The first month of the year is not far off its cold conclusion. As January ends as quickly as it began, the football calendar only continues to offer a tremendous amount of sporting action up and down the country. On a weekend of exciting Scottish Cup activity, I took the opportunity to explore a contrast to Scotland’s premier domestic competition; the East of Scotland Qualifying Cup.
To achieve this, I’d have to visit a town very close to where I grew up. Tranent lies close to the western border of East Lothian and is famous for setting the development pace of the mining industry for both Scotland and later, the UK. Working class roots run deep, with huge communities thriving as a result of booming production. Naturally, like most towns in central belt Scotland, the decline of the mining industry saw Tranent turn to alternative modes of income, operating as a commuter town to Edinburgh, with its steep history lingering behind.
However, exciting things are brewing in this newly quiet area of the world. Tranent Juniors are pushing to be the talk of the town and are showcasing themselves to be a powerful entity in the east of Scotland set-up in the process. After moving from the junior leagues in 2018, ‘The Big T’ currently sit third in the East of Scotland Premier Division, four points from top with a game in hand. After thrashing league leaders Penicuik 3-0 last week though, Tranent have their tails up heading into this weekend’s important cup tie. Lowland League trailblazers Bonnyrigg Rose travel the short distance from Midlothian to face up in what should be an epic encounter. A bumper crowd looked set to descend onto Foresters Park to watch the cracking game on offer. It might not live up to Tranent’s Scottish Junior Cup win in 1935, but this ambitious club will be looking to add more silverware to an already well decorated cabinet. Their Scottish Cup exploits this season proves this level of pedigree.
Trips to grounds in the east are helped greatly by staying with family. As I grew up in Dalkeith, accessibility to clubs in and around the capital is easier for me than for most and made today’s adventure incredibly simple. After daundering through Wallyford and latching onto the A1, the drive through Tranent’s town centre brought me to the housing estate where Foresters Park is based. Parking is easy in and around the ground, with a wall of noise directing me towards today’s venue.
After paying my entry fee to two wonderfully cheerful gentlemen at the gate, I was impressed by Foresters Park at first glance. You are greeted with a single stand where most of today’s punters would be based, with a standard perimeter lining the park. Tranent’s club brand is paramount across the entire gaff, including a maroon fence behind one goal and the club’s name and motto emblazoned on a large wall behind the other. Identity is so important in sport, and it is great to see local clubs engaging with this form of pride.
I enjoy the look and feel to the ground. It is clean, spacious and has plenty of room to grow should Tranent’s ambitions come to fruition in years to come. A handy tearoom will cater for all your food and drink needs, with two lovely club staff taking orders with excellent efficiency. It is also nice to see clubs selling merchandise at this level. If you happen to be a collector of niche Scottish football memorabilia, The Big T have you covered.
One special feature of Foresters Park in particular caught my eye. Next to the canteen, a garden lies in memory for those Tranent supporters who are no longer with us. I’ve seen a few similar memorials for supporters in other lower league clubs, and I feel it is a classy touch. Being immortalised in the ground of the club you support holds incredible sentimentality and is genuinely wholesome to see this offered.
Overall, today’s venue has a mixture of modern and classic feels to it. The old, rustic stand and the fresh, ambient maroon wall lie side by side in a superb footballing venue with a near-perfect playing surface. I feel a score of 4/5 is fair.
Both clubs on display have equally impressive numbers when it comes to attendance. It is no surprise then that a large crowd descended onto Foresters Park and created a bustling and excitable atmosphere. Supporters young and old littered the perimeter and packed the stand, to the occasional sound of The Belters’ drum in the corner. I’m not sure if Hibs and Hearts’ away days added to the numbers, but with an official attendance of 957, it is certainly not one to turn your nose up to.
The friendly patter flowed through the ground and created a vibrant and friendly feel to the fixture, with supporters of both clubs mingling throughout. With the two teams geographically close, it gave the match a sense of tension, but without the excessive dislike and abuse as seen further up the pyramid. I feel as though the noise could have been louder with the heavy number of supporters inside, but by no means was it as quiet as my experience at Easter Road on Thursday. I feel a score of 3/5 is fair.
Quality of the Match
Both teams came into this match on a high. With the hosts riding a wave after a huge league win the week before and the visitors in the Lowland League clouds, the expectant crowd hoped for an eventful contest. For the first ten or fifteen minutes though, it remained even stevens in terms of chances and possession. With both teams feeling each other out, it took a swift counterattack to create the game’s first real opportunity. A quick break down Tranent’s left hand side saw Matthew Knox powering forward. With plenty of time and space, he struck a low ball just wide of Michael Andrews’ far post.
After a slow start, slick play from both sides began to open the contest up. After twenty minutes, Bonnyrigg carved their first chance of the match. Iconic striker George Hunter was sent through on goal with plenty still to do. Tranent stopper Dean Beveridge matched the run perfectly though, rushing out instantly to save and hold the close-range effort into his chest. Tranent returned the explosive favour and looked dangerous going forward. Some nice touches and quick feet from wingers Knox and Jamie Docherty managed to bring The Belters up the park, but the lack of a final pass prevented the hosts any further opportunities.
The breakthrough did come, but not in the way anyone packed inside Foresters Park expected. A harmless pass back to Beveridge looked to be played to the side for a punt up the park. However, a powerful chase from George Hunter blocked the ‘keepers kick in front of goal, which rolled into the back of the net. A horrible goal for the hosts to concede after holding their own for much of the first half.
Jamie Docherty almost equalised five minutes later. A tricky and intricate run down Tranent’s left saw the forward dance through three Bonnyrigg defenders with immense agility and balance. With the goal at his mercy at a tight angle, a tremendous block saw his strike bobble wide for a corner. An outstanding run which deserved a goal. With The Big T in the ascendency and oozing with momentum, Bonnyrigg delivered a swift sucker-punch. After more good work from George Hunter to win a corner, the resulting delivery was half-cleared before falling back to the striker. His accurate volley powered past the stranded Beveridge to double the visitor’s lead at the half.
Half Time: Tranent Juniors 0-2 Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic
Bonnyrigg started the second half on the front foot and almost increased their lead further in an instant. A well-controlled touch in the box by Nathan Evans saw his snapshot fly just wide of the post. Bonnyrigg looked to control the game and piled on the pressure to secure the game. George Hunter caused problems for the Tranent defence consistently and succeeded in making life difficult for them. His strength and balance secured a good touch and turn in the Belters’ box and looked to have been chopped down before he could unleash his strike at goal. With the Bonnyrigg faithful screaming for a penalty, the referee disagreed to much frustration and disbelief.
Bonnyrigg’s experience showed why they are favourites to be playing SPFL football next season with a professional and steady defensive performance. They limited the hosts to largely long-range efforts, very little of which troubled Andrews’ goal. The best opportunity fell to captain Shaun Rutherford on the edge of the box. After cutting inside on his right foot, his curling effort flew just wide and looked to end Tranent’s pursuit for a goal.
With five minutes left, Bonnyrigg continued to press and could have increased their lead further. After some intricate play in midfield, right-back Dean Brett found himself on the edge of the box before releasing a superb strike at goal. From my angle it looked to be nestling in the back of the net, but instead arrowed just wide. The final chance of the game fell to hard-working midfielder Lee Currie. After relentless work from substitute Kieran Hall, his diverted cross was poked just wide, ending the contest with Bonnyrigg on a high.
Full Time: Tranent Juniors 0-2 Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic
In a game where Tranent could test themselves against higher league opposition, The Belters should keep their heads held high. For large spells of the game, they proved more than capable of going toe-to-toe with a team destined for SPFL football. On the counter, The Big T looked dangerous and with a better final pass and a bit of luck could have easily found themselves with clearer sights of goal. On the right, Jamie Docherty looked lively the entire game. His fast feet and energetic runs often created problems for The Rose backline, who couldn’t keep up at times. Left-back and captain Shaun Rutherford also impressed. He worked incredibly hard for ninety minutes and led his team from the front. His impressive runs forward brought his team forward and, on another day, one of his long-range strikes could have bought Tranent a result. The Big T are on the up, and I would not be surprised if they pulled off promotion this season.
Bonnyrigg will be content with today’s result. A thoroughly professional defensive performance built the required foundation to win this cup tie. Similarly, when I witnessed them in league action in October, Bonnyrigg’s physicality and spatial awareness created problems across their opponent’s back line – opening them up for good deal of opportunities at goal. George Hunter epitomised this style of play and ran his heart out for the duration of the game. His determination was rewarded with two goals to his name and could have had more on another day. The only way is up for The Rose and I look forward to when Midlothian can host SPFL football.
Overall, I enjoyed this ‘Lothian derby’. I was treated to some terrific individual play, some meaty tackles, and a great insight into where these two local clubs fit into the pyramid. After a slow and uneventful start, the game turned into a feisty battle with plenty left on the park. I feel a score of 3/5 is a good reflection.
On entry to Foresters Park, I paid a cheap and cheerful £7 and £1 for a coffee. Like every other club at this level, the value for money is incredible and scores no less than a 5/5.
Tranent end with a final score of 15/20 and push themselves into the upper echelons of the TSFA League Table. I had a terrific experience at Foresters Park, and I look forward to seeing how the ground develops as the club advances. There is no doubt The Big T will be making some wild strides in the years to come. I wish them all the best.