The West Lothian Question – Blackburn United – 18/12/2021

Those colours though.

Christmas beckons. A magical time of year filled with laughs, family, gifts, food and most importantly, a wealth of football. For supporters of the game up and down the country, the festive season brings us a whirlwind of action. Matches come thick and fast for teams across the divisions where momentum can either be built or snatched away in the blink of an eye. As a bonus, the rammy of fixtures provides plenty of opportunity to visit unfamiliar grounds and access exciting experiences. Who said winter was miserable?  

My visit this week takes me to West Lothian for the first time this season. As a county which is primarily known in modern times as an industrial powerhouse, West Lothian’s history is incredibly interesting. For example, plenty of prehistoric burial sites found in the county’s beautifully natural landscape has helped shape the way we understand our past.  

However, like much of Scotland’s central belt in recent times, heavy industries’ demise has proved challenging for a region stuck in the middle of the countries’ two largest cities. Community thrives though, and always has done. Sport, and more specifically football often plays an important role in this.  

Blackburn United are a shining example of how sport meets the needs of its community. Formed in 1978, The Burrie’s senior team are just the tip of the iceberg in the club’s wider scale: Blackburn United Community Sports Club. As stated by the club’s website, “the Club recognised the role that football and sport can make to improving lives and life chances for young people.” Community and sport evidently play such a large role in the health and wellbeing of an individual, with Blackburn United putting their front foot forward on the issue. The club have a huge range of youth set-ups and community initiatives around the town for those who desperately need it. It is tremendous to see, and long may it continue.  

The first-team presently ply their trade in the East of Scotland Premier Division after shifting from junior football in 2018; a decision in which plenty of former juniors have made in recent years. Currently sitting 14th in an eighteen-team league with a few games in hand, there is plenty of room for Blackburn to cement themselves as an EoS powerhouse in years to come. Jeanfield Swifts were the visitors on this crisp December Saturday where I was hoping the football may warm our souls on the side-line.  

The Journey 

Work commitments brought me to Glasgow city centre once again. As the fog descended on my walk through Glasgow Green, I did wonder how many games would succumb to the conditions this weekend. Thankfully, as you are reading this, Blackburn United’s was indeed on.  

Blackburn is generally easy to get to by car. After picking up my guest for today’s entertainment, a simple half-hour or so down the M8 brought us to the town centre where it was very easy to find New Murrayfield Park (or the Purdie Worldwide Community Stadium for sponsorship reasons). Street parking is accessible and easy, so the car was brought to a halt and a thirty second walk to the ground commenced. 

Facilities 

The main stand at NMP.

First glimpses of NMP are superb. A modern, clean and easy-on-the-eye building emblazoned with the stadium name and club badge is the first structure that greets you. It is genuinely impressive.  

Upon paying my entry fee and entering the gate, the good impressions did not stop there. The ground is clean and aesthetically pleasing. A white barrier surrounds the periphery of the park with a single standing terrace on the far side. Even the dugouts look nice, with the club badge and colours decorating both home and away.  

On the left of the turnstiles lie the food and restrooms. A spotless toilet facility was nice to see, as was the efficient and friendly kitchen that lay ahead of it. I was served with lovely enthusiasm by the two members of club staff who couldn’t have been nicer. The work of those in the kitchen and turnstiles largely go unnoticed, and so it is great to see people enjoying the graft they put in. Thank you.  

I genuinely really like NMP. The fresh, modern look suits the club to the ground. The accessible artificial surface makes complete sense and the ground has plenty of room to grow should the club succeed. I also loved the benches around the park dedicated to the memories of supporters who had sadly passed on. It truly is a nice touch. I feel NMP as a whole deserves a solid 3.5/5. 

Atmosphere 

It’s always nice to see a club welcome plenty of locals through the turnstiles. With Blackburn being a relatively small town in the grand scheme of things, it is perhaps unsurprising that the noise and atmosphere would be subdued to an extent. A few shouts from the crowd could be heard here and there but ultimately it sounded pretty dry. 

However, it was clear to see the community environment the club encourage. Plenty of younger supporters were in attendance to watch their local team, and that in general is great. Everyone around appeared friendly and willing to chat if given the opportunity. I wonder if the cold put some regulars off though, and what an experience at NMP would be like in the warmer months. For this particular visit though, it scores a freezing 1.5/5.  

Quality of the Match 

The Burries started the brighter of the two sides early on with a flowing move through the middle. As a low cross from the right was bundled in though, the linesman’s flag was duly raised to cancel any excitement. Two minutes later however, Blackburn striker Danny Campbell rounded Sean Dalton in the Jeanfield goal, with the former sent flying to the deck. Whether he was touched or not is completely up for debate, but nonetheless the spot kick was given, and Dalton booked for his troubles. Burries captain Michael Browne slotted the ball away to give the home side a quick lead. 

Swifts took this warning shot and responded immediately. Paul Simpson looked lively on the right with a few bursts of pace and tantalising crosses. His left-footed effort curled just wide of Craig Saunders’ far post. It wouldn’t be long before Jeanfield’s equaliser arrived though. After working the ball down the left, Chris Dodd’s shot deflected into the path of striker Dayle Robertson. He calmly placed the ball into the bottom corner to bring The Swifts back into the game.  

Both Jeanfield and Robertson came so close to a second minutes later. After the big striker twisted and turned away from a few languishing defenders, his progress towards goal was halted by Saunders. The rebound fell to Connor McLaren, whose powerful volley smashed off the bar. A superb effort which looked destined to cut the net wide open.  

Jeanfield continued their pressure and looked to ride the wave of momentum coming their way. It told ten minutes before half time. A free kick whipped in by Simpson on the right looked destined to hit the back of the net. After a slight headed deflection by a Blackburn defender, it did. It felt like a deserved lead for the Swifts who went into half-time a goal up.  

Half time: Blackburn United 1-2 Jeanfield Swifts 

The Swifts started the second half as they ended the first; on the front foot. Blackburn struggled to deal with Jeanfield’s wide, expansive play and paid the price five minutes after the interval. After excellent build up play down the left, a strike at goal by Simpson was converted goalward by Robertson who claimed a deserved second goal of the game. 

Jeanfield’s main man should have been taking the match ball away soon after. After a well saved effort by Saunders, the resulting corner was headed just wide when it looked easier to score. Blackburn hit back, and had it not been for Dalton in the Jeanfield goals though, those chances may have been rued. A close-range effort was expertly directed over the bar to ruin Blackburn’s hopes of getting back into the game. The crossbar played its part too, with the woodwork being hit once again to deny Callum Heath’s goalward effort.  

With the game fizzling out and the affair becoming feisty, Jack Garrad managed to get himself sent off for obvious descent towards the linesman. A silly decision from one of Blackburn’s more creative players left the home side in a frustrated lurch. A few more missed opportunities came and went for Jeanfield, before the final whistle saved the hosts’ goal difference for today.  

Full time: Blackburn United 1-3 Jeanfield Swifts 

Blackburn will feel disappointed with today’s result but should not be too disheartened. I felt they had a decent flow going forward and some excellent creative impetus in the final third. Although the end result was not forthcoming this weekend, I suspect they have enough in their locker to be absolutely fine in this seasons Premier Division. Furthermore, despite his hot-headed sending off, I felt Jack Garrad had a decent game and should look to focus his eccentrics into his quick feet moving forward.  

Jeanfield will be delighted to have travelled up the road with three points. They played some exquisite football at times and really took advantage of the smooth artificial surface. They seemed to enjoy their fast, cut-throat style of play and gained plenty of space in the wide areas. Paul Simpson impressed me today for the most part. His agility, footwork and athleticism proved to be a deciding factor in a lot of Jeanfield’s attacking moves, and it was unsurprising to see him involved in the away side’s goals. Striker Dayle Robertson also impressed. He worked incredibly hard all game and charged down the Blackburn defence at a moment’s notice. He will naturally be disappointed not to have gone home with the match ball, but I’m sure two goals in an important away fixture is a good feeling to take back regardless.  

Overall, I enjoyed this weekend’s fixture. A superb battle with plenty of goalmouth action on both sides. I look forward to heading to Jeanfield at some point in the future to see what they are like on home turf. I feel this encounter deserves a solid 3/5.  

Pricing 

There is a photo circulating social media at the moment of the food prices down at Arsenal. I don’t know about any of you, but I almost spewed at the thought of paying £18.50 for a cheeseburger and chips deal. Thankfully the prices at Blackburn United were an absolute dream. £6 entry, £2 pies and £1 teas/coffees brought my entire visit to a tenner. The value for money is tremendous and can score no less than a 5/5.  

Final Score 

Blackburn United end the weekend with a score of 13/20. I imagine on a warmer day and a bigger fixture; this score may be higher. I look forward to the day where I can return to NMP to bask in the glorious West Lothian sunshine to watch an absolute cracker of a game.  

I enjoyed the modern and welcome feel of the club, and I wish them all the best for the rest of the season. As for Jeanfield, I am excited to head up to Perth and see what they have to offer. 

Happy Holidays, 

Connor.  

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