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Running a business from the team bus, precious family time and a trip to Ninewells Hospital: Paul Watson’s diary of two matches in 39 hours for Montrose

Paul Watson is keen to put his injury hell to bed. Image: SNS
Paul Watson is keen to put his injury hell to bed. Image: SNS

Gallows humour was about the only reaction Paul Watson could muster when news of Montrose’s unprecedented double-header was announced.

‘Down to Kilmarnock for 10 bells wi the 7.30am pre match pasta, cheers lads,’ tweeted the Mo captain after the Scottish FA announced their tie at Rugby Park would take place at 11.45 a.m. on Saturday morning.

The decision, made to avoid coinciding with the funeral of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, meant the part-timers would be forced to tackle a whirlwind turnaround, with less than 40 hours between Montrose’s League 1 fixture at Partick Thistle ending and kick-off in Ayrshire.

This serves as a microcosm of one of the most congested periods in the history of lower league football in Scotland.

Part-time players from Stranraer to Elgin are attempting to juggle work, family, training, travelling and competitive fixtures in a bid to finish an interrupted campaign in rapid fashion.

Montrose legend Watson — husband to Linsey and father to Florence, 7, and Nola, 4, and owner of his own construction company — has, like many of his teammates and opponents, sought to tackle those challenges manfully.

Beginning with a 5-0 hammering at Firhill and ending at Ninewells Hospital, this is his fixture pile-up diary.

April 15, 19:00. Firhill Stadium, Glasgow.

Another half-three in the afternoon journey, meaning a half-day at work. In theory.

I try to get some work done on the bus during all these away trips. You can imagine how difficult that is when you have a bus full of footballers winding you up! But you need to try and stay on top of things.

But we won’t make any excuses for that result.

Sometimes you’ve got to hold your hands up and say ‘they blew us out the water’. You can pick the bones out of any goal — but Thistle were just better than us. They were intense; quick; had experience in key areas and Zak Rudden took his two goals really well.

April 16, 06:00-10:00 / 15:00 onwards. Projekto Construction.

I’ve got my own construction company in Dundee so — regardless of having a game the night before — it’s a case of being up and awake for that.

I’m able to leave the actual building and construction work to the guys we have on the site. So, I’m not up ladders and doing the graft. But I’ll help out the guys if things need stripped.

We had a big job in Broughty Ferry that we are able to carry on with during the lockdown restrictions, and things in the pipeline in Monifieth and Forfar.

We feel fortunate to be busy but it can be hectic trying to sort all the trades for the different jobs, as well as the admin, two kids and the football!

April 16, 10:00. Castle Centre, Brechin.

I took the decision to take a couple of hours off work in the morning so I could spend some time with the kids. I barely saw them during the recent school holidays, especially with the travelling to Nairn, Fraserburgh and Dumbarton in midweek.

When you factor in work commitments, you don’t get a lot of time to spend with them — and that’s one of the hardest parts. It’s a really common issue with players at our level: finding the time to balance work, travel, training, games and family.

It’s a sacrifice a lot of players make.

Watson with daughter Florence and the League 2 trophy in 2018

We all went up to the Castle Centre in Brechin to take advantage of the incredible weather and the couple of hours off meant I was able to stretch the legs and combine recovery with a bit of family time.

The sports scientist we have, Stuart MacFarlane, works full-time for St Johnstone and has been brilliant. He gives us advice on how to look after ourselves, recover and tells us what we need to do during the days to be ready for Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday-Tuesday and all that.

We’ve also registered Stu as a player! He’s a decent right-back — has played in the Lowland League — so we thought we could do with the cover.

April 16, 19:45. Dundee.

As you can imagine, it’s an early night before the Kilmarnock match but I did manage to sit down and watch the United-Forfar Scottish Cup tie. The wife wasn’t too happy with that.

I thought Forfar were going to get something — they did fantastically well given their own challenges. My fingers were crossed that Forfar would score a couple…that would have sent me to bed happy.

April 17, 07:50. Dundee Ice Arena, Dundee

We set off from our usual spot at the ice rink, albeit a bit earlier than we’re used to.

The boys all took their pre-match meals with them on the bus, so there’s a bit of a change to your eating patterns and schedule. I’m usually on the pasta pre-match — old habits die hard — but even I couldn’t handle that at 9 a.m.. on a moving bus. That was a porridge and fruit job.

Tireless: Montrose arrive at Rugby Park

But it’s funny; once you get into the ground, see the dressing room and get out on to the pitch — it’s just another game. You forget about the time and everything becomes instinct. Full focus turns to the match.

You want to be playing against big teams at big stadiums and, despite any heavy legs or whatever else, you’ll not get any complaints from us.

April 17, 11:45. Rugby Park, Kilmarnock

The manager, Stewart Petrie, deserves credit because he has rotated as much as possible and tried to give some folk rest. But you can’t rotate everyone and there’s a core of boys who have played all these games.

But you don’t discuss that before the game. The idea of fatigue or fixture congestion doesn’t come up. You want to stay positive. There’s nothing to fear, nothing to lose; a free hit.

We were confident we could give them a game and, barring a couple of silly mistakes, we did that. We matched them in spells and had umpteen chances — it could have been a real fright for Kilmarnock, especially in the second half.

April 17, 12:29. Rugby Park, Kilmarnock

I came down awkwardly on my ankle and, when it got looked at, the physio thought there might be a fracture.

No laughing matter: Watson’s injury

I actually tried to play on for the next twenty minutes, which maybe wasn’t the right decision — but I wanted to help the boys and keep up the momentum because, although we conceded an early goal, we had started quite well.

But the pain just got worse and worse and I had to admit defeat in the end. It was pretty devastating to be forced off so early.

April 17, 17:15. Ninewells Hospital, Dundee

I probably waited between 90 minutes and an hour for the X-ray and thankfully the scan didn’t show any fracture. I did have visions of sitting there for three or four hours, thinking: ‘What a way to finish the weekend, this is’.

It looked bad because of the speed it ballooned up, but now it’s just a case of waiting for it to calm down and the physio can have a proper look at it.

Cutting about the construction sites in a protective moonboot will be a new one!

‘There will be plenty of time to be tired after the season finishes’ says Montrose boss ahead of 8am bus trip to Kilmarnock