The first game of a new decade is often a memorable one for a club and its supporters particularly if the gods provide a local derby to bring in the New Year with. Outside of the SPFL a few fixtures might lay claim to being Scotland’s biggest derby, with contenders spread right across the country. Two years ago I celebrated the start of 2018 by taking in the Glasgow Southside El Clasico between Pollok and Arthurlie, it being some sight with twelve hundred plus in attendance at Newlandsfield. Up north the Buchan Derby was once regarded as a tasty encounter but with Peterhead long gone from the Highland League their rivalry with Fraserburgh is on extended hiatus. Then in Fife Hill of Beath Hawthorn vs Kelty Hearts is the big one, while down Ayrshire way no match surpasses Auchinleck Talbot against Cumnock for pride & passion.
With a new decade begun I found myself starting the twenties at probably the biggest derby the East of Scotland Football League has to offer; Bo’ness United versus Linlithgow Rose, an enmity established four years after the The BUs were formed, in 1945, as The Gallant returned from Second World War abeyance. Our home side were created from a merger between a Junior outfit, which I’ve been unable to find much about*, by the name of Bo’ness Cadora and a club with a long and storied history simply called Bo’ness. Founded way back in 1882 plain old Bo’ness started in the Eastern Football Alliance before joining the Central Football League whose members helped make up the expanded Scottish Football League Second Division in 1921. In 1927 Bo’ness won the second tier title, seven points clear of Raith Rovers, giving them a single season of top flight Scottish football. At the top table pickings were slim however and they only managed to win nine out of thirty eight matches, finishing second bottom way above a lackluster Dunfermline Athletic. Relegation was the beginning of the end for the club who dropped out of league football altogether four years later, playing non-league until the war.
Bo’ness United took their predecessors colours and ground then went on to near instant success by winning the Scottish Junior Cup in 1948. En route to a showpiece final against Irvine Meadow XI in front of 55,602 at Hampden, The BUs dispatched all opposition before the semi without the need for a replay. Lochore Welfare and Lochee Harp convincingly beaten at home with the likes of Dundee Violet conquered on the road. In the end the cup was won by two goals to one in the final where Bo’ness had to wear the claret and amber of Whitburn due to Medda also being traditionally clad in blue and white too. The Holy Grail would return to Newtown Park twice again in 1976 and 1984. In ’76 Darvel Juniors of East Ayrshire were beaten convincingly in the final 3-0, while eight years later the now defunct Baillieston had no reply to a brace of United goals. In addition to three wins they also lost three finals making them the tenth most successful side in tournament history, only four places behind their derby rivals Linlithgow.
Away from the Holy Grail of ‘The Scottish’ Bo’ness United won a vast amount of trophies before exiting the Junior grade. They were the Edinburgh & District League champions on four occasions, five times winners of the East of Scotland Junior Cup and eight times they held aloft the rather strangely named Brown Cup. In the twenty first century and the era of the Superleague The BUs won the East Region title three times before they joined the mass exodus out of the SJFA and into the EoSFL at the beginning of the 2018 campaign. Last season they won the East of Scotland League Cup and now top the EoSFL Premier Division, a title that if captured means likely promotion up the Scottish football pyramid to the Lowland League. That is a scenario bitter rivals and title challengers Linlithgow Rose certainly want to avoid, meaning this afternoon, the dawn of a new decade, would greatly test United’s championship credentials.
My logistics manager (Mum) drove me through to Bo’ness today and she therefore joined me for lunch at the first stop of the day; The Corbie Inn. Famed for good bar meals, even in my neck of the woods, I was expecting a good scran but didn’t anticipate a CAMRA award winning pub with top class service. Upon entering we found an immaculate room clad in light wood containing a long bar furnished with a fine array of cask hand pumps. Escorted to a table with matching wingback chairs I order a pint of very local Tryst Brewery Brockville Pale Ale which arrived in excellent condition.
The menu is full of good old fashioned home cooking and upon ordering a cheese & bacon burger with onion rings I’m told that it is cooked from fresh and will take a rather exact time of fourteen minutes. Lo and behold precisely fourteen minutes later a fabulous plate of food arrives burger accompanied by hand cut chips and a dressed salad. Upon consumption of every morsel I nipped to the loo and discover something that puts this boozer into a higher league all together; the establishment contains its own microbrewery, The Kinnell Brew Hoose. Sadly there was no brewing on today, having been a very accomplished home brewer’s assistant during my time in Aberdeen I’d have loved to see the place in action. Thirty minutes from home the food and drink alone might have made me return to the Corbie, knowing they brew means I’ll certainly be back. As we left mother simply stated “Well that was impressive”.
Next up in the middle of the town centre was an establishment whose only nod to food service was nuts & crisps, a quintessential old man’s boozer The Anchor Tavern. Looking rather glamorous outside the interior is probably unchanged since the late sixties or seventies with a clientele who have probably occupied the same spot at the bar since then. Nothing fancy here with Tennents, Guiness or Belhaven Best to accompany the horses on one telly and fitba on the other. At £3.20 it’s a really good pint of ‘T’ in here and most punters are on it. Of note are the toilets, for two reasons. Firstly they are tiny, the wee metal urinal long enough for two men only and akin to going for a pee in an airing cupboard. Secondly this is not the sort of place one ever imagined getting to wash one’s hands with Baylis & Harding Midnight Plum and Wild Blackberry soap.
With my hands smelling great my legs were about to suffer with a trek up the brae to The Richmond Park Hotel, my digs for later on in the day. I arrive now just to get a drink in the bar which to my surprise was mobbed with fans as kick-off approached. It is a typical modern hotel bar; flashy, all the fancy malts on display for tourists and staffed by bairns. Luckily the young folk behind this bar know what they are doing and excessive hotel pricing seems to be avoided as I swiftly get a bottle of Peroni for just £3.10. It is enjoyed while listening to one punter praising the quality of today’s teams and how they’d “give maist of they Lowland League sides a guid pumping”.
I should note that myself and my auld dear got a dinner, bed and breakfast deal for just a hundred quid and after the match had a rare old time. Room was really nice, service relaxed & friendly but efficient while the fishcake starter at dinner was magnificent, real fine dining stuff.
My final stop before Newtown Park was The Chemical Workers Social Club, where for the first time ever I am asked, quite correctly, to sign in. I couldn’t tell you how many clubs I’ve been to where the doors are just wide open, the reception desk long abandoned years ago, but here I finally witness a club doing things right and bolstering coffers by charging a quid entry. Inside it has all the hallmarks of a good social: large, spotlessly clean, drinks carried on trays and queuing at the bar from the side (dunno why it’s only clubs that do the last one, it is very sensible and a fair system). Half a pint of Tennents Special and a Highland Park are £3.50, so no complaints about that either.
There is a great sense of history at Newtown Park given it has been in near constant use since it was built for the auld Bo’ness side in 1896. Is it the only ground in Scotland to have hosted club’s who’ve won SPFL, SJFA and EoSFL trophies? The place is also massive, you can easily imagine crowds of four to five thousand in here for this fixture during the sixties and seventies. Today I’d guess we had an impressive 800 to 1000, which is more than enough to fill out the two touchlines leaving behind each goal largely empty.
On the south touchline we have the old main stand which was condemned in the early nineties I believe. Their solution to this was simple, remove the seats and roof and stick a metal cap on, preserving the changing rooms and offices beneath. As a result we have a rectangular building that looks like it’s had a blue metal triangular prism dropped on top of it. Directly across is concrete terracing with a massive modern covering over it, great for keeping dry however some sick bastard has put the giant sign with the club’s name on it off centre! It is a few yards over to the west and not centred over the halfway line. Thankfully it has been damaged by winter weather and hopefully this issue will be remedied with its replacement. It upset me so much I largely stood underneath it to avoid seeing it.
The ground is finished off with open concrete terracing at one end and a grass embankment at the other. The floodlights look new and the artificial pitch certainly is, having been installed at the start of the current campaign. People will moan about fake grass but it is January and United aren’t building up cancelled fixtures like others are. Plus it looks like a high end synthetic turf and, as I was about to witness, it allowed both teams to play some beautiful football today.
For long term Bo’ness United fans who recall many battles with The Rose the first sixty minutes of today’s clash must have been a pleasure as The BUs were in firm control. Rather early on Ryan Stevenson scored from a free kick as Gallant fans lamented their ‘keepers effort. At the half hour mark Linlithgow’s goalie really was pish as Brian Ritchie nodded a second past him that he really should have saved. The first half not only had a couple of goals but it had the hallmarks of a good derby too; hard tackles (particularly from big Scullion on the maroon team), yellow cards and dugouts emptying to argue with linesmen. Good stuff indeed.
At half time I’m invited into ‘The United Club’ by member and BU diehard Henry McIntosh. From the outside it appears to be a boarded up portakabin but inside is a nice warm bar with the obligatory club pennants and framed photies of squads from yesteryear. Over a can of lager we discuss the club’s current form and possible future in the Lowland League, all seem most positive about the future which I’m glad to hear. Also I had the honour of meeting the Bo’ness goalie from the ’84 Scottish Cup Final at Ibrox, a handsome chap somewhat George Clooneyesque.
The second half was a game of two halves as Bo’ness United kept up their domination and piled pressure on the Linlithgow defence up to around the hour mark. Then suddenly the visitors decided that they could perhaps get something from this game. Writing about my trip to Linlithgow I talked about Tommy Coyne being an excellent striker, but in the mold of McCoist where if he wasn’t scoring he contributed little else. Well today with United in command Coyne stood about for an hour with nothing to do but recieve dogs abuse from the home support. Then as I questioned his worth in a game like this he all of a sudden scored and with fifteen left on the clock looked certain to grab another as The Rose went for it. United stood tall against their old rivals but with a few minutes left Rose put the ball in the net and the home end was silenced, yet in a moment of high controversy the referee chalked it off for the striker pulling at the defender. Undaunted Linlithgow continued to attack during the seemingly infinite injury time but the whistle went without an equaliser, Bo’ness has vanquished their long time does. Nail biting stuff, excellent game.
Back at the hotel I reflected on what is the perfect rivalry. At 2.7 miles between grounds we have geographical proximity, there’s also a similar legacy of success in the Junior grade for both sets of supporters to compare and argue over. Having visited both however I can see there is more to this emnity than that, the culture clash between the two towns have fanned the flames as well. Linlithgow is an unashamedly middle class place with fancy shops, a palace and swans. Bo’ness is a proud working man’s toon formerly with mining, foundries and shipping. The differences and the similarities have combined to make this fixture what it is.
Looking only now at Bo’ness and its famous football team I have to say I was impressed all day. You’ll have to go some distance to beat that Corbie Inn for ale, food and service, while the Richmond provides a bit of luxury and class for not a lot of money in return. The Chemical Works Club is grand but a club like Bo’ness should have their own, it’s a shame to see money being made hand over fist in the shadow of Newtown Park that could be easily flowing into it. As for The BUs, well to put it simply they have the potential to go from Junior giants to anywhere they want in the pyramid system. I think they are a lock for entry to the Lowland League next season and have the facilities and fan base to sit comfortably somewhere in the SPFL at some point during this new decade. They are a bigger club that quite a few in the league forty two and I personally can’t wait for them to take a place at the expense of one of them.