Scottish Cup: East Kilbride and Forres generations apart

By Kenny CrawfordBBC Sport Scotland
Forres Mechanics kit-man Willy McLean and East Kilbride counterpart Martin Fellowes
Rival kit men Willy McLean and Martin Fellowes

"Willy? You want to speak to Willy?"

This pre-match interview request baffled one of the starting XI at the entrance to the away dressing-room at East Kilbride's K Park.

"Honestly Willy, there's some guy at the door and he wants to speak to you; no joke," said another Forres Mechanics player as the message filtered its way through umpteen bodies, all at different stages of changing from suits to strips ahead of this Scottish Cup second-round encounter.

The widespread consternation that the media was bidding for a word with Can Cans' long-serving kit-man, Willy McLean, highlighted the humble way in which the role was performed.

"You get a lot of flak in the dressing-room," smiled 66-year-old McLean after finally emerging with a look of disbelief.

"Some of the players think it's good-humoured and everything else, but you've just got to go with the flow and give as good as you get back, if not a bit more."

Fans line the pitch as East Kilbride face Forres Mechanics at K Park.
A crowd of 329 watched the 1-1 draw between East Kilbride and Forres Mechanics at K Park.

That was not just a comment by the unassuming Highland gentleman who has been with the Mosset Park club since the 1973-74 season. It was also advice.

Also in our company was his East Kilbride counterpart, Martin Fellowes, who at 17 was almost a quarter of the age of this sage of the kit-man game.

"This is me into my second season, so I've been doing it about 18 months now," explained the chirpy Fellowes, whose weekday job is as an office furniture salesman.

"I coach a couple of the kids teams - the under 12s and the under 14s - and it just sort of happened from there.

"I've not got an office, but I do have a hallway with four cupboards in it that I work out of.

"There's a lot of work involved with the two sets of strips and, at the start of the season, there are lots of midweek games.

"You're trying to get home from work, get yourself ready and get the kit ready before the manager and the rest of the team arrive.

"I'm also trying to juggle coaching a team on a Saturday and Sunday morning, but I only do it all because I enjoy it."

East Kilbride's assistant coach is former Aberdeen, Clyde and Queen's Park boss Gardner Speirs, but despite that track-record, he is keen to give the rightful place to manager Billy Ogilvie, who is under no illusions about the value kit-man Fellowes brings to the South Lanarkshire outfit.

"Martin is the glue that brings us all together," he began.

Sean Winter wheels away with ball in hand after equalising for East Kilbride
Sean Winter equalised for East Kilbride to set up a Scottish Cup replay

"You come in here in a Monday and a Thursday and you see that wee cheery face and he just lifts Gardner and I.

"He's a future manager; he's been measured for the big coat and everything. He is probably the most valuable person here."

As Lowland League met Highland League on Saturday, the serious opinion among many at K Park was that, in five to 10 years' time, 'Kilby' will be well established in Scottish senior football.

It is a huge operation at K Park, with 27 teams below the first team servicing up to 600 young people between the ages of five to 21 years-old.

East Kilbride Community Trust is striving to get the club a proper stadium and one player born and bred in the town - and who would go on to score the equaliser in a 1-1 draw - believes they are well and truly going places.

"There are about 80,000 people in East Kilbride," said former Stranraer winger Sean Winter.

"Down at Stranraer, there are only 10,000, so there's no reason why East Kilbride can't have a senior team.

"It's probably one of the biggest towns in Scotland that don't have a senior outfit. But now that all the things are in place, with getting a stadium built and everything, I think in the next few years there could be."

Unexpected individuals filling certain roles did not end with teenage kit-man Fellowes, though, because Forres have a retired GP as chairman.

"It was perfect for me," said Dr James Anderson, whose dress sense club committee members light-heartedly label as "smart-gardening".

"One of the unattractive things about retiring is that you very quickly disappear into the background, so the opportunity to be chairman was fantastic because it keeps me involved with the community in a completely different capacity," he said.

East Kilbride's management team - Billy Ogilvie and Gardner Speirs - chat on the sidelines
East Kilbride's management team are Billy Ogilvie and former Aberdeen caretaker boss Gardner Speirs

Through 'The Doc' came an introduction to the Can Cans' star striker of the 1960s, incredibly also by the name James Anderson - and also to Forres Mechanics' club treasurer, Mike.

Yes, the joke was cracked.

The usual gags the Highland club have to bat away are those about vehicle breakdowns, yet there was another committee member - George Alexander - who wished to set the record straight on the moniker.

"It comes from the 1800s when the word 'mechanic' was a generic word for all sorts of tradesmen," he explained.

"It has nothing to do with the railway or cars. If you look on the Forres Town Hall, you'll notice it's known as the Forres Mechanics Institute.

"Mind you, we are pretty good at fixing things in Forres."

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