MORE than 30 miles of impossibly unremarkable motorway stands between Alloa and Glasgow. Yet, even that isn’t enough to stop the clutches of the Old Firm from suffocating the conversation around Scotland’s national game.

From chat on the playground, where inevitably choosing blue or green has become a part of any youngster’s rite of passage, to the sight of bus loads of locals passing the Recs en route to Premiership action, it’s long been hard to escape talk of either Rangers or Celtic.

Alloa and its surrounding villages are no different and for anyone to throw off the pair’s shackles and instead shout their love for the Wasps from the rooftops feels worthy of the keys to Clackmannanshire.

Just imagine how remarkable it must have been for one small boy from Ipswich to do just the same and reject the Premier League for Saturday afternoons trawling through Ceefax for his Alloa fix.

Jonathan Markwell grew up in the terraces of Portman Road at a time when the Suffolk side locked horns with the likes of Manchester United on a regular basis.

But, after discovering the Wasps through grainy Shoot magazine and football annuals, he became hooked and only ever had eyes for black and gold.

Now 37 and living in Reading, the father-of-two is widely known as Alloa’s unofficial statistician and historian and runs the much-loved Alloa Stats on Twitter.

Why, then, did he look beyond the glitz and the glamour to dedicate his life to a small team from Scotland more than 500 miles away?

“It really comes from me being completely mad about football sticker books, league ladders, and Shoot magazine when I was around five,” he told Advertiser Sport from his family home, which he shares with wife Lucy, 36, and daughters Faye and Sophie, aged seven and four, respectively.

“I would do those every week and was just taken by the name of the club. Then it kind of snowballed when I was a bit stuck about what to get for my 13th birthday and decided to ask for an Alloa top.

“My dad phoned the club on Tuesday night and amazingly someone answered. I think there was a reserve game on or something.

Alloa and Hillfoots Advertiser: Jonathan grew up going to games with his dad at Ipswich's Portman Road Jonathan grew up going to games with his dad at Ipswich's Portman Road

“That was in 1996 and got that for my birthday and the club shop manager at the time had the brainwave of putting in a programme as well. So I got a lot from that.

“Within a month, I had saved up all my pocket money and put an order into the club shop for a scarf, pens, rulers, and just anything I could get my hands on.

“The name had a bit of an exotic connotation with how it sounds, although when you go there it couldn’t be further from the truth.”

For dad David, who had raised Jonathan, and his older brothers Simon and Colin, in the blue of the Tractor Boys, it might have been a bit jarring to see one of his sons overlook his own obsession for a part-time team in a place few people south of Motherwell could point to on a map.


But, the whole family soon made Jonathan’s devotion their own and were nothing other than supportive during his teenage years.

His classmates and teachers, on the other hand, still struggled to fully grasp why one young lad plastered his schoolbooks with pictures of Willie Irvine instead of Eric Cantona.

“I remember the first scarf I had was a classic bar scarf with just the black and gold and no badge or the team name,” Jonathan, who is now a town planner for Reading Borough Council, recalled.

“When I started to wear it at school, people thought I was supporting Hull or Wolves. I was big enough and tough enough to take what was said in the playground and once people got beyond it they even started looking out for results.

“One of my teachers even started it and kept an eye out for their score; although that was mainly to tell me when they had lost.

“At school, you could always put covers on your drawing books and I just filled mine up with team photos and pictures of Alloa players.”

A first pilgrimage to Jonathan’s Mecca finally took place in 1998 when the whole family, mum Margaret included, organised a trip to see Alloa take on Forfar Athletic around their holiday in Scotland. It was the first of many more annual journeys to come and while the game ultimately ended in disappointment - a 2-1 defeat - the visit did not.

A guided tour around the stadium, their name read out over the tannoy, and even the joy of meeting a young Martin Cameron, it was all Jonathan hoped for and more.

Alloa and Hillfoots Advertiser: Even enigmatic Manchester United forward Eric Cantona couldn't sway Jonathan away from his love of the Wasps Even enigmatic Manchester United forward Eric Cantona couldn't sway Jonathan away from his love of the Wasps

He said: “It was all quite unusual as I had been used to going to football games involving Ipswich where you were getting around 10/15,000.  That night at Alloa, there was around 500.

“You approach the ground and expect there to be a mass of people all walking towards the ground but we were able to walk straight in and there weren’t any problems with parking. Unless you knew there was a game on, you possibly wouldn’t.

“The first thing you spot when you get through the turnstiles is the Ochils in the background towering over the pitch. It was so striking.

“I was taken by the whole thing within five minutes and the rest is just history.

“Naturally, Alloa managed to lose although I would expect nothing else.

“It was my first time seeing the likes of Willie Irvine and Craig Valentine in the flesh. Forfar also had a young Bobby Mann in the team and he stood head and shoulders above everyone else that night.”


It wasn’t just Mann who made an impression, and to this day Jonathan can still recall the kind words of John Glencross, who now edits the club’s website, and all those who took time to speak to the family from a land far, far away.

But, he holds a special place in his heart for much-loved Peter and Jean Gibson, who for years dedicated their lives to running Alloa’s club shop and keeping him updated with newspaper clippings from the Alloa Advertiser and the old Wee County News.

“When we went up on holiday each year, we usually went to their house one day to go and see them,” he said. “The whole family got to know them.

“They lived in Menstrie and had a really close view of the Ochils there and lived in a bungalow. They had actually converted their loft and it was packed out with all the stock from the club shop.

“They had stories of fans going round to pick up stuff from their house and of them running all over the place to help people and get stuff to them.

“They were great people and even after Peter sadly passed away Jean carried on for the rest of the season and then understandably stopped.

“They were only two of the people behind the scenes who you never see and those kind of servants to the club are what make it.”

We’ll have part two of our interview with Jonathan Markwell in next week’s  Advertiser Sport where we hear the story behind Alloa Stats.