From one Central Park to another for Game 8, an intriguing looking West Lothian derby pre-season friendly match.
I nearly didn’t make this one. Somehow I had it in my head that Armadale Thistle were hosting the game at Volunteer Park, only to discover on getting there that it was on a few miles up the road in Whitburn.
A thorough rain soaking and five-minute taxi ride later, I got into Central Park, Whitburn-style just a couple of moments after the 7.15pm kick off time.
Perhaps the most interesting facet of this fixture was that, for the first time in a very long time (or possibly ever), Armadale went into it as a higher ranked club than their near neighbours.
The Dale will play in the SJFA East Region’s Premier Division (second tier) again this year, while Whitburn are in the South Division below following their second successive relegation at the end of last season.
Traditionally, Whitburn are a much bigger club and better side. It’s only eleven years since they won the blue riband prize at this level of football, the Scottish Junior Cup.
Despite having a popular social club, the last couple of years have seen them struggle financially, with the root cause rumoured locally to have been a weighty tax bill.
Whether that’s the case or not, the Burnie have had to cut their cloth quite considerably, with comparatively big wages paid out to players now a thing of the past.
A new managerial team of Robert and Russell Lee have recently taken over and have the tough task of getting the club back out of the South Division.
This is a task akin to escaping Alcatraz. Only the champions of this hugely competitive league are promoted, a bone of contention for the fifteen clubs involved.
Going on the early stages of this game, I would have said that their task looks nigh on impossible.
Armadale quite simply steamrollered them for the first 25 minutes or so, a combination of some superb finishing and horrific defending allowing them to establish a 3-0 lead.
Pick of the goals was a well struck free kick for the second one, although there were big question marks over the Whitburn ‘keepers positioning.
Such was Armadale’s superiority that an embarrassing scoreline looked on the cards. It really was X-rated viewing for the Whitburn- supporting majority in a crowd which numbered around the 200 mark.
But football is nothing if not unpredictable, and a well taken volley pulled a goal back for Whitburn on the half hour, giving them a glimmer of hope.
Before long, they were awarded a penalty, and the deficit was reduced to a single goal, much to the verbal displeasure of Dale boss Jim Henderson, a man who has an expletive for every occasion.
For a mere friendly, the entertainment value of the five-goal first half could not be questioned, even at a relatively steep £5 admission cost.
It was almost inevitable that the second half would be a disappointment in comparison, and so it proved.
Obviously under orders to tighten up, both sides dutifully did so, to the detriment of the game as a spectacle.
There were no further goals, meaning that Armadale ran out winners by the narrowest of margins.
On the basis of the early stages, that seemed a decent outcome for both sides; Armadale got the victory that was expected of them, Whitburn gave their supporters some cause for optimism with the competitive action only a week or two away.
Central Park – situated as the name would suggest in the centre of town – is a fairly typical Scottish junior venue in many respects, although it is distinctive for its three separate entrance points.
Only one was in operation for this game – the tight passageway that runs down the side of the social club which is set back slightly from Whitburn Main Street. The pavilion is on this side, just to the left on entry, while the main spectator facility, a large covered terrace, is opposite.
The roof itself was renewed a year or two ago and typifies a ground which though basic is very well maintained. It covers a substantial terrace made up of a combination of concrete paving slabs and sections of railway sleeper.
Both ends are grass banked, there is a further half length section of shallow terracing on the pavilion side.
On normal matchdays a tea bar operates from a portacabin in one corner of the ground, but sadly there was no catering in operation tonight, and a chance to sample the fine pies and sausage rolls went a-begging.
On past visits here I’ve had a pint in the social club – which contains a bar and a substantial function suite – although this was a school night and I gave it a miss.
If you have the time, the club is well worth a visit. The drink is cheap and decent enough and there’s a fair amount of club photos and memorabilia around to have a look at.