The Scottish Premiership is on a break to make room for a weird winter edition of the World Cup. There are plenty of benefits to a top-tier rest (one of which means I don’t have to suffer through another Hibs masterclass). Another is that it gives plenty of opportunities to find a lower-league gem. For the last year and a half, I have found plenty of joy in applying this to my football-loving life and would genuinely recommend it to anybody who has the slightest interest in the beautiful game.
I was originally supposed to stay local this week and embark on the short trip to Wishaw FC, but a series of heavy rain across the country caused the game to be postponed. At this time of the year, it is always a good idea to have a plan B, preferably one that includes an artificial surface. With this, it seemed a good idea to head back up Falkirk-way.
Stenhousemuir has been a club I’ve been looking forward to visiting for a wee while for a few reasons. One of which is their community branch Warriors in the Community. Time and time again it has proven to be of incredible importance in the local area. During the eerie, vulnerable times of lockdowns, Stenny stood up and delivered packages to those in need, showing a truly genuine interest in keeping those in the vicinity safe and well-looked after. Stenny’s community presence also extends as far as player pathways for the youth, inclusion programmes and holiday camps to provide a footballing respite for those who need it.
On the pitch, Stenhousemuir have been a mainstay in the area since 1884. Supposedly formed as a breakaway club from Heather Rangers, Stenny have spent the majority of their history in Scotland’s lower leagues. Despite this, The Warriors have a fair amount of silverware lining the Ochilview trophy cabinets. Two Scottish Qualifying Cups from the early 1900s, eleven Stirlingshire Cups and a single Scottish Challenge Cup from 1996 are to name just the knockout tournament successes. The club also reached the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup in 1903, only to be beaten 4-1 by Rangers.
League wise, the club have mostly spent their time in the third or fourth level of senior Scottish football since their induction in 1921. Funnily enough, they remain the only Scottish club to have competed in the professional leagues to have never won a league title. Their promotions to the Second Division/League One have come through means of finishing runners-up or progressing through the modern play-offs.
Today, Stenhousemuir will be hoping the play-offs become their friend once more. Sitting just below the four play-off spots, The Warriors have keen ambitions to elevate themselves back to Scotland’s third tier. However, Stephen Swift’s side have only mustered one league win in their last six before today’s match, conveniently coming against today’s visitors Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic. This encounter between the two seems a must-win for both. The home side desperately need to gather momentum to push their promotion hopes, while Bonnyrigg’s introduction into the senior leagues has not fully gone to plan. Tipped to do well after their Lowland League triumph, The Rose lie second bottom, only propped up by a struggling Forfar Athletic. With a few strong sides in Tier 5, clubs will be desperately trying to scrape their way up the leagues to avoid the dreaded relegation play-off. A View from the Terrace presenter Craig G. Telfer and bizarrely The Wire’s Isiah Whitlock will both be hoping to see their beloved Stenny come away with the three points.
Ochilview has been Stenhousemuir’s home for an incredible 132 years. It stands in the heart of Stenny’s community with its floodlights providing a mainstay in the skyline. Sitting behind a B&Ms and a Tim Hortons, The Norway Stand stands as Ochilview’s first major landmark. Weirdly named after a Norwegian Supporters Group formed in 1992, the seated terracing holds just over 600 and provides ample views wherever you are sat. It looks clean, modern and provided a good experience being tucked in amongst the Stenny faithful. Behind the goal on the left-hand side, a simple standing terrace hosts away supporters. I can imagine this place bouncing during a big occasion.
The wee snack hut proved to be a hit with supporters, with queues stretching a fair distance leading up to kick-off and during half-time. The array of selection was immense, with food on offer going down a treat. Also, the artificial surface looks fantastic and plays very well. It allowed the ball to be played on the deck at a sometimes-frantic pace, allowing for a better-quality encounter.
Overall, I feel Ochilview is a lovely wee ground completely fit for purpose in the Scottish lower leagues. It acts as a central hub for the community and provides an excellent experience for supporters on both ends. Although it doesn’t possess the charm of other lower grounds on my roster, it remains one of my favourites in League Two. I hope to return soon to take in a Syngenta Juniors match. I feel it scores a decent 3.5/5.
The bustling feel of the ground was clear as soon as you entered. The line at the snack stall spoke volumes, as did the near-packed Norway Stand. I’m not sure if the Premiership break brought in a few more punters than usual, but regardless, it felt good to be part of a busy crowd for a League Two game.
As usual, a good crowd of travelling Bonnyrigg supporters travelled from Midlothian and were in good voice throughout. They seemed to be dotted around both behind the goals and mingled within the Norway Stand. They chanted throughout and went wild at Bonnyrigg’s equaliser. 3/5.
Quality of the Match
Despite a poor run of form, Stenny were clear favourites for this encounter. However, the game started slowly with both teams putting out occasional well-dealt-with feelers. The first real opportunity of the match fell to the home side with a well-worked move sending Matty Yates through on goal. He reached the ball before a rushing Mikey Andrews but could only poke that ball past the ‘keeper and wide of the goal.
Winger Euan O’Reilly was next to go close. After making room down the left, he could not keep his strike below crossbar height.
The Rose mustered their first opportunity half-way through the half. Some good play down Bonnyrigg’s left saw a pass across the eighteen-yard box where Jonny Stewart met it with a strike at goal. However, Stenny ‘keeper Jay Cantley was quick down to his right to deny the visitors an opener.
After sustaining some Bonnyrigg pressure, The Warriors broke quickly and intricately passed their way through the Rose midfield and defence. A quick one-two saw Adam Brown taken down in the box, with the referee pointing to the spot immediately. It looked a stick-on to be fair, with Stenny’s purposeful play paying off. Brown stepped up himself and slotted the spot-kick away confidently, leaving Andrews stranded in the centre of the goal. 1-0 to The Warriors.
Then, Bonnyrigg produced a truly magical moment. Two minutes after going behind, Bonnyrigg left-winger and Boomtown local Bradley Barrett produced a moment of pure brilliance. After picking the ball up in the Stenny half, the attacker strode forward before unleashing a wonder-strike from thirty-yards. The strike was hit with clean precision, as Cantley could only dive in hope before the ball kissed the underside of the bar and hit the net. Barrett rushed to the away supporters in glee as the limbs in the stands moved towards their local hero. I can’t imagine I’ll see a better goal live this season.
Half Time: Stenhousemuir 1-1 Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic
Two minutes after the interval, Stenny almost pulled off a wonder-strike of their own. After cutting in from the left, Mikey Anderson’s curling effort smashed off the far post before being cleared. From my angle, it looked destined to hit the side-netting.
Bonnyrigg’s Kevin Smith went close soon after. A few minutes after testing Cantley with a snapshot, a free kick into the Stenny box was headed down by striker George Hunter. Smith controlled and hit a swerving volley into the ground, only the ball to go just wide of the post.
Hunter was a few inches away from hitting the net himself. Some excellent control from Keiran Mitchell gave him time to use his blistering pace to beat his man before firing a ball across goal. Hunter stretched and connected but the ball could only hit the outside netting.
Stenny once again sustained the visitor’s pressure to muster a rare second half opportunity. Some good play saw the ball fall to substitute Tam Orr. The striker held the ball up well, but his turned shot could only land into the ‘keepers hands.
Bonnyrigg should have taken the lead as the game edged to a conclusion. A fortunate deflection saw Keiran Mitchell through on goal. With only the Stenny ‘keeper to beat, the forward could only place his strike wide of the far post. A wasted opportunity which should have seen the visitors back head back to Midlothian with three points.
Full Time: Stenhousemuir 1-1 Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic
Stenny will be disappointed not have played to their potential today. Going in as favourites against a struggling Bonnyrigg, it looked a stick on for The Warriors to play with free-flowing ambitions. However, the visitors made it incredibly difficult and battled well in the midfield to prevent any real efforts on goal. Stenny certainly have the personnel to make a real impact in this league but will need to learn how to deal with rugged defences at home.
Bonnyrigg may actually be disappointed to have only left FK5 with a point. They created the clearer chances in the game and will rue poor finishing and misplaced final passes. Although Rose look to be in a bad place at the lower end of the table, I believe they will be absolutely fine if they carve out the opportunities they had today.
Overall, I was treated to an absolute worldie of a goal, some impressive attacking plays and a battling performance from both sides. I feel today’s match scores a healthy 3/5.
I paid £14 for the pleasure of entering Ochilview for the first time. On the face of it, it looks a steep incline from Tier 5 prices, which generally meet the £7/£8 mark. I also paid a mere £4 for a pie and a coffee. I’m certainly not complaining. A higher tier requires a higher price for better quality. I feel a 4/5 is a fair assessment.
Stenhousemuir finish the day with a score of 13.5/20. I was genuinely impressed by Ochilview and certainly enjoyed the experience of being in with the Stenny loyal. I witnessed a truly competitive fixture with plenty on the line and had the sheer luck of seeing one of the goals of the season. I think both sides will be absolutely fine this year, and I look forward to seeing them both head in the right direction.