The county of East Lothian is home to many beautiful settings and landmarks. A region filled with vast countryside, scenic coastlines and mesmeric landscapes: East Lothian prides itself on its friendly endeavour and historic status. After bouncing around the Kingdoms of Bernicia, Northumbria, England and finally Scotland: the town of Haddington finds itself central to East Lothian’s concourse in modern times.
Haddington Athletic have been a mainstay in the East of Scotland football scene since their formation in 1939. However, it is fair to say that prominent success has been few and far between for The Hi His, with three East of Scotland Cups taking up the most room in Haddington’s trophy cabinet. This is a club on the up though. The Hi His are currently storming the East of Scotland Conference ‘A’ and look destined for promotion to the Premier Division.
Furthermore, Scottish Cup fever had well and truly descended onto the club over the last couple months. After a hard-fought penalty shoot-out victory over Highland League side Deveronvale, Haddington went toe-to-toe with newly relegated Brechin City and only just came up short. Considering Brechin were in the 2nd tier not so long ago, Haddington travelled home to rapturous praise and their heads held high.
On Saturday, I decided to make the journey to Millfield Park to see what the fuss was all about. Lowland League legends Spartans were travelling eastward for a chance to progress into the South Challenge Cup Fourth Round and the opportunity appeared too good to miss. Who has two thumbs and loves the idea of a cup upset? This guy.
Work/family commitments brought me to the east coast this weekend, making my journey toward Haddington very straightforward. The A1 takes you beyond Tranent and Prestonpans (clubs I will be visiting shortly) before turning off when signs for Haddington became clear.
The drive through Haddington town centre feels like a trip through history. Beautiful old buildings grace the tight streets, where I couldn’t help but notice that everything appeared spotlessly clean. This is clearly a community that takes pride in the town and maintains it accordingly.
Passing the centre, the road to the ground is easy. I parked at a local sports centre and walked past an old mill on my stroll to the ground. I’ve been to Haddington a few times in the past, but this is the first time I’ve truly appreciated its beauty. If you ever have a chance to visit, do it. The warm-up shouts from Millfield Park could be heard from a while away and built my excitement for the match ahead.
Upon entering Millfield Park, a signpost lies directly ahead giving directions to the ground’s many perks, pointing towards food and drink, toilets, and disability access. This is the first time I’ve seen such a structure at a ground on my travels and for new visitors like me it is a simple but appreciated feature. The view of a historic old mill in the background certainly gives context to this old ground’s name.
The ground itself is a very quaint environment. A single standing structure lies alone on the near touchline with a thick white barrier running the length and width of the pitch. A few benches also run along either side, providing comfortable access for those who need it. Much like the town itself, Millfield Park is very clean. I’m not sure if this is a Haddington state of mind or an East Lothian trait in general but either way, I am all for it. The committee and supporters clearly care about the image of the club, and it is great to see.
The legendary food stall lies on the left upon entry. Having watched the superb VT on BBC Scotland’s A View from the Terrace, it was difficult not to visit right away and I was not disappointed with the tasty culinary delights to choose from. A pie and a coffee took my fancy as I wandered to find a place to stand. Margaret, you’re an icon.
I enjoy Millfield Park. It is quaint, well-kept, and incredibly clean. Furthermore, the immaculate playing surface showcases this high standard is being delivered at all levels. It scores a handy 3.5/5.
Millfield Park may be the friendliest crowd I’ve experienced on my travels thus far. Many conversations were struck with punters littered across the barriers who made me feel incredibly welcome. I was easily able to gather just how much the club means to the local community. They were enjoying Haddington’s leap into senior football and the excitement it has brought to the town. Droves of spectators young and old were scattered across the ground dressed in Haddington clad, with kids kicking a ball about on the pitch when the senior team were not.
The regulars who I chatted with discussed how today’s atmosphere was unusually quiet in comparison to other recent home games. They spoke highly of the bustling atmosphere for Scottish Cup ties and important league fixtures. For all their chat, it was difficult to ignore just how silent the punters were during the ninety minutes. Perhaps it is a one off. I’ll know on my next visit. Overall, the friendly community feel, excellent ‘local club’ environment and the amazing number of spaniels in the ground lifts this score to 3/5. I do love a dog at the football.
Quality of the Match
Heading into this South Challenge Cup tie, The Spartans sat second in the Lowland League, two divisions above The Hi His. Early on, Spartan’s experience at this higher level showcased itself. They spread the ball the ease and stretched the pitch to the best of their ability which lead to the first half-chance of the game. Larger than life striker Blair Henderson struck the ball with his left, only to be held well by Hi His ‘keeper Dale Cornet. Haddington struggled to leave their own half for a prolonged period, with the away side’s defence sweeping anything away comfortably.
Haddington hung in there and created their first opportunity soon after. After superb distribution by Cornet, Alassan Jones showed excellent technical drive and powered the home side up the park. A few neat flicks and passes resulted in a Gabri Auriemma volley nestling in goalkeeper Blair Carswell’s arms. Despite Spartan’s dominance, both teams had created equal chances.
After a few last-ditch challenges and a hairy moment from Haddington’s number one, Spartans took advantage from a defensive error. After a drilled pass over the top, Cornet hesitated once more on his decision to come off his line. This split second allowed Sean Brown to nip in and receive a clattering from the onrushing goalkeeper. With no complaints from the packed stand, Blair Henderson stepped up to put Spartans a goal up. To add injury to insult, the Haddington ‘keeper went off with a busted shoulder caused by the challenge: replaced by Robbie Stirling for the remainder of the match.
Half Time: Haddington Athletic 0-1 The Spartans
To begin proceedings for the second half, Spartans picked up where they left off. They pressed on the front foot and almost grabbed a second goal soon after the restart. A nice lay off by Henderson to Brown saw the powerful forward’s strike hitting the side-netting.
The scales did begin to balance though, with Haddington battling well in the middle of the park. It was a mistake by Carswell though that almost gifted them an equaliser. After some silky footwork in his own box, the stopper was caught on the ball by striker Guy McGarry. From a tight angle, he could only lift the ball over the crossbar and watch as it rolled down the back of the net. Funnily enough, there were a good amount of home supporters who thought McGarry had scored an equaliser.
Spartans heeded this warning and pushed for a second with increased intensity. After some tidy build-up play in midfield the ball found its way to Sean Brown on his right foot. From an acute angle he drilled the ball near post and put his side two goals up. A good goal overall, but Stirling may feel disappointed with his positioning.
With a comfortable lead, Spartans drifted through the remainder of the match in second gear. Haddington played some nice football to advance up the park at times but could not find a way through a solid Spartans defence with their only real chance coming in the closing stages. After slack play by the Spartans midfield, Shaun Hill found himself galloping down the left. After cutting inside and feeding the ball to substitute Aaron Congalton, the ball flew just wide to at least dirty Blair Carswell’s shorts for the afternoon.
Full Time: Haddington Athletic 0-2 The Spartans
On the whole, this was a pretty comfortable afternoon for the visitors. The Hi His had their moments and produced some good football at times, but the gulf in quality and experience ultimately shone through. I will give a special mention for midfielder Alassan Jones. His technical quality and quick football took the ball through the lines and brought Haddington up the park. I felt he was excellent, and I imagine him to be a top player in EoS Conference ‘A’. Also, the Haddington back line generally stood up well to the threat of Spartan’s strikers. They limited the visitors to only a few clear chances which is a difficult task for most Lowland League sides.
Spartans will be pleased with their performance. They produced a thoroughly professional job and did what they had to do to progress. Sean Brown was a pest of a forward all game and scored a deserved goal in the second half. Jamie Dishington had a solid game on the right and showed why he has experience playing in the professional leagues. I also felt centre back Kevin Waugh had a great game. He dealt with any threats that came his way and looked comfortable for the duration. The former Hibernian youth player also looked excellent on the ball.
Overall, I was treated to some decent football, some good individual performances and an entertaining midfield battle. I suspect Haddington may close the gap on today’s visitors in seasons to come. Unfortunately, they are some way off just yet. The game scores a comfy 2.5/5.
I paid an incredibly cheap £6 for this third-round cup tie. For me, any game of football priced this cheaply is worth it regardless of the quality on the pitch. Furthermore, with the food and drink fairly priced too, it is easy to score this as 5/5.
Haddington Athletic end the day with a score of 14/20. I really enjoyed my time at Millfield Park and certainly felt the appeal the club has to the local community. This is a well looked after club with tremendous spirit in the town. The only way is up for The Hi His, and I for one cannot wait to see them progress. As for Spartans, my visit to Ainslie Park will come soon enough.