Thursday 3 July 2014, Victoria Park
Pre-season seems to get earlier and earlier. The World Cup is still in full flow when I attend my first friendly of the season at Victoria Park, Innerleithen. Vale of Leithen of the Lowland League face Dumbarton of the Scottish Championship (that’s the latest nomenclature of the second top league in Scotland).
Very sad to hear that Vale are in deep financial trouble and are not far away from going out of business. A new management team and new board members are trying to turn the club around. Some attractive friendlies are hoping to attract some much needed funds. The owner of local ice-cream parlour Caldwells forked out for new strips and other local businesses have been mucking in.
It’s therefore very disappointing to see such a small crowd in attendance. I doubt there could have been more than 50 for the game which, although on a Thursday night, is during one of the World Cup rest days. Do the locals want the club to survive? Dumbarton don’t have the biggest support generally, so they were unlikely to bring a large number with them, but there seems to be more of them than home fans.
Dumbarton are in much better shape than the hosts. They finished a very creditable fifth in the Championship the previous year and former Hibs stalwart Ian Murray along with his about to depart to Hearts, assistant Jack Ross, seem to have “the Sons” overachieving. Ironically, I saw Dumbarton in their last game of the previous season, up at Dundee, in the game which won Dundee the league.
Dumbarton brought a large squad with them. Vale had several players still on holiday and featured just one player from the previous season’s squad. It always amazes me how lower league clubs have players missing due to holidays, but it seems a regular occurrence. I expect they have full time jobs and are limited on when they can get time off/school holidays etc.
Dumbarton played an almost full strength team and when Jordan Kirkpatrick opened the scoring in just 4 minutes, it looked like a long night was ahead for the home team. The away side knocked the ball about well and although Vale weren’t out of it, it was clear who was the team from a higher level. The excellent Kirkpatrick scored a great individual goal for the second on 23 minutes and then set up Colin Nish for a third five minutes before half time.
Following a number of substitutions, Vale came a bit more into the game in the second half, but it was Dumbarton who completed the scoring when new signing from Morton Scott Taggart scored on 72 minutes.
Full Time: Vale of Leithen 0 Dumbarton 4
Vale of Leithen: McMullen (Wilson 60), Sclater (Marshall 45), Gill, Elliot, Blaikie, Lynch (Anderson h45), Rixon (Brady 45), O’Brien, Ferguson, Morris, Tulloch.
Dumbarton: Lumsden (Grindlay 60), Van Zanten (Taggart 60), Linton, Graham, McLaughlin, Murray (Hopkins 72), Turner (Cook 72), Agnew, Nish, Kirkpatrick, Fleming (Megginson 60). Referee: Scott Millar.
Saturday 5 July 2014, Victoria Park
So two days pass until I am off on the road to Innerleithen again. This time to see Vale of Leithen play Hibs. A lot of interest around this one as it is new Hibs manager Alan Stubbs first game in charge and the Sky Sports News cameras are in attendance. Decidedly busier as well with 1,375 making the journey to Victoria Park. There is even a tent selling hot food as opposed to the usual hole in the concrete wall, which is part of the dressing rooms. Hilariously, some chairs have been placed in the undercover section of the ground.
Vale have what is reportedly their first ever full colour programme on sale and there is a raffle on the way in to win a signed Hibs shirt.
Vale have Penicuik Athletic forward Scott McCulloch, a former Vale player, up front as they are still short of players. Hibs seem to have brought pretty much everyone still on their books. A lot of youngsters and the remaining first team players following the exodus after their play-off relegation on the last day of the previous season. They also have two trialists in tow. We are told Hibs will have a first half 11, then an entirely different second half eleven
Both clubs wore new kits with Vale giving the first outing to the kit sponsored by Caldwell’s, while Hibs were clad in new all bottle green jerseys, in recognition of the famous 5. I’d heard it hadn’t been well received and it certainly wasn’t easy on the eye. I think I only saw one Hibs fan wearing it in the crowd which maybe tells its own story. The first half was pretty much one way traffic but despite their possession, Hibs were not creating much. A couple of Hibs fans behind me started singing “We’re gonna win the league”, with the score still 0-0. Jason Cummings scored the opener for Hibs from close range
While the first half team was made up of a mix of 1st teamers and youngsters. Despite the promised different 11 in the second half, Stubbs left a couple of the first teamers out for the second half, just in case things went wrong I assume. Cummings also scored the 2nd then was taken off. Liam Craig and Alex Harris scored towards the end as Vale tired, having played twice in 2 days. In truth, Hibs were on top for the duration with very little threat from the home team. A fine moment at the pie tent in the second half when one Hibs fan said to another “I can’t believe there isnae any singing. Never heard us so quiet”. His mate responded with “It was this quiet against Hamilton”. (Who they lost to in the play-off final).
A large crowd and hopefully Vale will have alleviated some of their financial problems.
Full Time: Vale of Leithen 0 Hibs 4.
Vale of Leithen: Mullen (Wilson 64), Sclater, Dickson (Rixon 68), Elliot, Blaikie, Lynch (Tainsh), Brady, McCulloch (Ferguson 75), O’Brien, Morris (McGregor 50), Tulloch.
Hibernian: Perntrou (Brennan 45), Buxton (Dunsmore 45), Martynuik (Booth 45), Stevenson (Forster 45), Nelson (Hanlon 45), Gardiner (Burke 45), Martin (Craig 45), Tudur-Jones (Harris 45), Cummings (Crane 60; Sinclair 80), Handling (Allan 60), Todd (Stanton 45). Referee: Gavin Ross.
Saturday 12 July 2014, 3G Arena (Netherdale)
I’m not entirely sure if the best way to spend your birthday is watching a pre-season friendly in Galashiels, but that was where I found myself for Lowland League Gala Fairydean Rovers against East of Scotland Football League First Division side Eyemouth United.
Gala joined the Lowland League from the East of Scotland Football League in 2013. At the same time the club changed its name to Gala Fairydean Rovers, following a merger between Gala Fairydean and Gala Rovers.
Eyemouth were previously members of the Scottish Football Association and were allowed to enter the Scottish Cup. Their most successful run in the competition was in 1959-60 when they reached the quarter-finals, eventually losing 2-1 at home to that year’s runners-up Kilmarnock.
Netherdale, or The 3G Arena has been the club’s home since 1929 and is located next to the rugby ground. The ground’s stand was designed by architect Peter Womersley and built in the mid 60s. The stand has a capacity for 750 spectators and the ground as a whole up to 4,000. The cantilevered concrete structure is protected as a Category A listed building.
Both teams were short of players with Gala having half a dozen at weddings or T in the Park with Eyemouth having 9 players pulling out following the funeral of club stalwart Robin Aitchison the previous day. A minute’s silence preceded the game which was observed impeccably by the 100 or so in attendance.
David Bonnar opened the scoring for the home side after 5 minutes and just two minutes later, Gibson made it 2-0. Eyemouth were competitive, but had no cutting edge and Ross Aitchison scored the third with a great effort that went in off the underside of the bar just before half time.
Aitchison got his second of the game after 50 minutes and Dean McColm made it five with 20 minutes left.
An injury to Aitchison meant Gala played the last 18 minutes with 10 men, having used all their subs, but almost immediately, Ashley Langford made it 6-0 on his debut.
Aiden Lauder got one back for Eyemouth with a beautiful chip from 20 yards over the head of keeper Dodds with a quarter of an hour to go. The Eyemouth keeper shouted that “The comeback was on” (and smiled to himself a little too much), but Noble restored the six goal margin with 11 minutes left.
A goal bonanza, and not as one-sided as the scoreline suggests, but Gala were clearly the better team.
Full Time: Gala Fairydean Rovers 7 Eyemouth United 1.
Gala Fairydean Rovers. J Dodds, L Stephen (K Hogg 46), D Thomson, G Robinson (A Commons 56), P Hossack, D Bonnar, R Aitchison, D McColm, J Gibson (A Langford 56), C Pinnons (R Noble 46) S Noble.
Eyemouth United. A Mutch, G Burrull, J Watt, R Wylie, D Burns, R Aitchison, A Lauder, M Scott (G Scott 59), C Lough, J Thomson & T Wyman.
Sunday 13 July 2014, Ferguson Park
Less than 24 hours after the previous game and I’m off to Rosewell to see Lowland League’s Whitehill Welfare take on the under 20 team of Scottish Premiership side Hamilton Accademicals.
The Junior club, Rosewell Rosedale, used to play at a park in the centre of the village, just to the south of St Matthew’s RC Church. After the war this land was taken over for building houses, and the club moved over to its current location. The turf was provided by a farmer named Ferguson
Hamilton certainly seemed to have a few players that were well over 20 in their line-up. Star attraction was Champions League winner and World Cup goalscorer Benni McCarthy lining up for Whitehill as a guest player. Now 37, the South African is the brother-in-law of Whitehill’s right back John Hall. Whitehill also have Penicuik’s goalkeeper Youssef Bejaoui playing as a guest, a former Whitehill player who left to sign for Cowdenbeath.
It doesn’t take the SPL new boys long to open the scoring with Jaison McGrath putting the Accies in front after just 7 minutes.
McCarthy didn’t look full of running but the ability was clearly still there and he scored with a bullet header, from a good way from goal to equalise in 14 minutes.
He continued to influence the game and gave a perfect lay off to former Ross County player Kerr Dodds who rifled home from 25 yards. Dodds then shows great feet in the box after half an hour and finishes well to put Whitehill 3-1 up, which is the score at half time.
I’m sure everyone in the ground is disappointed to see that McCarthy has not come out for the second half, but he stays to watch his team mates after getting changed. Having a quick chat with him, I tell him that it was “some header”, to which he replies “Beginner’s luck”. He also smells amazing(!)
Eamonn Brophy reduced the leeway for Hamilton four minutes after the interval then equalised in the 59th minute. McGrath then got his second of the afternoon to make it 4-4 Accies and The first of their trialists rounds things off with 9 minutes left.
Full Time: Whitehill Welfare 3 Hamilton Accademicals 5
Whitehill Welfare: Bejaoui, Martin, Thom, McLaughlin, Hall, Dodds, Manson, A.Kidd, McCarthy, McIntosh Quinn. Subs Gallacher, Flynn, Noon.
Hamilton Accies: Accies: Hill, Reilly (Hughes 55), McMann, Harrison, El Zubaidi, Smith (Trialist A 55), Armstrong (Trialist B 55), Simpson (Tierney 66), McGrath, Brophy, Docherty (c)
Referee: David Doig
Tuesday 15 July 2014, Ferguson Park
A quick return to Rosewell to see Whitehill Welfare up against Berwick Rangers of Scottish League Two.
For the second home friendly in a row, Whitehill have produced a programme, which is inexpensive at £1. The content, however, is almost identical to the one for the Hamilton game.
Whitehill are along similar lines to their previous game (Sadly, Benni McCarthy free). Berwick have brought “an experimental side”. I expect they must have left their test tubes on the team bus.
Kerr Dodds opens the scoring with another goal for Whitehill in the 26th minute. Thirteen minutes later Dean Carse gets the equaliser for Berwick.
A Tuesday night in Rosewell in July is clearly not the time to be outside at a football pitch, as a plague of midges appeared almost as soon as the half time whistle blows. Astonishing how many there were and pretty much everyone seemed to be affected.
Most of the second half entailed fighting off the midges, but Danny Noon set up Steven Manson who restored Whitehill’s lead in the 62nd minute and they held on for a well-deserved win.
Berwick Rangers manager Colin Cameron told me he remembers Hearts 1998 Scottish Cup Final (which he played and scored in) “like it was yesterday”.
A good win for Whitehill.
Full Time: Whitehill Welfare 2 Berwick Rangers 1
Whitehill Welfare: Young, McLaughlin, McDiarmid, W.Kidd, Thom, Manson, A.Kidd, Dodds, McGlashan, McIntosh, Noon.
Berwick Rangers: TBC
Saturday 19 July 2014, Ferguson Park
Yep, it’s Rosewell again for my third visit in less than a week to see Whitehill Welfare against Penicuik Athletic, in their first game since ending the season as winners of the East of Scotland Premier League (And going up to the East Superleague).
The nice weather has disappeared and the ground is surrounded in fog. And even some rain! A seat in the covered area is procured. 102 brave the elements of a Scottish summer. Another programme produced by Whitehill and it is the same one again!! I think only 2 pages are different. Home manager Mike Lawson has returned from holiday and will be at his first home pre-season game. It’s Penicuik’s first game of pre-season and Whitehill’s fifth.
The kick off was reported to have been moved from the advertised 2.30 to 2.00, but at quarter past 2 there is still no sign of the game starting. The game had been moved back to 2.30 but they hadn’t told anyone.
Penicuik goalkeeper Bejaoui is “in Aberdeen” and Penicuik have in goals someone who appeared to be warming up with Whitehill before the start. Whitehill full back John Hall is playing in right midfield due to him receiving staples in his head following a knock in his previous game. It is considered he won’t head the ball as much in this position. Penicuik don’t pick him after 2 minutes up as he cuts inside and hits what looks like a weak shot which somehow goes past the keeper. (Fix!).
Penicuik are back on level terms after 9 minutes when former Hearts, St Johnstone (etc) midfielder Neil Janczyk volleys home from close range on his debut.
A lovely move carves open the Whitehill defence and a through ball by Janczyk finds right back Greg Ross, who lobs the ball over the onrushing keeper to put Penicuik in front after 17 minutes.
Penicuik haven’t learned their lesson and John Hall finds himself through on the keeper who takes him out as Hall attempts to go past him. A sending off in anything but a pre-season game and manager Lawson turns to the crowd telling nobody in particular that he would have “been going mental” that he hadn’t been sent off if it wasn’t a friendly. Wayne McIntosh dispatches the penalty to put the teams back on level terms.
Almost immediately Lawson is going “mental” at a refereeing decision, but he doesn’t seem to see the irony.
The half ends with the teams all square in what has been an entertaining, competitive match.
Three substitutions at half time by Penicuik and it being their first game made the second half a bit more one-sided in favour of Welfare and they played some good stuff against a tiring Penicuik. They banged in 3 goals in the space of 10 minutes with the completely unmarked McIntosh getting his second with a header from a corner in 59 minutes and then seven minutes later, a long range effort from Darren McGlashan spins over the keeper’s grasp. That man again Kerr Dodds completed the scoring in 67 minutes when he finished off a great passing move from Whitehill.
The mist got increasingly worse as the game progressed, but you could always hear Whitehill’s high pitched Wayne McIntosh complaining!
Both teams still have players absent, but Whitehill are shaping up well for the new season and Penicuik look like they have achieved a coup with the signing of the classy Janczyk. Sad to see the perennially injured Penicuik striker Ryan McCallum not fit enough to take part.
Full Time: Whitehill Welfare 5 Penicuik Athletic 2.
Whitehill Welfare: Young; McDiarmid (Trialist), McKenzie, W.Kidd, Thom; Hall, McGlashan, A.Kidd, Manson (Trialist); Dodds, McIntosh.
Penicuik Athletic: Trialist, Ross, Cunnison, Young, Dickson (Bunyan45), Burrell (Trialist B), Jancyzk, Lister, McCulloch, Killin (Trialist A 45), Montgomery.