Having successfully established Stirling as one of the best clubs in Scotland on the pitch, it was time to do this off the pitch too. We’d quickly outgrown our 3,808 capacity Forthbank home, we were unable to play our home European matches there (because home European matches are a thing now for the club!), and halfway through my seventh season in charge the board sanctioned a request to have a new stadium built. Just in time for the beginning of my ninth season in charge of Stirling, we’ll move into our brand spanking new 14k capacity home (you noticed the background image change, didn’t you?).
Nobody wants to be playing in the Stirling Albion Stadium. It’s uninspiring and the game needs to get better on things like this. So I went out and bought the in-game editor purely to change the name of our new stadium. Pure mad mental? Aye, probably. But fuck it. Welcome to the Samo Stadium.
It’s customary to open a new stadium with fanfare, fireworks and a fancy friendly match. You’ll have read what happened when I took my Stirling side to Argentina to face Bastardo’s Estudiantes side to celebrate the 75th anniversary of our club forming. Having kept in touch in the years since, including his recommendation to Walter Samuel to join as my new assistant manager last season, I felt it was only right to invite Bastardo’s bastards to Stirling to crack open the champagne bottle on the side of the Samo Stadium. Oh, and to play some football too of course.
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FMGrasshopper gave a perfect summary of Scotsmen, the Watson Hutton’s, and their influence on bringing football to Argentina. With Alexander being the founding father of the AFA, and also father to Arnold, who starred up front for the Albicelestes in the early 1900s. Being a keen student of football, I have of course read that copy of Angels with Dirty Faces that Bastardo kindly gifted to me when we locked horns previously so I’m well versed on the origins and history of Argentine football myself. Since Neil McBain left La Plata to return to Ayr in 1951, Scottish and Argentine football have only flirted with each other again on a couple of occasions.
In 1978, Scotland was on the march with Ally’s Army. Before they flew out to compete in Argentina the squad paraded around Hampden to bid farewell to fans, and thousands more lined the streets en route to the airport. Manager, Ally MacLeod, had declared that the squad, containing Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness, Joe Jordan and Archie Gemmill, would come home with a medal and they were classed as contenders by the likes of Rinus Michels. Royal Mail even designed and produced commemorative stamps!
Glorious failure ensued, as we’ve got used to by now. After gaining a solitary point from the first two group stage matches in Cordoba against Peru and Iran, Archie Gemmill served up one of the greatest moments in Scottish football history in Mendoza against the Netherlands. It secured a 3-2 win for us against the eventual tournament runners up, but we needed to win by three clear goals. Out we went on goal difference and MacLeod resigned later than year with his tale between his legs.
Fast forwarding to the late 1990s/early 2000s and we had an influx of Argentines joining Scottish football. Journeyman Italian, Ivano Bonetti, joined Dundee as player/manager and set about trying to establish them as challengers at the top end of Scottish football. Beto Carranza, Pascual Garrido, Walter del Río, Juan Sara, Fabián Caballero and Julián Speroni were joined by ex-Argentine World Cup star, Claudio Caniggia. Scorer of two goals at the 1994 World Cup, he only ended up being with the Dees for a short time but very quickly became a fans favourite. Remarkably after a move to Rangers, where he also became a hit with the fans, he was called up by Bielsa for Argentina’s squad for the 2002 World Cup. He didn’t end up making an appearance, but he’d certainly cemented himself as a cult hero amongst Scottish football fans.
That period of Scottish football was rife with clubs spending beyond their means, with Dundee eventually going into administration and getting relegated. Scottish football ahead of the 2025/26 season though is in rude health, with the opening of the Samo Stadium highlighting that. How would we fare against Bastardo this time round after our 4-2 defeat in La Plata previously?
A few years on and there’s still some survivors in the Stirling side. Ryan Porteous continues to captain the side, alongside LB Owen Hughes, Deep Lying Destroyer Aaron Bolger and star striker #Rog. Wonderkids, Ahmed el Sayed aka the Pharaoh and Edvin Horvat are accommodated in the same starting 11, with Horvat being pushed out left and homegrown Stirling lad, Cairnseh, dropping to the bench. Those of you with good memories will be happy to see that David Jablonsky is no longer at the club, with his horror show in La Plata signalling the end of his Stirling career. Similarly to that match in La Plata, I set out in the Samo 4-4-2. As I said back then, “we’ll set up in the way we like to play and see what happens.”
There would be no Lattanzio for Estudiantes this time round, who terrorised us with a hattrick in the last match, as he’d been given the boot by Bastardo. The dangermen to watch were promising young striker, Renzo Taborda, midfield controller, Raúl Rolón and the returning wide man, Fernando Zuqui.
Bastardo’s men were more than capable of dishing out another defeat against us here, and the opening minutes proved it.
An initial cross from the right hand side is dealt with, but that second ball isn’t closed down quick enough. Aparicio’s cross looks like it’s overhit and going out, but Jesus Medina is alert and somehow picks out Zuqui. Owen Hughes isn’t great in the air, and he’s easily beaten for Estudiantes’ opening goal after just two minutes and 17 seconds. A full 52 seconds before the opening Estudiantes goal in the previous match. Why don’t we start well against Bastardo’s men?
Things went from bad to worse in the eleventh minute. Ryan Porteous does well to deal with an incoming Medina corner, but the ball falls right to Reynoso’s feet.
Usually I see my players blasting it over the bar or wide of the post from these second ball wins on the edge of the box from a corner. Reynoso is given time (what is Aaron Bolger, #22, doing?) and space to do whatever he wants with it. His strong decision making attribute, coupled with excellent vision and passing sees him pick out Remedi, #7. With our zonal marking on defensive corners spectacularly failing here as six of my players in the box are nowhere near any of the opposing players, Remedi slots it easily past Robby McCrorie in goals. 2-0 Estudiantes.
We kick off, play a couple of passes in midfield before a slack one out left to Horvat from Bolger is pounced on by Zuqui. The away side play keep ball just inside our half, before Reynoso tries to find Zuqui with a lofted pass out right.
Hughes wins that aerial battle, but the loose ball falls to Remedi who finds Zuqui’s feet this time. Hughes doesn’t get tight or close down well enough, giving Zuqui time and space to cross. Taborda beats Nicholl to the ball in the box and hits the back of the net with a fine finish to make it three. It’s a shocking start to life in the Samo Stadium as we’re second to every ball and looking abject. That’s how the score stays until half time, with McCrorie tipping a fierce shot from Taborda onto the post in the only other chance of the half.
Remarkably, that’s how the score stayed for the remainder of the match. Stirling 0-3 Estudiantes. A (pretend, because we played on FMTouch) bollocking in the halftime teamtalk reminded the Stirling players that this was the grand opening of our new stadium, and we could do with not being embarrassed any further. The match was played in good spirits, but I couldn’t help feeling disappointed we couldn’t at least score for the newly increased capacity crowd of 14k that turned up. #Rog did have a glorious clear cut opening with 20minutes to go, but couldn’t find a way past Axel Werner in the Estudiantes goal. We’d have to put up a much better fight if we want to challenge at the top of the SPL again this season.
I shouldn’t have been surprised really, Bastardo hails from a country that is renowned for its tactical expertise and will to win. When he spoke to the waiting press after the match, he underlined this. “I envisaged possession to be an issue today, and perhaps needed to tone down our risk to ensure we keep the ball for longer periods. I told Reynoso not to play the ball so riskily, and asked Rolón to mark Stirling’s forward dropping into the hole tightly. I wanted to negate the threat of their two up top.”
“Remedi is a tough tackling midfielder and he was instructed to stick tight to Stirling’s Pharaoh. I didn’t know much about him prior to today, but had heard it was worth going in hard to keep him from threatening. Horvat’s quality is wasted out on the left hand side, plus he’s very one footed so I asked the players to show him onto his right. The game was won early on, but we shut it down completely with 10 minutes to go. Stirling, unfortunately for their fans, offered no threat today.” Brutal honesty from the Argentine, as per usual.
Scotland has struggled internationally, continentally and even domestically in recent times. We have been accused of not moving with the times, not progressing our game. The reintroduction of the SPL ahead of the 2017/18 along with restructuring the leagues and incorporating all of Scotland’s football clubs into one big pyramid attracted increased levels of income from sponsorship and television money. It gave our game the jolt it needed. My Stirling side might have been outfoxed and outplayed by Bastardo and his Estudiantes side twice now, but luckily for us these were only exhibition matches. Our aim is to compete domestically, to keep growing the club and the opening of the Samo Stadium is a huge part of that. Thanks to Bastardo for agreeing to travel to Scotland and play against us on this historic day for Stirling Albion. Hopefully they’ll actually be some Stirling goals for the 14k fans to cheer in the near future…