East Lothian is a beautiful place. I’ve enjoyed my visits during my footballing escapades, particularly on my trips to Haddington Athletic and Tranent Juniors. Home to the scenic Golf Coast, sandy beaches and significant political and cultural history, East Lothian has a lot more than meets the eye. Each town plays its part, and my destination this weekend is no different.
A mere eight miles from Edinburgh, Prestonpans is a traditional coastal town built on industry. Named after the old art of salt panning, the town grew in stature and importance after the discovery of coal mining. Breweries, fishing, soap production and pottery also placed this versatile town on the map. However, like all mining communities across central belt Scotland, the coal mining decline left the town to shrink. Today, Prestonpans is a generally quiet commuter town to the capital with engaging walks, attractive scenery, and age-old architecture. The Prestonpans leg of the John Muir Way has been a favourite destination for the dogs and I over the last couple summers.
The town’s sole football club are my destination this weekend. Founded in 1945 as a junior club, Preston Athletic are a core element in the community. They were kept afloat by the residential coal miners, who paid a penny a week out of their wages to finance it. A local club with local players brought big crowds. According to the Preston Athletic website, the 1960s brought in huge numbers to Pennypit Park. Everyone loves a community hero or two.
The club turned senior in 1994, making an instant impact. They finished runners-up in the East of Scotland First Division and won the Alex Jack Cup at the first time of asking. A first senior league title followed eight years later, filling the Pennypit trophy cabinet a little bit more. At the beginning of the new millennium, Preston applied to the professional leagues no less than three times. Unfortunately for The Panners, they lost out to Peterhead, Elgin and Gretna respectively. Had Preston been voted in, history could have looked very different for the East Lothian side. Instead, the club were one of the founding members of the Lowland League in 2013. They stayed in Scotland’s fifth tier for four years, before eventually falling to relegation back to the EoS league system.
Today, Preston Athletic play in the newly structured EoS First Division. Agonisingly, they finished third in a three-horse race for the title in 2021/22. They narrowly missed out on a place in the Premier Division after finishing level on points with Glenrothes and a mere point behind champions Oakley United. On a positive, last campaign will fill the club with confidence for the season ahead. They will look to push for promotion once more. However, after a loss and a draw in the opening two matches, The Panners are looking for a first win of the season. Today’s opponents Kennoway Star Hearts are hoping for the same after two defeats on the trot. An interesting battle awaits with the club from Fife.
Pennypit Park is built on top of an old coal mine, where miners were once paid a penny a shift. The whole sports complex consists of the football ground alongside a rugby pitch where Preston Lodge play their home games. Both arenas consist of identical single stands, which look very well maintained. Metallic benches fill in the interior and present a great view of the entire pitch.
All four sides of the playing surface are accessible with elevated mounds behind the goal and opposite the stand. I love a ground with a natural elevation. It gives a higher vantage point than standing at the pitch side railing and in this case gives a decent view of the sea in the distance.
The dugouts are arguably the most attractive element of the ground. Branded with the Preston Athletic badge, they look relatively new and give a nice modern feel to those sat in the terracing. The clubhouse offers a good range of food and drink, as well as a bar for those fancying a pint or five during the game. An accessible seating area is joined to the building, giving a comfortable seat for those who need it.
Overall, Pennypit Park is a superb wee ground; one of the best at this level of football. The stand is good looking, practical and is entirely personal to Preston Athletic. The raised mounds give a good alternative view, and the popular clubhouse suits its purpose well. It is class and I feel it deserves a good 4/5.
For an EoS First Division match, the atmosphere at times was intense. Circumstances throughout the game indeed raised tempers and elevated a few angry voices throughout. I don’t mind this too much. Far too often, matches at this level can coast through without a single shout, cheer, or complaint. Wee bit boring for me.
It was excellent to see a team of players from a nearby boys’ club out supporting their local team. They were invited to the match and played a small game of 5-a-side on the pitch at half time. Exposure to this level of football and their local club is important. Hibs and Hearts will always dominate this area of the country in terms of support, so it is excellent to see these youngsters taking this match in and getting a feel of what Preston Athletic can offer.
I love a loud and vocal support, but at this level it is incredibly frustrating to hear shouts for handball, offside and petty fouls from the terracing. With no assistant referees at Tier 7 and below, it is already a woefully difficult job for the man in the middle without the consistent shouts, jeers and over the top criticism. Granted, today’s ref did not have the best of games, but overbearing supporters don’t make things any easier. Its no wonder there is a lack of participants in refereeing courses. This is not specific to either Preston Athletic or Kennoway Star Hearts supporters but is just something I have seen too many times over the last season and a half on my travels.
Anyway, today’s atmosphere scores a cosy 2.5/5.
Quality of the Match
With both teams looking for their first win of the season, it did not take long for the first major moment of the match. After an opening five minutes of prolonged Panners pressure, Kennoway made a break for it. Midfielder Dylan Walker collected the ball outside the box, strode forward and played the ball inside to striker Jake Grady. Star’s number nine went down, with a penalty subsequently rewarded. Walker took the penalty himself, slotting the ball past the trialist Preston ‘keeper.
For the next twenty or so minutes, chances came few and far between. Instead, tackles flew in, yellow cards were shown, and the quick tempo of the game could barely begin. Heavy touches and poor control allowed rough challenges to take centre stage. Some fair but given as fouls, some dangerous but being waved away. Consistency was not in the script today.
Kennoway could, and probably should have doubled their lead half an hour in. A long goal-kick controlled nicely by Walker allowed him to play a lobbed ball over to Grady. The striker allowed the ball to bounce before hitting a volley just inside the box. From my angle, it looked inches away from hitting the top corner. A decent opportunity.
Preston failed to create any meaningful chances of their own within the first forty-five and struggled to break down an organised Star defence. Their best opportunity fell to Kyle Baker, whose 25 yard free kick was saved relatively comfortably by Star ‘keeper Kyle Moran.
The severe lack of footballing quality allowed for a more humorous take on the half. As such, for the entire forty-five, a major highlight unfortunately came in the shape of Kennoway right-back Jay Watson. The poor guy was smacked face first with the ball at least five times, much to the (attempted) supressed laughter from the terracing. He had a solid game in fairness, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a temporary ‘Mitre’ tattoo on his cheek for the next few days…
Half Time: Preston Athletic 0-1 Kennoway Star Hearts
Preston needed a much improved second period and came close early on. A curled Jamie Devlin free kick beat the wall but also beat the post, bouncing away to safety.
Kennoway sustained the home side’s pressure and had the best clear-cut opportunity of the game as a reward. From a long ball over the top, Jake Grady controlled well and turned his defender. His attempted cut back to Dylan Walker was blocked but left the striker with time and space to shoot at goal. His effort inside the box was weak though, nestling into the hands of the Preston ‘keeper.
Much like the first, the second half fizzled. Again, more emphasis fell upon the increased physicality of the players. Pushing and shoving became the norm after more poorly timed tackled from both sides with the referee struggling to gain control of the situation. Bookings flowed on a consistent basis, with any actual football unable to be prioritised.
The game continued, with Preston rueing a missed opportunity. Good play down The Panners’ left found Mikey Hamilton through on goal. One-on-one with Kyle Munro, the attacker could only blast the ball over the bar in what proved to be a wasted chance.
In what proved to be the most exciting period of the game, Kennoway instantly responded with a huge chance of their own. Impressive substitute Murray Black tracked back and won the ball at his own corner flag. He then proceeded to charge forward down the left, playing a one-two with Dylan Walker in the process. He found himself on the edge of the box and cut across to Walker on the penalty spot. He hit his shot first time, but agonisingly curled over the bar. A quality passage of play that was inches away from finishing the game as a contest.
Chances finally began to flow. Preston were finding room to play on the left, with Jamie Devlin finding more space to venture into the box. He had time to pull off a low, driven shot with his left, but Munro was once again equal to it with ease.
Kennoway looked comfortable defensively, with most Preston attempts being booted away and possession largely being held at the home side’s corner flags. Then, drama ensued. With the last seconds of the game ticking away, a superb deep cross from Jordan Keenan flew towards the back post. Jamie Devlin rose highest and planted a header over the stranded Kyle Munro to equalise at the death. Scenes broke out with intense celebration on the pitch, frustration bubbling over into joy for The Panners.
Full Time: Preston Athletic 1-1 Kennoway Star Hearts
Just before the Preston equaliser, I was thinking to myself that this game barely deserved to be a 0-0 based on the largely poor quality of play. I was half-right, with a draw coming true at the last second. As one of the division’s favourites to go up, I was surprised at the sluggishness shown by the hosts today. Barely anything stuck to feet, passes went astray and final-third opportunities came few and far between. However, this is a results-based business and at the end of the day, Preston pushed on and scored an important goal to turn a defeat into a draw. That must be commended. I feel Panners’ midfielders Robbie Walker and Paul Currie were the bright sparks for the hosts today. They consistently broke up play in the middle of the park and tried to set up their strikers on several occasions. They’ll be a part of a successful season for sure. Also, Jamie Devlin showed fantastic composure to take the chance to equalise. With pressure building, it could have been easier for the opportunity to pass him by, but he took the chance with both hands. Fair play.
Naturally, Kennoway will be absolutely gutted to be leaving Prestonpans with just a point. They looked unperturbed for the majority of the game and should have had the game wrapped up halfway through the second half. Positive signs did show themselves though. Midfielder Dylan Walker had a solid game today. His physicality is an impressive attribute of his, as is his range of passing and spatial awareness. He dispatched his penalty with ease and on another day could have had another couple on the scoresheet. He’ll be an important Kennoway asset this season. Furthermore, substitute Murray Black was incredibly bright after being brought on. His defensive work and energetic mentality drove his side forward, bringing his fellow teammates into the game as a result. He looks a pler.
Overall, the match as a whole was largely void of real footballing quality. Poor tackles, hesitant refereeing and an aggressive on-pitch atmosphere left the game with a real stop-start feeling. Neither ‘keeper was tested too much, which perhaps tells a story of the finishing on display too. However, it is still very early in the season. Teams are still finding their feet and bringing in new signings very week. I imagine it will take another wee while for squads to gel and the flow to start. I thoroughly believe both clubs are capable of attractive, passing football, but today was not that day. I must admit though, the drama on the field was decent entertainment at times. I feel a score of 2/5 is fair.
For my visit to the Pennypit, I paid a measly £7 entry and a quid for a coffee. From what I could see, everything inside the clubhouse is cheap and cheerful, just as it should be. I will never have any complaints about the pricing at this level. It is always incredible value. 5/5.
Preston Athletic end the day with a score of 13.5/20. There is no doubt that Pennypit Park is one of the more impressive grounds to visit at this level, with great scenery and impressive facilities. It may be one of my favourites since I began my travels. Prestonpans is a nice wee seaside town with plenty to do around the ground, so if you have the chance, I would highly recommend a Preston Athletic away day. On another afternoon, a better performance may have seen The Panners higher up the TSFA League Table. I wish them all the best on their promotion push to the Premier Division. An excellent community club such as this deserves success.