co.uk/firhill-cup—2013.php