A DAY of high emotions at Station Park saw Nairn County and the Calum Riddell All Stars share two goals in a memorial match for the County midfielder, who passed away last week.
A huge, four-figure crowd turned out to pay tribute to Riddell, who died at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary last Tuesday after a battle with a brain tumour.
The All Stars – a squad that had been selected by Riddell himself – featured former Nairn players Robbie Duncanson, Wayne Mackintosh, Callum Donaldson, Dale Gillespie and Paul Macleod with other ex-team mates from his days with Nairn St Ninian and friends and family making up the rest of the squad.
On a day filled with touching moments, the teams were led on to the park by Calum’s wife Rebekah to a huge ovation with the applause not stopping until both squads had been read out over the public address system.
The official minute of applause then followed and after the action started, it was the All Stars who looked bright with Sam Walker finding himself in dangerous positions in behind the County defence but his team mates were unable to capitalise.
It was at the other end that the opening goal arrived. Jack Maclean hit the by-line down the right and pulled the ball back to Dylan Mackenzie and although his shot was saved by Donaldson, Jordan MacRae was on hand to poke in the rebound.
Donaldson looked sharp throughout beating away Dylan Mackenzie's drive at the near post in the first half before showing great reflexes to keep out Kenny McKenzie's late deflected shot.
Ross Naismith clipped the outside of the right-hand post for Nairn as the hosts looked to turn the screw before Dale Gillespie waltzed around Stephen Foster in the County goal and rolled the ball home but he was denied by the linesman’s flag.
Paul Macleod suffered a clattering to an already-injured rib during the second half but refused to leave the field as he battled on with the All Stars piling on the pressure in search of an equaliser.
County boss Ronnie Sharp introduced himself from the bench 20 minutes from time in an effort to stem the tide and showed some classy touches, not least a delightful 40-yard clipped pass out to the right for Jack Maclean to run on to a deliver a cross which ultimately proved fruitless.
But the All Stars notched a leveller 12 minutes from time that few could grudge them given the occasion. Mackintosh hung up a cross from the left to the far post with the towering figure of Jason Duncan looping it back across goal with his head. His effort appeared to be dropping in but Gordon Haines showed great bravery to throw himself at the ball and touch it over the line to produce the loudest cheer of the afternoon. Haines took a sore one between his legs off the goal post but after being mobbed by his jubilant team mates, he was able to continue.
The All Stars pressed for a winner with Nairn breaking on them almost apologetically and it was County who came closest to finding a second goal but Ross Naismith somehow sent the ball spinning past the far post from just a few yards out after connecting with a cross from the right.
Another poignant moment came when Calum Riddell was announced as the Man of the Match with all 22 players on the park stopping to join the crowd and dugouts in another spontaneous and lengthy bout of deserving applause.
To a man, the supporters inside the ground stayed until well after the final whistle, allowing both squads to show their appreciation by applauding all four sides of the ground after a hard-fought and entertaining encounter ended all square.
Nairn County – Dylan Maclean, Jack Maclean, Kenny McKenzie, Adam Naismith, Glenn Main, Adam Porritt, Ross Naismith, Jordan MacRae, Gary Kerr, Gregg Main, Dylan Mackenzie, Callum Ednie, Max Ewan, Ewen Urquhart, Cohen Ramsay, Craig Munro, Matty Macleod, Callum Maclean, Ryan Macleod, Stephen Foster, Ronnie Sharp.
Calum Riddell All Stars – Callum Donaldson, Paul Morganti, Lee Haines, Scott Hendry, Jason Duncan, Wayne Mackintosh, Paul Macleod, Dale Gillespie, Jason Robertson, Robbie Duncanson, Jason Morganti, Robert Donaldson, Martyn Brown, David Green, Graeme Kennedy, Dominic Morganti, Gordon Haines, Sam Walker, David Allan, Ross Mackenzie, Stuart Finnie.
Pictures: Donald Matheson