Only Team in the Village – Whitehill Welfare – 25/09/2021

A perfect day for football.

Background

Whitehill Welfare are somewhat of a sleeping giant in Scottish lower league folklore. As the most successful club in East of Scotland League history, Welfare have sixteen league titles to their name. The claret and white trophy cabinet is chock full of cup silverware too. Not bad for a team in small village Midlothian. As of 2013, they joined the newly formed Lowland League as one of their founding members, where they stayed until relegation in 2019.

Presently, Welfare ply their trade in the East of Scotland Premier Division alongside a host of lower league mainstays. Welfare currently sit second bottom of the division, with only lowly Newtongrange Star propping the Ferguson Park side up. It’s an old cliché to say that a club are too big to be relegated, but unless The Welfare get their act together it slowly becomes a stark reality. As a Hibs fan, I know this all too well…

Their challengers for this mild Saturday afternoon – Linlithgow Rose – were sitting in the higher reaches of the league heading into this contest. A huge name in the junior game themselves, The Rose were hoping to continue their decent league form and add three points to their current total.

The Journey

Having grown up in Midlothian, the vast majority of my family live and breath in this reach of Central Belt Scotland. Coming from Dalkeith, a short but bustling drive through Bonnyrigg and the surrounding countryside brought me to the quaint village of Rosewell. Famous for Rosslyn Chapel, where Tom Hanks and co filmed a few scenes of The Da Vinci Code, Rosewell’s historic feel is paramount throughout the village. I parked up on the main road and left gave myself a few minutes stroll to Ferguson Park.

Facilities

Ferguson Park is a hidden gym embedded between a row of houses on the main street. After cutting through a small alleyway, the signs for Whitehill Welfare were clear as day. The fact that Ferguson Park is so close to daily life in Rosewell brings an obvious sense of community to the club. The ground is literally a stone’s throw away from a lot of places in the village.

Upon entering the gates, a tremendous sense of openness greets you. There is plenty of space to stand or sit whilst chatting nonsense about what life has brought you that particular week. A small seating area sits parallel to the food and drink van where specialised pies were on sale today. I’d have been silly not to have tried this steak, haggis and peppercorn sauce creation. I was not disappointed.

A small but lovely lounge was available for punters to get pre-match pints and watch the snooze fest that was Chelsea v Man City in the EPL lunchtime kick-off. Friendliness oozed through the place as I chatted with a couple of older gentlemen who spoke honestly about The Welfare’s season so far.

Ferguson Park has a couple of small, seated stands available with one covered and another exposed to the elements. It has everything you need to watch a game of football at this level, with some added dedicated benches and disability seating for those who require it. Furthermore, the pitch looked outstanding and would put a few SPFL sides to shame. I feel a score of 4/5 is fair.

Home and away fans together by the embankment

Atmosphere

As mentioned, a very friendly atmosphere among punters became clear from the off. The Welfare loyal shouted beads of encouragement throughout but were ultimately outshone by the band of travelling fans from Linlithgow. A mixture of supporters old and young gathered on the embankment behind the dugouts to watch the encounter in relative peace and harmony. Friendly patter aside, It was a relatively quiet affair on show. I enjoyed the real local feel to the ground. Old pals gathering round to catch up and take in the game together. I’ve a long way to go but I can see myself in this limelight in thirty or so years. 2.5/5 is a fair reflection in my eyes.   

Quality of the Match

After feeling each other out for the first ten minutes, Welfare showed themselves to be much the better side for the opening exchanges without creating too much going forward. They certainly did not look like the side languishing at the base end of the league. This was until a flurry of chances came Linlithgow’s way. A slack pass in midfield allowed Mark Stowe on Linlithgow’s right to cut inside and play an intricate pass to Alan Sneddon outside the 6-yard box. His shot was saved well by Musa Dibaga in the Welfare goal. Dibaga was called into action thirty seconds later as a parried strike was deflected for a corner – with the resulting delivery being blazed over from close range.

The Welfare conjured their first chance of the game after good play on the left. A decent delivery by Liam McCardle was headed over at the back post by a frustrated Bob McKenzie. Whitehill were beginning to mount serious pressure as Aaran Laidlaw stormed through on goal. A last-ditch challenge by Rose captain Gary Thom preventing the striker putting the home side in front.

Linlithgow struck back quickly with a superb driving run by Thomas Halleran. After skipping past three Welfare defenders, his low shot struck off the inside of the far post and nestled safely in Dibaga’s arms. The Rose would not be denied for much longer though. After decent play in midfield, Stowe struck a laser-pointed effort from twenty-five yards. The drive found itself in the bottom corner and pushed Linlithgow into the break a goal up.

Half Time: Whitehill Welfare 0-1 Linlithgow Rose

After an unexceptional first fifteen of the second half, the game completely sprung into life. A good save by Dibaga denied Sneddon before chaos erupted soon after. Linlithgow found themselves through on goal again with a last-minute challenge from Blair Tolmie bringing The Rose striker down just outside the box. For me, a foul and a booking would have sufficed. The referee and near-side linesman had other ideas. A straight red card was shown to Tolmie, much to the disbelief of the Welfare support, players and dugout. The decision appeared harsh to me, but then again who’d be a referee?

As expected, Linlithgow strutted the remainder of the game. After more intricate play in midfield, Alan Docherty found himself on the far side of Welfare’s box. His ball across was finished comfortably by Sneddon to give The Rose a two-goal lead. With Linlithgow playing much of the game in Whitehill’s half, I moved myself behind the home side’s goal to gain a better view of their passing game. This was displayed superbly, with a strong passing move resulting in left-back Cammy Thomson hitting the far post.

Whitehill were struggling to get out of their own half by this point, with Linlithgow taking full control of the affair. Musa Dibaga took it upon himself to produce a goalkeeping masterclass for the remainder of the match. A header was superbly pushed over, a one-on-one effort was parried wide and a brave stop at the feet of Docherty just the key highlights of his second half. Without him, Welfare’s afternoon could have been incredibly miserable.

Full Time: Whitehill Welfare 0-2 Linlithgow Rose

Given the controversy of the red card, Welfare will feel aggrieved by Saturday’s result. They played well up until the sending off and can take confidence into their next match with this in mind.

Linlithgow are towards the top end of the league for a reason and really strutted their stuff against ten men. A 2-0 score line flattered the home side in the end, with an inspired goalkeeping performance keeping the tally down. I feel as though a score of 2.5/5 is fair, given how much the red card thwarted the afternoon’s entertainment.

Pricing

I paid £7 entry to Ferguson Park, a good price for a Premier Division match. The pie and coffee I had at the match was a fair price too and well worth it. There can no complaints with the pricing at this level. 5/5.

Final Score

Whitehill Welfare achieve a final score of 14/20 for Saturday’s game. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Ferguson Park and the friendly atmosphere it brought.  I hope to be back soon to see a resurgent Welfare team push their way back up the league.

– Connor

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