Friday 29th March 2019 ko 20.00
East of Scotland League – Conference B
BONNYRIGG ROSE 4 (Murrell 6 Currie 60 83p Lough 88)
Just like last year Robyn and I were sat having breakfast at the Wetherspoon’s at Beaconsfield Services. Our duties were exactly the same as for previous years’ Scottish Hops; meet Doug and the coach at Hillingdon Underground Station, then with Robyn couriering the coach I’d follow behind in my car to Birmingham International Rail Station to meet Chris Berezai. From there Dave Collins and Craig Dabbs would join us, and we’d aim to reach the first ground on the hop 90 minutes before the coach (not difficult with Doug’s mandatory stops) and use the time to make up the programme and ticket packs.
But everything HAD changed. We’d learned from last year’s freezing hop, then we even managed to be cold at an indoor game! So we swapped some of our events around, and in effect put the North West Counties League Hop in the Scottish Hop’s slot and vice-versa. The other change was more structural.
We’d seen the start of it on last year’s hop. Kelty Hearts had stolen a march on many others in jumping from the Juniors to the Seniors, and in doing so managed to get themselves in the Lowland League before 26 further Junior clubs made the switch.
It gave the East of Scotland League a problem, all the new clubs had to all enter at the same level, the sixth in Scotland, so three parallel divisions, Conferences A, B, and C were created, each of 13 teams, with a round-robin playoff system to find the one promoted club to send to the Lowland League. The top six clubs in each conference will form a Premier Division next season, the remainder will form Division One.
In hopper terms it’s massively strengthened the EoSL, and from a GroundhopUK perspective it’s secured the foreseeable future of the hop. It had been a worry, we were beginning to run out of clubs to visit in the old East of Scotland League’s set-up and I’d found myself thinking about my attempts to bring in the Juniors.
Back in 2016 I’d rather enjoyed myself in presenting the Groundhop concept to the West Region Juniors at Hampden. The clubs were in favour back then, but one member of that region’s committee made absolutely sure it didn’t happen (He refused to answer his phone or answer his emails!).
In the end while my trip ended up being futile, the irony of so many Junior clubs heading for a league we already have an excellent working relationship with wasn’t lost on me! But however fortunate that process is for us, I’ll always be grateful to Kenny McLean and David Baxter at the Lowland and East of Scotland Leagues for believing in us, and continuing to back us.
In fact that backing went as far as Kenny meeting us at Westfield Park and helping us make up the 120 or so programme packs, it was a case of many hands making light work and once over it gave me a little time to consider my surroundings. For a start we weren’t in Dunipace, Westfield Park is in adjacent Denny, and Dunipace were one of the 26 who left the Juniors (and dropped the Juniors suffix) and moved across to the Seniors for this season.
What also happened was the start of a massive redevelopment of the ground. Through a hoppers’ eyes that saw the destruction of a cavernous covered enclosure and a railway sleepers terrace behind the goal. Now there’s a 3G pitch, floodlights, and hard standing. More is to come, but by no-one’s measure is this a pretty ground. But a two minute conversation with anyone connected with Dunipace FC reveals not changing simply wasn’t an option, they had to adapt or die. I noted with a rueful smile the comments of those who are no longer involved in the game but who still purport to be experts.
But as I’d parked up one thing was clear, Dunipace were absolutely, positively ready for the hoards that were about to descend on them. Now I could comment that readiness is what GroundhopUK preaches but there was more to it than that, the word I’m looking for here is… decency. Everyone there was welcoming, and the teas while we worked were appreciated. We made use of the new hospitality block, later the club sold tickets for the balcony for £15 which included 6 beers. I was tempted, but remembered the car keys in my pocket!
The programme packs didn’t take long to shift, and I had enough time to try the curry on sale before kick-off. I gazed with wonder at the two ladies in the tea hut; they managed to shift an extensive menu and the queues kept moving. If there is a science of serving through a hatch, I sure they defied the laws of whatever it is. I spent a few minutes eating that curry tucked away in the hospitality room alone with my thoughts, before walking out and being very pleasantly surprised and the sheer number of people there. It proved to be a portent for the whole weekend.
The game saw visitors Bonnyrigg needing a win to win Conference B, and while I wanted only the best for our gallant hosts, I couldn’t find anyone there who would predict anything than a straightforward Rose win. And so it came to pass, this was as complete an away win as we saw all weekend. The visitors didn’t really celebrate at the end, they’ve got the lottery of the playoffs to consider, and Dunipace didn’t look too crestfallen either. They’re club rebuilding both on and off the field, and it was just lovely to have been a small part of that process.
I headed to our base at East Kilbride, and Robyn and I flopped into our room. I’m old enough to find the familiarity of a trusted hotel comforting but I’d greatly enjoyed seeing exactly the kind of club I know that as a cohort, the groundhoppers can help. Best of all, I knew Saturday had the potential to be even better.