How will you remember 2018? If you’re a Dumbarton fan it will likely be one of two moments. Losing the club’s first major national cup final in more than 100 years to an injury time goal, or conceding with the final kick of the ball to send the playoff final into extra-time - a goal that ultimately sent Sons into the third tier.
There have been positives moments. Well...there have been two. Danny Handling and Dimitris Froxylias both scoring sensational strikes against The New Saints to send Sons on the path to cup final heartache. Those moments of magic aside though 2018 has not been a good year for Dumbarton Football Club.
Here’s how it looks in numbers.
55 - Played. A cup final, the playoffs and a fixture backlog meant that, possibly for the first time ever, Dumbarton averaged more than a game a week in 2018. In 2017 Sons took to the field just 48 times, whilst in 2016 it was a nice round 50.
16 - Wins. Which is considerably more than it feels like. Victories came in January against Peterhead (3-2), February against TNS (1-2), March twice against Brechin City (1-0, 1-3), Dundee United (3-2) in April, Arbroath and Alloa (1-2, 0-1) in May, East Kilbride (1-3) and Cumbernauld Colts (2-3) in pre-season, Queen’s Park (1-0) in July, East Fife (0-2) and Greenock Morton (2-1) in August, Montrose (2-1) in September, East Fife (4-0) in October, Stenhousemuir (2-1) in November and Brechin City (4-1) in December.
That gives Sons a 29% win ratio in 2018 - down slightly from 31.25% last year, but still up considerably on the 24% recorded in both 2015 and 2016. In league games however that figures drops to just 21.6% and discounting games against Brechin City (one of the only teams in the country to have a poorer 2018) it falls further to just 15.1%.
8 - Draws. If you want to know where things have gone wrong (well, at least sort of) then here’s a telling statistic. Dumbarton used to be draw specialists tying 33% of games in 2017, and 26% in 2016. That figure dropping to just 14.5% in 2018, combined with a stagnant win ratio, goes some way to explaining why 2019 has felt so unpleasant.
31 - Defeats. This definitely explains why this year has felt so bad. Dumbarton have tasted defeat on no fewer than 31 occasions in 2018 - a staggering 56% of the time they have taken to the field. Last year the total sat at 35% and I said that, in order for it to remain at that level, we’d have to put together a promotion push. Well we haven’t, so it hasn’t.
This is the first year I’ve written a statistical review where we’ve changed manager, so the breakdown based on managerial team looks like this.
Stevie Aitken & Ian Durrant
44 - Games
13 - Victories. One in the Scottish Cup against Peterhead, five in the league (Brechin City twice, East Fife, Dundee United, Montrose), two in the Challenge Cup (TNS, Morton), two in friendlies (East Kilbride, Cumbernauld Colts), two in the playoffs (Arbroath, Alloa Athletic) and one in the Betfred Cup (Queen’s Park).
6 - Draws. Unlike last year, Sons struggled to draw games under Stevie Aitken. In fact they struggled to draw games at all. Stalemates came with Queen of the South, Falkirk, Arbroath (twice), Spartans (albeit a bonus point was won on penalties) and Airdrieonians.
25 - Defeats. There are really too many to mention here, but Sons lost 56.8% of their games under Aitken and Durrant in 2018.
44 - Goals for. An average of a nice round one per game. In league games however this figure drops to 0.88 per game - mainly thanks to a run of seven games between Boxing Day 2017 and March 13 that saw Sons fail to score a single league goal.
84 - Goals against. When you concede almost twice as many as you score then you’re always going to find yourself in trouble. Letting in an average of 1.9 per game meant that Sons more often than not would need three goals to take three points.
20 - Games without scoring. Aitken had a reputation amongst Dumbarton fans for struggling to set a team up to attack, and that is reflected in the lack of goals in his sides this year. Sons failed to hit the net in a whopping 45% of the games he took charge of in 2018.
29.5% - Sons win ratio under Stevie Aitken in all competitions in 2018.
18.5% - Sons win ratio in league games under Stevie Aitken. That counts two victories in a week against Brechin City, a home win against Dundee United, and successes against East Fife (away) and Montrose (home).
Ian Durrant & Jamie Ewings (Interim managers)
1 - Game
1 - Defeat. Sons’ interim management team of Durrant and Ewings took charge for just one match, and it was a tough one. Despite Iain Russell’s first-half goal giving Sons the lead against Arbroath at Gayfield, they couldn’t hold on - and the Lichties eventually triumphed 3-1.
Jim Duffy and Craig McPherson
10 - Games. There’s not much that can be said here, in Duffy’s nine league games he’s only had four defeats. Which isn’t too bad I suppose.
3 - Wins. On his debut against East Fife (4-0), a fortnight later against Stenhousemuir (2-1) and at the beginning of December against Brechin City (4-1). He remains without a win away from home.
2 - Draws
5 - Defeats
15 - Goals for. With Dumbarton now averaging 1.5 goals per game the signs of progress from Aitken’s notoriously defensive football is evident. If we had a striker who could convert chances at a semi-decent rate that figure would have risen dramatically too.
17 - Goals against. Duffy also appears to have stemmed the goals against tide, albeit only slightly as it drops from 1.9 to 1.7 per game.
30% - Win ratio. That looks spookily similar...Unlike Aitken however Duffy’s rises (to 33%) if you only take into account league games, it’s going to have to improve further if Dumbarton are to avoid a second consecutive relegation though.
4 - Wins by more than one goal. Finally, an area where positive improvement has been made...Wait, this includes the friendly with East Kilbride. Never mind.
Dumbarton have only beaten two teams by more than one goals this season. Brechin City (1-3 and 4-1) and East Fife (0-2 and 4-0).
6-0 - Heaviest defeat. Remember in the summer when St Mirren fans were all full of pre-season optimism under Alan Stubbs, and Dumbarton fans felt the same under Stevie Aitken? Ha! How wrong they were. Saints battered six goals by Sons in the Betfred Cup, ending any positivity in the Dumbarton camp and giving the Buddies fans some serious false hope.
46 - Players have pulled on the white and gold (or black and red, or red and white, or purple and yellow, or sky blue and white) - showing some quite sensational consistency. Despite a massive turnaround in playing squad, 46 is exactly the same total as in 2017, and just one greater than the 2016 figure.
11 - Of the 46, 11 have been loan players - a figure that has jumped by three since last year, albeit slightly skewed by the addition of ‘keepers Robbie Mutch and Chris Smith on short-term emergency deals.
Dom Thomas’ deal expires early next month, and Sons will be determined to keep him at the club for the remainder of the campaign. Scott Allardice is in the same boat - whilst Chris Smith’s has been on a rolling week-by-week emergency, something Duffy will likely make permanent in the January window.
The loan players who have since returned to their clubs are enjoying a mixed time of things elsewhere. Ally Roy has recently left Derry City after an impressive stint in the Danske Bank Premiership that saw him capped for Northern Ireland U21s, whilst Greg Morrison is out on loan again - this time at League Two Elgin City.
Kevin Nisbet has been in sensational form for Raith Rovers - grabbing 21 goals in just 26 appearances for the Stark’s Park club, including two against Dumbarton.
Aidan Wilson returned to Rangers only to be shipped out against to Forfar Athletic where he's struggled, whilst the same happened to Liam Burt who joined Championship side Alloa Athletic in the summer - only to find his game time limited.
King of Sons’ loanees from last season, Sam Wardrop, who was impressive during an injury plagued season at the Rock, is now at Dundee United - but has featured just once in the league all season, and looks set for a loan move elsewhere in January.
Jack Aitchison - who made just four appearances for Dumbarton before returning to Celtic - is still banging them in for the Parkhead club’s youth teams, whilst Robbie Mutch (who returned to Falkirk to cover for Leo Fasan after the Italian was sent-off) hasn’t played since making his final start for the Sons in October.
8 - Trialists. Stevie Aitken must’ve been feeling generous, as just eight trialists featured for Dumbarton this year - down from the 10 in 2017. Of the eight (or nine if you include Jamie Ewings, listed as a trialist substitute with Chris Smith unavailable for three games) five would go on to sign permanently for the club.
Iain Russell, Jamie McGowan, Andy Little, Michael Paton and Brad Spencer are joined on the list by Kieran Campbell, Dominic McMeekin and David Ferguson.
Campbell and McMeekin both featured in Sons’ pre-season matches against East Kilbride, Cumbernauld Colts and Hearts, whilst Ferguson made just one start (at right-back) in the early July meeting with Craig Levein’s men.
As far as I can see neither Campbell (formerly of Celtic’s U20s) or McMeekin (formerly of Dundee United’s U20s) have a club at the moment, whilst Ferguson re-signed for Ayr United - but has only featured five times this season, and not at all since August.
With his contract expiring today, and Sons struggling defensively, Jim Duffy could do worse than take a look at the former Motherwell man if he becomes available.
60 - Goals scored. If there’s one thing that’s been consistent about Dumbarton in recent years, it’s a lack of goals. Just 60 were scored by players in the white and gold, red and black, red and white or sky blue and white. That works out at just 1.09 per game. Last year it was 1.16, the year before 1.04.
Here’s hoping that figure shows a significant rise in 2019. It seems like a long, long time since Dumbarton were prolific.
9 - Have been scored by players who are no longer with the club. This represents a huge drop from the 22 last year and shows one of two things. Either Dumbarton have done a good job of holding onto their goalscorers...or Sons simply weren’t scoring goals during their final five months in the Championship.
I think we all know which one it is...
17 - Different players have scored for Dumbarton, or 20 if you include Thomas O’Ware, Sean Crighton and a Cumbernauld Colts defender - all of whom put the ball into their own net. The final breakdown looks like this:
Calum Gallagher - 13
Ross Forbes - 8
Iain Russell - 5
Bobby Barr, Craig Barr and Dom Thomas - 4
Danny Handling, Brad Spencer and OGs - 3
Dimitris Froxylias, Stuart Carswell, Andy Dowie and Michael Paton - 2
Grant Gallagher, Liam Burt, Dougie Hill, Ryan Thomson and Andy Little - 1
The goal breakdown looks like this.
2 - From the penalty spot (both converted by Ross Forbes). Kevin Nisbet and Calum Gallagher both missed the spot kicks they took during ‘normal time’.
13 - From corners
5 - From free-kicks (either directly, or in-directly).
37 - From open play
3 - Own goals
5 - Goals scored by loan players. This is a significant drop on last year, with just Dom Thomas (4) and Liam Burt (1) scoring whilst on loan at the Sons. Just 8.3% of Dumbarton’s goals have been scored by loan players - down from 26.7% last year thanks, mainly, to the loss of Sam Stanton and Lewis Vaughan.
24 - Different players have assisted a goal in 2018, a figure that has grown by 5 since last year. The final breakdown looks like this:
Ross Forbes - 6
Dom Thomas - 5
Rory Loy - 4
Iain Russell, David Wilson, Andy Stirling, Andy Dowie, Tom Walsh and Bobby Barr - 3
Kyle Hutton, Danny Handling, Ryan Thomson, Cammy Ballantyne, Kieran Campbell (T), Michael Paton and Brad Spencer - 2
Dougie Hill, Grant Gallagher, Liam Burt, David Smith, Andy Little, Craig Barr, Stuart Carswell and Jack Aitchison - 1
104 - Conceded. Ouch. Last year Dumbarton conceded 67. The year before that Dumbarton conceded 89. Nothing comes close to the 104 goals tonked beyond Sons’ collection of ‘keepers from 2018. This works out at an average of 1.89 per game, up by 0.5 since last year - but not as high as I expected to be honest.
6 - 'Keepers. What constitutes a lot of goalkeepers? Six seems like a lot. The breakdown of concessions per game looks like this - and includes goals conceded after being substituted on with both McGowan and Ewings being used subs:
Scott Gallacher - 40 conceded in 24 appearances (1.6 per game)
Jamie Ewings - 9 conceded in 3 appearances (3 per game)
Grant Adam - 24 conceded in 16 appearances (1.5 per game)
Robbie Mutch - 6 conceded in 2 appearances (3 per game)
Chris Smith - 10 conceded in 7 appearances (1.42 per game)
Jamie McGowan - 15 conceded in 7 appearances (2.1 per game)
8 - Clean sheets have been recorded this year, with Scott Gallacher taking four, Grant Adam three and Chris Smith one - on his debut.
3 - Just as in 2018 three penalties have been saved by Dumbarton goalkeepers this year, albeit two came in a shootout victory against Spartans in the Betfred Cup.
Scott Gallacher vs Inverness Caledonian Thistle (Iain Vigurs) 24/3 (FT 0-1)
Grant Adam vs Spartans (Ian McFarland) 14/7 (FT 0-0)
Grant Adam vs Spartans (Jamie Dishington) 14/7 (FT 0-0)
13 - No team have quite enjoyed playing against Dumbarton in 2018 as much as St Mirren, who have battered 13 goals past former Buddies Scott Gallacher and Grant Adam without conceding a single strike in return.
Evidently the Saints took the 0-1 home defeat in December 2017 badly, as they recorded 0-2, 5-0 and 6-0 victories against Stevie Aitken’s Sons in 2018.
4 - Dumbarton have named an unchanged team on just four occasions in 2018 - and Stevie Aitken only managed it once. I called him the ginger tinkerman after only doing it ten times last year, but once in ten months. Wow.
4 - Players have worn the armband for Dumbarton in 2018, a figure that has dropped by one when compared with 2017.
Club captain Andy Dowie has worn it the most frequently, with Craig Barr, Stuart Carswell and Kyle Hutton (who captained Dumbarton for the first time in 2018) all taking it in his absence.
2 - Dumbarton’s discipline has been one of (very) few positives this year, with just two Sons players seeing red. Aidan Wilson was involved in both, picking up one himself, and being responsible for a horrible mistake that saw Craig Barr miss the playoff semi-final second leg.
Aidan Wilson (SBO) vs Livingston (31/3/2018), final score DFC 0-3 LFC
Craig Barr vs Dunfermline Athletic (28/4/2018), final score DAFC 4-0 DFC
3 - Opponents have been dismissed meanwhile, with Sons not losing any of those games. So I guess that puts to bed the cliche that it’s sometimes more difficult playing against ten men?
Michael Bolochoweckyj (Dumbarton 2-1 Montrose) 15/9/2018
Ross Davidson (SBO) (Dumbarton 4-0 East Fife) 27/10/2018
Conor McBrearty (SBO) (Stenhousemuir 2-2 Dumbarton) 29/12/2018
1.02 - Points per game average. This has dropped from 1.27 last year but, thanks to a reasonable couple of performances in cup games (and two friendly wins) remains up on the 0.98 recorded in 2016. In league games however it drops to just 0.83 per game. Serious relegation form.
751.97 - Miles per away win. Dumbarton’s away form in 2018 has been nothing short of horrific. If you’ve travelled to every away game from G82 then you’ve been in the car, or on the bus or train for 4,511.8 miles. With just six wins in that time Sons fans have travelled 751.98 miles per win…
Or, having hit the net just 27 times, 167 miles per goal scored.
Things can (surely) only get better.
It should’ve been the perfect fit.
One of Scotland’s highest rated young managers, with a solid full-time job and a track record of a success on a limited budget, coming to manage the country’s best performing part-time club.
Dumbarton fans were delighted, Stevie (and assistant Stephen Farrell) looked delighted, and he wasted no time assembling a new squad.
Grant Gallagher and Gregor Buchanan arrived within 72 hours.
They would be followed by Kevin Cawley, Darren Miller, Mark Docherty, Mark Brown, Willie Gibson, Gordon Smith, Darren Barr, Jon Routledge, Calum Waters, Steven Craig and Jamie Lindsay in a hectic six weeks.
Early on though Aitken made two bold decisions. He withdrew long-serving winger Mark Gilhaney’s contract offer, and stripped Andy Graham of the captaincy.
Gilhaney, whilst perhaps no longer a top Championship player, had been integral in Ian Murray’s side. Even when his final ball wasn’t great he could be relied upon to put in a real shift, and was a popular player with the support.
If the decision to allow Gilhaney to leave was perhaps understandable, stripping Graham of the captaincy looked a very strange move.
Since joining from Morton when Sons were first promoted to the First Division, the centre-half had been nothing short of a model pro. He had no pace, but he could read the game, would regularly take bangs on the head and had the sort of attitude that you need from a captain.
He was also Sons’ reigning Player of the Year.
The Aitken era started with a 1-0 victory against Edinburgh City. The performance was strong enough, and Willie Gibson (who scored the game’s only goal) had been a constant threat throughout.
Gibson again starred as Aitken made his home debut, with a 2-0 victory against a young Hearts team.
I was working that night, and phoned my brother at half-time for an update.
He was delighted with how fit we looked, how much off the ball movement there was and, above all else, how much we attacked.
I got my first look a week later, in an uninspiring 2-1 victory against Clydebank. There was more attacking intent than in Ian Murray’s latter days, but a striker was still badly needed.
Aitken’s competitive tenure kicked off with a 3-2 victory against Morton at Cappielow. A debut double from the outstanding Grant Gallagher and a Garry Fleming lob had Sons three up and cruising, before the Ton struck twice late on to make it nervy.
A week later Dumbarton found themselves out of the League Cup. It was a very early warning sign.
Against East Fife they had struggled to create any chances of note, and only a scrappy Kevin Cawley goal forced the game to penalties. During the game Garry Fleming had been visibly angry with Aitken after being substituted.
That was quickly forgotten the following week as he made a memorable league debut.
All the build-up to Dumbarton’s game against Hibernian had focused on Scott Allan’s future. The midfielder was imminently joining boyhood club Rangers, and there was nothing that the Edinburgh club could do about it.
Allan’s future briefly took a back seat however, as goals from Gregor Buchanan and Willie Gibson sealed a 2-1 victory for Aitken’s men.
Allan joined Celtic a few days later.
The following week Sons travelled to face Paisley to face former manager Ian Murray’s St Mirren. Again their performance was outstanding, with another Gibson free-kick and late Fleming penalty securing a 2-1 win.
“One Stevie Aitken” rang out from the away end at St Mirren Park, as the Buddies vented their frustration at the man once worshipped by Sons supporters.
The fact that Dumbarton had yet to score a league goal from open play was immaterial, as was the extra-time defeat to Queen’s Park - with Andy Graham badly at fault for the winning goal.
Graham left the following weekend, with midfielder Darren Miller (having not made a competitive appearance) and striker Gordon Smith also departing. Frazer Wright and Steven Ross arrived in their place.
Aitken had built up a strong rapport with the fans. He was passionate and impressive at a Meet the Manager session, and early results and performances had already bought him plenty of time.
He needed it.
Between the 22nd of August and 4th of December Dumbarton won just once in the Championship.
The 2-1 success against Livingston on October 5th was the first time Dumbarton had scored from open play in the league under Aitken.
Young striker Eamonn Brophy - on loan from Hamilton - had got the winner, and looked to be the man Sons were lacking up front.
Despite that he would make just five starts during his 93 day deal.
A 5-0 home hammering from a John Baird inspired Falkirk saw the first mutterings of discontent arrive from the home support. Those would likely have grown even louder with Sons 3-0 down at home to Raith Rovers, but somehow substitute Willie Gibson turned the game around.
Three goals in the last nine minutes ensured a memorable draw.
Form picked up in early December, with victories against Alloa Athletic (twice) and St Mirren, whilst a late Steven Saunders goal secured a priceless point against Livingston.
It would be the last time Sons would score away from home until May.
January opened with Willie Gibson returning to former club Stranraer. Despite looking likely to create something almost every time he stepped on the park, he’d found his game time limited. Striker Steven Craig - who had scored just once - also left.
Winger Tom Walsh arrived from Rangers, making his debut in a 0-0 draw with Raith Rovers where Jamie Ewings produced a Man of the Match showing in his first appearance for 16 months.
Another young winger, Kler Heh, also came in - joining from Sheffield United.
It wasn’t until the final day of the window that Sons finally solved their season long striking problem with the addition of Christian Nadé.
Having scored 34 goals throughout a nomadic career that had taken in spells in the English Premier League, Thai League and SPL, Nadé had never been prolific.
Nobody could’ve imagined the impact he would make.
In ten league starts the Frenchman scored seven times - including his first career hat-trick against Alloa. Without his goals Dumbarton would’ve faced a serious struggle to keep their place in the Championship.
Nadé wasn’t the only striker to pitch up at the Rock though. Ghanaian Sebastian Osei-Obengo joined from Europa Point in the Gibraltarian Second Division, only to leave after a week without making an appearance.
Paul Heffernan was then recruited, having scored the winner against Queen of the South in April.
He wouldn’t score a goal during his three months at the Rock.
Whilst Nadé was impressing, performances were erratic.
Dumbarton were hammered 6-0 by Queen of the South - with Jordan Kirkpatrick leaving shortly after to join Clyde following an alleged disagreement with Aitken.
Three weeks later the same opponents were beaten 4-2 at the Rock. Another victory against Hibernian - where Sons had been 3-0 up after less than 50 minutes - further enhanced Aitken’s repuation.
The season ended on May 1st, with a 1-1 draw against already relegated Alloa Athletic. Donald McCallum’s 49th minute goal ended a drought away from home that had stretched for 134 days.
Dumbarton had stayed up, form had been erratic, but some memorable moments ensured Aitken still had plenty of support from the fans. That would be seriously tested over the seven months that followed.
The summer of 2016 saw Aitken faced with a typically big rebuilding job, one that could’ve been even bigger if rumours linking him with the vacant Raith Rovers job were to be believed.
Kevin Cawley, Paul Heffernan, Mikey Hopkins, Jordan Kirkpatrick and Scott Taggart were all released - whilst the influential trio of Jon Routledge, Steven Saunders and Nadé all took up deals elsewhere.
Robert Thomson, Andy Stirling, Craig Pettigrew, Ryan Stevenson, David Smith, Jamie Barclay and Josh Todd all arrived prior to the start of the new Betfred Cup section. A competition that Sons started with just one senior outfield player on the bench.
A dire run in the newly formatted competition coupled with an injury to first choice ‘keeper Jamie Ewings saw Aitken make a trio of signings before the league campaign started.
Left-back Daniel Harvie, ‘keeper Alan Martin and attacking midfielder Joe Thomson arrived.
All three made their debuts in a 4-3 opening day defeat to Dunfermline Athletic. A week later Sons repeated their giant killing of the previous season with a 1-0 win against Dundee United.
Just as before though it made way for a lengthy winless run in the league. One that would stretch until Bonfire Night.
The window closed with winger Sam Stanton joining on a season long loan deal from Hibernian.
After just one victory all season, the first fans started to turn on Aitken after a 3-0 home defeat to newly promoted Ayr United. The substitution of Joe Thomson - one of few players receiving pass marks - drew audible howls from the home support.
That would be nothing compared to what was to come.
Struggling in the league, Aitken must’ve feared the worst when his side were drawn against Bonnyrigg Rose in the Scottish Cup.
Only some heroics from Alan Martin ensured that the tie ended goalless, with a large travelling support arriving at the Rock on a miserable night in December full of hope that an upset was possible.
Once again Dumbarton were played off the park, and deservedly defeated by the Junior side.
Aitken cut a sorry figure as he trudged across the sodden park beyond the celebrating Rose fans. Not even their noise could drown out the abuse directed his way from the small home support.
Post-match he stated that he would think about his future. Save for a loyal little group, the fans were almost entirely united. Aitken’s time was up.
In the days that followed meetings took place, decisions were made and truths were told. He kept his job, and performances starting to improve.
Long-serving assistant Stephen Farrell departed, Ian Durrant arrived and - after the signings of Christian Nadé, Stuart Carswell, Lewis Vaughan, Ross McCrorie and Calum Gallagher - Dumbarton turned a corner.
A draw at Easter Road, a 4-0 win against Raith Rovers, victory at Palmerston and securing safety against Dundee United at Tannadice made for a hugely enjoyable second half to the campaign.
Sons’ stale 4-4-1-1 had been cleared, a 4-2-3-1 arrived in place. Sam Stanton became unplayable in a deep midfield role, Lewis Vaughan’s ability shone through and moving Robert Thomson wide was a masterful decision that saw him end the year with 13 league goals. The highest tally for a Dumbarton player under Aitken.
Dumbarton survived relegation on goal difference having scored more away goals than any other side in the league. The turnaround was incredible, and most people were delighted when Aitken agreed a new two year deal in May 2016.
That summer however something felt different.
Dumbarton lost a barrowload of key players: Alan Martin, Gregor Buchanan, Darren Barr, Robert Thomson and Mark Docherty. Aitken also sounded the final whistle on Garry Fleming’s six year long stay with the club.
Summer rebuilding was slow. Andy Dowie (named as the club's new captain), Mark Stewart, Tom Walsh, Craig Barr, Scott Gallacher, David Wilson and Chris Johnston arrived prior to the last home friendly.
That day left-back Chris McLaughlin and centre-half Dougie Hill joined up to help further boost numbers, whilst Ally Roy signed hours before a 3-1 defeat to League One Ayr United.
Everything felt panicked.
That feeling grew greater when Kyle Hutton joined 24 hours before the club’s second Betfred Cup tie against Clyde. Despite his arrival Sons’ matchday squad consisted of just 11 fit outfield players.
The League Two side (without David Goodwillie) won 2-1.
Danny Handling was the next player to sign, before injuring himself on his debut against Kilmarnock (and then injuring himself on his return a month later). Celtic defender Sam Wardrop became the final signing before the league campaign kicked off - a campaign where, once again, Dumbarton looked seriously short going forward.
After failing to win any of their first four league games, Aitken made a deadline day double signing. Cypriot attacker Dimitris Froxylias and Ross County striker Greg Morrison pitched up.
Froxylias made himself an instant hero with the home support, scoring an injury time winner against a disgraceful Connah’s Quay Nomads team, and prompting one of the most bitter post-match interviews in Irn-Bru Cup history.
A 1-1 draw with Dundee United, followed by consecutive wins against Brechin City and Inverness Caledonian Thistle (with Froxylias playing a key role in all three games) saw Dumbarton get up and running.
A strong run between November and early December brought four wins and two draws, and set up a Irn-Bru Cup semi-final against Welsh Champions The New Saints.
The win against high-flying St Mirren left Dumbarton fans dreaming about a cup final and survival.
What followed wasn’t what they had in mind.
In the 11 league games that followed Dumbarton scored once and failed to record a win.
An incredible turnaround in Shropshire and the return of previous heroes Iain Russell and Andy Stirling diverted any serious pressure from Aitken.
If Stevie will be remembered for one game it will, undeniably, be ‘that night in Oswestry’.
A goal down and with just three substitutes who had played for the club before, Sons turned things around thanks to two moment of magic.
Danny Handling’s curling strike from the edge of the box was good enough, but Dimitris Froxylias’ 35 yard free-kick wouldn’t have looked out of place in a World Cup semi-final.
Dumbarton were in a national final.
Despite that league form was woeful. Back-to-back wins against a Brechin City side who would go the season without a victory were welcome, but eight defeats from the club’s last nine games represented form that, in most leagues, would see Sons automatically relegated.
The Challenge Cup final ended in heartbreak too. Having favoured swashbuckling attacking football when Ian Durrant first arrived at the club, Sons had regressed to a far more negative style.
Two things characterised that: Aitken’s insistence on playing two defensive midfielders, and his inability to get the most out of attacking players.
Time and again the team looked content to sit back and try and scrape a narrow defeat, and the cup final saw Aitken lose a lot of goodwill.
Despite being hampered by injury and international call-ups (!) Sons barely laid a glove on their opponents - aside from Chris McLaughlin nearly beheading Iain Vigurs.
Carl Tremarco’s injury time winner was the least John Robertson’s team deserved, and the huge Dumbarton support that filtered out of McDiarmid Park knew that.
All wasn’t lost in the league however, with the playoffs still offering hope of survival.
Sons did just enough over two legs to see off Arbroath, before a 1-0 first leg win against Alloa Athletic thanks to a staggering Stuart Carswell strike.
The home leg, broadcast live on BBC Alba on a glorious May afternoon, would be Aitken’s defining moment.
In a typically tense game it was the visitors who controlled things, with Sons content to defend their lead.
It looked like they’d manage it. Aitken repeatedly made defensively minded substitutions, in a move that left little hope if the game went into extra-time.
With seconds of injury time remaining Ross Stewart turned and struck the ball low into the corner of Scott Gallacher’s net.
Extra-time started with Jordan Kirkpatrick - a player released by Aitken - smashing in a killer second.
Dumbarton tried to attack but it was utterly hopeless.
Aitken had been relegated by a team containing Scott Taggart, Andy Graham, Kevin Cawley, Garry Fleming and Kirkpatrick.
His tactics were heavily criticised by Sons fans and neutrals alike post-match.
Minutes after full-time I put this on Pie & Bovril:
Shall I post purely with emotions?
Get in the sea, Stevie. Absolutely. Wet. The. Bed.
Congratulations to my Waspy friends. Enjoy your night. Thoroughly deserved for wanting to win the game.
Emotional? Yes. Accurate? I would say so. You cannot expect to stay up if you don’t attempt to win a game.
This summer saw yet more upheaval, but an exciting new squad was built. It was thin on numbers, but players like Ross Forbes, Bobby Barr and Rory Loy had fans excited, as did the promise of attacking football.
McBookie even made Dumbarton joint favourites for the league title.
A sensational first-half showing against Queen’s Park and strong performance against Premiership Kilmarnock gave fans hope that a promotion push might be on the cards.
Then Sons were hammered 6-0 by Alan Stubbs’ St Mirren.
The cracks had started to appear, and it was only July.
A comfortable opening day victory against East Fife - with two goals from corners - followed, before a 2-0 home loss to Forfar Athletic that had fans turning on Aitken.
With season ticket sales down significantly, and a vocal few making their views on Aitken’s future heard on a Facebook group that also contained members of the squad, the pressure was on ahead of a Challenge Cup tie with Morton.
Dumbarton responded. Morton may have played a weakened team, but the performance was something to build on.
The quest for a home league win went on however, with only an injury time Ross Forbes strike salvaging a point against Arbroath.
A week later Sons travelled to Angus to face Brechin City - a team with one win in their last 40 games (or something like that).
Pre-match everyone agreed that it was a big game for both managers. Darren Dods looked likely to be sacked if his side recorded another defeat, whilst the pressure on Aitken would become enormous.
Two excellent goals from Bobby Barr and trialist Brad Spencer had Dumbarton cruising.
They conceded three in the final half hour and lost.
During the game both Michael Paton and Stuart Carswell had been forced off with injury. Aitken’s decision to run with a squad of 17 looked to have already backfired.
Extra funds were secured, and Spencer signed on a permanent deal along with defender Scott Allardice and exciting young Celtic forward Jack Aitchison.
All three made their debuts the following week, against a Stenhousemuir side tipped for relegation.
Again Dumbarton took the lead. Again they were defeated.
In a discussion following the game on Facebook rumours about dressing room unrest started to circulate. It was beginning to look like Aitken’s days were numbered.
His final throw of the dice saw former Morton assistant manager Craig McPherson arrive as a new first team coach prior to a Challenge Cup tie with Montrose.
Dumbarton lost 1-0.
The same opponents visited a week later, with two goals inside two minutes from Andy Dowie (corner) and Ross Forbes (penalty) cancelling out the visitors’ first-half opener. Following the quickfire concession, Montrose lost their heads with defender Michael Bolochoweckyj and manager Stewart Petrie both sent-off.
Sons held on for their first home league win of the season.
A dominant first-half performance against Airdrie a week later yielded just one goal, and having slipped back into old ways Dumbarton left with just a point.
Then came a new low for Aitken’s tenure at the Rock.
Buoyed by the appointment of John McGlynn, Raith Rovers found themselves 4-0 up inside 34 minutes on their first visit to G82 of the season.
The game finished 5-1, and it was a surprise to many that Aitken kept his job.
There was a real feeling of inevitability about where his time with Dumbarton would end though, as 40 or so Sons fans travelled south to Stranraer.
Aitken had been a popular player at the Blues, and had done an impressive job as manager. Now in charge was his good friend Stephen Farrell, assisted by Aitken’s brother, Chris.
Again basic mistakes were Dumbarton’s undoing. An inability to defend corners and long balls meant that goals from Ross Forbes and debutant Dominic Thomas counted for nothing.
He remained as bullish as ever post-match, stating that his side would ‘take some stopping’ once everyone was fit.
Aitken leaves Dumbarton having won 42 of his 154 matches in charge. He was the club’s longest serving manager (by games played) since Alex Wright, who departed in 1977.
Raith Rovers - 1st - Champions
In a season where they look about as convincing as Tony Blair at Chilcot, Raith Rovers’ full-time status is eventually enough to see them crowned Champions.
On the rare occasion when they’re all on the pitch together Kyle Benedictus, Grant Gillespie, Nat Wedderburn, Lewis Vaughan and Chris Duggan prove unstoppable - gifting the Stark’s Park side their most comfortable nine points of the season. The rest of the year is a slog.
After starting the campaign well they go into their traditional post-daylight saving slump, winning just twice over the Christmas period and suffering a shock 2-0 home defeat to Stenhousemuir that leaves them eight points adrift in third. A belting seven game unbeaten run - where they only concede two goals - is enough to see them eventually take the title on the penultimate weekend.
What will definitely happen: A fan will blame their new Astro pitch for a poor run of form.
Top Scorer: Lewis Vaughan (18)
Dumbarton - 2nd
Dumbarton’s early season optimism will be drained by a 3-1 defeat to East Fife on the opening day, followed by an uninspiring goal-less draw with ten man Forfar Athletic. They pick themselves up though, eventually becoming hated by opposition fans up and down the country and accumulating an abnormally high tally of bookings for dissent.
Of the high profile new signings Michael Paton and Ross Forbes prove the most important, as the Sons score an inordinate number of goals from dead balls. The highlight of this is Ross Perry’s header in a 1-0 victory against Raith Rovers at Stark’s Park.
At that stage they are tipped as having won the title, but their form tails off badly in March and they eventually only just manage to pip Arbroath to second spot.
What will definitely happen: A Sons fan on Facebook will describe Ross Forbes as ‘a luxury we can’t afford’ and claim he ‘just doesn’t run enough for me’.
Top Scorer: Calum Gallagher (14)
Arbroath - 3rd
Nobody’s really noticed Arbroath this summer, which must be quite pleasant for them. Dick Campbell has quietly gone about keeping the core of his team from last year (albeit minus the outstanding Scott Martin), whilst the return to action of Steven Doris can only help their cause.
If you don’t support them then you’ll feel like you don’t play them very often, mainly because the games end in uninspiring 2-0 defeats that are quickly forgotten. They actually get the better of Dumbarton and Raith Rovers over the course of the season, but are undone by defeats in away derby matches.
What will definitely happen: All the League One hipsters will name them as their team of the year at the end of the season. Probably including myself.
Top Scorer - Steven Doris (12)
Forfar Athletic - 4th
The battle for the final playoff position will be a closely fought one between everyone who isn’t Stenhousemuir and East Fife. Eventually Forfar win it though after a tense final day victory against Montrose.
Key to their form is John Baird who, despite getting on a bit, finishes nearly everything sent his way by Dylan Easton. Easton himself infuriates the Division’s Da’s with his mercurial brilliance (and tendency to, perhaps, slightly over exaggerate contact). After starting the season in unplayable form he vanishes between November and March, before rediscovering his spark just in time for the playoffs.
Top Scorer - John Baird (14)
What will definitely happen: A small collection of elderly Loons will spend the entire season berating Dylan Easton for not tracking back enough and jumping out of tackles. Despite him being involved in 40% of their goals.
Airdrieonians - 5th
Everything seems rosey at the Excelsior (or Penny Cars stadium to be more precise), but this is Airdrie. So that can’t last.
The Diamonds’ strikeforce of Dale Carrick and Daryll Duffy start the campaign in great form, and by Christmas have scored 70% of the team’s goals. Unfortunately Carrick’s hamstring goes. A week later Duffy is stretchered off and faces eight weeks on the sidelines.
In their absence, and over a period where midweek games start to be played, they take just four points from a possible 27 and start to hurtle towards a relegation battle. Carrick and Duffy return though, and they end the season strongly - only just missing out on the playoffs.
Top Scorer - Daryll Duffy (15)
What will definitely happen: Sean Crichton will score a thunderzing against Brechin City.
Stranraer - 6th
I really like Stranraer. Despite the fact that we always get beaten at Stair Park. I’ve absolutely no idea what to think of them this season though, so I’m making all this up.
Stranraer spend the season in mid-table. They occasionally look like being relegated, but pull a few wins out the bag, and occasionally look like bothering the playoff places, but then get hammered at home a few times.
Isaac Layne flicks between being a matchwinning bulldozer of a centre-forward, smashing everything including defenders into the net, and being a sulking enigma with a weird Twitter account. His nine goals come in two spells. Four in five games, nothing for 20, then five in the final seven.
Defensively they’re utterly unpredictable, shipping five goals three times but also keeping eight clean sheets.
What will definitely happen: Their name will be used when fans are expressing their displeasure with their sides’ current form. “No chance I’m ‘trekking’ to Stranraer next week to watch more of that” will be the phrase of choice.
Top Scorer: Isaac Layne - (9)
Montrose - 7th
I’ve never been to Links Park, so on a personal level I was delighted to see them join the All Angus League this season.
Montrose spend the campaign as the embodiment of ‘hard to beat’. Stewart Petrie’s reputation continues to grow as his plucky side - which is really without any superstars - defy the odds to eventually stay up relatively comfortably.
That doesn’t mean it's pretty mind you. They concede just 41 goals all season, but score just 31, with Martin Rennie proving that diamonds can be found playing for Lochgelly Albert.
What will definitely happen: Chris Templeman will get better and better the longer their woes in front of goal continue. “Can’t help but feel we’re missing a guy like Sanny” will be said at every single home game, and 14 of the 18 away games.
Top Scorer - Martin Rennie (11)
Brechin City - 8th
I recently looked at Brechin City’s last 50 results. They have managed three wins. Three. Even one of them was in the Betfred Cup on penalties, so that doesn’t really count.
Anyway losing breeds losing, and with Darren Dods clinging onto his job by God knows what’s left of his fingernails City continue on a downward spiral.
Their summer business has done little to reignite hopes. In fact it reminds me quite a bit of ours last season. Random, rushed and risky. Their form looks remarkably similar to Sons as they plummeted from Division One to Division Three under Jim Fallon too.
Don’t fret though Brechin fans, it does get better. You win a league game this season. In fact you win nine. Dods is finally put out of his misery in early October and form sort of picks up (just as a back five becomes a back four, who’d have thought it...). It’s not enough to avoid a nerve-shredding relegation battle mind you, but hey - at least it’s better than last season!
Top Scorer - Callum Tapping (7)
What will definitely happen: Dougie Hill will end the season as the most booked player in the league. But without a single red card to his name.
East Fife - 9th
If I asked you to name all ten teams in League One this season East Fife would be the one that you’d forget. Unless you support them, in which case that would be unforgivable.
East Fife sleepwalk into the playoffs with a season where they’re totally unconvincing, but don’t really look in danger until it’s too late.
Defensively they’re solid, and actually concede considerably fewer goals than Brechin, however they’re about as sharp as an IKEA spoon offensively. Something that eventually proves their undoing.
Do the fans turn on Darren Young? Yes. Is he still in charge for the playoffs. Yes he is.
Top Scorer - Scott Agnew (6)
What will definitely happen: Darren Young will not take to the tannoy at half-time in a game against Stenhousemuir.
Stenhousemuir - 10th
It’s dead easy to write off the playoff winners, but unfortunately Stenny’s pretty consistent run of being too good for League Two, but not quite up to League One continues.
Keeping Mark McGuigan whilst adding Graeme Smith and Seb Ross means that they aren’t cut adrift, but ultimately their squad lacks the quality to stay in League One. It’s not that they ‘do a Brechin’, in fact Brown Ferguson’s side are pretty consistent - but with them averaging one win every six games it’s little surprise when playoff chasing Forfar Athletic send them down with two games remaining.
On the positive side ‘Mr Goals’ McGuigan is at it again, albeit in less prolific form, with his double against Raith at Stark’s Park a definite high point in the campaign.
Top Scorer - Mark McGuigan (11)
What will definitely happen: After his double against Raith, Stenhousemuir fans will find their lives dominated by Rovers fans enquiring about his contract situation.
2017 then. A year that’s been far kinder than its predecessor for Dumbarton Football Club. A cup semi-final, five points clear of 9th and a further 11 clear of tenth, Ian Durrant, Lewis Vaughan, Dimitris Froxylias, the post-Christmas Andy Stirling and the returning Tom Walsh. It’s had plenty of high points - and only the occasional inter-teammate scrap…
Just like last year I’ve kept a big folder full of stats to compare and contrast 2017 with 2016. So read on and drop them in the next time your having a conversation prior to kick off with someone you don’t like. It’ll soon convince them to leave you alone.
2017 - A Year in Numbers
48 - Dumbarton have played 48 times in 2017, two less than in 2016. Postponements, the lack of two cup replays (the less said about how they went the better), and a shorter pre-season are all to blame for the final figure dropping.
15 - Wins. Despite playing two fewer games, the number of wins has managed to increase by three. Victories came against Raith Rovers (1-3) in January, the same opponents (4-0) in March. Morton (1-0) and Queen of the South (1-2) in April. Partick Thistle (2-1) and Clydebank (2-1) in July. Rangers U20s (2-1) in August. Connah’s Quay Nomads (2-1), Brechin City (2-1) and Inverness Caledonian Thistle (2-1) in September. Stranraer (2-1) in October. Brechin City (0-1), Raith Rovers (2-0) and Elgin City (1-0), in November and St Mirren (0-1) in December. This year’s win percentage is therefore 31.25% - a notable rise from the 24% recorded in both 2015 and 2016.
16 - Draws. Stevie Aitken loves a draw. In fact a quick look at Wikipedia shows that he loves a draw more than any other Sons manager in my lifetime. Aitken’s career tally of 32 from 113 games (28.3%) outdraws Ian Murray (13.8%), Alan Adamson (19.2%), Jim Chapman (23.8%), Gerry McCabe (19.3%), Paul Martin (22.4%) Brian Fairley (15.2%), David Winnie (17.6%), Tom Carson (19.4%), Jimmy Brown (15.2%) and Ian Wallace (25.3%). In a league this tough that’s probably not a bad trait to have. This year’s final draw percentage is an extremely high 33.3%, up from last year’s already higher than average 26% figure.
17 - Defeats. Which is actually not too many - especially compared to the final tally of 25 last year. The loss percentage has therefore dropped from 50% in 2016, to just 35% over the past 12 months. Given it was as high as 63% in 2015 one of two things will happen next year if the trend is to continue. A Championship promotion charge or...erm...relegation, followed by a promotion push.
3 - Wins by more than one goal. Sitting comfortably for the final five minutes knowing that you’ll be going home happy is a lovely feeling. It’s also one that we don’t get to experience very often. Just three victories in 2017 came by more than one goal, and all three were against Raith Rovers. 1-3 in January, 4-0 in March and 2-0 in November. After giving us Lewis Vaughan, and sacrificing themselves for our safety I’ve really developed a soft spot for our friends from Kirkcaldy!
4 - Following a similar trend, Sons’ heaviest defeats of the season have been by four goals. Both against Dunfermline Athletic. The 5-1 defeat at East End Park featured Nicky Clark scoring the same goal at least three times, and Stuart Carswell and Mark Docherty having a very public disagreement. Them were the days.
A few months later the Pars came to visit a new look Dumbarton side, and strolled to a 0-4 success. There is a positive from this though (no, honestly, there is). In 2016 we lost by six clear goals twice (against Rangers and Queen of the South). If that’s not progress then I don’t know what is!
46 - Players have featured for Dumbarton in total over the calendar year, a figure that has dropped by one since 2016. Of those 46 just 21 remain at the Rock, including Kyle Prior, Danny Handling, Grant Gallagher and Jamie Ewings, all of whom have played just a handful of times over the past twelve months.
8 - Loan players. As always Stevie Aitken has been a frequent user of the loan market, with eight players featuring for the club having arrived on temporary transfers in 2017. Weirdly (well not really I suppose) this is the same number as played for the club in 2016. As of right now Sam Wardrop (Celtic), Ally Roy (Hearts) and Greg Morrison (Ross County) all remain at the Rock, with Roy and Morrison’s deals due to expire in early January.
The five players who have seen their deals expire have all gone on to make a success of things elsewhere. Sam Stanton returned to Hibernian, only to be shipped out again to title-chasing Dundee United. Lewis Vaughan is attracting more than a few admiring glances having scored 18 times for Raith Rovers since their relegation. Axed Rangers manager Pedro Caixinha stated that Ross McCrorie was; “going to be the future of this country, not only this club” after he impressed on his debut against Partick Thistle. His comments were typically, erm, bold, but McCrorie has certainly been a shining light in another chaotic season for the Ibrox club.
He came up against his former Sons loanee teammate Daniel Harvie earlier this month too, albeit only for nine minutes. The left-back has played just twice in the Dons’ top-team so far this season, however has made himself an ever-present in matchday squads.
Perhaps the biggest shock has been Joe Nuttall. A late emergency loan signing from Aberdeen, Nuttall played just 20 minutes of football during his two months at the Rock, yet is now a rising star at Blackburn Rovers. Five goals in 13 top-team appearances (including two in three starts in League One) and ten in eight in the English Premier League’s U23 Division make him look like one that got away.
10 - Trialists. I’m convinced Stevie Aitken does this just to keep me occupied during pre-season. After such a massive turnaround of players there were always going to be plenty of new faces, and as always trying to name them became a bit of an obsession. Unlike last year however I was given a helping hand, as three would go on to sign for the club permanently.
Chris Johnston, Dougie Hill and Chris McLaughlin are joined on the list by; Aidan McIlduff, Jordan Allan, Conor Cullen, Saheed Mustafa, Connor McManus and Luke Busumbru.
McIlduff featured against Stranraer, Partick Thistle and Clydebank, before joining Peterhead. Cullen apparently played a half against Stranraer, and was around the squad for the game against Albion Rovers. Mustafa produced one of the most entertaining, and downright terrifying displays of defending I’ve ever seen for 65 minutes against Clydebank, whilst Luke Busumbru toiled against the same opposition.
McManus produced a far more accomplished display in the same game (his only appearance for the club) before joining Greenock Morton, who have just announced that his contract won’t be renewed in January.
That leaves just the final mystery trialist who played against Stranraer. I’ve no idea who he was, and have no pictorial evidence that he even existed. If anyone knows his identity (or can even confirm he existed) you know how to get me.
56 - Dumbarton have scored 56 goals this season, that’s four up on last season’s total of 52. The goals per game average has increased as a result too, up to 1.16 from 1.04 per game. Of those two have been penalties, seven have been from corners, five have been from free-kicks, two have been own-goals and the other 40 have came from open play.
22 - have been scored by players who are no longer with the club, a figure that has absolutely shot up from the ten at this stage last year.
21 - players have scored for Dumbarton in 2017 (23 if you include the unfortunate Willie Dyer and Callum Tapping), a figure that has risen by four since last year. The final chart looks like this:
Robert Thomson - 7 goals
Christian Nadé (1 pen) - 6 goals
Mark Stewart - 5 goals
Sam Stanton, Lewis Vaughan & Dimitris Froxylias- 4 goals
Calum Gallagher (1 pen), Ally Roy & Tom Walsh - 3 goals
Andy Stirling, Daniel Harvie, Craig Barr & OGs - 2 goals
Greg Morrison, Gregor Buchanan, Garry Fleming, Jordan Allan (T), Stuart Carswell, Chris McLaughlin, David Smith, David Wilson & Sam Wardrop - 1 goal
It says a lot about our woes in front of goal this season that Robert Thomson, who left the club in May and scored for the final time in April, is this calendar year’s top scorer. I berated the big man for weeks (*cough* months) on P&B, but he seriously found his form at the right time, and became an absolute joy to watch. In fact when he hit form I enjoyed watching him more than almost anyone else in recent times.
15 - Loan players have contributed a great deal in front of goal this year, unlike in 2016 when they scored just four times. Between them Sam Stanton, Lewis Vaughan, Ally Roy, Daniel Harvie, Greg Morrison and Sam Wardrop have hit the net 15 times. 26.7% of all our goals in 2017 were therefore scored by loanees.
19 - Players have assisted at least one goal in 2017. Given the ambiguity over what counts as an assist, this has always been something I’ve shied away from doing previously, however having made up my own definition (in my head at least) I went for it.
Here’s the full breakdown:
Christian Nadé & Andy Stirling - 7 assists
Tom Walsh - 5 assists
Robert Thomson & David Wilson - 4 assists
Calum Gallagher, Sam Stanton, Dimitris Froxylias & Chris McLaughlin - 3 assists
Stuart Carswell & Chris Johnston - 2 assists
Josh Todd, Daniel Harvie, Mark Docherty, Garry Fleming, Lewis Vaughan, Mark Stewart & Sam Wardrop - 1 assist
67 - Conceded. Looking for an area where serious progress has been made? Here it is. In 2016 my tally marks were in chaos, all 89(!) of them. Thankfully that’s been addressed, and only a far more manageable 67 have been conceded - averaging at just 1.39 a game.
Five ‘keepers have kept the net for Sons this year, a figure that has risen by one, however includes trialist Conor Cullen who played a half against Stranraer. The breakdown looks like this:
Alan Martin - 27 conceded in 17 appearances (1.59 per game)
Mark Brown - 1 conceded in 1 appearance (1 per game)
Scott Gallacher - 36 conceded in 30 appearances (1.2 per game)
Conor Cullen - 0 conceded in 1 appearances (0 per game)
Jamie Ewings - 3 conceded in 3 appearances (1 per game)
*This takes into account the goals conceded in friendlies where the ‘keepers were swapped at half-time, and Martin and Gallacher being subbed due to injury.
11 - Clean sheets have been recorded (up two from 2016), with Martin taking two, Cullen taking one and Gallacher recording eight. Well done to the respective ‘keepers for that.
3 - Penalties have been saved by Dumbarton ‘keepers in 2017, with both of Alan Martin’s ensuring that Dumbarton avoided defeat:
Alan Martin vs Hibernian (James Keatings) 18/3 (FT 2-2)
Alan Martin vs St Mirren (Rory Loy) 8/4 (FT 1-1)
Scott Gallacher vs Livingston (Matthew Knox) 26/12 (FT 1-4)
13 - The most goals Dumbarton have conceded to a single team this year. Unsurprisingly that team are Dunfermline Athletic, who have scored five, two, four and two goals in the four meetings of the sides this year.
10 - The Ginger Tinkerman strikes again. Stevie Aitken has only selected the same team in consecutive weeks ten times in 2017, albeit a minor injury crisis and full squad rebuild in the summer have played a big part in that.
5 - Players have worn the armband for Dumbarton this year. At least three should be obvious. The other two however may present more of a challenge. Nope?
Darren Barr and Andy Dowie have both worn it as first-team captain, with Mark Docherty taking it when Barr was forced off through injury against St Mirren in February. A month later Barr was forced off again against Ayr United, with Stuart Carswell taking over as captain in only his tenth appearance. The other lucky man was Craig Barr, who has taken it twice competitively in Dowie’s absence against Dundee United and Brechin City.
5 - Five players have been sent off for Dumbarton this year. In chronological order they were:
Garry Fleming versus Ayr United (25/3/2017), final score AUFC 2-1 DFC
Christian Nadé versus Annan Athletic (25/7/2017), final score DFC 0-0 AAFC
Andy Dowie (SBO) versus Dunfermline Athletic (26/8/2017), final score DFC 0-4 DAFC
Craig Barr (SBO) versus Dundee United (28/10/2017), final score DFC 0-2 DUFC
Kyle Hutton versus (SBO) Livingston (26/12/2017), final score DFC 1-4 LFC
There must be something about the end of the month that part-time players don’t like...
8 - Opponents have been sent-off meanwhile. With the full list below:
Ross Docherty (Dumbarton 2-2 Ayr United) 18/2/2017
Adam Eckersley (SBO) (St Mirren 1-1 Dumbarton) 8/4/2017
Owen Moxon (SBO) (Dumbarton 0-0 Annan Athletic) 25/7/2017
George Horan (SBO) (Dumbarton 2-1 Connah’s Quay Nomads) 2/9/2017
Aron Lynas (Dumbarton 2-1 Brechin City) 16/9/2017
Gary Warren (SBO) (Dumbarton 2-1 Inverness Caledonian Thistle) 23/9/2017
Greig Spence (Dumbarton 2-0 Raith Rovers) 11/11/2017
Stelios Demetriou (St Mirren 0-1 Dumbarton) 2/12/2017
1.27 - The points per game average of Dumbarton’s 2017. Obviously this includes cup games and friendlies, however it’s testament to the improval that coincided with the arrival of Ian Durrant as Stevie Aitken’s assistant. Last year I commented that our average of 0.98 a game would have to rise - however even I didn’t expect such a sharp increase.
525 - If Grant Gallagher is able to return from injury at the earliest possible projected date* (March 3rd against Morton at Cappielow) it’ll be his first competitive appearance for the Sons in 525 days. His last came in a 3-2 defeat to Gary Locke’s Raith Rovers back in September 2016.
*Based on a Tweet from earlier this year.
All the best for 2018 to everyone reading this, and thanks for having a wee look. Don’t forget you can read my views in the Lennox Herald every week (you damned lucky people), and then hold me to them when they come back to haunt me. Don’t worry, you wouldn't be the first to do that.
Jim Lister was 31 years old when he signed for Dumbarton. It was debatable whether or not he was even a lower league journeyman by that point, with most of his footballing success coming whilst playing in the Juniors.
Oakley United, Camelon Juniors, a trial game for Stenhousemuir, a short spell with a simply dreadful Berwick Rangers team and Bathgate Thistle was far from an impressive CV. His goalscoring exploits for Thistle earned him some late league attention however and so, at the age of 29, he was handed what looked destined to be a last chance in senior football with Alloa Athletic.
Alan Maitland’s side had finished second in the 2nd Division the year previous, and so would be expected to be competing at the top once again.
Lister’s luck was out. The Wasps capitulated, and ended the season 9th - eventually being relegated after defeat in the playoffs to Annan Athletic.
Despite this Lister had, for the first time, acclimatised himself to senior football. Seven goals in 38 appearances was hardly prolific, but it was enough to attract the attention of Brechin City who were building a seriously strong looking side for the following season.
Lister’s arrival coincided with that of experienced campaigners like Garry Brady, Mick Dunlop and Scot Buist as well as lower league goal machine Paul McManus, and the undoubted talent of Derek Carcary and David Crawford.
Once again though, the pre-season expectations were quickly dashed. City finished 8th, just four points clear of Albion Rovers. Lister meanwhile struggled with injuries and form, scoring just four times in 29 appearances.
There was widespread shock, disbelief, hilarity and worry therefore when Dumbarton, newly promoted to the 1st Division, made Lister one of their first signings.
In a league featuring the likes of Stevie May, Kris Doolan and Lyle Taylor, a veteran who had barely been noticed in the lower leagues was hardly an intimidating proposition.
What happened that season was truly remarkable however. Dumbarton’s incredible escape under Ian Murray dominated the headlines, but Lister’s success was an often externally overlooked reason for that.
Early signs were promising. His all-action style, powerful presence and bravery quickly endeared him to an, at first, sceptical home support. Goals in his first two competitive games further boosted the positive feeling amongst fans.
It was Lister who kept many going during a barren start to the season, where Alan Adamson’s side looked well out of their depth. A belting strike against Livingston couldn’t prevent defeat in the League Cup, whilst a Man of the Match display against Hamilton was rewarded with another goal. It should’ve been awarded with all three points too, but somehow Sons managed to chuck away a two goal lead at the death.
In between the games Lister also scored his first senior hat-trick, albeit in a 3-0 Stirlingshire Cup victory against a young Stirling Albion side.
Gradually as Dumbarton threatened to find their feet, Lister and Bryan Prunty rekindled a partnership from their Alloa Athletic days. It was very much the traditional ‘little and large’ combination. Prunty would work defenders, grab chances and get himself in good positions. Lister would use himself as a battering ram, and be Sons’ focal point in attack.
Adamson’s sacking a fortnight after goals from Lister and Prunty had secured Sons’ first away point in the league (against Raith Rovers) had little impact on Lister’s form. In Ian Murray’s first league match in charge he grabbed a double, in a shock 4-3 win against Falkirk.
He would score just once again until the end of March.
Despite that, that ‘once’ was vital. His equaliser against future employers Airdrie United was followed by an assist for Marc McCusker to score his only goal for the club. It was enough for all three points. A result that moved the Sons above the Diamonds and off the foot of the table for the first time.
The goals may have dried up, but Lister’s form remained impressive. Time and again experienced Premier League defenders struggle to cope with the then 32 year old and, if it wasn’t for the fact that he rarely lasted until the 70th minute, further goals would’ve followed.
When he did break the duck though, he did so in memorable fashion.
There were plenty of rumours circulating about a summer move to Raith Rovers in the lead up to Sons’ midweek tie with Grant Murray’s men. Perhaps that affected the team too, as they found themselves two goals down early on.
Step forward the season’s unlikely hero. Lister grabbed another hat-trick, bravely taking a glove to the face from David McGurn to complete it, as Sons recorded a 4-2 success.
Days later he had his 11th league goal of the season - a career best. Flicking in a clever header early on against Hamilton in the second game in four days between the sides at New Douglas Park. Playing on AstroTurf twice in close succession took its toll though, as he struggled for mobility all game.
It took him time to recover after that, but when he did he capped off the season in the best way possible. His goal against Cowdenbeath played a massive role in a hugely memorable 3-2 win that secured safety. Somehow Dumbarton, with their reliance on an ageing journeyman, had stayed up.
Lister’s fine form was rewarded with the Player of the Year award a week later. He picked up a host of other gongs too, cementing his place as a cult-hero with the home support... right up until he joined freshly relegated Airdrie United (as they were) a few weeks later.
Some fans will still have a tarnished image of him for that choice. I won’t however. There is no way Lister should’ve had the season he did at the Rock. The fact he did, and then moved on, makes it all the more unique.
I’d like to wish Jimmy all the best in his retirement which was announced today. His role in getting us to where we are today should not be underestimated and, above all else, he was simply great to watch.
In total Jim made 39 appearances for the Sons, scoring 17 times. How we could do with someone with that sort of record at the moment.
Lewis Hamilton should be an all-time British sporting great. What he’s achieved in Formula 1 is unlikely to be bettered by many, let alone a Brit in the near future, whilst off the track he’s revolutionised the sport’s fanbase and brought it to a far wider audience.
Why then am I, and many others, struggling to feel the same degree of emotion as I did when Jenson Button won his title in 2009 - or the levels felt throughout motorsport when Damon Hill took the 1996 crown? It’s simple. Hamilton is a divisive character in the extreme, and that’s something that looks set to define his legacy every bit as much as his achievements on the track.
For a guy like myself with a mental age of about 57 there are quite a few of Hamilton’s traits that ‘just aren’t cricket’. The flashy jewellery, the fledgling music career, the celebrity lifestyle. It just doesn’t fit in with my perceived image of a professional racing driver.
Add to that his all too often homogenised podium chat, and you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a guy programmed by a PR professional. Every track is ‘one that he just loves racing at’, every circuit is home to ‘the best fans on the planet’.
The fact that his Stevenage accents takes on an American twang on a regular basis only further adds to his marmite image.
Look beyond that however, and you’ll start to develop and understanding - and, if you’re like me, almost a degree of empathy - for his situation. One of the biggest parts of being a racing driver isn’t the driving of the car, it isn’t the painstaking sessions in the gym before every race weekend, it isn’t even the pages of complex data needed to be read and understood to extract the maximum performance. It’s the corporate side of things.
Being quick isn’t enough to get most people to the pinnacle of motorsport. Having a budget is the key.
That’s where Hamilton’s PR friendly image comes in. He’s a sponsors’ dream, and whilst describing the fanatical crowds in Shanghai or Austin as ‘the best in the world’ might seem like PR drivel to cynics like us, it might also convince fans there to go out and buy a Mercedes car. Or a Bose sound system. Or a Puma jacket.
In the eyes of sponsors, Hamilton can become the world’s most expensive, quickest and most mobile billboard.
His journey to F1 was an unusual one. Unlike many he didn’t come from a wealthy background, and certainly at first, he was destined to be the Golden boy of British sport. Ironically though the more successful he became, the more strongly people began to feel about him.
Hop on to Twitter and you’ll see this in the response to any Sky Sports F1 tweet. People with #TeamLH in the username will instantly jump to his defence, and start shouting about conspiracies within the FIA or Mercedes, whilst people who are probably towards the, erm, more experienced end of the Twitter demographic will grumble about his attitude, where he lives and his lifestyle - all whilst pointing out that things were far better in the good ol’ days.
It’s as clear an indication of what he’s done to the sport that you’ll need. He’s the first driver to enjoy (or endure, only he will know) near pop-star levels of support. He lives in a reality television world. A world where he took Usain Bolt out for hot-laps around COTA, and had Neymar live on his team radio to congratulate him on taking the title in Mexico City.
If you can see behind this however, you’ll still get glimpses of a more conventional racing driver. It’s not always easy, and you really have to take more than a passing interest in the sport to identify it, but Lewis Hamilton the racer, not Lewis Hamilton, the brand, is still there.
This is most evident when he’s sat in a genuinely comfortable surrounding, with people who he knows are genuine enthusiasts. No corporate suits. No sponsors to plug. No fanboys and girls to appease. No footballers pretending they know the difference between their MGU-K and their MGU-H.
His appearance on Top Gear many moons ago was where I first noticed this, however as recently as this weekend it was evident when he sat down for a (quite fascinating) chat with Martin Brundle on Sky.
Brundle and Hamilton looked comfortable together. His answers were genuinely interesting, his voice relaxed and more Stevenage than Seattle, and his whole persona was of a man who was at home.
If you have the chance, and only know Hamilton as the British guy with the weird accent who delivers cliched soundbites, it might just change your opinion on him. Even if it’s just slightly.
Of course that might also change your view on whether or not he’s the greatest F1 driver of all-time, or even just the Greatest British driver in history. Statistically he’s nearing Michael Schumacher’s record for the main crown, and now holds the second. Judging the sport on statistics is about as relevant as comparing Usain Bolt and Neymar on how far they can chuck a javelin though.
Well, ok, maybe it’s not quite that irrelevant, but you know what I mean.
Since debuting in 2007, Lewis has competed in 206 races. He has suffered just over 20 retirements in that time. In the 80s and 90s, Nigel Mansell started 187 GPs, and (according to my rough maths) retired in 81 of them. Put simply, Lewis retires roughly every 10.3 races. Nigel retired every 2.3 races.
Ah, I hear you say, that shows that Lewis stays out of trouble, manages his car better. After all, Champions normally aren’t decided by who wins the most races, but by who has the best bad days.
If I did hear you say that, then you don’t know very much about F1 from the 80s and early 90s...
The further back you go, the less reliable the cars were (although I suspect that messers Vandoorne and Alonso may disagree with that ever so slightly…) - then there was the small fact of how physical they were, and, until Jackie Stewart got involved, the fact that F1 drivers were basically men strapped to fuel tanks driving round barrier (or tree) lined roads.
Stewart himself, the man who Hamilton overtakes to become the king of British stats, won his three titles in just 99 starts, and suffered 36 retirements along the way. Of course that highlights another difficulty in crowning a ‘greatest driver of all time’. The number of races.
On his way to winning the 1965 title, Jim Clark finished just seven races - winning six of them. This season we had 20 rounds, and next (as with 2016) there will be 21 races. Of course drivers will win more.
So there is no sure-fire way to determine who the greatest F1 driver of all time is. Certainly not statistically, and that leaves it down to opinion.
What makes a great driver? Results, obviously. Versatility? Adaptability? Bravery? Cunning? I could go on.
Ironically the one way that Hamilton could convince his doubters of his skill would be to have a season or two in an uncompetitive car. Many consider the greatest test of a driver to be how he competes when he doesn’t have the best engine, the best chassis or the strongest team. One only has to look at a certain Alonso, Fernando, for more on that.
Whatever happens in the future though, Hamilton isn’t going to win over everybody in the UK. You just have to glimpse into history for that. Afterall Jackie Stewart ruined the sport by making it too safe, Nigel Mansell was too dull to be a racing driver, and Jenson Button was too much of a playboy who never fully fulfilled his talent...
*Background - I originally posted this on Facebook, following Dumbarton’s draw with Rangers U20s in June 2017*
If you don't support the introduction of U20 teams into the senior leagues, then you simply cannot attend this. If it doesn't bother you, or if you do support it, batter in by all means. I for one wouldn't be able to forgive myself if I went along to this, and then had to endure watching us playing Youth teams regularly in the not so distant future though.
Not only would it reduce the number of loan players we would have available to us (and look at guys like Chris Kane, Danny Rogers, Daniel Harvie and Jamie Lindsay for evidence of how influential these guys can be) it would also allow the big clubs to stockpile young players, even more so than they do at the moment.
That's far from the biggest issue however, it's how much it would devalue our league structure. My best memory as a Sons fan is Annan in 2009. I don't doubt that's the same for quite a few other guys of my age on here either. Now imagine that we had won that league either by playing against glorified boys' clubs every second week, or not been able to win it because a larger club's youth team (with no fans to enjoy the day, and with the ability to spend our entire playing budget on a single player for this second string) pipped us to it. It would be a travesty.
Being a fan of a smaller team is about much more than simply football. It's about having a chat on the terracing with opposition fans, having a laugh, a bit of banter and the likes. To remove that by playing teams built solely to develop one or two players in the future would probably lead to me being lost to football if I'm entirely honest.
Attending this or not doesn't make you a 'better fan' than someone else. I'm sure we'll have some there, but I've seen plenty of diehard Sons fans on P&B and Twitter who definitely will not be attending. It's a matter that means far more to many (myself included) than just loyalty to the badge.
Edit: If you fancy taking in a football match on Wednesday evening in the local area, Yoker Athletic are hosting their ground sharing buddies Clydebank at Holm Park. It’ll be a proper game of football, between two sides intent on winning - not full of folk paid thousands a week to sit on Rangers’ bench - and entry plus a programme and pie is likely to cost a similar amount to the entrance fee at the Rock.
If you’re not from Dunbartonshire check out the SJFA fixtures here, and pick a local game to watch. Hitting them in the pocket might be the only way in which the clubs listen to their fans.
Yesterday I was in the Virgin shop in town, when I heard a guy say something that’s been hovering in my mind ever since.
Him and the Virgin employee were partaking in the usual customer service patter, when the discussion (naturally for the West of Scotland) moved onto football. The customer bloke was upgrading to Sky Sports, and so the Virgin guy asked him who it was he supported. The conversation went a bit like this
“Well I was brought up supporting Ayr United, and used to go to all the games and everything, but now I prefer to watch Arsenal on the tele”. The Virgin guy politely bantered him off about Arsenal’s title chances, the usual stuff, asked him if they’d keep Sanchez and so on. Everyone moved on.
I didn’t though, which is why I’m sat here at 11 at night writing about it. That attitude. The whole answer. Everything. It was so alien to me that I was a little bit scared.
The whole prospect of ditching a team you were brought up supporting. A team with genuine roots in the community. A team that must’ve given you memories you’ll never forget. To sit in the house watching players you have no connection with play 300 miles away made me want to grab the monitor and attack the bloke until he was unconscious.
For the life of me I couldn’t understand that attitude.
Nothing. Absolutely nothing even comes close to being at a live football match. Sure you can have Sky or BT on a 50” UHD TV in your living room, but give me a damp Junior ground in front of 150 people over that every day.
In 2016/17 I went to 57 games. A figure that’s dropped by about 30 a season since I started coaching four years ago. I fully understand that I’m unusual in that regard. I’m someone who’ll go wherever they can to see a live game of football, the idea of watching it on the TV just does not appeal to me at all.
A few months ago a family member went to his first ever football match. He’s not too into football, and neither’s his Dad, but they got hold of tickets to a game and went along. Did they go local? Nope. They went to watch Manchester City.
What they will associate with football, and what I associate with football will be two totally different things therefore. The whole expense, the feeling around it for them was that it was a sightseeing trip. They went to a football match like I’d visit the Eiffel Tower. The result didn’t matter, it was all about the experience. Unfortunately that’s something that seems to be becoming the norm.
Football at the highest level risks becoming a sightseeing exercise. Just look at the ghastly ‘Premier League Asia Trophy’ as evidence of this fact. Martin Tyler said it ‘will give the Asian fans a taste of the Premier League experience’. Maybe if they actually left the house and supported football in Hong Kong, Malaysia, China wherever, then they wouldn’t need this ‘experience’. Instead the vast majority seem content to sit in and watch Manchester United or Chelsea...Just as the chap in the Virgin shop seemed keen to do with Arsenal.
I dread to think how many Virgin Shop people there are now in Scotland. Guys (and gals) content to sit and watch hyperinflated egos in fluorescent boots pretend to care about a club who lose more and more of their identity with every passing season.
If you’re reading this and considering scaling down how often you attend live football, don’t. I know the costs are high at the top level, but pop down to visit your local team. Lower league, Lowland League, Junior, it doesn’t matter. Go along. ‘Experience’ it. Put your money towards helping players scrabble together a reasonable standard of living, put it towards keeping these little local clubs alive, keep it from Rupert Murdoch’s hands.
I still remember one of the first Junior games I ever went to. It was at Adamslie Park, Kirkintilloch (which is unfortunately now a sorry derelict site awaiting redevelopment). Rob Roy were playing Largs Thistle in front of a crowd of about 300. It had been pouring, but had now cleared up, and Largs were searching for a goal to draw level.
I was stood right down the front leaning on the wee fence, when the ball went out of play on the edge of the box for a Largs throw. The player jogged over, picked up the ball, turned to me and said: “Watch this”.
He then hurtled a monstrous throw into the box which was headed into the net. He turned looked at me and did that wee thing folk do with the arms, as if to say ‘told you’. I was starstruck. Not only had a real life footballer spoken to me, he’d then practically celebrated with me.
That was comfortably more than a decade ago now, yet it’s still one of my clearest football memories. It would also never have happened if I’d stayed in the house that day and just watched Arsenal.
I’m aware this has turned into a ramble, but I hope it vaguely illustrates just why I was sat in a state of seethe and stunned disbelief. A guy had chosen to turn his back on (much cliched) ‘real football’, for what is fast becoming the reality television world of the Premier League on Sky.
I hope that I’ll never be able to understand his feelings.
So that’s it then, we’ve reached the end of the season. No more Sons matches for, oh, about six weeks or so. A damn long six weeks too.
Thankfully however we will be entertained as always by the opening of the lower league transfer window. The time of year where Scotland’s jobbers, hot prospects and meh merchants trade clubs, getting the fans all excited.
Few clubs have been as active as Dumbarton under Stevie Aitken, with 40 players joining the club during his four windows to date. How many have been successful however? That’s a matter of opinion, but I’m writing this, and you’re not...so here’s my take on the, erm, lucky 40.
Mark Brown (32 appearances, 0 goals) - MISS
Mark Brown always had big gloves to fill following Danny Rogers’ departure. Unfortunately, despite a promising start, he struggled at the Rock, losing his place to Jamie Ewings and then Alan Martin.
He left the club in February 2017 to pursue a career in the Police.
Fraser Wright (36 appearances, 1 goal) - HIT
Few defenders are as hard as Frazer Wright, not that many people thought that of him following a disastrous first few games in the white and gold. Fortunately he got his act together, and formed a very sturdy defensive partnership with Gregor Buchanan. At 37 years of age he played almost every minute of his first season, before soldiering on through injuries during the Betfred Cup last year where we only had about 12 fit senior players.
Left in January 2017 and is now with Stirling Albion - having collected a couple of Player of the Year awards during his 16 months at the club.
Steven Saunders (27 appearances, 4 goals) - HIT
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t Saunders’ biggest fan. It wasn’t that he was a bad player, it was just that he knocked Scott Taggart out the side - and I felt that was harsh following some impressive performances by the former Hibs’ man.
Despite being a defender, Saunders had a knack of grabbing crucial goals. He scored a double inside three minutes in the incredible 3-3 draw with Raith Rovers in November 2015, and then grabbed a priceless injury time equaliser against Livingston the following month.
Now with Welsh Champions The New Saints, he was sent off against St Mirren in the Challenge Cup semi-final.
Calum Waters (21 appearances, 1 goal) - MISS
Since leaving Sons Calum Waters has quickly became one of League One’s hottest assets. The left-back joined on-loan from Celtic in the summer of 2015, but struggled to make anywhere near as big an impact as fellow ‘tic loanee Jamie Lindsay. His game time was limited by Mark Docherty’s form, despite looking promising during his short outings on the pitch.
Played a key role in the 3-2 victory over Hibernian in February 2016 on the left side of midfield, setting up Darren Barr’s winner with a pinpoint corner. Now with Alloa Athletic, but looking destined to move on to bigger things.
Willie Gibson (21 appearances, 2 goals) - …
Where do you start? In terms of talent Gibson is right up with the best to have been brought to the club by Stevie Aitken. His ability to create something out of nothing was lacking once he left, however few fans shed a tear.
When he was good he was very, very good. Memorable moments include grabbing the winner on the opening day of the season against Hibernian in Aitken’s first league game - a wonderful free-kick that still cheers me up - scoring again from a free-kick the following week in the victory against St Mirren, or completely changing the game against Raith Rovers in November 2015 - grabbing two assists, winning a penalty and hitting the post inside nine minutes.
Unfortunately his impact beyond that was minimal, and he returned to Stranraer in January 2016 for personal reasons. He’s quietly going about becoming somewhat of an icon at Stair Park these days too.
Jon Routledge (38 appearances, 0 goals) - HIT
Hit. Hit. Hit. Routledge was one of Sons’ key players during the 2015/16 campaign, with his tireless, disciplined defensive performances in midfield one of all too few consistent factors.
The Liverpudlian made a massive impact at the Rock, and it was an absolute joy to watch him fly into tackles all over the pitch (most of the time…) often single handedly controlling midfields.
Routledge left in May 2016, joining up with Steven Saunders at TNS where he appears to have finally found out how to score!
Darren Miller (0 appearances, 0 goals) - MISS
Undoubtedly going to be met with confused looks from many, Miller did actually make a few appearances in friendlies against Edinburgh City, Clydebank, Partick Thistle and (I think) Hearts.
Having been let go by Queen’s Park he was a strange signing on paper, and certainly lived up to that in reality. I’ve no idea what sort of player he was, but in the friendly against Thistle he told Calum Booth (in no uncertain terms) to consider standing up, and not falling over so easily. Which was quite amusing.
Miller’s now playing amateurs with Colville Park having left DFC in August 2016, following spells with Kilbirnie, a return to Queen’s Park and Clyde.
Scott Brown (16 apps, 0 goals) - MISS
It wasn’t that Scott Brown was a bad player, it’s just that he played almost half a season without anyone really knowing what sort of player he was.
Meh summed him up perfectly. He was ok at most things, ran like he was holding a shinty stick and blazed a few shots out the stadium during his time at the Rock. His best game came at right-back against Alloa Athletic in December.
Returned to St Johnstone in January 2016, playing a couple of Premiership games, before joining Peterhead in the summer.
Jamie Lindsay (28 apps, 0 goals) - HIT
One of Stevie Aitken’s best bits of business, Lindsay played a key role in our survival last year. He added an abundance of energy to a midfield otherwise lacking it once he got up to speed, and rarely looked like a guy playing senior football for the first time in his career.
He found himself shunted wide all too often however, where he plainly wasn’t comfortable, whilst his lack of a single goal all season did highlight a definite weakness in his game. Now on loan at Morton, if he can add a clinical edge to his performances then he’ll be a real star of the future.
Tom Walsh (16 apps, 1 goal) - HIT
Walsh was a strange one. Initially signed with a big hype he struggled to make any sort of impact in the first-half of his loan spell from Rangers. In fact his most notable attribute was how ridiculously two footed he was. He could take a corner from the left with his right foot, then jog over to the other side and stick in the same delivery with his left from the right!
Just as he looked set to be cast into the meh loans pile he produced a Man of the Match performance against Queen of the South at the Rock in a 4-2 win - where he grabbed his first goal for the club.
He wasn’t officially given Man of the Match because a certain fan may have picked a certain French striker…but we’ll gloss over that.
Walsh really kicked on from there, playing a big role in the remaining games of the campaign - including grabbing two assists in the 2-3 home defeat to Raith Rovers.
Joined St Mirren on loan from Rangers in the summer, along with Ryan Hardie, but failed to settle despite scoring three times in ten appearances. Left both the Buddies and the Gers in January, and is now with Limerick.
Kler Heh (5 apps, 0 goals) - MISS
I dare say that most Sons fans have a lot of time for Sheffield United loanee Kler Heh. The Myanmarian grew up in a refugee camp for the Karen in Thailand, prior to being resettled in the UK when he was 10 years of age. A potentially inspiring story for others stuck in a similar situation.
Unfortunately on the pitch things didn’t go to plan, with him making just a solitary start (in a 5-0 defeat to Dundee in the Scottish Cup), and four sub appearances in the league. His league game time totalled just 49 minutes, which tells its own story.
He played a bit for the Dumbarton U20s, but left at the end of his loan spell and appears to now be without a club. Hopefully football hasn’t heard the last of Kler though, if his past is anything to go by he certainly won’t have just given up hope.
Steven Craig (14 apps, 1 goal) - MISS
Steven Craig was actually a better player than most people gave him credit for, unfortunately his body language and low workrate meant that few Sons’ fans had any time for him.
Viewed as a decent bit of business when his move from Wycombe was finally complete, Craig made his debut on the opening day of the league season in a 2-1 victory against Hibernian. He played well too, winning the free-kick from which Gregor Buchanan opened the scoring after just four minutes with some typically clever play.
Craig’s game had never really been about goals, it was always more about winning fouls, holding play up and occupying defenders. That suited Partick Thistle during his time there, however with Sons struggling going forward his lack of energy saw him drop out the picture.
A goal just seconds after coming on summarised an excellent showing against Hibernian in a 4-2 defeat at Easter Road in October. However it was only for 20 minutes, and it was form he couldn’t carry on.
Joined Forfar Athletic in January 2016, where his six goals in 13 starts couldn’t save the club from relegation, before joining Worcester City. He’s now on loan at Stafford Rangers. Apparently.
Sebastian Osei-Obengo (0 apps, 0 goals) - MISS
Seb then. A cult hero. No doubt about it. Signed from Gibraltarian second division (I know, I didn’t think they had two leagues either) side Europa Point, he played a total of zero minutes during his, erm, week with the club. He was never officially registered as a player due to the fact he had never played professionally before, and so we were denied the chance to see the Ghanaian pull on the strip other than in his signing photo. He did have a shirt number, 28, though, so he deserves his place on this list.
Now with Stenungsunds Idrottsförening in the Swedish Division 2 Norra Götaland. Be honest, you didn’t even try and pronounce that, did you?
Paul Heffernan (8 apps, 0 goals) - MISS
When the Osei-Obengo deal collapsed, Aitken had to act quickly to bring in an underwhelming striker to cover for the often injured Christian Nadé and Garry Fleming. Former Kilmarnock, Hibernian, Dundee and Queen of the South striker Heffernan was the man he turned to - with the Irishman having scored the winner against Sons for Queen of the South in November.
His spell at the rock was instantly forgettable. In fact aside from hitting the post against St Mirren on hashtag Survival Saturday I can’t really remember him doing anything. His movement was decent, but his finishing continually let him down.
Now retired by the looks of things.
Kevin Cawley (39 apps, 3 goals) - MISS
Cawley was a likeable wee guy, who was seen as an enormous coup following his signing from Alloa Athletic. He had scored plenty against Dumbarton in the past - including a truly magnificent strike just months before joining the club at the Indodrill Stadium.
Despite his hardworking nature he only showed glimpses of the player we hoped we’d be getting. He spent much of the season out on the wing where he didn’t look comfortable, and only played through the middle very, very briefly in the 3-2 victory against Hibernian. A match he marked with a fantastic opening goal.
His final action of note in a Sons’ shirt was to score a quite outstanding lobbed own goal from the edge of the box against Hibs in April 2016. It summed up his luck during his time at the club.
Released in May 2016, he rejoined Alloa where he appears to have settled back down again.
Gordon Smith (4 apps, 0 goals) - MISS
The first thing that strikes you about Gordon Smith’s time at the Rock is how many games he played. I genuinely cannot remember watching him playing in four competitive matches for us.
Left the club early in the 2015/16 season to join Cowdenbeath on loan, where he was a hit, and now plays for ECU Joondalup in Australia. Apparently he’s scored 19 in 20 games there too, so maybe did have something we missed last season.
Stevie Ross (5 apps, 0 goals) - MISS
Did Stevie Ross actually exist? Are we all Stevie Ross? Was he played by a different guy each week? So many questions, so few answers.
What we do know is that he was prolific on-loan in the Highland League, scored against Aberdeen for Ross County and joined us in late August 2015. Very brief appearances (and a start against Queen of the South in November) ended with him vanishing, never to be seen again.
Stevie joined Elgin City briefly towards the end of the season, and is now back in the Highland League with Brora Rangers. Apparently.
Eamonn Brophy (10 apps, 1 goal) - HIT
Brophy was an odd one. A proven goalscorer for Hamilton’s U20s, and for Queen’s Park during his brief loan spell there, he looked exactly what we were missing. A nippy finisher, to hang about the last defender and give us something different upfront.
Despite looking handy in his appearances, he only made five starts during his three month loan, with Aitken preferring to go for Garry Fleming upfront, with Grant Gallagher in behind in a 4-4-1-1 formation.
His only goal was a crucial one however, a late winner against Livingston in October 2015, that gave Aitken his first victory since August.
Now back at Hamilton, where he has became a first-team regular this season.
Jamie Barclay (0 apps, 0 goals) - MISS
It seems harsh to include Barclay as a miss when he only played in one friendly. He did alright too, in a 2-0 defeat to Clydebank.
Signed as cover for Jamie Ewings he played backup to Mark Brown and then Alan Martin before leaving in August 2016. Now with East Stirlingshire in the Lowland League.
Craig Pettigrew (19 apps, 0 goals) - MISS
Signed to replace Steven Saunders and Scott Taggart at right-back, Pettigrew was far from an inspired signing. Stranraer fans claimed he wasn't up to the step-up, and they weren't wrong. An excellent crosser of the ball, he seemed to lack the positional sense needed to play in the Championship.
Pettigrew was an ever present in the side up until October, when he was dropped to the bench in favour of David Smith. It was an opportunity Smith seized, making the right-back position his own and signalling the end of Pettigrew’s time at the Rock.
After only a handful of appearances following that, he rejoined Stranraer in January 2017.
Ryan Stevenson (24 apps, 4 goals) - MISS
I spend a good chunk of my time at Uni with an Ayr United fan *waves to Ryan*. Said Ayr United fan spent near enough the entire second-half of last season grumbling about Stevenson’s performances back at Somerset Park. When he signed for Sons therefore I wasn’t overly optimistic. Especially after being lauded as a ‘big signing’.
Stevenson wasn’t horrendous. He was capable of spraying some stunning passes, scoring some long range thunderpeaches and playing some clever little balls that only he could see. Unfortunately however he’d do one or two highly impressive things a game, and little else.
He left the club in January to team up with Gary Locke again at Raith Rovers, with Lewis Vaughan coming the opposite way. I think we all know who got the better deal there...After briefly retiring he signed for Troon, and is now playing in the Australian 5th tier. Combine that with playing 90 minutes in goals for Raith against Ayr United, and it’s not been a dull season for the midfielder.
Josh Todd (27 apps, 0 goals) - MISS
Perhaps saying that Todd was a miss is harsh, however his failure to score in 27 games for the club represented a frustrating time with the club.
Having joined in the nearest thing you’ll get to a ‘transfer saga’ in lower league Scottish football Todd, predominantly a striker or attacking midfielder for Annan Athletic, spent almost the entirety of his time at the Rock on right-wing. He worked hard, never let the team down, and his attitude was highly professional. There was just one issue, he wasn’t hugely effective.
Signed as an amateur it became clear that we’d actually paid Annan a fee in the region of £5000 for his development. That meant he wasn’t being paid by us, yet had still cost a reasonable amount.
He played regularly right up until leaving the club to join St Mirren in January 2017, with Calum Gallagher coming to the CID Stadium in return. Finally broke his duck this season with a goal against Dundee United at April.
After hearing about the travelling he did to play for us (for little reward) I genuinely hope he goes on to have a successful career in football. His dedication and attitude is something few players can match.
Joe Thomson (19 apps, 2 goals) - HIT
Brought in just a day before the start of the League season, ‘J.Thomson’ immediately looked at home in the Sons’ midfield. A tenacious, hard working player, he became an ever-present in the side playing the box-to-box ‘Jamie Lindsay role’ - whilst also managing to score two crucial goals (something Lindsay failed to do).
His first senior strike was the opener in a 2-2 draw with Dunfermline Athletic, his second came directly from a corner, in the incredible 4-4 draw with Ayr United on Christmas Eve. Those goals were interspersed with numerous Man of the Match performances - few better than in his final apperance, a 1-0 home victory over Dundee United.
Despite this he wanted to progress to a full-time loan, and so switched to Queen of the South in January where he found a prolific touch - scoring 4 times in his first 8 games.
Grant Gallagher (46 apps, 5 goals) - MISS
Considered one of Aitken’s most impressive signings during his first summer, ‘the white Yaya Touré’ started his career in the best way possible, scoring in the manager’s first home game (a 2-0 victory against Hearts), and then grabbing a double in his first competitive game (a 3-2 victory against Morton).
That form wasn’t to last however, as Gallagher - originally signed as a centre-defensive midfielder - found himself shunted absolutely all over the shop. He played as a number ten, a right-back, a striker, a right-winger and only occasionally slotted into his natural central midfield berth.
Perhaps unsurprisingly therefore his performances dipped and, whilst his work rate was always commendable, he simply lacked the natural ability for many of the roles he found himself in.
Started this season with the first competitive goal of the campaign again (in a 2-2 draw with Forfar Athletic in July), before missing two games through suspension after a silly red card in the Betfred Cup defeat to East Fife. Some quietly effective performances followed in his natural role, before a nasty ankle injury sustained in September ended his season.
Darren Barr (71 apps, 3 goals) - HIT
Proof, if it were needed, that I really don’t have an agenda against him.
After an injury plagued few years, Barr became Aitken’s highest profile signing of his first transfer window, joining in June 2015 from Ross County. Less than a fortnight later he was announced as the club’s new captain, replacing the hugely popular Andy Graham in a move which surprised pretty much everyone.
Fans feared the worst when he was forced off in just his second game for the club, and then missed the following week’s opening day victory against Hibernian. Fortunately it wasn’t a sign of what was to come, as (barring a brief spell out at the start of this season) he became an ever-present in the team.
Deployed mainly in central midfield during his first campaign he put in some really rugged performances in a team that was more hard to break down than it was free-flowing going forward. None were better than in the 3-2 victory against Hibs in February 2016, a performance marked with the winning goal.
This season he displaced Mark Docherty at centre-back to form a consistent partnership with Gregor Buchanan. He is still prone to moments of clumsiness, and certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, however he has won over most of the doubters.
Mark Docherty (75 apps, 6 goals) - HIT
Up until March I doubt you would’ve been able to find a Dumbarton fan with a bad word to say about Sparky. Strong performances at left-back during the 2015/16 season, combined with a battling attitude, strong Twitter game and ability to score directly from corners made him a firm fans’ favourite at the Rock.
Things changed on that miserable March afternoon however, when he found himself in an on pitch battle with teammate Stuart Carswell. Carswell was forced off with a bleeding nose, Docherty was suspended for two matches and duly lost his place in the team.
Since then he has been limited to substitute appearances and, certainly on a personal level, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him move on in the summer. If that is to happen then I hope he’s remembered more for scoring two winners against Dundee United this season, than for anything else. We’d certainly be losing a big character and a lot of heart.
Gregor Buchanan (77 apps, 3 goals) - HIT
Stevie Aitken’s first signing, and arguably his most consistent. Buchanan has been a virtual ever present under Aitken, and must be one of the most sought after part-time players in the country.
The big centre-back rarely puts a foot wrong, and formed impressive partnerships with Frazer Wright, Darren Barr and Mark Docherty during his time at the Rock. He’s growing into more of a leader every week and, should he be as settled as he appears to be, could quite easily go on to have a very long and successful career in G82.
Then again he could move on in the summer, such are the joys of supporting a part-time team! If he is to leave however, it will take a big player to replace him. Literally and metaphorically.
Christian Nadé (29 apps, 11 goals) - HIT
The Prince. One of the most popular Dumbarton players in recent years; a cult-hero, a goal threat, the ideal hold-up man and a stupidly cool finisher who absolutely loves playing against Hibernian almost as much as he loves his current club.
A nomadic career that took in the English Premiership, Ligue 1, the Πρωτάθλημα Α΄ Κατηγορίας (that’s, erm, Cypriot 1st Division to us, apparently), SPL and ไทยลีก (that’s Thai League, apparently) Nadé found himself at Dumbarton on the final day of January 2016.
His signing was an inspired one, and his bond with the fans immediate. He spoke about his desire to enjoy playing football, and under Stevie Aitken he was certainly doing that. Ten starts yielded seven goals, including a first career hat-trick (and a perfect one at that) against Alloa Athletic in March 2016.
Despite this he turned down a deal in the summer, and joined League 1 Stranraer. His time at Stair Park was desperate however, with Nadé clearly not enjoying working under Brian Reid’s managerial style. He left the club in November, sparking rumours of a January return ‘home’ to the Rock.
After a brief trial period to keep his fitness up at Annan Athletic, he joined Dumbarton on the first of the month. Scoring a further four in ten starts, and playing a crucial and unique role in the team's renaissance since January. A role that included yet another trademark goal against Hibs!
Alan Martin (39 apps, 0 goals) - HIT
Simple question, Alan Martin or Danny Rogers?
The two most talented Sons’ goalkeepers in my lifetime, no question, however to choose between them is no easy task. Based on his staggeringly strong performances this season however, and the fact Rogers wasn’t the finished article during his loan spell a few years ago, it has to be Martin.
It came as a surprise to absolutely nobody when he cleaned up the Player of the Year awards, picking up every gong he was eligible for.
Capable of pulling off some sublime reflex stops, strong in one-on-ones, dominant at dealing with high balls and hugely impressive with his feet, Martin has everything you need in a modern goalkeeper. It’s difficult to pinpoint just a number of his best performances, however his penalty saving heroics in the 2-2 draw at Easter Road - where he was the best player on the park - and in the crucial 1-1 with St Mirren were especially notable.
He seems like he wants to stay at the club too, and so ‘the powers that be’ should be doing everything they can to keep him in the, erm, luminous yellow next season.
Tom Lang (6 apps, 0 goals) - HIT
Those of you who know me, know how highly I rate Lang. He may have only started one game since joining in January, but what a game it was. His pace and quality on the ball complemented Darren Barr’s ruggedness perfectly, and they both put in a dominant display in a 4-0 victory against Raith Rovers.
Still only 19 he’s got plenty of time to develop into an outstanding modern defender, and for that reason I hope we see much, much more of him in the future.
Ross McCrorie (9 apps, 0 goals) - HIT
McCrorie was one of the most difficult to assess. Considered one of the brightest young players to come through Rangers’ youth system in recent years, he was signed with high, high hopes. In reality he did fine, without ever really showing why he is so highly thought of.
He only featured nine times, six of which were starts. Of those two were at right-back, and the rest in central midfield. His finest game was undoubtedly at Easter Road in the 2-2 draw with Hibernian, where he absolutely controlled the game.
A perfect athlete; strong, quick, sensational in the air, his distribution was his real weakness, especially in central midfield. Given Rangers’ current predicament however first-team football at the Ibrox club probably isn’t far away.
Daniel Harvie (34 apps, 3 goals) - HIT
If ever you needed a reason not to judge a player based on his first game, then Harvie was it. His Sons’ debut, just over 48 hours after signing, was also his full senior debut, and it showed.
Nervous in possession, uncomfortable defensively and timid going forward, it was the sort of experience that requires a lot of character to recover from. Recover he did though, and in some style, scooping the club’s Young Player of the Year award at the end of the season. His importance was underlined by the games he was unavailable for. Bonnyrigg twice and Ayr United away were some of the worst performances of the season, and they all came without him.
Another loan spell next season would do him the world of good, and a return to the Rock could suit both the Drumchapel native, Aberdeen and Dumbarton.
Andrew Stirling (41 apps, 3 goals) - HIT
No single player encapsulates the change in the team post-Bonnyrigg quite as well as Andy Stirling. The winger was totally ineffective during the first few months of the season. His final ball was horribly erratic, he looked scared to take players on and defensively he was shaky.
Then everything changed. In the first 18 games of the season he managed one goal and one assist. In his next 18 he scored twice and contributed seven assists. His performances ranged from the impressive to the sublime; he tore teams to shreds, scored an absolute screamer against Falkirk and gave more than a few fullbacks a really torrid time.
An absolute joy to watch when he’s in full flow, he’ll be a big loss with a move to Queen of the South on the horizon.
David Smith (43 apps, 1 goal) - HIT
One of only two players to feature in every single game this season, Smith enjoyed the best year of his career. And it was all down to a clever switch in position.
More than a few people were surprised to see him line up at right-back against Dundee United in October. Craig Pettigrew had been poor, very poor in fact, however moving Darren Barr across and putting Mark Docherty into centre-back looked like the more obvious option.
Any doubts were dispelled immediately though, as he immediately looked very much at home in his new position. Smith made it his own and, despite the negative comments from Falkirk fans, developed into a very accomplished second-tier player.
He’s sure to be interesting other clubs in the summer, however having finally been given a regular run of games at the CID Stadium I’m confident he’ll stick around.
Stuart Carswell (16 apps, 0 goals) - HIT
Stuart Carswell has played over 150 competitive games of football, and has still to score his first goal. It’s therefore very, very difficult not to have a soft spot for him.
Signed in January from Icelandic side Knattspyrnudeild Keflavík he allowed the change in formation that was so key to our success in the second half of the campaign.
The former Motherwell midfielder is stupidly disciplined positionally, highly efficient in possession and wins plenty of 50/50s. His role isn’t stylish and impressive, but he is one of the key cogs in the team, and without him we’d have been in the relegation playoffs. Without a shadow of doubt.
Getting him signed up over the summer could be a massive boost for the club, as few players can perform the role he does as effectively.
Sam Stanton (27 apps, 4 goals) - HIT
Probably second to Alan Martin in the Player of the Year stakes, the Hibernian loanee became one of the Championship’s standout playmakers when he eventually settled down at the Rock.
Signed seemingly as a winger, his initial performances looked like those of a guy with absolutely no confidence. Gradually however this built up, and a move into central midfield saw him really thrive.
At his best in a deep role alongside Carswell, his ability to evade challenges, drive forward and pick out a killer pass mark him out as a special player.
There’s not a chance he’ll be back next season, and I think a few Premiership clubs could do worse than take a punt on him, should he not be back in Hibs’ plans.
Calum Gallagher (7 apps, 0 goals) - MISS
SeaGal’s rating is based more on his lack of game time than his usually decent, if too brief, appearances. Swapped for Josh Todd in January he went on to make just three starts for the club.
His first came against Raith Rovers in March’s 4-0 victory. It was an opportunity he marked with an assist for the opener after just six minutes in a highly impressive display. That was followed by another decent showing against Hibernian, before he struggled in an unfamiliar lone striker role against Ayr United in his final start for the club.
If he’s offered a new deal this month then he has an opportunity to cement a starting place on the wing following Andy Stirling’s departure. I for one hope he’s given the chance.
Robert Thomson (43 apps, 12 goals) - HIT
Top goalscorer, leading assister, most bookings and all round bantz merchant. Thomson took a while to get going, but when he did he became the best wide targetman in the league...not that I imagine competition for that role is too high.
When it was revealed in January that he would be joining Greenock Morton at the end of the season few fans shed a tear. He had became hugely frustrating to watch. Ungainly, lacking composure and seemingly un-subbable.
That move changed everything however, as he scored seven goals and registered three assists in his next 13 games. Those goals included an absolutely unbelievable hooked volley against Raith Rovers, and crucial strikes against St Mirren, Queen of the South and Dundee United. To say he looked a different player would be putting it all too mildly, he was absolutely sensational.
If Aitken elects to stay, then replacing Thomson will be the biggest task facing him in the summer.
Lewis Vaughan (15 apps, 4 goals) - HIT
If you need any evidence of just how mental Raith Rovers’ season has been, then Vaughan is the perfect place to start.
Starved of game time due to Gary Locke’s inability to see beyond Declan McManus and Rudi Skácel, Vaughan arrived on-loan at the Rock in January, with Ryan Stevenson going the opposite way.
He played a massive role in the club’s rise up the table and, therefore, Raith’s drop into the relegation playoffs. Vaughan’s goals were worth six points to the club, and his commitment in hugely difficult circumstances was never in doubt.
A hugely talented player, with a fantastic attitude to the game, he’ll go on to have a big career. His contribution to Dumbarton meanwhile is unlikely to ever be forgotten.
Joe Nuttall (2 apps, 0 goals) - MISS
Signed on an emergency loan from Aberdeen in March, former Manchester City youth Nuttall played just twice as a late sub for Dumbarton. During that time he held play up well once, and knocked a pass out of play. That’s pretty much all I can remember.
Released by Aberdeen last month, he’s set to move back to Lancashire to continue his career closer to home.
We’re in an almost unprecedented time. With still (just) over two weeks remaining until media day, almost everything has dropped into place ahead of the 2017 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship. 31 driver and team combinations have been announced, with just Silverline Subaru BMR Racing’s fourth Levorg driver still to be revealed.
It’s been a pre-season of incredible announcements, with two further manufacturers giving their support to the series meaning that, for the first time since 1999 (Nissan, Ford, Volvo, Honda, Renault, Vauxhall), there will be five works’ teams on the grid.
Of the five it’s arguably Halfords Yuasa Racing (Team Dynamics) who go into the season as the team to beat. Once again reigning champion Gordon Shedden is joined by vastly experienced triple champ’ Matt Neal in a pair of Honda Civic Type-Rs.
The Civic has been the car to beat in recent years, taking five of the last six titles in the hands of Shedden (three times), Neal and Andrew Jordan.
Dynamics do have a new arrival this year however, with Matt Simpson and his Civic switching to the team after a character building debut season with Speedworks.
Team BMW (West Surrey Racing) look as if they will be Shedden and co’s closest rivals this year, with Dick Bennetts’ Sunbury-on-Thames based squad becoming a works backed BMW outfit for the first time.
Manufacturer support wasn’t the only coup WSR pulled off pre-season either, with double champion Colin Turkington returning to the team after a hugely impressive year with Subaru.
Few drivers can match Turkington’s ability in a rear-wheel-drive touring car, and the Northern Irishman, engineer Kevin Berry, WSR and the BMW 125iMSport are a proven winning combination.
Turkington is joined under the Team BMW banner by one of the championship’s great entertainers, Rob Collard. Collard took the Dunlop #ForeverForward award last season for the most successful overtaking manoeuvres, but for 2017 he’ll hope to finally nail his qualifying pace and put together a serious title assault.
2013 Champion Andrew Jordan completes a formidable lineup, with his car competing under the Pirtek Racing banner in his, now trademark, chrome blue and yellow livery.
Silverline Subaru BMR Racing (Team BMR) shocked everyone three winters ago by bringing 90s hero Alain Menu back to the series, they then shocked everyone again the following year by signing reigning champion Colin Turkington, and his fierce title rival Jason Plato, before outdoing themselves at this stage in 2016 by becoming a manufacturer backed Subaru entry with four stunning Levorg GTs.
By those standards this has been a very quiet winter, with Plato once again joined by James Cole in two of the cars which, after extensive development, almost took the Championship title despite missing an entire round.
2016 Jack Sears Trophy winner, Ash Sutton, who took a memorable victory in the summer downpour at Croft - the first time he’d ever raced a touring car in wet weather - makes the switch from sister team MG Racing RCIB Insurance (Triple Eight), in what looks like a great move for both team and driver.
The identity of the fourth Subaru driver is still to be announced, as it looks more and more likely that team boss, Warren Scott, will take a step back to focus on managing the series’ fastest growing outfit.
Sutton’s departure from MG signalled another complete change of driver lineup for the third consecutive year. Árón Taylor-Smith moves up to the team after an excellent year with BKR, whilst Daniel Lloyd has managed to secure a full-time drive for the first time, after showing serious pace in limited appearances with Eurotech Racing last season.
The works entries are completed by Vauxhall, making a return to the Championship they dominated for much of the early 21st century. Adam Weaver’s Power Maxed Racing team will run two brand new Astras for rookie Senna Proctor - stepping up from the Clio Cup - and former Sonic the Hedgehog impersonator (amongst other things) Tom Chilton.
Chilton will combine his BTCC campaign with a drive for Sebastien Loeb Racing in the World Touring Car Championship, a grueling schedule, but with no conflicts his aims of race wins from the start could make a potential title challenge possible.
Aside from the works backed teams there are a host of independent entries, all of whom will harbour serious Championship ambitions.
The indy fight is spearheaded by Team Shredded Wheat (Motorbase Performance), with a big name sponsor onboard, plenty of pre-season testing and Mat Jackson signed up at his earliest ever date they will be strong from the first flag.
Jackson, so often the bridesmaid, deserves a Championship. There, I’ve said it. Few drivers can match his consistency, sheer pace and racing guile - and that’s before you get to his violent warm ups!
The Henley-in-Arden based driver is joined at David Bartrum’s side by Martin Depper, who moves from Eurotech Racing, and former British GT man Luke Davenport.
Continuity is the name of the game at Speedworks, with Tom Ingram sticking with Christian & Amy Dick’s outfit for a fourth season. His Avensis has overgone a radical overhaul in the winter, with a facelift and new aero package being immediately obvious.
Leaving Speedworks however is Rob Austin, who ‘goes it alone’ with Simon Belcher’s Handy Motorsport squad for the first time. It took the (self crowned) ‘King of Cool’ time to adjust to front-wheel-drive after pioneering the NGTC Audi A4, however building on a strong finish to last season could make independent glory a realistic outcome.
Austin and Ingram will be the only two Avensis drivers left on the grid, with RCIB Insurance Racing (Team HARD) replacing all three of their ageing cars with the VW CCs previously ran by BKR.
Once again rapid young guns Jake Hill and Michael Epps will pilot two of the cars, with 2016 Ginetta GT4 Vice-Champion Will Burns joining Tony Gilham’s ambitious side.
Burns will hope to impress every bit as much as Hill and Epps did in their first full seasons in the Championship. In ageing machinery, and with some of the Championship’s lowest budgets, both drivers spent much of the season battling with the big guns - and looked far from out of place. They have big futures ahead of them in touring car racing.
Quote me on that in ten years time if you want. I’m right.
Hill’s former team AMDTuning have another exciting young talent in their ranks, with last year’s Clio Cup Champion Ant Whorton-Eales signing up with Shaun Hollamby’s side. He’s joined behind the wheel of the Audi S3 saloon by the returning Ollie Jackson as the team expand to two identical cars for the first time.
Also running two identical cars, but under different banners, are Cicely Motorsport. Once again Adam Morgan is (I assume) running under the Wix Racing name, alongside the - still very young - Aiden Moffat. The Scotsman may be entering his fourth full season in the series, but he’s still only 20 and is improving all the time.
Morgan meanwhile is another who will have his sights firmly set on securing the independent title, after another impressive, race winning, year with the Mercedes A-Class.
Also with his eyes on independent glory will be Jack Goff, who moves to partner Jeff Smith at Eurotech Racing having left WSR. The adaption to rear-wheel-drive proved a troublesome one for Goff, and he should be much more at home in the Tamworth based team’s Civic Type-R.
A new team name for 2017 was BTC Norlin Racing (BTC Racing), running a pair of ex-Power Maxed Chevrolet Cruze’s for Northern Irishman Chris Smiley, and fans’ favourite Dave Newsham.
Renowned as one of the Championship’s ‘good guys’ fans were delighted to see Newsham secure a full-time return to the grid, in a car he’s driven impressively before. Smiley meanwhile will look to banish memories of a difficult half season with Team Hard last year, in an outfit he’s played a major role in building.
Team Parker Racing complete the grid, with Stuart Parker’s side expanding to a two car outfit for the first time. Race winner with WSR in 2009 Stephen Jelley makes a welcome return to the series, and he’s joined by Josh Cook who will drive under the Maximum Motorsport banner.
Cook has been one of the BTCC’s star performers for the past two seasons, yet looked to be out of a drive before Stewart Lines stepped aside. He’ll now look to repay the Brummies’ belief by finally getting the Maximum name into the points - a task that shouldn’t be too hard for someone of Cook’s ability.
There you have it then. 31 drivers, 16 race winners, 11 different manufacturers and 5 works backed teams. You’d be a stupid man to predict anything.
Thankfully I am quite stupid, so here we go:
Champion: Colin Turkington
Independent Champion: Mat Jackson
Manufacturers Champions: BMW
Teams: Team BMW
Independent Teams: Team Hard
Jack Sears Trophy (Rookie): Ant Whorton-Eales
I'm Fraser, 21, Sons fan trying to make my way in Journalism.