Saturday 30th March 2019 ko 17.15
East of Scotland League Conference C
BLACKBURN UNITED 4 (Downie 1p 4 65 Browne 81)
PRESTON ATHLETIC 1 (McFarlane 77)
I smiled when I heard the groundhoppers’ joke, yes Blackburn vs Preston could so easily be an English Championship game in Lancashire rather than a Scottish non-league fixture in West Lothian. That Lancs/Lothians connection wasn’t lost on former MP Tam Dalyell who in 1977 used the two towns to illustrate a situation after Scottish devolution where Scottish MPs could vote on English affairs, but not vice versa.
The original Blackburn was expanded as a massive housing scheme in the 1950s and 60s as Glaswegian overspill in part to house the workforce for the new British Leyland car factory at nearby Bathgate. When the factory closed in 1986 Blackburn’s fortunes declined. Britain’s Got Talent winner Susan Boyle hails from Blackburn. But I must be honest with you, I was never ever going to title this, I dreamed a dream!
New Murrayfield Park opened in 2013, and replaced a ground (now a pitch) immediately to the right, with the covered enclosure making the move with the club. The plastic pitch arrived a year later. It isn’t a ground to particularly stir the senses, but Blackburn’s hospitality certainly did.
I’ll remember them for the absolutely superb curry, and being notably friendly, but when Chris did the coach manifest two of our number were somewhat worse for wear! It turned out that the club had laid on hospitality for us, and we’d completely forgotten to call in and partake! My apologies for that, but at least someone did, and I was driving so the whisky would have been off-limits to me!
Given the opposition it was good to catch up with Lesley Birrel and all at Preston Athletic, and for the record I genuinely cannot remember the name of the referee who called off their first hop game. Perhaps that’s for the best; good did come of that postponement and ever since we’ve rather enjoyed each other’s company, even when at a freezing Burntisland Shipyard last year!
It was an intriguing game, former Junior against a Senior club with no little Junior experience themselves. The background was two sides slugging it out for a place in the top flight of next season’s EoSL with Preston holding a slight advantage. Hopefully noone missed kickoff in the curry queue as Preston lost the tie in the first 5 minutes, and conceded a penalty in the first few seconds!
A shell shocked Preston side rallied and if the madness of the first 5 minutes could have been ignored I suspect they’d have got something from this tie. In the final analysis 4-1 did flatter Blackburn. Writing as I am with hindsight the game proved to be highly significant. Blackburn finished 5th, the final slot for the Premier Division next season, ahead of Preston on goal difference. On reflection our friends from Prestonpans seem to lack anything remotely resembling luck over the last few years.
In so many ways this was the kind of game I enjoy most on an organised hop; two friendly, outwardly looking clubs and a competitive game. At the end of it all I strolled back to the car my contentment was total. We’d had a day of 3 excellent host clubs, but my brow furrowed slightly when I thought about the day’s final destination. I wasn’t quite certain what we were going to find.