“Of all the places so fair, built for Royal dwelling, In Scotland, far beyond compare, Linlithgow is excelling”
Since the beginning of my travels today’s side has always been high on the must do list. It is simple maths really; Take an illustrious club add grand old ground multiply by a number of excellent boozers and it equals potentially the perfect ground hopping adventure. The club of course is Linlithgow Rose the most successful East Region SJFA side, or at least they were until they began a new chapter in their history this season by entering the East of Scotland Football League.
But let’s rewind a few chapters back to the beginning. Linlithgow Rose came into being as the town’s second football club (after the now long defunct Linlithgow Athletic) in 1889. A sum of twenty four shillings was raised for strips to be bought in Edinburgh so the new club could take to the pitch. For he first two decades of the century The Rose were a great success winning many local cups and leagues.
Due to not owning their own ground, and thus paying a hefty rent, the thirties were a barren trophyless time and upon the outbreak of the Second World War the club ceased operations, equipment into storage, capital placed safely in the bank. The end of war did not mean the resumption of play for The Gallant (great nickname), land needed to be found and money raised to build a ground on it. In 1949 Prestonfield Park was ready and Linlithgow returned to action after a ten year hiatus.
After a decade or so of finding their feet the trophies started to pour into Prestonfield. From the sixties onward The Rose lifted the Fife & Lothians Cup seventeen times, East Region Division One winners thirteen times and the East of Scotland Cup thirteen times too. On the national stage 1965 was the pinnacle as Linlithgow Rose won the Scottish Junior Cup defeating the now extinct Ballieston Juniors by four goals to one.
I say pinnacle but as a new millennium dawned The Gallant reached new heights as under a man named Jim Sinnet Linlithgow Rose went from a great Junior club to one of legend. In spring of 2001 Sinnet arrived with a number of quality players resulting in an iconic next season where Rose won all but one trophy on offer including a second Scottish Junior Cup by defeating giants Auchinleck Talbot one goal to nil at Firhill. They lost the final next year to Tayport but were consoled by a first Superleague victory.
After a barren spell Sinnet changed things up again for the 2006/07 season bringing a Superleague and Scottish Junior Cup double to Prestonfield Park. Jim Sinnet resigned from the manager’s job during the next season but it didn’t hault the club’s momentum. At the end of the season Rose held aloft the Scottish Junior Cup for the final time at Rugby Park, Largs Thistle their victims this time.
Since then further glory has come The Gallant’s way. In 2012/13 they went undefeated in the East Region Superleague, winning by nineteen points and claiming sixty of the sixty six points on offer. In January 2016 arguably a greater achievement was made when The Rose became the first SJFA side to make the last sixteen of the senior Scottish Cup. Forfar Athletic were beaten on the way before a 4-2 defeat to top half of the Premier League side Ross County saw a noble end to their cup pursuit. As I said this season they, like so many others, have joined the senior ranks of the EoSFL, with their history, fanbase, facilities and passion for success this new beginning could be a launchpad for something huge.
I arrive in Linlithgow just after eleven flanked by a twenty something sports coach and a middle aged mother of two. I don’t normally have an entourage but certain work colleagues had been intrigued by what I get up to on match days. Just down the hill from the station is our first pub: Platform 3, an utterly brilliant wee free house with Cairngorm and Stewart Brewing on cask. It is cosy and welcoming, old boys having an early pint mixed with mother/daughter combos in for a coffee. I like the little Hornby train running high up behind the bar and the extensive collection of rubber ducks. There are many pub awards gracing the walls and shelves showing that the place is highly regarded (and rightfully so).
After a pint and the promise of returning before the train home we are off along the picturesque High Street passed various little artisan shops (Cambuslang it ain’t folks) to pub number two The Linlithgow Tap. This spotless boozer is near empty and has a central circular bar with a giant map of old Linlithgow on the ceiling above. The Orkney Dark Island is a cracking pint, Linlithgow is giving a good account of itself so far in terms of cask ales. This place could be excellent but it is difficult to see the potential when it is so dead.
Next up, across from Preston Street where the ground is, we have the curiously named Black Bitch. The name is derived from a local legend about a female hunting dog, the full story is on the wall to read but I’m in company and cannot be arsed. We walk in to what we assumed is the lounge bar adorned in pictures of black bitches and lamps formed into the shape of ebony female canines. This place is absolutely dead, even bar staff are absent and have to be summoned by a bell hung from the bar for that purpose. I take a beery misstep too, my pint of Moreland Bitter has seen better days. The gents toilet is something however, immaculately clad in faux marble wetwall and a framed Picasso print on the wall (Govan it ain’t folks).
Getting hungry we hit the West Port Hotel next door for lunch which is so busy we only just get a table. While one of our party needlessly debates the origins of the Sauvignon Blanc I opt for a glass of house red and quickly identify the Wagyu beef burger with sauté mushrooms and camembert (Kelty it ain’t folks) as my luncheon. Now Wagyu or not this burger was sensational, in no way ruined by the constant rhetorical questioning of “Are they sure it’s a Marlborough?” eminating from my white wine drinking companion. Seriously though the food service and location were tremendous: three mains and three large glasses of good vino for fifty quid.
Our final stop is the Linlithgow Rose Social Club were for the first time on my travels I’m forced to ask if the bar stocked Malibu. This social club is pretty high end, a splendid vision of dark polished wood and brass rails. Big too with a capacity that is probably larger than many old EoSFL average match crowds. The punters are mostly in the pensioner bracket and almost exclusively male, The Rose seem to be lacking a band of young ‘ultras’ that so many other clubs are attracting these days. Our final drink is enjoyed in the company of long term fan and ’65 Scottish Junior Cup final attender Davie Paterson before we head out to see kick-off.
Prestonfield Park may just be perfect with bags of old school charm and a wealth of modern facilities. Behind one goal is a vast grass bank with a massive neat hedge behind which no one is getting a ball over. The other end is a few steps of concrete terracing with the wall of the social club at it’s back. The Braehead Road side of the pitch has almost fully covered terracing not quite the length of the pitch and curiously a kind of Perspex bus shelter thing with a few seats inside.
Prestonfield’s crown jewel is on the other side of the pitch, a large elevated covered stand that for one fifty entry gets you a cracking view of the action. The whole ground is well maintained and is very high standard for this level and even a couple above.
I was expecting a walk over, a top ex-junior side crushing an old EoSFL side in the form of Heriot Watt University. The final score indicates I was right but HWU didn’t make it easy. For the first twenty five minutes the sides were equals, the visitors making some excellent passes and their rapid wingers storming up and down the flanks. By half time however they cruelly went in four goals down with the home side finishing the half gloriously.
Two of the goals came courtesy of Linlithgow talisman Tommy Coyne, the club’s all time top scorer whose first strike today was his three hundredth for The Gallant. The son of same named Motherwell, Celtic an Republic of Ireland striker, Coyne is a bit of an Ally McCoist; never overly involved in the game but give him the ball in front of goal and he will always put it away. His finishing today was divine. Why he has not been snapped up by an SPFL side is a bit of a mystery to me, but at half time one fan states that he was the top paid player in the junior ranks and must be in the East of Scotland Football League.
We emerge from a half time pint for a dull second period where the biggest highlight was the steak and haggis pie. Linlithgow played like the job was done and Heriot Watt’s skilfull man bun sporting striker didn’t come back after the break. It didn’t help that ten minutes in The Rose took their silver haired number six off taking his creativity with him. Credit goes to the visitors that they kept their heads up and vigorously hunted a consolation goal that they deserved. They finished the match equals to the home side for seventy of the ninety minutes but went home losing five one. Only a team the quality of Linlithgow Rose can do that to opposition.
Post game we tried a couple more bars on the walk back to the station, The Crown being a highlight and I thought back on a great day out. The town of Linlithgow is splendid, the most beautiful burgh I’ve visited on my travels with amazing places for drinks and food. It would make a good place for a day out regardless of football
As for The Rose, what a club they are. Great social club, excellent ground and a real quality side. The attendance was down today due to a lack of away support but Gallant fans weren’t short in numbers, a Bo’ness United derby must be a sight to see. I think I will see one too as coming back to Prestonfield and Linlithgow may well be a necessity.