April 15, 2009 – Beechwood Park, Stoneyburn
This game marked the start of my favourite time of the season, when the clocks go forward and the longer summer evenings are used to clear the perennial backlog of junior fixtures which were lost to the winter.
Ironically, dense fog almost called this game off, but thankfully the visibility in deepest, darkest West Lothian was just good enough for football.
Other than to see its football team I can’t think of many reasons why anyone who isn’t a resident would ever visit Stoneyburn, which sits on the back road between Livingston and Fauldhouse.
Like many other towns and villages in central Scotland it has very little to commend it. It’s roots lie in the former coal mining industry which dominated West Lothian until a couple of generations ago.
Stoneyburn Juniors are nicknamed the Fulshie, and after a quick bit of research on the Stoneyburn.com website, it is apparent that this is a nod to the old Foulshiels colliery upon which many local people once relied for a living.
The junior club enjoyed some good times, especially in the late 1930s, but like the village itself went into steep decline.
For more than two decades there was no Stoneyburn Juniors, with the current set-up re-established in 1983 after the original side folded in 1958. Since then, they have struggled, by and large, in the lower reaches of the East Region leagues.
Last season saw them hit rock bottom when they finished the season with a mere four points from 26 matches.
With a virtually new side, they are making a better fist of this season, enjoying some modest success in the cup competitions and sitting around mid-table in the South Division, which contains fifteen clubs of varying size and quality.
While the Fulshie are one of the smaller clubs in the league, their visitors for this game, Sauchie are definitely one of the bigger fish.
They boast a good support at this level, many of whom travel to away games, while their home ground – which I visited late last season for the first time – is amongst the best at junior level in the whole of Scotland.
Somewhat co-incidentally, Sauchie and Stoneyburn both play at Beechwood Park, although any similarities largely end there.
The Stoneyburn venue is a fairly basic ground, set out on the edge of the village. On a clear day there’s a view of a bing and the local countryside to be had. Tonight, however, I can just about see the opposite touchline.
On one side of the ground there is a small cover, recently refurbished by the looks of it, and alongside it sit a dressing room block and a small clubhouse which contains a committee room and refreshment stand.
The rest of the place is a large eliptical expanse, mainly flat and surrounded by a low rail. At one stage the playing surface must have been truly gargantuan but it’s now marked out with more modest proportions.
As a result there’s plenty of turf to spare. To give you some idea how much, Stoneyburn (or the local council?) have been able to fit in a five-a-side pitch between one goal and the rails at one end.
This game attracted a better crowd than I am led to believe normally see Stoneyburn play. I counted just over 50, a figure bumped up by a good number of visitors from Clackmannanshire.
As a relative local, I was backing ‘Staneyburn’, to give the place it’s local pronouniation. And they didn’t disappoint by taking an early lead.
The Sauchie goalie misjudged a cross ball and took out a Stoneyburn forward with his fist after he got his head to the ball. For me it’s an absolute stonewaller, but there’s a surprising amount of dissent from the Sauchie side. Either way, the decision is given and the very heavily built Steven Tarditi, Stoneyburn’s top scorer, made a fine job from the spot.
Sauchie were favourites pre-match and they quickly reply with two goals; a snapshot from Ian Griffin closely followed by a peach of a right foot strike from Chris Meldrum.
Sauchie led 2-1 at half time, but Stoneyburn got back level on 58 minutes when a slip allowed man mountain Tarditi in for his second goal of the game. Then, in a sensational turn of events, they went ahead when a shot from William Baird took a deflection and beat the Stoneyburn keeper.
The third Stoneyburn goal came with 22 minutes still to play, and for most of the rest of the game they were forced onto the back foot by Sauchie.
As they dug in the game got progressively more physical. Stoneyburn look to be a big strong physical side at the best of times, but some of the tackles they put in late on in this game were enough to make you wince.
I like to see a bit of strong tackling, something which has all but been eradicated from league football, but in my view a couple of the challenges in this game were a little too robust.
The referee dished out a large number of yellow cards, but had this been a top level game they would surely have been several reds.
There were two particularly bad fouls I can recall. Stoneyburn’s No 16 put in a terrible studs first lunge just after going on the park that I felt was a stick-on straight red card. He wasn’t even booked!
Not long after their No 4 went in two footed on a Sauchie midfielder near the touchline, escaping with a booking.
The visiting bench and fans were raging with Stoneyburn and the referee, and while I had some sympathy with their point of view, it all added to the spectacle for a neutral like myself!
I thought that Stoneyburn would hold out for the win, but to cap a remarkable game, the visitors snatched a win with two goals in the last five minutes.
The Stoneyburn keeper failed to hold a relatively weak free kick, allowing Steven Learmonth to follow up and equalise. Then with two minutes of normal time left, he came out for a cross but was beaten to it by one of his own defenders, whose attempt at a clearing header ended up in the net.
It was sickener for Stoneyburn. Their manager was incandescent with rage, pulling no punches as far as his goalkeeper was concerned. “You’ve cost us the game you cunt”, was one comment.
Amid the gloom Stoneyburn tried to salvage a point, but to no avail. By the time the ref blew the full time whistle after EIGHT minutes of second half stoppage time it was nearly dark.
On the way out, one Sauchie supporter was heard to say: “you cannae play fitba’ with a dirty shower of shite like that”.
I happen to disagree. For all the rough play this was Scottish junior football at it’s most engaging. Mad? Maybe. Entertaining? Certainly.
This was epic stuff and I’m hoping for more of the same as the season comes to a close over the next few weeks.
Scoring – 1-0 Tarditi, 1-1 Griffin, 1-2 Meldrum, 2-2 Tarditi, 3-2 Baird, 3-3 Learmonth, 3-4 own goal
Attendance – 51 (h/c)
Admission – £4
Programme – none
Ground – 5/10. Exposed junior set-up
Game – 9/10. Great value for money
Overall experience – 7/10. Great way to kick off the midweek junior games
Match Report links