TT No.39: Andy Gallon - Sat 6th October 2012; Vale of Leithen v Selkirk; Scottish Cup Second Round Replay;     Res: 5-1; Att: 150; Admission: £5; Programme: £1 (12pp); FGIF Match Rating: ***.

 

 

Matchday images (20) https://picasaweb.google.com/footballgroundsinfocus/ValeOfLeithenFC04

 

Pub quizmasters (blokes usually, arenít they?) owe Scottish football a debt of gratitude. Without it, or more accurately the romantic naming predilections of its clubs, there would be no questions of the Ďin which town do Albion Rovers play?í and Ďwhose home games are staged in Perth?í variety. This arcane form of sporting geography-cum-history has tickled me endlessly since I was old enough to listen to BBC Radioís second reading of the classified football results. Never the first: invariably, Dad and I were at a game and therefore in no position to catch the initial run-through at five oíclock. Doing ĎThe 42í (which, with revisits for various new grounds, took me between 1985 and 2009) north of the border was a great thrill. Believe me, thereís untold pleasure to be had from Saturday evenings in the company of James Alexander Gordon, smiling to oneself as his familiar sing-song delivery reaches the lower reaches of the Scottish Football League and thinking ĎEast Fife? Yeah, I know all about themí. In a strange way, itís like a confirmation of adulthood. Some would say itís exactly the opposite!

 

My exposure to Scottish non-league football is much more limited, but sufficient to know the founding fathers of its clubs suffered from the same affliction when it came to choosing names. Vale of Leithen (easily confused with Vale of Leven) is one that has hovered on the outer reaches of my sub-conscious for many years. Quite how they got there, I cannot at this distance of time recall. Having enjoyed my slightly madcap trip to Dalbeattie the previous week, and noting the weather forecast for Scotland again promised wall-to-wall sunshine, I opted for another long drive and the Scottish Cup replay at Vale of Leithen. This was only, I confess, having consulted the web to ascertain exactly where Vale play. See how tricky these pub quizzes can be? The answer, the cognoscenti will be shouting, is Innerleithen, a community of 2,500 souls between Galashiels and Peebles in the gloriously scenic Tweed Valley. I realised Iíd driven through the town once before (a quick check in my anally ordered programme collection reveals it was July 11th 1999), twixt speedway matches at Berwick and Glasgow. The trip involved, I recall with astonishing clarity, kipping in my car on the banks of the Tweed near Coldstream and then picking up an ex-girlfriend in Peebles the day after sheíd attended a relativeís wedding. But thatís another story.

 

Thereís something supremely uplifting about witnessing daybreak. Determined to make the most of the trek (and the petrol, God knows), I left home at silly oíclock and was in full flow when the sun edged above the eastern horizon. Itís a cracking road, the A68. Tow Law, the Durham hills, crossing the Tyne, Kielder, the Carter Bar border crossing and the long descent into Jedburgh. Pause for a pee and a glimpse of the abbey, bathed in golden light. I canít keep this flannel up indefinitely, so Iíll cut to the chase and say en route to Innerleithen I called in at Melrose RUFC, Gala Fairydean FC and Gala RUFC to take photographs. Iíve seen a game at Gala (the carefully filed programme tells me versus Currie, September 17th 1999), but sans camera. Galaís Netherdale ground looked ominously locked and bolted, but I was lucky enough to find an open door and a coach in the gym preparing for the first teamís trip to Dundee HSFP. He was happy to let me in. Turned out to be an admirer of rugby league, too, which cheered me immensely.

 

And so to Innerleithen. Itís a tiny place, a collection of dwellings at the confluence of the Tweed and Leithen Water, and yet the eighth-largest community in the Borders. Its wealth was based on textiles: the manufacture of woollens began in 1788 and five mills sprang up. Though the industry declined in the Sixties and Seventies, cashmere garments are still made here. Innerleithen was known, albeit briefly, for its spa waters and Sir Walter Scott immortalised its location in his 1823 novel St Ronanís Well. St Ronan, Innerleithenís patron saint, appears on the club crest, along with a Keep Faith motto. If you donít fish or play golf, thereís not a great deal to see or do in town (it makes Dalbeattie look like Monte Carlo: a tearoom is the best I could do), but the conifer-capped summits rising in every direction are fantastic. No wonder the place is a magnet for walkers and cyclists.

 

The football ground, Victoria Park, is 200 yards from the main street. Though fenced off, itís part of a public park, which contains a pitch used by Leithen Rovers FC and the two courts of Innerleithen Tennis Club. Under the terms of their lease with the local authority, Vale of Leithen, formed in 1891, are obliged to leave the gates open at all times. Vandalism remains a problem, but only a minor one these days. Inevitably, however, it means the infrastructure at Valeís home since 1922 is fairly rough and ready: a single stand (its base considerably older than its roof) lacking seats, but not graffiti; crumbling terracing either side; beaten-up dug-outs; and a Heath Robinson pitch barrier of wooden posts and wire. The dressing rooms, kitchen and boardroom are in a separate building behind the stand. This modern structure replaced a pavilion that burned down in 1974 (bored kids to blame, it seems) with the sad loss of irreplaceable club records and memorabilia. No floodlights and, the terracing apart, no hardstanding. What looks like a former mill dominates the narrow north touchline. But, oh, what a beautiful setting. In addition to the majestic hills (touch of the Howgills about them, I felt), Victoria Park is fringed delightfully with broadleaved trees showing advanced autumnal pigmentation. The groundís record crowd - an all-ticket 3,700 - rolled up in January 1962 for a Scottish Cup tie against Hearts, who after an early scare won 5-0.

 

I overheard a fellow from local radio voicing his live preview from one of the dug-outs. Vale welcomed back four players who missed the 1-1 draw at Selkirk seven days previously and that, he suggested, made them even hotter favourites. From what I could gather, this derby between East of Scotland League clubs should have been decided at Yarrow Park in Premier Division Valeís favour. They looked likely winners of the replay from the early stages. First Division Selkirk were under pressure throughout the first half and offered little in attack. For all Valeís domination, they managed just one goal, a well-worked strike in the 12th minute from Stephen Sproule, an elusive, skillful winger.

 

Damage limitation appeared the best Selkirk could hope for, and after the break they struggled to cope with Valeís pace and invention. Goals from Danny Noon (50min) and Scott Moffat (56min) killed the tie. As the visitorsí tired, player-manager Kerr Dodds (81min) and Moffat (83min) rubbed salt in the wound. Selkirk did get a fine consolation, though, with Jonny Watt (84min) curling a 20-yard shot into the top corner of Sinclair Inglisís net. Excitable young referee Craig Napier, an unimpressive official destined possibly to spend his entire career at this level, had booked so many players for Ďnothingí infringements that a red card was inevitable. With six minutes left, it was shown to Selkirkís Jamie Aitken. Hard from where I stood to tell the cause. Aitkenís incredulous reaction indicated a minor offence. Vale now progress to a third-round tie at Cowdenbeath (memories of banger-ravaged Central Park surface as I write) later this month. On this evidence, the Navy Brazil should give the Blue Brazil a decent game.

 

Sublime journey home: the quality of the sunset matched that of dawn. BBC Radio Scotland was full of Newco Rangersí shock 1-0 defeat at Forthbank by Stirling Albion, the SFLís bottom club. The engagingly modest guy who scored the winner was interviewed and said heíd remember the day for the rest of his life. Irate callers to the phone-in that followed wanted Ally McCoist sacked. Not a single mention of English football, which was interesting, given that Vale of Leithenís substitutes, whilst warming up, kept pumping the crowd for news of Chelseaís progress. Spotted a couple of buzzards within 300 yards of each other on a power line near Carter Bar. Then up, over and into Northumberland. Haste ye back to Scotland, urge the road signs. Donít worry: it wonít be long!

 

contributed on 08/10/12