TT No.61: Andy Gallon - Sat 17th November 2012; Newtongrange Star v Auchinleck Talbot; Scottish Junior Cup Rd 3; Res: 0-1; Att: 700; Admission: £5; Programme: £1 (12pp); FGIF Match Rating: *** 



Matchday images (20)


Coal mining in Newtongrange (‘Nitten’ to locals) might have ended three decades ago but the Midlothian village is scattered with reminders of the industry. To the south, alongside the A7, the Lady Victoria Colliery (1895-1981) has been transformed into Scotland’s National Mining Museum. The last of all her kind, as Valerie Gillies described it in her Edinburgh Makar poem. Every surface structure survived closure therefore the headstocks still rise high above the rooftops. The main shaft was 1,600ft deep and 40 million tons of coal was extracted. Much of Newtongrange is a ‘model’ pit village. Archibald Hood, Managing Director of the Lothian Coal Company, Lady Victoria Colliery’s original owners, provided neat rows of red-brick cottages, complete with gardens, for miners and their families. From First Street to Tenth Street, these single-storey terraces, architectural gems, continue to give good service. I spotted a couple of commemorative winding wheels (there may be more) in Newtongrange and, outside the library, there’s a poignant memorial, a bronze miner created by Howgate sculptor Alan Beattie Herriot, to the men whose hazardous working lives were spent underground.


Newtongrange Star, formed in 1890, is one of Scottish Junior football’s famous names. Since 1994, the club has played at New Victoria Park, built by the Walker Group at a cost of £1.25m and with a nominal capacity of 5,000. Close to the south end of Main Street, the stadium was laid out on a partially levelled shale bing (a slag heap, to Sassenachs). Between 1924 and 1994, Star were based at Victoria Park, a goal kick’s distance away and right next to the A7. Though I never saw a match there, I did pop in a couple of times during the 1980s en route to Edinburgh, just eight miles to the north. Its centrepiece was a wonderful barrel-roofed wooden stand, a sizeable structure with 900 seats. Owing to the presence of a wide track, this elliptical venue, bleak and exposed, must have been fairly cheerless for the football spectator. At various times, the quarter-mile shale track was used for speedway (Newtongrange Saints operated in 1970 and Edinburgh Monarchs rode there in 1973), athletics and - latterly - stock car & banger racing, which drew four-figure crowds. Star sold the 10-acre site to a developer and it is now covered with rather characterless houses. Pleasingly, though, the street names (such as Old Star Road) celebrate the club’s lengthy occupation. Incidentally, Star’s first ground, also known as Victoria Park, is close by and part of a public park off the north end of Main Street.


New Victoria Park is functional but not without merit. The stadium, surrounded by mixed woodland, is invisible from the village and users of its dedicated access road discover it remains hidden until the last moment. Must admit I get huge pleasure from this sporting version of the slow reveal. There’s plenty of parking and the single-storey clubhouse is a good size. This is broadly the same design - honey-coloured breeze block and shallow pitched roof - as the other three structures at the south (or near) end of the ground. Its foyer contains a cabinet of interesting club memorabilia and an amusing display of individual photographs depicting ‘celebrities’ showing off their 2012-13 Nitten Star membership cards. I recognised Sir Chris Hoy, John Collins and Mel C (aka Sporty Spice). Not entirely original but it certainly caught my eye.


The ground is at a higher level. Steps (and, for the less mobile, a winding path) provide access to the turnstiles. I was quite taken with this block, which features an attractive Star logo and signage. To the left is a pavilion housing the dressing rooms, offices and kitchen, and to the right toilets. Beyond, the pitch is a thing of beauty. Constructed with a noticeable crown, it is renowned as a good drainer. Mature trees (lovely in autumn regalia) lend a feeling of enclosure and act as a windbreak. The sole stand, a 40-yard propped cantilever over about 10 steps of terracing, is positioned between the penalty areas on the west touchline. A row of seats can be found at the front, though they’re rendered useless by the well-patronised flagged hardstanding in front. There are also flags at the south end. The remainder of the spectator accommodation consists of grass banking: doubtless brilliant in dry weather but a bit of an obstacle course when it’s wet. A slender blue metal barrier encloses the pitch and there are eight floodlight masts. Thanks to a 1.45pm kick-off, I didn’t see them switched on.


Home officials left me in no doubt this was a very big day for Newtongrange Star. The Scottish Junior Cup is a major competition north of the border and the visitors were Auchinleck Talbot, beaten finalists last season and nine times winners. More than half an impressive crowd I estimated at 700 trekked across from Ayrshire and helped create a decent atmosphere. The hours leading up to kick-off were an odd mixture of brilliant sunshine and heavy showers. Despite New Victoria Park’s drainage qualities, the pitch was a bit of a pudding, which spoiled the game as a spectacle. I enjoyed the cut and thrust (the sort of 100mph stuff seen at every level of Scottish football) but the old timers behind me were less enamoured by what they saw. With five minutes left, I heard one say: “Wa’ wee bit o’ fitba tha’s bin played ‘as bin played b’Auchinleck.”


Auchinleck, from the West Region of the Junior pyramid (unbeaten leaders of the Superleague, no less), caught East Region Premierleaguers Newtongrange cold with a third-minute goal. It proved enough to win the tie. Gordon Pope did well to fire in a cross and with the Star defence dithering Keir Milliken got the ball under control and swept a low shot into the net from eight yards. If anything, the hosts created the better of what few chances there were up to half-time. Andrew Leishman saved well from big Star striker Craig O’Reilly (22min) before the Bot’s Kyle Faulds was denied in a one-on-one by Nitten keeper Kieron Renton (39min). Milliken (47min) skimmed the bar with an angled effort from 16 yards, whilst Paul Tansey wasted Newtongrange’s best chance when he shot high and wide with only Leishman to beat (62min). Auchlineck, who looked a touch classier throughout, had a few anxious moments late on, not least when Craig Pettigrew got away with what looked like handball in the penalty area. No surprise that Edinburgh referee Gavin Ross missed it: he was extremely poor and many of his decisions baffled both sets of supporters.


It was good to see rival fans mingling happily - and particularly heartwarming to hear the Star contingent wishing the visitors luck in the fourth round. My first experience of the Scottish Junior Cup was positive and enjoyable, and I hope (weather permitting!) to return to witness a tie at the next stage on January 19th. For the home team, the afternoon might have brought defeat and disappointment on the pitch but it must have been financially rewarding off it. As my sardonic old-timer put it: “Th’onla success th’day ‘as bin th’pie sales.”


v2 contributed on 19/11/12