A Day in the Pits – Newtongrange Star – 13/03/2022

The town of Newtongrange is the perfect insight into Scotland’s historic mining culture. Home to the famous Lady Victoria Colliery, this small town in the heart of Midlothian became a powerful asset in the country’s industrial success. Old mining cottages are lined in perfect unison in the middle of town, allowing a glimpse into days gone by. When the old mining shaft was closed and replaced by the National Mining Museum (a decent school trip by the way), Nitten developed contrasting priorities to mining Black Diamond and sending canaries down a pit.

Formed in 1890, Newtongrange Star have been a stalwart for this old mining community for many a generation. In my younger days, Nitten were always seen as a team to beat and boasted plenty of talent in their ranks. This is shown by the wealth of historical achievements displayed in their Social Club. Nitten have more East of Scotland league and cup titles than I can comprehend, but no achievement matches the victory in the 1930 Scottish Junior Cup final. The Star pushed past Hall Russell in front of 17,000 at Tynecastle to lift the trophy for what remains the only time in the club’s history. Scottish football legends Willie Bauld, Bobby Johnstone and Walter Kidd have all plied their trade at New Victoria Park, with their pictures displayed proudly on the club interior. I’m sure they’d have been proud of their successes in Midlothian.

The current crop of players finds themselves in a different scenario. After moving from the junior ranks, the club compete in the East of Scotland Premier Division, where they sit third bottom of the table. While relegation looks to be a real threat, the distraction of cup football may prove to be a healthy alternative. After an opening game win, The Star will look to make it two wins from two in the East of Scotland League Cup group stage. Today they face a St Andrews United side who are struggling themselves in Conference ‘A’. On paper, this looked a simple case of home advantage, home win. What do I know though, eh?

Facilities

I’ve heard great things about New Victoria Park, and from the offset I could see why. First off, the social club next door is a nice wee establishment. Two rooms were filled with good patter, cheap pints and a welcoming atmosphere. It was a perfect pre-match stop to take in the Premier League lunchtime kick off and prepare for the experience ahead. I especially enjoyed the old photographs of the aforementioned famous former players and the board of the multitude of achievements the club have amassed. If you’re visiting NVP, it comes well recommended as an essential pit stop.

The football arena also lives up to expectation. A single tiered terrace lies to the left-hand side and looks tremendous in its old age.  There are plenty of seats dotted around the place if you prefer a more comfortable viewing spot, but I enjoyed being amongst the Star faithful in the terrace for today’s match. With a perimeter of trees surrounding the other three sides of the ground, I can see NVP looking like a nature encompassed wonderland during the summer months. I’ll need to come back and confirm this another day.

Furthermore, the playing surface itself looked immaculate after a difficult winter period for lower league clubs. With games being called off up and down the country due to poorly maintained pitches, it was refreshing to see the grass hold up well for most of the match.

Overall, I really like NVP. It is a classic but engaging arena to take in a game of football in the heart of the community it serves. If you are around this neck of the woods and fancy a game to watch, head along. You won’t regret it. 3.5/5.

Atmosphere

A decent crowd turned up for today’s league cup group stage game, with the crowd fully expectant for the Star to put in a positive performance. A few shouts were heard here and there but by and large, the crowd was relatively quiet. I did appreciate the friendly atmosphere though and believe that is the game has gone Nitten’s way, it could have been a different story. 2/5.

Quality of the Match

Newtongrange Star went into this match as heavy favourites against a team a step below them. However, the first ten minutes would set the pace for the game’s manner. After a game of head-tennis in midfield, an aimless forward ball was hooked toward the Newtongrange eighteen-yard box. Goalkeeper Sean Brennan and towering centre back Craig McBride got themselves mixed up in the worst possible moment, with the latter heading the loose ball over the onrushing ‘keeper. St Andrews striker Jake Grady reacted quickest to tap the ball into an empty net. The forward won’t score an easier goal this season. One-nil St Andrews.

Nitten’s slow start continued, with the visitors looking to capitalise on their opponents lack of attacking quality. After good play down the right from goal-scorer Grady, he hit a low-hit cross towards his striking compatriot Adam Davidson. His goalward effort from 6 yards was blocked well by the Newtongrange defence, with the home supporters growing increasingly frustrated with their team’s efforts.

Another great opportunity fell Jake Grady’s way, with the striker sent through from Davidson after good work between the two. With his sights fully on goal, the forward lost his footing in the process of shooting to send the ball bobbling into Brennan’s arms.

Nitten finally forced themselves into the match and produced their first real attack on the St Andrews goal. After good work down the right from Chris Roberston and Ben Finnan, the latter’s cross into the box was met well by striker Liam McIntosh. He couldn’t direct his touch into the bottom corner though, with his effort kissing the base of the post before being launched out the park by the United defence.

The home side’s pressure continued and were mightily close to equalising. A positive ball forward by right-back Ali Forster found Chris Robertson at the edge of the box. The winger turned well and hit a powerful strike towards goal. United ‘keeper Kyle Moran saved the effort well, but the ball spiralled towards the goal line. It took an incredible acrobatic clearance from a member of the Saints defence to keep the away side in the lead. Nitten strongly appealed that the ball had crossed the line, but neither the referee nor near side linesman agreed.

St Andrews should have doubled their lead shortly after. Nitten’s centre back pairing parted like the Red Sea, leaving Saints midfielder Ross Cunningham the simple task of threading a through ball to Grady once more. With acres of space and only the ‘keeper to beat, the striker saw his effort saved well by the onrushing stopper, who prevented any further embarrassment for his side. I genuinely believe you could have fit a full Lothian Bus between the two Nitten centre backs. The home side finished the half behind on goals and down on morale.

Half time: Newtongrange Star 0-1 St Andrews United

This second half has the potential to be shortest documentation of football I’ll ever write. For much of the half, play was very predictable from both sides. Nitten controlled most of the possession but lacked any form of attacking impetus to break down a resolute St Andrews defence. On the flip-slide, whenever the visitors regained possession, a simple hoof down the park was enough to restart the whole process over again. Neither team looked good enough to create a chance and the game eased away with every dying moment.

The only interesting part of the half came halfway through. A free kick delivered from the far side met the head of substitute Jack Gillan. He guided his header into the bottom corner, only for the referee to pull the ball back for a foul. An inch of excitement taken away in the blink of an eye.

Full time: Newtongrange Star 0-1 St Andrews United

Newtongrange will be hugely disappointed not to have taken anything from this game. As a team who entered the game as heavy favourites, they created next to nothing and will be heading back to the drawing board. They looked sluggish going forward and lacked any creativity when reaching the final third. They can have no complaints with todays result and will need to be better in their pursuit for East of Scotland Premier Division safety.

St Andrews will be delighted with todays result and ultimately how easy it was for them. They defended deeply and ousted any attack their hosts pushed on them with ease. They took an opportunity and perhaps should have been further ahead soon after. For a team in the lower reaches of Conference ‘A’, this will prove to be a morale-boosting victory to take up the road.

A special mention must also go to today’s referee, who I thought had a very good game. He proved consistent for both teams and looked to communicate well with the players on the park. With negativity flowing around Scottish referees at the moment, his performance was a refreshing sight.

On a whole, this was not a hugely entertaining fixture. Ultimately, a lack of quality on both sides made this contest a difficult one to watch, with a costly defensive mistake proving to be the decisive moment. This match scores a generous 1.5/5.

Pricing

This is where clubs at this level earn their points. Newtongrange are no different and score full marks in this section. From the well-priced pints in the social club, to the affordable entry fee to the cheap and cheerful food, it would be crazy not to praise the accessibility for this level. 5/5.

Final Score

Newtongrange Star end the day with a score of 12/20. On another day, a better performance on the park would have pushed the side into the upper echelons of the TSFA League Table. I was still highly impressed with the ground itself; the friendliness of the staff and the obvious community feel of the club. I’ll be back again soon and will be hoping for a Star victory to add to a future day out.

– Connor

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