Sunday 31st March 2019 ko 12.30
East of Scotland League Conference A
PEEBLES ROVERS 1 (Lindsay 72)
NEWGRANGE STAR 3 (Jamieson 13 Scott 40 Porteous 78)
With the Scottish Hop coach full I found myself driving from our base in East Kilbride to the event’s final destination in Peebles. It wasn’t a quick drive once I’d left the M74, but the rolling hills of the Borders and the roads’ sweeping bends made for a enthralling journey. It was time to reflect on how this game should have taken place on last year’s hop, the cold and snow saw the game, also scheduled for Sunday lunchtime postponed. I pulled into the rugby club car park, and pondered on how many fewer people would have attended the game last year given the lousy conditions?
Peebles is as pretty-as-a-picture and as such as extremely well-to-do. Inevitably, the place is a magnet for tourists and part of the experience of visiting Whitestone Park is picking your way through the legions of them on your way to football. The town lies on the confluence of the rivers Tweed and Eddlestone Water, known colloquially as “The Cuddy.” The Tweed is the only river in the UK where you can fish for Salmon without a licence, and it isn’t difficult to imagine well-dressed folk making for the river with their rods and bait! I am bound to say that for all of that many of the groundhoppers seemed to be more interested in the local Wetherspoon’s pub, as ticking it is off was a priority as its been slated for closure. Each to their own I suppose!
Normally wealthy areas and football don’t mix, so it is something of a surprise that Peebles Rovers did once play in the Scottish League, albeit for only three seasons in Division Three from 1923-26. That last season saw the club fail, along with several others, to complete their fixtures; the division was dissolved and only revived in 1947. Peebles returned to senior non-league football, before switching to the Juniors in 1966. They returned to the Seniors, and the East of Scotland League in 1981 but the decline was obvious and as lovely as the old stand is, they’re a long way from reclaiming former glories, and will play next season in the EoSFL’s lower division.
But as faded as the club’s fortunes are in recent years, they staged this event beautifully. Now if you’ve read enough of my articles on the Scottish Hops over the years you’ll know one of my bugbears has been the over-reliance by host clubs on pies for catering. Let’s make an exception here though for Peebles, as I doubt many of the crowd has seen or tasted a lasagne pie before! Needless to say I tried one, as a service to groundhopping! They are delicious and I wonder why other clubs don’t stock them!
I strolled over to the stand, now named after Alexander Lucas- a former player killed on active service in Afghanistan in 2008. I remembered the coaches passing here 4 years ago on the way to Vale of Leithen and everyone bar the drivers looking to their right and staring at the stand. Some opted to miss the Selkirk game that day in order to visit Whitestone Park immediately. Now hindsight is a wonderful thing, but with Selkirk now defunct I wonder if any of those folk now regret their impatience?
I had a fair idea back then we’d end up visiting, the management of both the Lowland and East of Scotland League made that likely, but seeing the opponents as Newtongrange Star would have surprised me. They were in so many ways the quintessential Scottish Junior club, but nevertheless made the switch to the Seniors for this season.
I don’t think anyone expected anything other than a “Nitten” Star win. They were destined to comfortably qualify for next year’s Premier Division, and they equally comfortably beat Peebles here. But this was about more than just the game itself, even if the pitch didn’t make for a smooth passing game. It was a chance to visit an icon of the Scottish game, and allow a (if an Englishman is allowed to use the phrase) a bonny wee club have a big crowd and a pay day to go with it.
At the end of it all Robyn strolled back through the park back to the car. It had been hugely enjoyable Scottish Hop, perhaps even the best of the series so far. Every club we visited seemed comfortable with what they were doing and I know that I’m not the only one to feel this event has rejuvenated the Scottish Hop going forward.
We’ve already discussed next year’s event, and all things being equal it’ll take place roughly as the same time next year. We’ve also put together a fairly speculative idea of where we’ll head and I have to say seeing the names of those clubs genuinely excited me. Hopefully that excitement is infectious!