I finally got round to revisiting Central Park, Whitburn last week after a long interval. I was last there on a wet January day in 1999. The visitors were the all-conquering Kilwinning Rangers, on Scottish Junior Cup 4th round day. The Buffs won 1-0 and eventually lifted the cup as well as several other trophies that season. They were skippered by Iain Gallagher, an old workmate of mine who has previously rated a mention in these blogs as a cup-winning skipper with Linlithgow Rose. Below are a couple of shots from that game with Whitburn in their customary Motherwell-type colours.

whitburnimg_0025A lot of water has flowed under the White Burn since I first made my acquaintance with the town away back around 1970. It’s no big secret that as a daft laddie I follow followed the blue half of the Ugly Sisters. In those days our supporters’ bus left Loanhead (or Loanheid) in Midlothian at 12 noon. The M8 was still under construction and you seldom got home before 8pm. Whitburn was the customary stop for chips. The older ones drank in the Double Five pub. I was interested to see the pub was still going but dismayed to see all the Better Together Loyalist crap on one of the dedicated Facebook pages.

Anyway back to the football and on my 1999 visit there was a healthy crowd as you can see. My mate Para and I drove around the houses near the ground for ages before we parked. We must have gone in the East gate which gives you the view in the first photo.

This time I wandered along from the Cross and missed the start of the game as I went up the alley which used to lead to the main gate (now padlocked). About 50 yards further along the street is the social club and the narrow entrance which is fine for the sort of crowds that Whitburn get nowadays.

img_1713img_1712The year after that defeat by Kilwinning, Whitburn were to lift the Scottish Junior Cup   themselves (when they beat Johnstone Burgh on penalties after a 2-2 draw at Firhill in front of 6547), but these glory days look like a distant memory at the moment. They were runners-up in 1966 when my local side, Bonnyrigg, beat them 6-1 at Hampden after a 1-1 draw. These games drew healthy crowds of 19000 and 12000. Then Camelon beat them in the 1995 Final when 8000 turned up. It’s a fair bet that Central Park’s record crowd of 5600 in 1948 against Annbank Utd will never again remotely be threatened. I reckoned today’s gate for the visit of Easthouses Lily was maybe 120.

Whitburn had a few years in the East Superleague which was set up in 2002, but dropped out in 2010 and haven’t yet been back. I’m sure the Whitburn fans know about the reasons for this but they will have to fill me in. They also had their problems in December 2013 when the roof blew off their pavilion, and forced them to play matches at Whitburn Academy. This photo is from the Daily Record:

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Ann Haddow, who was inside when the roof blew off

This season they are playing in the Premier, one step below the top level, having just been promoted alongside Tranent from the basement South League. Even though Tom Hendrie, ex-St Mirren, Berwick and Alloa manager, and another old workmate of mine, had got them promoted, they were now, after 11 matches, occupying one of the relegation spots and had sacked him a couple of weeks before. As I went through the gate I learned that Colin Martin, previously of Cowdenbeath, East Fife and East Stirlingshire, had been helping out and had just been appointed as the new boss.

Easthouses Lily were now in their second season in the South Division, having defected from the East of Scotland League (who are seniors, just to confuse those not acquainted with the setup 😉 ) They were mid-table and were obvious underdogs for today’s tie in the East of Scotland Cup. An ex Whitehill player and former pupil of mine, Gary Shearer, didn’t start but was listed as a sub.

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The enclosure which was built in 1946 from the Polish camp at Polkemmet

In contrast to the wet day in 1999 this was a day of strong sunshine, but bitterly cold, and the temperature struggled to about 5ºC not including the wind chill. One Whitburn regular, who must have been about 70, spent most of the game jogging back and forth along the covered enclosure to keep warm.

p1030568For me the first half hour was a borefest and the standard was pretty poor. Whitburn dominated their lower division opponents but struggled to create much. Lily were restricted to a few breakaways where they lacked the numbers. Their main chance came from a free-kick by McDermott but ‘keeper Horne saved easily. The game came to life around the half hour. Twice Martin Russell looked certain to score but each time his shot rattled back off the underside of the bar. Sandwiched in between these efforts was the opening goal by Hamilton, who struck a low right-footer from about 25 yards which squirmed through goalkeeper Taylor to put the home side one up at the break.

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New Pavilion

The social club was a welcome refuge at half time and I had a large measure of that famous Junior standby, OVD rum, to fight off the cold. There is a gallery of players who have gone on to gain Junior caps or turn senior, such as Bruce Clouston, Callum Milne, and the legendary Joe Mbu. Rangers signed John Greig directly from Whitburn though he never actually played a game, having been at Edinburgh Athletic.

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“For hygiene reasons, we would ask all customers to use the ice tongs provided and not to put hands into the ice

Gary Shearer came on for Hooses after the break and gave them some much-needed threat up the left but soon it was 2-0 as no 7 Martin’s shot found the net through a ruck of legs. Finally no 10 Robertson beat the offside trap and slipped the ball under the goalkeeper for 3-0. Game over as Whitburn sat back and allowed Hooses to come forward in search of a consolation. Whitburn through to Round 3 and me back to the car heater.

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