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Saturday 29th March 2014 ko 14.00

West of Scotland Junior Cup 3rd Round

NEILSTON JUNIORS 0 Digney sent off FT (2nd booking)

SHOTTS BON ACCORD 1 (McKenna 88p)

Att 121

Entry £5

Programme £1

Scarf £5

We had a guest on this mini-tour, Sim loves his football despite being an Oxford United fan, and with this fixture being the centrepiece of the weekend I wanted it to give him a true flavour of the Junior scene in Scotland. We drove south-west from Glasgow for around 11 miles to Neilston, just south of Paisley. Like the latter town the village grew massively during the Industrial Revolution due to the textile trade and the derelict Crofton Mill still stands, the only survivor of the seven mills than stood beside the River Levern between Neilston and Dovecothall.

The Brig O’Lea Stadium lies on Main Road to the east of village. The club was formed here in 1945 and have always played here. The local council took over the ground in the 60’s, and built the frankly brutalist clubhouse and installed floodlights. Neither are a lure to the groundhopper, that is the covered enclosure, rather reminiscent of that at Kibirnie Ladeside which gives the impression that there’s as much steelwork below as above ground! Sadly the ground is not long for this world, with the council keen to build houses here. The club won’t be homeless, there’s room at the Kingston Playing Fields, a few hundred yards east of here, for a suitable ground to be built. It will, I’m sure be more suitable for the club’s needs; Brig O’Lea has no bar facilties and hospitality takes place in a converted Portakabin, but when your roots have been here for so long its obvious that it will be a real wrench to leave. The club expect to play next season here, then move.  As ever though, keep an eye open!

But what I’ll remember Neilston for is the people. We parked up and were taking pictures outside and were invited in to be shown around the ground and told of the plans for the future. The fact that you can see behind the scenes pictures is down to the officials’ kindness and I remain grateful. Gentlemen you are a credit to your club and the SJFA.

The game was far more nuanced than I expected. A game against higher ranked opposition is always going to add spice. Neilston play in the West Region Central District First Division, with Shotts one notch higher in the West Region Superleague First Division. However Neilston are eyeing promotion and whilst wanting to progress in the competition, they didn’t want to damage their shot at the Superleagues.

There was a more human angle to it as well though, the Brightest Star charity. The charity was set up after player Derek Kennedy’s son Jack suddenly died at the age of 5. The aim is to help provide family ambulances. Jack loved the Incredible Hulk so the club are playing all cup games in a green kit with a Brightest Star logo where the shirt sponsor would normally go. Its a lovely gesture from the club, and if you’d like to find out more about the charity please click here.

If Sim had wanted the Junior scene in microcosm, he certainly got it here. Shotts brought a coachload of fans which helped provide an atmosphere that was always the right side of partisan. On the pitch the game was very nearly the greatest nil-nil draw ever played. The tackles flew in, the action was end-to-end, and Neilston could easily have won the game but for one detail. In the Scots Juniors club linesmen are the norm for all levels apart from the top divisions, and high-profile games. Therefore when Neilston had 4 shouts for shots that may or not have crossed the line, there was no linesman on the line to give a definitive answer, just a club assistant near the dugout offering advice only on throw-ins.

It really shouldn’t have mattered though. Shotts keeper Gary Whyte took a heavy blow to the ribs just before half time, but when the obvious tactic was to make him move, stretch and catch far too few questions were asked of him during the second half. We looked set for an enjoyable extra 30 minutes but Jack Marriott went down in the box rather easily, and referee Craig King gave a penalty to the consternation of the Neilston fans, and the relief of the Shotts faithful. It took some time, and two yellow cards to restore order before former Clyde forward Sean McKenna sent keeper James Digney the wrong way to win the tie for the visitors. Digney was clearly furious and as the teams trooped off at the final whistle he let King know exactly what he felt, collecting a second booking for his trouble.

It’s clear that friendly Neilston look set for the Superleagues, after all Shotts themselves look likely to be promoted to the Superleague Premier, and The Farmers Boys ran them extremely close. We drove to an overnight sojourn in Hamilton elated, not for the result but for the experience of seeing a club paint themselves in the best possible light. I wish them well.