General Football

Scottish Football Histories: Pie and Bovril

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It’s just hit quarter to three on a Saturday afternoon and I’m hungry. I’m always hungry at this time on a Saturday. Years of conditioning have meant that my arrival on the terraces is almost immediately followed with me presenting the questions, “Pie?’, “Bovril?”, to those around me. They are after all, to quote one of the country’s most well known fans website, “The staple diet of Scottish Football”. I have seen the devastation should one, or even both, drop to the floor. The joy and disappointment of that first bite and, on one occasion, seen them sent flying towards an official after a disagreement about an offside decision. For many, myself included, no match day experience can be complete without this humble pair, but how did they come to be so intrinsically linked with our national game and what is it about them that has seen them endure?

Given how ubiquitous they are to each other it is perhaps no surprise to learn that references to both in the newspaper archives come from the same time over 120 years ago. In the Friday 23rd September edition of the Glasgow Evening Post from 1892 an advert for a “Grand Football Match” at Ibrox promised “Bovril Served Hot”, accompanied by the sub heading, “Guard yourself against the possibilities of the chill or cold by drinking Bovril.” A description that seemed to suggest a cup of Bovril, taken either before or after the match, could have the same kind of health boosting properties that would be much later attributed to a bottle of Lucozade and a punnet of grapes. The Ibrox chiefs hadn’t stopped there though. In the same week an article in Scottish Referee boldly announced the news of An Innovation” as cups of Bovril were to be accompanied by hot pies with Rangers Secretary Mr. McAndrew accredited with “looking after the football public by placing within their reach refreshments of the best kind.” The spread at Ibrox was again gaining praise in a 1902 edition of the Dundee Evening Post with Bovril Hot Chocolate now available, “vended by a small army of boys smartly dressed in chef’s uniforms.” The drink was so popular in Glasgow’s south side that for a while one of the stands at Ibrox would become affecteonality knows as the Bovril Stand thanks to the large advertising presence within it. Bovril, along with the increasingly present scotch pie, had been a hit, with a further article in The Perthshire Advertiser from the same year proclaiming that the beverage “crowns the enjoyment (of a football match), with thrilling, warming, sustaining and invigorating comfort”. The marketeers had struck gold.

I realise that at this point, for some, knowing both what Bovril is and what constitutes a Scottish football pie will be in themselves the revelations of this piece. For those in the know, of which I am sure there will be many, then view this next paragraph as a quick history lesson to help provide some further context.

Bovril is, when put in simple terms, a beef tea, however to simplify it would be to undermine the complexity of this highly salted beef extract. Originally developed as a paste by Scotsman John Lawson Johnston in the 1870s his Johnston’s Fluid Beef was created as a solution to the task of having to supply Napoleon’s French Army with one million cans of beef without having the meat to do so. It would prove to be a huge success and in 1889 the Bovril company was formed. The name Bovril translating itself to mean “strength of an ox”, derived from the first two letters of the word “Bovine” and the letters “vril” taken from the electromagnetically charged “Vril-ya”, a superior being in the Edward Bulwer-Lytton novel The Coming Race.

With the brand now established it was often used to substitute meat during the war years and in the 1960s a granular form would hit the shelves to challenge more traditional stock starter products. A recipe change by current owners Unilever in 2004, means that Bovril is now vegetarian friendly however the taste remains the same and it’s that product that still hits the terraces to this day.

The history of pies is far longer but in some ways much easier to surmise as the concept of producing portable and time hardy meals date back tens of thousands of years. Even if we focus solely on the scotch pie, the quintessential match-day pastry, the date of first conception still remains fairly vague with a common consensus that they first appeared around 500 years ago, although whether they were first conceived in Scotland or England is still up for debate, much like all good Anglo-Scots origins stories.

Scotch pies are traditionally shaped into a round hot water crust shell and then filled with mutton and highly spiced with pepper, each butcher and baker in turn having their own variations on the theme. This variety led to the announcement of the first ever World Scotch Pie Championships in 1999 – founded by the Scotch Pie Club, an organisation itself formed just three years previous. The competition has grown considerably since with over 500 products entered at the 20th anniversary judging across 11 categories including, Best Football Pie and I am very fortunate that for a number of years now I have been part of these judging days as a result of my own pie obsession. It is also a commercial boon for any category winner. During an interview I conducted at the 2019 Awards, 2018 World Scotch Pie Champion Alan Pirie from the tiny village of Newtyle in Angus, told of how the day after he won the World Championship he received an order for 8000 of his winning pastries.

It hasn’t always been plain sailing for the scotch pie though as a recipe from a 1940 edition of the Daily Mirror showed. With meat supplies diminished during the Second World War, homemakers were encouraged to substitute mutton for beef and stretch their protein rations out even further with the addition of a can of tomato soup. A part soup/part beef pie would certainly raise a few eyebrows on the terraces these days but the scotch pie is not the only pastry vying for real estate on the tastebuds of Scottish football fans. Steak, haggis, curry, macaroni, vegan and novelty offerings such as The Breakfast Pie, a full Scottish breakfast wrapped in pastry, are just some of the variations that can be found in kiosks across the country but it is the legend of the Killie Pie that perhaps most endures.

Ask a question about pies in Scotland, and almost everyone will tell tales of The Killie Pie. A marriage of steak and gravy that transcends the terraces and has made its way into Scottish popular culture. When asking a fan the question, “Who does the best pies?” it will be often answered with a strong “Kilmarnock” despite the respondent having sampled a mere handful of its contemporaries, if any at all. Buyer beware though as The Killie Pie of today is not the same pie of Rugby Park Saturday’s past. A 2016 trademark dispute between Kilmarnock FC and suppliers Brownings the Bakers (who originally produced the two time Best Football Pie award winner) over the use of the word “Killie” meant that the original is no longer available with the Ayrshire side since changing supplier. The rebranded “Kilmarnock Pie” from Browning’s remains readily available outside of the KA1 postcode though and can even be bought in some supermarkets as well as popping up at a number of non-league venues in the region. Pies in Scotland mean business.

As does Bovril, especially in a country where football is usually viewed through a shivering lens, and there are more than a few idiosyncrasies that keep what constitutes a good and bad bovril distinct in the eyes of the consumer. For some, it isn’t complete without a few shakes of the pepper pot, done to add that little extra kick. For others there’s a kind of masochism in getting a really poorly mixed beverage. The paste or powder forming a ridiculously salty gloop at the bottom of the cup that you can’t help but stick your finger in before inevitably recoiling as a result of the over-exposure of savouriness that your taste buds have just undergone. Whilst big stadiums have high pressure water taps and scientifically costed measurements to do the mixing for you, the real joy of a Bovril comes from drinking it from an open polystyrene cup on a freezing cold day with the aroma visibly wafting across your cheeks and up your nostrils as you take those first few sips.

You can’t talk about the traditions of pie and bovril without acknowledging what the potential future may hold. The battle that clubs face in ensuring that their ground is where fans spend their free time has never been more contested, not just in a sporting context, but also when competing with lower cost, family friendly alternatives. In the 2018/19 Scotland Supporters Network Survey both cheaper catering and the sale of alcohol featured amongst the top five most suggested improvements to the match day experience and the presence of chips, burgers and hot dogs have long been a match day eating consideration. Whilst traditional tastes will always have their place it’s fair to ascertain that this diversification of the match day menu can only help to appease the demands of the fans. The same survey revealed that only 18% of them believe that Scottish Football is committed to a “high-quality fan experience.” and catering will be a significant consideration within that. For clubs to ignore this feedback would be at, best careless and at worst, ignorant.

I suspect though, that despite the competition, these items with over 120 years of history will continue to endure. In a 2012 interview with the Harvard Press author of The Omnivorous Mind, John Allen stated that, “The taste, smell, and texture of food can be extraordinarily evocative, bringing back memories not just of eating food itself but also of place and setting.” It’s a statement that resonated with me as I thought about my own experiences on the terrace.

The exchange of coins, followed by a squirt of sauce and that first joyous bite. The solidifying of the grease that has dribbled down your thumb on a freezing December afternoon. Taking a couple of blows on a piping hot Bovril before taking the tiniest of sips to condition your mouth and then the inevitable scalding that will ruin your tongue for the days that follow. Those disappointments when the sold out signs go up and the excitement you feel when striding towards an away day pie hut you have been waiting all season for. For this fan at least, those old familiar feelings, will never be replaced.

Chris Marshall, is a BJTC accredited Radio Journalist with an honours degree in Communications & Mass Media from Glasgow Caledonian University. Editor of Leading the Line, A member of the Scottish Women’s Football Media Team and a contributor to various football websites, podcasts and publications. A perennial ‘Scottish Sporting Optimist’ and part-time Madrileno with a passion for food and football that has manifest itself in the wonder that is Meat Filled Pastries.

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Pie 164: The Carlisle United Steak & Ale Pie

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I’ve gone rogue! That’s right I’ve infringed on rival turf and this last Good Friday I took a train down to Brunton Park to take in Carlisle United v Lincoln City in the race to escape League Two.

I have to say as footballing day trips from Glasgow go the hour long train ride from Glasgow Central to the populous heart of Cumbria is a pretty good one. The journey is relatively cheap, there are a good number of pubs in and around the city centre as well around the ground with Brunton Park itself a short twenty minute walk from the station. I’d recommend it and as I found on the train back to Glasgow later that evening I wasn’t the only visitor from north of the border to the Cumbrian’s that day.

The rugby club beside the stadium was busier than usual with over 2,000 Lincoln City fans in attendance hoping that The Imps would lift the title and so, after deciding to not wait in a massive queue for the second time, I headed into the stadium where I continued my supping as well as, of course, having a meat filled pastry.

So without much further ado, let’s rate some pie!

Where: Brunton Park, Carlisle United 1-0 Lincoln City, English League Two

Price: There were two pricing options for this pastry. Option 1 was to buy the pie on it’s own for £2.80 or Option 2, to buy a pie and a pint (I’m not going to get deep into the booze at football debate here) for £6. Obviously I like the economics behind option number two and so promptly set myself up with a Steak & Ale Pie and a pint of Strongbow because it was sunny and sunny equals cider. The BBC Price of Football survey recently calls this out as one of the cheapest pies in the English Football League which, considering this game was in the bottom tier of this set up, is quite frightening.

Presentation: This was weird as after putting away my change I was presented with one of those white silver lined heat retaining bags which I was assured had my pie within. After finding a spot to watch the end of the Sheffield United v Nottingham Forest game, I opened the bag to then find my pie wrapped in plastic. I remove the plastic to finally have in my hand a fairly large pie housed with a silver tin foil case. So odd.

Meatiness: Well once I got to a bite with some filling in, my first couple of bites heartbreakingly shy of both meat and/or gravy, this was a fairly tasty mouthful. The gravy was viscous and plentiful enough with the right hint of ale to the overall taste but for me the steak was a little sparse and the chunks a little small which meant they didn’t add that meaty tooth feel that really pushes a pie onto greatness.

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Pastry: It and nice golden tinge to it but it was too soft. Soft, almost spongy, on the bottom and soft on the top with the flakes of pastry a little soggy. As soon as you got through your initial bite every one that followed there after resulted in the gravy squirting out all over the shop. Pastry on a pie, on the top at the very least, should be crispy. With it being hosted in this multitude of bags the pie had clearly steamed under the heat lamps and so the pastry for me was all wrong.

Brown Sauce: None for a luxury pie. Them be the rules.

Overall: The filling tasted pretty good but the wasteful nature of the packaging and the softness of the pastry really holds this pie back. I was surprised to learn as I entered the Pioneer Stand that this was an “Award Winning” pie and my concern is that once again a pie that wins prizes on the shelf of a butcher’s or baker’s shop had been compromised in the face of mass catering.

Gravy Factor: Spongy Gravy.

Would love to have this pie without the heat bags and plastics but this site designated to the best pies you can have at the ground and as long as the pie continues to be presented in this way it will remain a fairly tasty but slightly wrong take on the wonder that is a meat filled pastry.

Next up, I have a first for the site as I get elbow deep into a Breakfast Pie from Scottish Junior side Clydebank as they took on Pollok at their temporary home of Lochburn Park in Glasgow’s West End.

However until then, go forth, and eat pie!

Chris Marshall, is a BJTC accredited Radio Journalist with an honours degree in Communications & Mass Media from Glasgow Caledonian University. A member of the SWPL Media Team and a contributor to various football websites and publications he also currently acts as Heart & Hand Podcast’s resident Iberian football expert, hosting “The Isco Inferno” a weekly take on all things Spanish football. A perennial ‘Scottish Sporting Optimist’ and part-time Madrileno with a passion for food and football that has manifest itself in the wonder that is Meat Filled Pastries.

Pie 163: The Clyde Pie

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Welcome back to yet another edition of everyone’s favourite location for meat filled musings. This week I have myself the rare treat of getting to a review a pie for free, well kind of.

On Sunday 14th April Spartans took on Hibernian and Rangers took on Glasgow City at Broadwood in the SWPL Cup Semi Finals, as opposed to just turning up as a fan I was carrying out some duties as part of the SWPL Media Team creating some content and supporting with the running of the @ScotWFootball social media accounts. I’ve officially been involved for a couple of months now and it’s been interesting getting a view on the challenges often faced from the inside. A recent Scottish Supporters Network survey showed that of the 5,773 people surveyed only 1% (approx. 60 people) said they regularly attend women’s football. A complimentary question to this asked the reason for this apathy and I wanted to focus on the biggest two.

Knowing when and where the game was on (43% of respondents highlighted this as a reason for not attending)

As a long time supporter of women’s football I can sympathise greatly with this view point as in times past I have got to game day still unsure when and where a fixture would be. In this recent season though there has been massive strides made with the creation of an updated SWPL (Scottish Women’s Premier League) site as well as a refreshed Scottish Women’s Football website. The league have set up a partnership with the excellent Football Stadium Prints with the images he creates being used to promote every match day including date, time and location. On my part contextualising what these games mean and what kind of contest you can expect are equally important and so via the SWPL feed I now produce match cards giving this detail along with recent form, league positions and points to date. It’s getting better but the challenge is still there, a crowd of over 500 attended the two SWPL Cup Semi Finals combined, yet the Twitter following of the four competing sides alone is over 38,000 in number and converting those numbers into an increasing number of bums on seats is just one place where I think efforts should be focused.

Top Tips for Knowing when and where the Game is

  • Follow @SWPL and @ScotWFootball on Twitter
  • Visit the SWPL and Scottish Women’s Football websites

Better promotion from the media (39% of respondents highlighted this as a reason for not attending)

Currently as a result of the data provider used by the BBC to populate their feeds both SWPL fixtures and tables aren’t available on the BBC Sport Scotland website. It’s annoying but until the coverage and support for the game increases the incentive for these data providers to have this information available remains less than it would if there was millions of pounds at play. It’s a vicious cycle but one that again is improving.

BBC Alba provides regular live coverage of Friday night SWPL fixtures. Whether the scheduling of these against rival games could be better is a debate I could have for days but it is progress. The SWPL Media team is small in number but it is getting bigger and with that comes the opportunity for more coverage, more audio and more highlights. A subscription to The Scottish Women’s Football YouTube channel will not only give you access to match highlights but also provide with you post match reaction and coverage of cup draws amongst other things. There is also the recently launched Anyone’s Game Podcast devoted to Scottish Women’s football and I’d love to help get one set up for the league proper at some point. There is also a movement afoot to help heighten coverage of the game even further ahead of the national side’s World Cup farewell match against Jamaica at Hampden where a new record attendance will surely be obtained.

It’s not going to be easy, I along with many others, devotes hours of free time to help promote the game but for the moment you may still need to go looking for it just a little.

Top Tips for finding media relating to Scottish Women’s Football:

  • Subscribe to the Scottish Women’s Football YouTube Channel
  • Listen to the Anyone’s Game Podcast
  • Follow Leading the Line (I’ll be doing more women’s content as the men’s season comes to the end).

I make no apologies for using this forum to help promote the women’s game, it deserves the focus to last and to not just be a fleeting national notion with a World Cup on the horizon and I’ll continue to share what I can along the way but for now, let’s get back to the business of reviewing pies, and this scotch pie offering from Clyde FC.

So without much further ado, let’s rate some pie!

Where: Broadwood Stadium, Spartans 0-3 Hibernian, Rangers 1-5 Glasgow City, SWPL Cup Semi Finals

Price: This Scotch Pie cost the equivalent of one full day’s work of manning the Scottish Women’s Football Social Media feeds. So if I put zero value on my time then this pie was indeed free. I very nearly didn’t get one in the media scramble but as the words you are reading can testify to, I did and I was glad because it would turn out to be both my breakfast and lunch that day.

Presentation: Mixed in with all the sandwiches on a plate in the media centre this pie came in a silver tin foil case, the kind of case that has housed pies across Scottish football for years now.

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Meatiness: Not one to wax lyrically about here, not that it was bad, in fact it was perfectly good. Nice level of spicing with a faint pepper kick in the background and with the texture you would want to find in a good scotch pie. It’s not going to see me rushing back to Broadwood for another but at the same time it didn’t leave my tastebuds disappointed either.

Pastry: Held well. Crispy edges, sufficient colour on it, did the job.

Brown Sauce: A tangy little sachet that added a zing to the overall eating experience.

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Overall: Absolutely nothing wrong with it but at the same time nothing that will have me champing at the bit to induct it into the Meat Filled Pastries Hall of Fame. These factors make for a pretty boring pie review but if you were to get hungry at Broadwood this pie would certainly do you no harm.

Gravy Factor: Standard Bisto.

Next up, I cross the border for some Good Friday fun where I take in Carlisle United vs Lincoln City in the League Two promotion race? However until next time, go forth and eat pie!

Chris Marshall, is a BJTC accredited Radio Journalist with an honours degree in Communications & Mass Media from Glasgow Caledonian University. A member of the SWPL Media Team and a contributor to various football websites and publications he also currently acts as Heart & Hand Podcast’s resident Iberian football expert, hosting “The Isco Inferno” a weekly take on all things Spanish football. A perennial ‘Scottish Sporting Optimist’ and part-time Madrileno with a passion for food and football that has manifest itself in the wonder that is Meat Filled Pastries.