Musselburgh is a town I know well. Having grown up in nearby Dalkeith, The Honest Toun is somewhere I spent a lot of time in for a few different reasons. I failed (and passed at the second attempt) my driving test here, I have regularly walked the dogs in the lagoons and played many a youth football match at Pinkie Playing Fields. ‘Luca’s’ is a cracking wee spot to finish a stroll on the beach with an ice cream. It is a special wee place.
The largest town in picturesque East Lothian has an ancient but unique history. Previously known as ‘Eskmouth’ based on the river in which it sits, the name ‘Musselburgh’ derives from a mussel bank on said River Esk and the same suffix as Edinburgh, although Musselburgh was named this before the actual formation of royal burghs. Like plenty of Scottish towns in the Central Belt, Musselburgh was formed by the Romans in AD 80. Remnants of these ancient conquerors still exist, with the Roman Bridge still being used by everyday pedestrians in the town.
The wonderful name of The Honest Toun comes from a lovely wee story dating back to 1332. The late Randolph, Earl of Moray died in Musselburgh but was catered to at great length by the local townspeople. He wished to reward them for their kindness only to be declined as they claimed they were only performing their duty. They were labelled ‘honest men’ and thus, the Honest Toun was born. The town holds a celebration to commemorate this every year. An Honest Lad and Honest Lass are elected annually to continue the tradition.
Sporting wise, Musselburgh is home to a multitude of firsts. The Musselburgh Silver Arrow is said to be the oldest ever sporting trophy in the UK. It is annually contested by the Royal Company of Archers and is said to date back to 1603. The town is also host to Musselburgh Golf Course, once home to the Open Championship. It has recently been given the title of the oldest continuously used golf course in the world. Not bad at all.
However, I’m not here for archery or golf. I’m here for Musselburgh Athletic. Founded in 1934, The Burgh have been a mainstay in the town for decades on end. Original club names date back as late as 1898, playing under guises such as Musselburgh Bruntonians, Musselburgh Fern and Musselburgh Juniors. As the Bruntonians, the club won the biggest prize in junior football: The Scottish Junior Cup. In 1923, they beat Gorebridge side Arniston Rangers 2-0 in front of 20,000 spectators packed into Tynecastle to earn the right to parade the trophy through the streets of Mussy.
Since then, Musselburgh Athletic have been a consistent presence in the East of Scotland scene. The Olivebank trophy cabinet is littered with a mass of cup wins and hard-earned league successes. More recent silverware includes two East Region Premier Divisions, a single Alex Jack Cup and one East of Scotland Cup-Winners Shield; a victory that allowed Musselburgh entry into the 2020/21 Scottish Cup. The club did reach the final of the Junior Cup twice more, but unfortunately fell to junior giants Auchinleck Talbot both times. A 2-1 score line after extra time in 2011 was matched again in 2015 to send the East Lothian side home with nothing.
Today, Musselburgh ply their trade in the East of Scotland Premier Division. Much like a host of clubs in 2018, they made the jump from junior football to the senior pyramid. They appear to be doing well in these new surroundings and are emerging as contenders for promotion to tier five. They’ll be looking to improve on an eighth-place finish last campaign, and with new boss Liam Burns in charge for the first time this evening, a new dawn looks to be coming to fruition.
I’ve been to Olivebank before, but never as a spectator. The ground hosted a whirlwind of a youth cup finals in my playing days. Turning out for Dalkeith CYP, we lost out on penalties after a wild three-all draw with Leith Athletic. I’ll try not to let my PTSD play a part in the viewing of the ground.
Funnily enough, I was greeted at the gate by a club volunteer who knew who I was based on the fact I was the last person to enter with a Fanbase ticket. I haven’t shown my face on Twitter (yet) so was incredibly confused when he shouted my name and asked how I was. I loved it though, it just shows the friendly, community feel to the club and those involved.
Laughing and joking aside, Olivebank looks much improved from when I last entered the blue and white gates. Firstly, The Belmont Stand looks excellent and serves its purpose well. Clean and sturdy, it kept plenty of punters dry and hosted the rapturous Mussy young team for the majority of the first half. The standing area opposite consists of plenty of raised embankments; allowing for a good view of the pitch no matter where you plonked yourself. Behind the goal a shelter is available for those wishing to take a seat and have a drink on accessible benches and chairs. It all looks great, with the well-kept playing surface looking like a dream to play on.
The highlight of the ground is undoubtably the clubhouse. Decorated in a mass of signed strips, club pennants, memorabilia and a full layout of the club’s history, this wee place looks like the perfect area to spend pre-match and halftime with a few bottles. I’ll be sure to spend a bit more time in here in future; and I’ll definitely be leaving the car at home.
Finally, a few rarities caught my eye at Olivebank. This is only the second time I’ve seen signage at a lower league ground. It points you in the directions of toilets, the clubhouse, standing areas and the refreshments stand. It is so easy to put up and helps people like me find their way about. Also, pictures of the Musselburgh first team squad were placed around the ground; full names and squad numbers in all. Furthermore, the line-ups for both teams were displayed right next to the clubhouse, making my job incredibly easy in identifying the players for the up-coming match report. Very basic stuff, but wonderfully helpful.
Overall, Olivebank is a lovely wee setting with plenty of room to grow. Its class clubhouse and clean, simple facilities make it a great place to watch football. The ground staff play a major part in this with their maintenance of the amazing playing surface. As Musselburgh grow, I’m sure Olivebank will too. I feel 3.5/5 is a fair assessment.
You know me, I like a drum at the football. I feel it generates a noise and collective togetherness in a ground. Olivebank has their own sound machine in the form of the ‘Mussy Boys’. This wee group of youngsters spent their Wednesday night chanting, singing songs, flying homemade flags and banging that drum. In my opinion, if you’ve got a group like this attending your games on a midweek evening you’re on to a winner.
There was a pretty decent attendance for tonight’s match. Plenty gathered on both embankments in groups to take in the game, with a few shouts here and there providing the intensity. I have the feeling Musselburgh is a wholesome community club with their variety of youth teams and local outreach programmes. It shows with the friendly collective support and welcoming feel. Overall, between the core support and the Mussy Boys singing their songs it deserves a 3/5.
Quality of the Match
Musselburgh welcomed Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale to Olivebank this evening. On paper, this looked to be a close contest. Hutchy lay two points behind the hosts going into this game and were hoping to leapfrog them in the table come half nine tonight.
Liam Burns’ managerial debut started slowly, with the first action only coming after ten minutes. Musselburgh looked to play a slick passing game, aided by the glistening grass pitch. The first chance came as a result of poor Hutchy Vale defensive work. A loose clearance landed at the feet of Matthew Knox. He took a touch and slotted a left-footed strike past the diving Kevin Swain. The former Livingston, Brechin and Tranent player showed his quality to punish a silly mistake. 1-0.
Musselburgh continued their pressure and almost capitalised as a result. An in-swinging corner rebounded off a few heads before landing at the noggin of Matthew O’Connor. His header was directed to the back post but was well met by a Hutchy defender on the line.
Hutchy perhaps should have equalised soon after. A deep free-kick into the Musselburgh box was knocked down into the middle. With plenty of space, Joe Viola met the ball with a volley, but his effort flew way off target. A missed opportunity.
The Burgh were showing excellent pace and precision on the break. A swift counter saw forward Russel Cairns through on goal. After attempting to round Swain, the ball rebounded off the striker before tapping it in. However, the whistle blew for either offside or handball (no idea which). Either way, it stayed 1-0 to the home side.
If things were already difficult to LTHV, they were about to become even harder. Midfielder and captain Scott-Taylor Mackenzie flew in with a dangerous tackle on his Musselburgh compatriot. In my opinion, the ball was never there to be won, and the speed in which the tackle came in was much too needlessly aggressive. It warranted a straight red, with Hutchy now down to ten.
Musselburgh rallied and looked to take immediate advantage. Some lovely play down the left saw a pass played central to Matthew Knox, who was allowed to shoot once more. His left-footed effort looked destined for goal but crashed off the underside of the bar.
Despite being a man down, Thistle mustered their second chance of the game. Some good strength shown by Sean Wringe allowed him entry into the Mussy box. From a very tight angle he fired a low cross into the box, forcing ‘keeper Daniel Laing into his first real action of the half.
Hutchy ‘keeper Kevin Swain denied the hosts a second with an excellent one-on-one save but could not be prepared for Declan O’Kane’s volley minutes later. After a cross was scrambled away, the ball fell to the Musselburgh captain who hit an unstoppable first-time effort from the edge of the box. The Hutchy ‘keeper had no chance, who could only admire Musselburgh’s cushion provider fly past him.
Half Time: Musselburgh Athletic 2-0 Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale
An expectant crowd came out to hopefully witness Mussy put a few notches on their goal difference. However, their attempt to play the ball from the back almost backfired. A slack pass allowed Thistle striker Wringe in on goal, only for Daniel Laing to stop his effort with an excellent block on the edge of the box. The goalkeeper showed real composure and prevented his side from any unnecessary panic.
The minutes came and went, with neither team showing any real quality to increase the scoring. Winger Jordan Smith did his best to change this for the hosts. His excellent touch and flick over his defender allowed him space to run into the box. His low-fired cross went all the way across goal, just wide of the post. The slightest touch would have put the game to bed.
Declan O’Kane was next to go close. His free-kick from twenty-yards was well met by Swain who was doing well to keep the score down.
However, he could not stop Musselburgh’s third despite his best efforts. A deep cross to the back-post was met sweetly on the volley by substitute Andy Jones. The volley was hit with an incredible amount of power, with Swain saving from close range. The rebound fell straight to Jones though, who scrambled the ball home. It was hard not to feel for Swain who pulled off a fabulous block, only to have conceded the game-killer. I’m sure he’ll like his new ‘Mitre’ tattoo on his stomach though.
Full Time: Musselburgh Athletic 3-0 Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale
Mussy will be pleased to have scored three goals and gained a clean sheet. They performed well for the most part; I was impressed with their pace, slick passing and desire to play patient football. They have a young squad that are hungry to impress, with plenty of talent and ability on show. They may be disappointed with not racking up a few more goals against ten men but I’m sure Liam Burns won’t be losing too much sleep over a 3-0 win in his first game in charge.
I was hugely impressed by Matthew Knox. I saw him play last season for Tranent Juniors and enjoyed watching his pace and close-ball control cause issues for defenders. He easily could have had two excellent goals to his name. He is one to watch in this league.
Thistle will obviously be disappointed with this result, but I feel they battled well with ten-men. Despite being a goal down when Mackenzie was sent off, they were well in the game. Who knows if they could have come back with eleven on the pitch, but I’m sure they’ll have had a better chance to. I hope to see the Edinburgh side at home some point this year.
Overall, I was treated to some very good football, a couple of excellent goals and a few intense talking points. The red card certainly took some of the contest out of the game and resulted in a slower second half, but beggars can’t be choosers. I feel this game scores right down the middle. 2.5/5.
As always, prices at the level are unbeatable. Entry fees were labelled as £8 and £4, with food and drink more than reasonably priced too. It is completely possible to have a brilliant day at the football with a few beers and a pie for under £15/£20. That’s entry fee alone at most SPFL clubs. 5/5, no question.
Musselburgh Athletic score a handy 14/20 and fire themselves up into the higher reaches of the TSFA League Table. I really enjoyed the experience at Olivebank, and I feel that Musselburgh Athletic are a prime example of the effort a club can go to provide a positive experience for supporters. The warm, clean, friendly feel is something I will remember and is something that will bring me back to Olivebank in the future. I wish them nothing but the best for the rest of the season.