One great thing about living in Scotland, and more specifically West Lothian is that the end of the football season tends to feature an avalanche of junior games as all the clubs battle to clear the backlogs of winter.
The reasons for this are threefold really; in Scotland the weather is always cold enough to freeze at least a few weeks’ fixtures off; junior clubs don’t tend to have floodlights and can’t play on any day other than a Saturday for much of the season; and the Scottish Junior Cup takes precedent over league games, meaning that ties (with replays) can go on for weeks when combined with chilly weather and postponements.
With the ‘big freeze’ we had back in December and January, the situation is even more acute this year. Most clubs went up to six weeks without a game, sometimes more, leaving plenty of catching up to do.
In the East Region of junior football, the decision was taken to scrap some of the local cup competitions, of which there are several, but even allowing for this it’s a good bet that most clubs will be playing at least twice a week until the end of May.
Given that my commitment to watching Livingston play home and away takes up most Saturdays in the season, this glut of fixtures opens up an annual window of opportunity to see a few new places and stack up some ‘extra’ games towards my season’s target of one hundred.
For the keenest of keen it is just about possible to see a game every day of the week during this fertile period, which begins once the clocks go forward and the light evenings allow games to be squeezed in after work.
Mid April usually sees the eagerly awaited first round of midweek fixtures, with kick offs at either 6.15pm or 6.30pm. Even allowing for these early starts, games inevitably end in twilight – especially so when the weather is overcast.
Under the cosh producing the last few Livingston programmes of the season, I only just managed to fit a game in this week to kick off the 2010 ‘Junior Jamboree’.
With time very much of the essence I took the easy option with a visit to Creamery Park, which is only a couple of miles from home on the opposite side of Bathgate.
It’s a ground I know extremely well, although this was my first visit of the season. Indeed it was the first since I saw Camelon and Newtongrange Star battle it out for the Dechmont Forklift Cup last season.
Amongst the two bigger local junior clubs and recent Scottish Junior Cup winners, neither Bathgate Thistle or Whitburn have had a good season by their standards.
Thistle still harboured an arithmetical chance of winning the league but any hopes of catching Bo’ness United were borne more through hopeless optimism than anything else.
Relegation to the Premier League was a more pressing worry for Whitburn but with plenty of games to play there was still scope for them to climb the table and escape the drop zone.
Conditions could hardly have been better. Uncharacteristically, the sun was splitting the skies above West Lothian, while the Creamery Park pitch was in immaculate condition, thanks to the sterling efforts of their groundsman, who I was told is a greenkeeper at Ratho Park Golf Club during the day.
After a quick chat with fellow Kempsterite (and Bathgate committeee member) SamBTFC, and a visit to the burger fan, the scene was set for a good game of football and I wasn’t to be disappointed.
Despite their respective league positions, Whitburn played the better football in my view, their passing game working out well on the fast pitch. Bathgate resorted to a less attractive but just as effective long ball game, a style of play that still dominates in the junior ranks.
A key part of Bathgate’s attacking effort is Jimmy Lister, a big bustling striker with Scottish Junior international honours, and he was the first to find the net when he outfoxed the Whitburn defence and fired past long serving Burnie keeper ‘Frankie’ Walker.
Whitburn got back on terms just before half time with Chris Dolan scoring a penalty after Scott Gormley – a player I last saw playing for senior club Whitehill Welfare – had been felled in the box.
There was barely a cigarette paper between the two sides throughout this contest and the second half was as even and competitive as the first.
A moment of magic from Gary Fallon put Bathgate ahead again with about twenty minutes left, his volley giving Walker no chance, but the visitors got what I felt was a deserved equaliser when a trialist striker found the net not long after entering the fray.
It was hard to argue with the result or the game’s value for money – this was good start to this season’s Jamboree and well worth a fiver.
Scoring – 1-0 Lister (25), 1-1 Dolan (pen 45), 2-1 Fallon (71), 2-2 Trialist (81)
Attendance – 250 est
Admission – £5
Programme – none
Food – Burger (£2)
Match Rating – 7/10