“The name’s Rose, Bonnyrigg Rose”
The week before I pay any club a visit I engage in a period of historical research and one area always delved into is a side’s famous ex-players. This afternoon I travelled to Midlothian where Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic might very well just lay claim to the most iconic name ever to play for a Scottish football club. While Billy McNeill & Sir Stanley Matthews wore the blue of Blantyre Victoria & Greenock Morton respectively, neither have the global fame of the biggest star to grace The Rose’s New Dundas Park; 007 himself, Sir Sean Connery. While it is well known that ‘The Greatest Living Scot’ had the talent for life as a professional footballer, as the famous story about Sir Matt Busby offering him £25 a week to sign for Manchester United shows, fewer are aware he actually had a brief soccer career. For a wee while in the early fifties ‘The Sexiest Man of the 20th Century’ was a striker for The Rosey Posey, with contemporary sources evidence of his capacity for scoring thirty yard stoaters.
While Diamonds are Forever, Bonnyrigg Rose have shone almost as long having been formed way back in 1881 as one of the first clubs in the Junior grade. It did however take a long time for The Rose to become one of the more illustrious sides in the SJFA, with trophies being few and far between in the first eighty years of the club’s existence. They might have picked up an East of Scotland Junior Cup in 1898 and an Edinburgh & District League title forty years later, but it wasn’t until the 1960’s that the Bonnyrigg name started to be regularly engraved onto Junior silverware. From that decade onwards The Rose went on to win eight more league titles, six further EoSJ Cups and added four Fife & Lothians Cups to their impressive haul.
Bonnyrigg Rose really didn’t start scaring The Living Daylights out of the Junior scene however until they reached three Scottish Junior Cup Final appearances over a twelve year period during the sixties and seventies. In 1966 a 6-1 (replay) win over Whitburn was an all-time record equalling victory margin and the first all East final since 1923. Six years later a young Rose side was beaten 3-2, in another replay, by an experienced and highly successful Cambuslang Rangers. Finally in 1978 Bonnyrigg lifted the ‘Holy Grail’ of Scottish fitba once again by beating the now defunct Stonehouse Violets by a goal to nil, in one of the very last Hampden finals.
Now playing in their third century, it’s been a case of You Only Live Twice for The Rosey Posey; once as a Junior club and now more recently as a member of the senior pyramid system. It was during Bonnyrigg’s final two decades in the SJFA they perhaps reached their zenith there, winning four East Superleague Championships and finishing in second place a further three times. Their last title win in 2018 would mark the final occasion The Rose would bump their heids off the Junior glass ceiling, as they joined the mass exodus to the East of Scotland Football League, finding success as a senior side coming just as easily as it did before. The New Dundas Park club won the EoSFL at the first time of asking and have stormed the Lowland League this current season, sitting second behind former Junior rivals Kelty Hearts who narrowly defeated them a week before this afternoon’s fixture against Civil Service Strollers.
It was my first shot on the Borders Railway and the walk from Eskbank Station to Bonnyrigg town centre had me gasping for a pint, luckily The Anvil Inn was there to provide be with a good one. Looking small despite the wide entrance I enter a cavernous place that stretches a good forty yards from the front door to back wall, the pub a vision in highly polished wood. Immaculate in every way possible except for the worn carpet around the bar where an elderly gent attends to punters as quickly as his body will allow him.
That pint is a wonderful McEwan’s 70/- (on keg), fresh and smooth instantly soothing my whole being after that epic walk. As I enjoy my beer I watch Liverpool vs Bournemouth on the big telly and, being as I’m in this next of the woods, listen to punters bemoan the form of Hibs and Hearts rather than the usual Old Firm guff you get across most of the country. It’s not only the pint that’s refreshing. Overall a decent place to start the day, a Roger Moore of a pub if you like; ancient yet perfectly attired, charming and with a pint as smooth as the man himself.
Next up in sharp contrast is the ultra modern Beetroot Bar & Grill, an award winning establishment that is very unlike the vast majority of places I see on my travels. At lunchtime there is mood lighting, soft background music and the smell of excellent cooking. No puggy or TV that’s for sure. Only half twelve and we are busy already; ladies having cocktails or splitting a bottle of prosecco. Four middle aged guys who look like golfers are on the pints, one wears a Merino wool jumper that probably cost more than my entire wardrobe. Around them two women move swiftly and efficiently to take orders and deliver food an drink. Very professional set up.
I go all out here. Directed to a table I order a pricey £4.25 pint of East Coast IPA and a bargain £6.50 Old Fashioned from a long list of cocktails. In addition ‘The Traditional’ cheeseburger is to be brought into me and together all three are awesome. That burger must be made in house (or by a master butcher) as it destroys the one I had before seeing St Andrews United for the very best I’ve had on my travels. It is emblematic of the establishment in general; high quality and very impressive. This place is Daniel Craig; totally modern, a departure from the norm, popular with the ladies and one my auld Maw would love.
Finally across the road we have the Calderwood, which sadly is not a shrine to Aberdeen‘s staunch Rangers loving gaffer Jimmy. It is a basic pub but in a good way, clean and tidy, boasting a standard selection of drinks and with a telly for the horses and a telly for the fitba. The clientele is older and only male, where the local postie drinks with others long retired. A bottle of Peroni was £3.25 and I almost spilled it sitting down as the seat section in the booth I chose was in no way connected to the rest of the boozer. What is good however is the talk of The Rose in here, with most it seems planning to attend, last night’s BSC Glasgow vs Kelty game is even being dissected as I depart. A George Lazenby boozer if ever I’ve visited one, nothing wrong with it but once is probably enough.
Entering the car park of New Dundas Park I first spend time in the Bonnyrigg Rose Social Club, who’s unwelcoming exterior hides a dated but excellent venue decorated with amazing framed caricatures of legendary players. It acts as the club’s Hall of Fame I suppose and is a unique way of doing it. The place is mobbed too and it must be one of the side’s top areas of revenue generation, particularly when the giant function suite next door is set up for an engagement party later.
Across the car park again I pay my seven quid entry and discover New Dundas Park to be pretty basic for a ground whose team is pushing for the SPFL promised land. There are no seats in the place at all and one touchline is a simple grass embankment with only two big modern plastic subs benches on it. On the other side we have newish temporary structures for toilets and pie shop with another more permanent looking room for hospitality guests. In front of this is perhaps a dozen concrete steps of terracing, covered from the South West corner flag to not quite the half way line. I loved it, unique and beautiful but The Rose are a big club so I perhaps expected more. The groundsmen have the whole place looking braw and tidy, even the pitch is in good nick, the sand in either goalmouth the only hint of the endless storms we’ve had lately. I note finally an abundance of sponsor boards around the place, good to see a club maximising revenue in this way too.
Bonnyrigg Rose won the East Junior Superleague two seasons ago, are the reigning East of Scotland Football League champions and prior to this afternoon had thus far won twenty, drawn one and lost two in their inaugural Lowland League campaign. Imagine my surprise then to see them take to the field in the first half and be pretty shit. I dunno if defeat to Kelty had rattled them in some way, but fans watched in dismay as their winning team employed simple fag packet tactics for a first forty five, a half that those around me said was the worst of the season. The Strollers on the other hand were hungry with the giant Alieau Faye looking particularly impressive. At the break a fine strike from Civil Service’s Craig Newall separated the sides and had the Bonnyrigg heads hanging as New Dundas was quiet despite the crowd.
In the second half The Rose were resurgent and laid siege to the Strollers’ goal for much of the time. As the crowd found its voice the team rediscovered their confidence and went to salvage something from the game. Chance after chance came for Bonnyrigg but it wasn’t until after seventy minutes that substitute Jonny Brown smashed home a leveller as the fans went wild. The home support assumed the win was surely coming and in the final stages of the game the excitement was ramped up as Rose struck the bar and Strollers had a goal chalked off for offside. Neither side found a winner and soon the referee’s whistle marked the end of the match, while Strollers celebrated the point Bonnyrigg were beside themselves.
A long walk, two trains and a bus meant I was three hours home, time which I used to reflect on a good day out in Midlothian. Bonnyrigg is a braw wee town made all the better from having The Anvil to drink in and the Beetroot Bar & Grill to get some top notch scran. My first trip to Midlothian where it appears we are far enough from Auld Reekie for the folk to be friendly and the welcome to be warm. I must get back in that Borders Railway again soon.
In Bonnyrigg Rose I saw a club with a rich history who are writing new chapters of it with each passing season. Used to success the fans demand their best and sadly they got nowhere near that today, bonus for me however as I got to witness a highly competitive fixture with a thrilling conclusion. Some fans on exit were saying the season is over, the title is lost, but for me it was No Time to Die as Kelty could still drop points and The Rose have a string of consecutive home games to come. Even if they don’t the season is still a success, the title may very likely come next year and the SPFL after that.