Our Mission Statement Here at Stonewaller magazine we aim to produce the highest quality of journalism covering the league outside of our professional game in Scotland. From match reports to exclusive interviews, Q & A’s and much much more, our magazine strvies to inform, educate and entertain you regarding all matters relatble to non league football!
Welcome to our first issue of Stonewaller. As a fan of non-league football across Scotland, this topic was one I was delighted to be a part of and our team has done a brilliant job in putting the magazine together and I’m proud of the final product. It is our first time in doing a project like this so any feedback is greatly appreciated. We tried to cover as many different topics as possible throughout the leagues to generate a balance in our content. It’s an exciting time to be involved in Scottish Non-League football, with the re-structuring of the East of Scotland League and the movement of junior clubs a huge hot topic at the moment. The Lowland League is going right down to the wire and the play offs will undoubtadly provide endless drama as clubs scrap it out for a place in League 2. Enjoy the magazine, Ronan Alexander Editor
OUR TEAM Editor: Ronan Alexander Designer: Jack Currie Reporters: Anthony Evans, Marc Birch, Jordan Robertson, Darren Weir.
Talbot’s McPherson’s Professional Dream By Darren Weir
uchinleck Talbot’s rising star Neill McPherson has his eyes set on one day bagging a dream move to boyhood club Ayr United. The young defender has put in some excellent performances at the heart of Talbots defence this season and hopes to make the step up to professional football in the future. Neill says: “I am only 21 so I have hopefully got another 13 or 14 years still playing so hopefully an opportunity does come at one point for me to make the step up, even if it’s just for one season to test myself at senior football. “I have always been an Ayr United fan so if an opportunity came to sign for them I would love to take it and give it a shot.” However, Neill is well aware that he still has a lot of areas of his game he can improve on and is keen to remain at Talbot for now to continue developing as a player. Auchinleck’s manager Tommy ‘Tucker’ Sloan has put a lot of faith in the young defender as he is now a regular starter at centre-back for Talbot. The youngster has repaid this faith by playing a big role in the team that has won their last six games and only conceded three goals in that time. McPherson says: “I get on well with the manager. He’s always giving me room for improvement and always telling me where I can be better.
starting place in Talbot side last season and was often brought in and out of the team. However, training with better quality players and learning from an experienced manager like Tommy Sloan has already made a great difference to the centre-backs all round game. This has shown in his commanding performances in the Talbot back line this season and earned him a regular starting spot. Neill says: “The biggest difference between Darvel and Auchinleck would have to be the quality in the football. Obviously it’s a much higher level at Auchinleck so everything about it is a lot more professional with the tempo and the quality of training. “You need a lot more commitment outwith the training at Auchinleck to make sure you are always in peak condition. Whereas, at Darvel you still had to do all of that but you have to do it a lot more intensively at Auchinleck.”
“You look at some of the legends of Scottish football that have played for them. Also some of my family on my dad’s side are all big Rangers fans so it was an honour to play with them and be involved in their set up for a year”.
Talbot will certainly be looking to win some silverware this season after local rivals Glenafton Athletic won the Scottish Junior Cup and West of Scotland Super League last season.
The former Prestwick Academy pupils highlight so far in his career has been signing for Rangers pro-youth at the age of 13. Despite only playing for Rangers for a year, Neill still enjoyed the experience of being part of such a famous clubs setup. He says: “The best moment of my career would have to be signing for Rangers given the stature of the club and how big they were.
Silverware”” The Auchinleck players will want to make up for last season’s cup final defeat to Glenafton after leading 1-0 and eventually losing 2-1. Talbot have positioned themselves well this season to win silverware as they’re through to the semi finals of the Scottish Junior Cup and currently sit second in the league with ten games left to play. McPherson says: “The team is very hungry to win silverware this season. “Obviously with Glenafton Athletic being local rivals of ours it wasn’t a nice feeling for any of our players to see them having so much joy at winning the trophies last year.”
“He’s also always the first person to compliment me when I have been doing well. He keeps me on my toes and makes sure I’m always improving which is enjoyable.”
This is the defenders second season at Auchinleck Talbot following a move from Darvel Juniors in 2016. Getting valuable game time in the McBookie.com Super First Division with Darvel at such a young age and learning the competitiveness of junior football has undoubtedly helped Neill’s development massively as a player. Neill struggled to secure a regular
Neill’s career is definitely worth keeping an eye on for any Scottish junior football fans as he continues to develop at the most successful junior club in the country. ***See our full video interview with Neil McPherson here: https://youtu.be/ZM20vYIaK6Y
Then on 35 minutes came a moment of brilliance. Wardrope picked up the ball from inside his own half, spotted Beith keeper Stephen Grindlay off his line and rifled a 60-yard shot that looped over the stranded stopper and into the back of the net. However, Buffs lead lasted only five minutes, as a free kick from the right was nodded across goal by Mark McLaughlin and McLean made amends for his earlier miss by curling the ball past Strain to make the score 1-1.
By Ronan Alexander
Wardrope Wonder Strike Edges Buffs closer to Title
ick Wardrope’s wonder strike from inside his own half helped Kilwinning Rangers to a vital three points against title rivals Beith Juniors at Abbey Park. Kenny McLean levelled for the visitors, making amends for a penalty miss earlier in the game before another screamer, this time by David Winters, gave the hosts a 2-1 win and took them a step closer to winning the title. Manager Chris Strain said: “I thought over the piece we were the better team and we deserved to win the game and without getting too far ahead of our station, as long as we do things professionally it’s in our hands. “From Wardrope it’s a fantastic strike and execution from his own half, possibly a once in a lifetime goal. Winters uses all his experience and curls one into the top corner. He put aside a personal disappointment of not starting today, but he showed the quality he has when he came on and he won us the game.
“We tried to be on the front foot and looked in the ascendancy apart from a 10 minute period before half time.” Both teams struggled to find anyfluency in the opening stages, with neither side able to create any real chances. However, just after the half hour mark, the game sprung into life. The ball came into the Kilwinning box, with Beith striker Ross McPherson looking to pounce on a ball at an awkward height, but Buffs defender Craig Pettigrew was adjudged to have fouled him in the process with a high foot as the attacker fell to the floor holding his face before the referee awarded a penalty. Adam Strain was the man between the sticks aiming to keep out the spot kick, having needed treatment for a dislocated finger earlier in the game. McLean saw his penalty saved by the legs of Strain. It was a poor effort from the experienced forward, as his strike lacked conviction and was nowhere near the corner.
The Abbey Park men had the better of the second half as dangerous duo Carlo Monti and Bryan Boylan combined to almost regain the lead. Kilwinning did go back in front midway through the second half after a piece of magic by substitute David Winters. He held off defender Ryan Docherty on the edge of the box, controlled the ball with his thigh, took a touch out his feet and curled the ball into the top corner from 20 yards. Buffs thought they doubled their advantage with 10 minutes remaining when Wardrope played the energetic Boylan clean through. He showed great composure to go around the goalkeeper and tap home, but the linesman had his flag up for offside in what was a very tight decision Beith looked to press for an equaliser in the closing stages. A succession of corners was the best they could find, and Kilwinning held on for an important win that takes them nine points clear at the top of the table and extends their unbeaten run in the league to 11 matches.
1- Adam Strain 2-Joe Coleman 3-Sam McCloskey 4-Craig Pettigrew 5-Jamie Whyte 6-Findlay Frye 7-Carlo Monti 8-Liam McGuinness 9-Bryan Boylan 10-Mick Wardrope 11-James Latta
1- Stephen Grindlay 2-Conner McGlinchey 3-Nicky Docherty 4-Mark McLaughlin 5-Ryan Docherty 6-Tommy Martin 7-Darren Christie 8-Paul Frize 9-Kenny McLean 10-Ross McPherson 11-Richard Burke
Used Subs: 15- David Winters
Used Subs: 12-Thomas Collins 14-Andy Reid 15-Joe Bradley
The club is continuing to grow, and with plans for ground redevelopments, the future is bright at Abbey Park. A new clubhouse and seated stands is a top priority. Strain said: “The club is moving in the right direction right across the board. We also have a youth development programme in place, we are getting stronger links to Kilwinning Sports Club, one of the best facilities in Scotland for youth football. However, everything comes down to money so it’s a slow burner but everything we are doing is going in the right direction.” Having finished 10th in the table last season, narrowly avoiding relegation, the turnaround this season has been remarkable. Strain puts this down to his squad and their momentum: “The players work rate and their attitude. We had a good end to the season last year where we were
bottom of the league at Christmas and in 2017 I think we only lost four games and in 2018 we haven’t lost yet so long may that continue. It’s all down to hard work and determination.”
However, this isn’t a matter concerning Strain just now: “I don’t have my own perspective on it. Whatever happens will happen, we’ll just play where we’re asked to play at the moment.”
One of the hottest topics in junior football is the prospect of moving into the Lowland League pyramid to gain promotion to Scottish League 2. Kelty Hearts completed the move last summer and are flying high at the top of the East of Scotland League, with promotion to the Lowland League looking likely. Dalkeith Thistle and junior giants Bonnyrigg Rose have already announced they will be joining the setup next season.
***See our full audio interview with Chris Strain here: https://soundcloud. com/user576639395/kilwinning-rangers-interview-c-strain
Craigmark’s Rising Star aiming for the top
“The manager of Craigmark, Ian Patterson, said I had a great game and asked me if I wanted to sign for the club. Of course I took the opportunity as junior football is the level I would like to play at.”
Craigmark Burntonians are currently sitting second in the Ayrshire District league table six points behind leaders Irvine Victoria with a game in hand. The
Dalmellington based club are positioned well to gain promotion to the West of Scotland Super League Divison One and Ross is relishing the challenge of playing at the highest level so far in his career. He says: “The main difference between the two teams is the standard of play and the physicality. When playing for Annbank Under 19’s you get a lot more time on the ball compared to playing with Craigmark where
you get a lot less time on the ball due to the experience and physicality of the opposition. “The atmosphere in the Craigmark dressing room is electric before every game because every single player wants to put in their best performance so that it pushes the club closer towards the league title.”
Copeland pictured left, middle of the picture, captaining Craigmark Buntonians
footballer one day but at the moment I’m looking to play in the West of Scotland Super League Premier Division and hopefully lift the Scottish Junior Cup a few times.”
Ross says: “My main ambition would obviously be to become a professional
Copeland is also the captain of Annbank United’s Under 19’s team that currently sit second in the league behind rivals Val-
raigmark Burntonians young defender, Ross Copeland, is aiming to help the club win the Ayrshire Distirct league this season. Despite it only being the 18 year olds first season at the club, he has big aims for the future.
spar. However, if The Bankies win their games in hand they will be on course to clinch the league title. Ross’ impressive displays this season at centre back for Annbank U19’s helped him to secure his first ever junior football contract with Craigmark. Copeland says: “The move to Craigmark this season came about when I was playing for Annbank Under 19’s against Craigmark Burntonians in a friendly.
The young star has shown his determination to succeed this season by committing to play for Annbank U19’s and Craigmark’s first team. This has led to Ross having a tough training schedule and playing two games at weekends. Other young players might have shied away from this challenge and wanted to stay in their comfort zone. However, Copeland is always striving to become a better all round player and is no stranger to having a busy schedule as he has also been capped twice for Scotland at Under 17 level in lawn bowls.
Ross says: “At the beginning of the season the training was very demanding as both teams wanted me to train twice a week with them but I came to a solution with both clubs that I would train with Craigmark one night and then Annbank the other night so the training wasn’t too demanding for me.
Copeland featuring for Annbank
Copeland, pictured above, playing for Kilmarnock where he featured as a product of the clubs youth academy
“It is very difficult for me to balance my football career with my bowls career but I do my best to get the right balance between the two sports because I’m used to having a busy schedule.
“I believe preparation is key for giving the best performance I can on match days which means eating the right foods leading up to games. Also drinking plenty of water helps to keep me hydrated which is key because I play 90 minutes both on a Saturday and Sunday.”
The former Carrick Academy pupils highlight so far in his career was when he signed his first pro-youth contract at boyhood club Rangers. Ross also spent the majority of his youth career playing for Kilmarnock FC over five seasons. Unfortunately a series of bad injuries ended Ross’ time at Kilmarnock but he wasn’t disheartened by this and went on to have great success captaining Ayr Boswell FC’s boys club. Copeland says: “It was great fun when I played at Kilmarnock as all training sessions were at a high level and tempo.
“The coaches were always looking to get the best out of me but unfortunately into my 5th year with the club I suffered 3 serious injuries. This forced me into the decision of either undergoing surgery or leaving Kilmarnock and at the time I chose to leave Kilmarnock as I believed the surgery would not have worked.” Ross’ career is definitely one to look out for in Scottish Junior football as the young defender continues to work hard and improve as a player.
By Darren Weir
“Talent in the juniors”Chris Erksine Exclusive
artick Thistle star Chris Erskine believes there is a lot more untapped talent and potential in the Scottish Junior game as he continues his 10th successive season in the professional ranks. Having fought his way through the juniors to professional football Erskine knows all too well the struggles and challenges players in the junior game have to overcome in the professional game.
And Erskine believes that there is the potential for many others to make the leap from part time to full time, he said: “There is definitely more talent there, back at my old club Kilbirnie there is talent there which could definitely make that jump if they were given the opportunity. When you even look at the success of other players from the juniors to be playing in the same team as me it shows there is real quality there.”
Erskine started his footballing career at a boys’ club, Calderwood Blue Star before joining Ayrshire junior outfit Kilbirnie Ladeside as an 18-year-old in 2009. He spent four years playing for The Blasties, whilst also working as a full-time pipe fitter at a Glasgow shipyard. It was then at the end of the 2008/09 season and not long after his 22nd birthday where he saw his efforts rewarded with a professional contract at Partick Thistle It was a ginormous leap in divisions for Erskine, leapfrogging the countries then second and third divisions to join Thistle in the First Division. Speaking about that transition from working full time and training two nights a week Erskine said: “It was definitely hard at first going from playing in the juniors to the professional game. Training just a few times a week for maybe an hour or so isn’t ideal so going from that to training every day with other full-time pros definitely was a challenge.
When speaking about his initial move to The Jags, Erksine spoke about how he immediately noticed a difference in the standard of training. Sighting that the jump up to the professional game would spark the transition in his career to showcase his untapped potential.
That man Erskine was referring to is team mate Kris Doolan who also moved from the Juniors to Partick Thistle. Doolan joined Thistle just six months after Erskine and the pair have formed a deadly partnership linking up midfield and attack at Firhill over the years.
At first, I would say I was feeling a bit off the pace, but after a couple of months of hard work I caught myself up to the other lads.”
Erskine, pictured above, enjoying his second spell at Firhill
And there was a lot of interest around Erskine before he signed with Partick Thistle, with the midfielder recalling the time before he signed his deal, he said: “I had a trial at Queen of the South and knew there was interest from some of the part time teams in the second and third division but it was when I was spotted by a Thistle scout playing for Kilbirnie that I was recommended to Ian McCall. I then received my contract after a third trial and the rest is history.”
“Definitely More Talent There”Erskine referring to Scottish Junior football Pictured, right, Erskine and Doolan have formed a good understanding on and off the pitch, having lead the Jags to the Scottish Premiership Erskine is a genuine guy with his feet always been planted firmly on the ground since his move up from the juniors, even with a promotion from the First Division to a top six finish with the Jags last term. When thinking back to his time in the juniors he recalls many happy memories, which included winning multiple promotions, he said: “I had a great time at Kilbirnie which included winning a couple of promotions and a West of Scotland Cup, we beat Pollock in that final and it was a terrific day.” Erskine still keeps one eye on the junior game, with his brother playing for Cumnock and his best friend playing for Glenafton. The 31-year-old believes there is much hope and optimism for junior players moving forward with more and more professional clubs send their scouts to scour for talent in the non-leagues. There are a few pieces of advice that Erskine would give to any junior player. He said: “Make sure you’re enjoying your football, so you can truly maximise your 90 minutes every time you step onto the pitch. I would say to people never give up hope, I was 22 by the time I got to the professional game so there is always time for anybody to make that jump.
You just need to keep the faith and believes in what you are doing, it is hard for players who are having to work full time jobs as well but there are always people watching and your opportunity, if you have the talent, which I know there is plenty of, will come.”
The journey for Erskine has taken consistent effort and dedication to complete and fulfil his dream of playing football professionally, many other players in the junior game will look to players like Erskine as a role model into how they can also make that ever so desired leap from part time to professional.
By Jack Currie
Juniors switch to Pyramid setup led by Bonnyrigg One of the biggest talking points in Scottish Non-League football at the moment is the shake up of junior clubs proposed move to the East of Scotland League. This move allows clubs to join a pyramid setup that brings the attraction of gaining promotion to the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL), which cannot be done from the junior leagues.
Kelty Hearts began the transition at the start of the season and have won all 21 East of Scotland (EoS) league matches as they battle for the title with fellow unbeaten side Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale who they lock horns with twice over the next 10 days.
Next season is likely to see a major re-structure of the current 13 team EoS League. There is a vote for all junior clubs to participate in with Dalkeith Thistle, Camelon Juniors, Tranent Juniors, Blackburn United, Hillfield Swifts and Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic stating their intent to join the EoS set up along with a reported 12 clubs from the West junior leagues. It’s an exciting time to be a part of Scottish Non-League football, but after years without change, what has brought this huge transition to Scottish football? Bonnyrigg defender Dean Brett sees the benefits: “I think it will be better for the club in the long run, financially and competitively and it seems most clubs are trying to swap.
Brett scoring for Cowdenbeath against Rangers at Ibrox
“I know there’s some good teams going for it and the more teams applying, the tougher it will be. “The EoS League just now is very weak and does need some change. Our ambition would probably be to win the EoS League, challenge in the Lowland League and hopefully get into the SPFL setup. “I think that’s where every club would want to be now they have the chance.” Brett enjoyed an eight-year spell with Cowdenbeath, where he is best remembered for a stunning free kick he scored at Ibrox in the Scottish Cup. He said: “It was the best moment of my career and won’t be topped!”
After leaving The Blue Brazil at the end of the 2016-17 season, he joined Montrose, but his time was cut short there due to travel difficulties before joining junior giants Bonnyrigg Rose. Making the switch from SPFL to the gruelling schedule of junior football was tougher than the 25-year-old would have wanted. He said: “It was challenging because I had about four months without any games to having three games in a week.
“But I’ve enjoyed it because I’m at the top of the league all season rather than the last few years at the bottom with Cowden.” The Rose sit three points clear at the top of the table, with three games in hand over second place Penicuik Athletic and are in pole position to claim the title and seal qualification for next season’s Scottish Cup. Brett is ecstatic with how the campaign has went so far. He has played 24 games in all competitions scor-
ing seven goals, including a vital strike against promotion rivals Penicuik. He said: “Delighted, we have been brilliant. Could say it was a massive goal because they were close with us at that point. But always knew we were strong enough even if we drew.”
With another season in the Scottish Cup on the cards, Bonnyrigg will be hoping for another glamour tie similar to their match with Hibernian in 2016-17. The Rose had to host the match at Tynecastle and got a crowd of 12,451 for their game against the Scottish Cup holders at the time. The match ended in an 8-1 defeat but will live long in the memory of the New Dundas Park faithful and Brett wouldn’t say no to a repeat fixture as a Hibs fan. He said: “I never thought of that in all honesty. We win the league this year and we are in the big cup so who knows! “It would be great so here’s hoping we do well in the cup and get the luck of the draw.”
By Ronan Alexander
One To Watch:With Stevie Murray
Standing at five foot three inches tall Stevie Murray will not bring height and physicality to any side, however he does bring a wealth of experience. His left foot isn’t all that bad either.
The small playmaker has played at almost every level in Scotland with teams such as Kilmarnock, Partick Thistle, Dumbarton, Stenhousemuir and now BSC Glasgow. He is known to many as the small pacey winger who’s tricks always caused serious problems for full backs, but at 34 years of age you would imagine that his best is behind him. That is not the case. Murray has been sensational for BSC and has chipped in with an array of assists and goals throughout the season.
A predominantly left footed player, Murray has impressed many in the Lowland League with his ability. His vision and anticipation often seem to be a class above his opponents and you can tell that he has played at the highest level in Scotland. BSC Media and Communications Manager Michael Park is full of praise and admiration for the midfield maestro. He said: “He is magical. He’s creative, he’s got stamina. He’s not afraid to be combative and he can turn opposition players inside out.”
Park also admits that even though Murray may not be the youngest, he still has exceptional quality. Whilst the pace he possessed in his younger days may have disappeared slightly he still has tremendous ability. Park compares him to Nottingham Forrest’s European Cup winning legend John Robertson. He said: “Stevie’s style reminds me of John Robertson. He doesn’t beat people with pace, he beats them with his speed of thought and the deftness of his touch.”
BSC are reaping the benefits of Murray off the park as well as on it. Murray’s experience of the game in Scotland is guaranteed to help BSC’s young superstars such as Jack Smith and Park admits that having him as a core part of the experienced group of players in the squad is a huge benefit to the younger players. He said: “The young guys have all benefitted from having guys like Stevie, Martin Grehan, Ryan McStay and skipper Ross McMillan in the squad. These guys are all leaders of the pitch and have vast amounts of high level experience they can offer the younger generation. I think everyone benefits from that arrangement.”
At 34, Murray may not play for a Premiership side again but that does not matter. He is still doing what he has always done – entertain. He is the sort of player who can change a game instantly with one moment of magic and he is, more often than not, worth the entrance fee alone.
By Jordan Robertson
Q&A With Mitch Megginson By Anthony Evans Q- Can you describe how it felt when you made your debut for Aberdeen, where you came through the ranks at just 17? A- Surreal moment for myself to make my debut for my hometown team and the team my family and I grew up supporting. I think the fact it was the 2nd leg of a Europa League tie against Sigma Olomouc made it even more special. I remember Mark McGhee shouting to me “get ready you are going on” and at this point my legs went to jelly but as soon as I stepped on the pitch that went away and I enjoyed it. Q- Who was the best player you played with in your time at Pittodrie? A- There have been a few very good players but the stand out
one would have to be Sone Aluko. He had the ability to win games himself, his touch, speed and technical ability were unbelievable. Q- How difficult was it for you personally when Aberdeen decided that your contract would not be renewed? A- It wasn’t a great day, I had been at Aberdeen since the under 8’s, but the circumstances changed with the new manager Derek McInnes coming in as well as the fact that my contract with the club was running out at the end of the season. He was always going to build his own squad, so it was unfortunate not to get the chance to work under McInnes but this is part and parcel of football and you just need to get on with it and not let it get you down.
Megginson in action for Aberdeen against Celtic
Q- You have played for a few clubs in the SPFL since you left Aberdeen, why did you decide to return to the North East and drop down to the Highland League with Cove who had just won the Highland League the previous season? A- I spent three years away from Aberdeen and at the end of my season with Raith and Alloa I had in my head I was going to look at coming back to Aberdeen come the end of the season. There isn’t as much teams in Aberdeen without having to travel far to train, and going part time, I would have to try find fulltime work as well. I have always kept an eye on Cove and knew a few players that played with them. I met with Manager John Sheran and the ambition of the club to progress into the Scottish Leagues was a real factor in me joining. The club was in the middle of building a new stadium, they had a strong squad after previously winning the Highland League so it felt right at the time and I think looking back, it was the right choice to move back to Aberdeen rather than staying in the Central belt.
Q- What do you think has been behind your incredible goal-scoring form this season? A- Probably confidence and the drive to win the league and get Cove promoted to the Scottish Leagues. We have a great squad with some excellent players that could easily be playing higher up the leagues. They create plenty of chances and it is up to me to put them away. I think in the early stages of my career I was always maybe thinking ahead of myself or trying to get a new contract or a move to another team. I feel this led to me not focusing on my football. Since I joined Cove I have been settled and have been focusing on my performances and each game as it comes. The first few games I managed to get a few goals which has built my confidence hugely and that has continued right throughout the season.
Q- Four Highland League clubs including yourselves managed to reach the 4th round of the Scottish Cup this season knocking out league sides such as Airdrie along the way, what do you think this says about the quality of the league and the teams in it and do you think it can still get even better? A- I think it shows the quality of players the Highland league has at its disposal and the togetherness in each squad. It was an excellent achieve for four teams to reach that stage in the Scottish Cup. I think people are scared sometimes to drop down to the Highland League from the Scottish League, but I think this is changing and I can see this trend continuing as Highland League teams will continue to attract quality players.
Megginson, pictured below, is the top goalscorer in the Highland League
Q-Cove have run away with the Highland League this season, going unbeaten whilst still having games in hand on the teams around about you, how confident are you in the dressing room that you can keep this fantastic run going until the end of the campaign? A- We are confident, we have a winning mentality and don’t lose many games and when we do the boys are devastated because we aren’t used to it. Even when we draw games it feels like a loss because we are team that goes into every game wanting to win. It’s good to have this mentality as it drives you on in every game even when we are underdogs to go and win. I think it is important going into the play-offs that you take the league form into it, so we need to continue playing how we have been all season. I expect there to be a few boys rested now and again as it has been a long and tough season especially progressing so far in the various cup competitions.
Q-Cove have yet to be successful in getting promoted to League 2, how confident are you that you can do it this season?
A- We are very confident but fully aware that it won’t be an easy task. The Lowland League champions will be a very tough test as they have proven over the last few years when Edinburgh City beat Cove the season before I signed two years ago and when East Kilbride beat Buckie last year. If you get through that stage, then you go up against a League 2 team with years of SPFL experience. So, we are up against it, but we must be confident and believe we can progress to League 2 or else there would be no point in turning up. With the squad we have and the amount of preparation we do before every game, there is no reason why we can’t achieve this and with some of the boys having the experience from two years ago, it stands us in good stead. Having won the league with five games to go it give us time to rest and fully focus on the play offs unlike two years ago when Cove won the league playing numerous games in the weeks before hand and going straight into the play-offs.
Q- What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Q- And finally, you’re only 25, so being ambitious, where would you like to see yourself in two or three years?
A- I think there is 3 highlights that stand out for me above the A- It’s a difficult question to answer as I really am just focusing rest and I have been lucky enough to play for some greats teams on this season. Hopefully Cove will be in the Scottish League’s. that have been successful. I am happy at Cove and enjoying my time and want to continue One of the highlights is making my debut for Aberdeen in the winning trophies and get Cove to where they should be playing Europa League, a prestigious tournament that some of the best week in week out. There is always the attraction to try and go team in Europe compete for. It was also special because I was back to full-time football and if it was to happen it would have to making my debut for my boyhood team. Another highlight be the right club. If the opportunity was to arise to go back into would be my first goal for Aberdeen against Forfar in the Scottish the game full time and I felt it was right, then it would be hard to Cup, as I feel very proud to say I scored a goal for the team me turn down. and my family grew up supporting. The final highlight would be winning the title with Cove Rangers this season. It is my first league title and added to the fact that my Dad was a Cove legend, it will be really great for him to see me win that and lift the trophy next week. I am hoping that come the end of May I can add getting Cove promoted to the Scottish league.
East Kilbride’s Big Ambitions
By Jordan Robertson
manager with international experience, a Director of Football, a world record 30 match winning run, seven cup wins in five years. You would be forgiven for thinking these are facts about a top European side but they are not. These are all facts about one of the most ambitious clubs in Scotland, Lowland League outfit East Kilbride FC. Walking through the inside of K-park, you would also be forgiven for assuming the side plays at a much higher level. A trophy cabinet boasting a whole host of trophies stands gleaming by the entrance and the walls are decorated with framed signed shirts belonging to European maestros such as Real Madrid and Ajax. The reality is very different though. East Kilbride FC are a relatively new side, formed in 2010 when a merger took place between two sides – Jackton Boys Club and Stewartfield FC. The hope was that the club could bring a sense of football-
ing pride to the town of East Kilbride and so they have endured a turbulent, yet successful start. In their first season in the Lowland League the club managed to finish 8th in a 12 team league as well as win the South Challenge cup, which considering the fact the team was thrown together and consisted of amateur players is rather impressive. That solid inaugural season allowed the side to build and push for the title the following season where they finished 2nd in the league. A slight dip in form in the 2015-16 season saw the club finish 5th in the league, however the season was a huge one for the club. Not only did they get their hands on silverware again when they won the Lowland league Cup, the East of Scotland Qualifying Cup and the East of Scotland Cup but they also played the biggest match in their short history – a tie in the last 16 of the Scottish Cup versus Scottish champions Celtic. The very fact that a Lowland League side
made it to the last 16 of the Scottish Cup is truly remarkable but the fact that it was against the biggest side in the Country was huge for the club. The tie sadly had to be played in Airdrie at the Excelsior Stadium as East Kilbride’s home stadium, K park, did not have the capacity to handle the demand for tickets for the game. The game was a tight one with EK performing well against a full strength Celtic side. Celtic eventually ran out 2-0 winners but East Kilbride’s Director of Football Jim Mullin looks back at the day with a smile, despite all the challenges and the fact the side lost 2-0. Mullin said: “That was massive. It did present us with huge amount of problems though as we had to learn how to organise a game like that on that scale. Taking the game to Airdrie was the sensible thing to do. But in a football sense to go there and give a good account of ourselves and only come away with a 2-0 loss was a bit of a relief.”
East Kilbride Star Martin McBride in action against Scottish Premiership champions Celtic
Only 7 or 8 months later the side made global headlines In less than five years East Kilbride FC have broken European when they surpassed European giants Ajax’s winning run records, received national and global attention and established of 26 games. EK won 30 games in a row before losing 1-0 to themselves as one of the best sides in the Lowland League. Spartans and whilst it may have been upsetting for the run to end Ambitious appointments and signings along with plans for a new there was a surprise in store that quickly lifted everyone’s spirits. stadium show that the club are not content with just being a good A large van rolled in to K park filled with crateloads of Dutch Lowland League side. They want to establish themselves in the beer, it had been sent by Ajax to congratulate the side on beating professional leagues and they look like they have every chance of their winning record. doing it if they continue on the same path they are currently on. It is an exciting time to be an East Kilbride fan, especially when The 30 game winning streak helped push EK up the league and you consider this is only the beginning. they finished the 2016-17 season as winners meaning they had the chance to enter the SPFL setup, all they had to do was beat Cowdenbeath in a two-legged play-off. Unfortunately for EK they lost the play-off on penalties meaning they remained in the Lowland League for another season. Mullin admits it was a hard one to take for everyone at the club. He said: “It was a sore one last season, I felt we were actually the better team in both games. People say ‘oh well you just lost on penalties’ but we actually deserved to win both games and when it goes to penalties it’s just a lottery.” The club have not allowed the disappointment of the play-off loss to keep them down in the dumps though, in fact it appears to have done the very opposite. Manager Martin Lauchlan moved on at the end of the 2016-17 season and was replaced by former Scotland under-21 manager Billy Stark. The appointment of Stark was seen as a real coup for the Lowland League side as he brings a wealth of footballing experience to the club and it emphasises the ambition the club has. Mullin described the appointment as ‘colossal’ for the Lowland League outfit and he admits the ambition and recent success of the club may have played a key part in attracting Stark to K Park. He said: “We sat down with Billy and said to him ‘these are the plans’ and obviously the high profile we have had in the last couple of years with the Scottish Cup run and things like that helped. People come here and like what they see and we try and sell them the next stage which is our new stadium and I think when people see that and they see where we are likely to be going then yes, people want to be part of it.” Mullin thinks Stark is the perfect man to help take EK forward and he admits there is a good blend of youth and experience throughout the squad. He feels that Stark’s experience working as boss of the Scottish National under-21 team can only be a good thing for the younger players at the club. He said: “We now have a progressive system through the youths and under 20s. We now have a number of young players on the fringes of the first team from that and Billy is just the kind of guy who has the experience and the knowledge to link it all together.” Plans for a state of the art new stadium have also been given the green light and Mullin believes this, partnered with the appointment of Stark can help take the club to the next level and give them an edge over senior clubs with dated facilities. He said: “I think this will be the next big thing for us. It will attract players and it will incorporate facilities for maybe one or two other sports and the people of the town will be able to use it.” He also adds: “I have a feeling that Scottish Football will be re-structured and it will be clubs with facilities and a fan base, that have a plan, that have a better chance going forward and to be honest I think there are a number of senior clubs living season to season.”
East Kilbride and Spartans have a final day shoot out for a spot in the SPFL.
Bonnyton Thistle: “If You Think You Can, You Can.”
Bonnyton Thistle Football Club was established in 1912. The club was disbanded during both World War 1 and World War 2. Now it stands to become one of the hottest up and coming football sides in lower league Scottish football. A man who has been at the heart of this is John Keast. John has been involved with the club for over 25 years, beginning with watching his grandson right up until now where he is an integral part of what the club are attempting to build. One of these main building blocks is to push on from their promotion last season into the South of Scotland Football League. Promotion from this league would see the new Scottish football pyramid system come into play, but Bonnyton now sit only two league promotions away from League 2 of Scottish Football. John talked through the legacy level award that the club has been awarded: “it’s the highest accolade in grass roots football that a club like Bonnyton can get, only three teams in the West of Scotland have it, so actually it’s huge.” The award that is applied for John says gives the
club an added “responsibility” as it allows them to “kick start something bigger.” This something bigger is clear to see. John talks through how this movement began: “it all started with Ian Higgins. He came in and changed everything, winning the Scottish Cup on different occasions and at different age levels, that really saw a change in what the team could be.” The club facilities have seen big change, over a decade ago training facilities were upgraded in Bonnyton with a state of the art park and changing room. Attempts were made to change Bonnyton’s grass park to an astro, but this was blocked. However, this has become a reality now though with the clubs move to the £1 million stadium which is Harriet Road. Funding from Sports Scotland allowed manager turned chairman Ian Higgins to develop what John says: “is going to become a Bonnyton Academy. That’s the plan at least. Bonnyton could be making the move to becoming a junior team and then creating an academy that goes with that.”
It all seems set up for Bonnyton to push forward and they are doing well in their first season in the South of Scotland league under the leadership of Alan Robertson and Paul Wright two ex-Scottish Premier League players in their own right. The club sit sixth in the table and John states as far as pushing forward: “I have no doubt Bonnyton can become a third-tier Scottish football team. If you think you can, you can.” A battle cry to the Bonnyton faithful from a veteran of the Thistle set up, John Keast is certain: “Bonnyton are a club with defined and mapped out ambition, that’s the advert kid.” It is clear John thinks the club should aim for the stars, only time will tell if that becomes a reality.
For John, it is his role as a trustee that gives him added responsibility from appearing at match days to help out, down to opening the gates for rented games of 7-a-side at Bonnyton’s training facilities. Keast plays a role that he enjoys: “it all started because I watched my grandson, he played for the club and it gradually became more a part of my life. But it’s tough at times. We had a janitor but as he left I volunteered but hopefully we can get someone in a role there instead of me at some point. Funds like from these 7-a-side games are important because they help maintain the facilities and pay running costs, in a good week its £160 worth of money going straight towards improving the club.” John talks highly of what he has achieved in his role creating a charity (est.2014) the Scottish Charitable Corporate Org. This has allowed John to gain funds for the club and opportunities that help more than just football. John also runs the disability squads, the Bonnyton Flyers established in 2013 and now young teams from the likes of local schools like Park School in Kilmarnock at primary ages. John says: “it funds itself the disability team, it’s a rewarding experience and it’s good for the club to expand itself like that, as it is a community-based club.” With all the off-field organisations and campaigns being backed up by a successful team on the pitch, the building blocks are certainly in place for the club to kick on in the future.
By Marc Birch
The Leagues Below : Learning as a Junior Footballer Junior football can be a difficult journey at times. In tight leagues with unexpected elements to deal with competing in grass roots below the third tier of Scottish football. Sometimes though, there are stories that have as much controversy as the premier league itself. What is it like for young players who are trying to break into first teams. With teams all over the country aiming for the stars you would think that the likes of winning games and gaining promotion is all a chairman is after, but this sometimes isn’t how the cookie crumbles.
though would then turn sour as Gall would relieve Scott of his managerial duties just months after an almost invincible season. Fans and players alike took to various means not only thanking Paddy for the job he had done but some in anger at the decision. When asked the Darvel chairman said he had to “make sure” the club would achieve back to back promotions which would see them again obtain a higher level of success. Clearly Gall felt Scott Clelland wasn’t the man for the job, despite the club sitting mid table in a new league at the time of his sacking.
Darvel Juniors at the start of the 2016 season were a team sitting in a pretty difficult situation. They hadn’t seen a division title in 50 years and staying in the league looked to be the main target. Then up stepped Scott Clelland. The manager along with his team saw a huge defeat on the first day of the season after a 6-1 hammering by Whitletts Victoria FC. The club would then unbelievably go unbeaten under Clelland or ‘Paddy’ as he was known around the club.
As of right now (March 2018) Darvel remain in a similar position to when Clelland left the club. New manager Graeme Neil seems to have done a comparable job to the one which saw his counterpart Clelland lose his position, but with time still left in the season for things to take a turn, promotion is still possible with four spots up for grabs.
Results beyond the club, players, chairman and fans expectations. A strong relationship was formed between the players and Paddy after a personal battle of his own with cancer which saw the team band together which added fuel to the already lit fire in the Darvel players dressing room. A fantastic campaign for Clelland saw him give fresh faces the likes of youngsters Adam Wales and Josh Caldow a chance to experience, even without an extensive amount of games, what it’s like to win titles. Along with the exceptional team performances, Darvel Juniors would win their first title in years. Promotion from the Ayrshire District League a huge moment for the club, personally for Scott Clelland an astounding level of managerial confidence and attitude and for chairman John Gall a real look into the future. So, with everything looking good Vale headed into the next season in the Super First Division with high hopes and unity in the camp. This happy relationship
Wales and Caldow that were promised a future with Darvel under Clelland. Graeme Neil’s takeover now means both see themselves cast out on loan in order to get game time. The pair though seem in good spirits despite this Darvel exit and have fond memories of their time working under Clelland. Caldow said: “working under Paddy was really good for us as a team. Obviously, we found it difficult in that first game (Whitletts Victoria) but Paddy proper picked us up from that and that kind of made us believe we could push on. We understood the lack of game time towards the end of the season when the title was on the line, but to be even slightly involved is such good experience” Wales added: “Paddy was great for me for a number of reasons, a lot like Graeme (Graeme Neil) that came in after him he’s a good guy, and he (Clelland) made me a better player, and a more confident person on the field.”
This confidence on the field was also felt by Caldow who talked of his age and how Scott Clelland helped him become a better junior footballer “I became more confident on the ball and when I was attacking players” said Caldow, “when I first came in I had just turned 17 so I didn’t have much confidence but Paddy guided me into reading the game making the right runs and having good positioning which made me a more confident player.” Heading into the new season then with that title experience the pair may have expected to see some more game time, and they speak with some disappointment regarding the loan, but both understand. Wales said: “obviously you want to play at a high level, I had played in friendlies at the start of the season, but Graeme has decided to put me and Josh out on loan, which I have to see as a good opportunity to prove myself, he’s done what’s best for me.”
Caldow mentioned that Clelland wanted youngsters like himself and Wales: “stick by him (Clelland) and our time will come” but as far as going out on loan he has some contrasting opinions, “ same as Adam really in that it gets me more game time and it’s a good club to prove myself at, but at the same time I feel I could be playing or at least involved in the Darvel team.”
Both players with what would seem a bright future in Scottish junior football, it shows just how difficult it is to break through into the high level. But for Josh Caldow and Adam Wales it is clear they have learned from their experiences and will look to push on in the seasons ahead.
By Marc Birch
Scottish Cup Giant Killers on the Rise
So, to Lugar Boswell Thistle where the two are playing this season. Caldow already had as many goals as he did in his whole Darvel tenure after his debut scoring the winner against Ardeer. Wales has struggled in comparison, with a lack of the game time at Lugar he still remains hopeful : “I’m disappointed not to be getting as much game time as I hoped for but you don’t change a winning team and the top three places that Lugar are fighting for looks a promising target so hopefully I can help them reach that goal.”
Brora Rangers have captured the hearts of many in the Scottish game this season with their performances on route to the fifth round of the Scottish Cup. The Highland league outfit, who are based in the village of Brora, Sutherland, which is home to just 800 people, knocked out two sides from the SPFL in Stranraer and East Fife who both play in League One, to set up a tie with Premiership outfit Kilmarnock at Rugby Park.
couple of months. We’ve now got an ever-growing following of fans nationwide.”
Although the six supporter’s buses that left for Ayrshire that day ultimately returned home disappointed following a 4-0 defeat, The Cattachs’ fantastic cup run has had profound effects on the club and off the pitch.
“I think that the Highland league is completely underestimated by anyone south of Perth. In my honest opinion I think the likes of Cove and Formartine would comfortably hold their own in League Two. The managers and players that we have in this league are improving season after season”.
“Our adventure in the Scottish Cup this season has not only enhanced our reputation but that of the Highland League as well” says the club’s chairman William Powrie. “It has put our little village on the map, so to speak. “ As well as the rewards it has given us financially the engagement with the local community recently has been remarkable. More and more people have been joining our official club lottery in the past
Brora Rangers were one of four Highland League clubs that reached the fourth round of the Scottish Cup this season, with Cove Rangers, Formartine United and Fraserburgh also managing to get their names in the hat. And in the view of Powrie, this speaks volumes about the quality of the regional league.
One of those managers is Cattachs boss Ross Tokely. The former defender, who is revered as a legend by Inverness Caledonian Thistle fans, having made over 500 first team appearances in a 16-year spell, a club record, moved up to the role of Brora manager in December 2016 after previously being registered at the club as player/coach. Although his playing days are now over, his success in his early days
of managment have not gone unnoticed. “I actually tried to discourage him from continuing to play for a couple of years but joking aside, the job that Ross has done since he took the reigns at the club has been excellent”.
Recent history suggests that this is indeed the case. Despite a poor start to the 2016/2017 season, Tokely completely turned around the club’s fortunes in the second half of the campaign, not losing a single game after Christmas which culminated in Brora narrowly finishing behind Highland League winners Buckie Thistle by a single point. Although Brora have struggled to replicate that kind of form this season, leaving them in 6th place nearly 30 points behind Cove Rangers who have recently wrapped up the title with five games to spare, the club’s board remain fully behind their manager. “It’s clear to see that our poor showing in the league this season has been distracted by our run in the Scottish Cup” says Powrie. “We were billed as favourites for the league title in the summer, and that certainly hasn’t helped us. But we are really pleased with the work that Ross is doing in terms of improving and developing our squad”. Tokely has also gained a bit of a reputation for showing faith in young talent at Dudgeon Park, such as young Ross County goalkeeper Ross Munro, who was given first team opportunities by the Cattachs gaffer during a loan spell last season at the age of 16. “Our manager has more than played his part in developing the younger players that we currently have in the first team” adds Powrie. “I’m really confident that he will retain this philosophy as we have a great group of youngsters that are coming through.” Tokley’s desire to integrate youth into his playing squad is clearly giving the next crop of players confidence, as Brora’s u20s side currently top their league in their first season at that level.
Tokely with chairman William Powrie and assistant manager Kevin Munro In a similar vein, Brora’s first team are no strangers to winning silverware. Ross Tokely was a stalwart in the Brora defence when the club wrapped up back to back league titles in 2014 and 2015 alongside a Highland League Cup triumph two years ago in 2016. The Inverness icon also got his first trophy as manager under his belt earlier last November, when the Cattachs beat Lossiemouth 2-0 to lift the North of Scotland Cup. So, it begs the question, how have those at the top of the club created this winning mentality which has seen so much success in recent years? “We are very lucky to have a very generous sponsorship with Ben McKay, who is involved in the oil industry in the North East” states Powrie. “His investment has been crucial in helping us bring in better players into the club. Going back five or six years, we were really struggling in the league and found ourselves in a similar position to the one facing Fort William now. So, it really has made a difference.”
The Brora chairman also sees no reason why the good times cannot continue. “I would describe it as a snowball effect, in that the longer it goes on the bigger it gets. We have a great board as well prominent local businessman who are passionate and invested in the club. We are all singing from the same hymn sheet”. This idea of unity and togetherness that has been demonstrated at the club from top to bottom brought Brora to within 14 minutes of a place in League 2. After beating Lowland League Champions East Kilbride over two legs, the Cattachs were denied promotion to the SPFL at the end of the 2014/15 season, by two late goals against Montrose in a 3-1 defeat in the second leg of their relegation play off at Links Park after they had secured a 1-0 win at home over the Angus side in the first leg.“It was dire to put it bluntly” recalls Powrie, “we felt we were just about there but as they say it was close but no cigar. But it was a real learning curve for
all of us. We were magnanimous in defeat that day and it has given us a real favour to be back in that kind of situation again.”
This hunger to recover from setbacks leaves the Brora board, playing staff and fans alike in no doubt that they are capable of making the jump to League 2 next season. “Cove have been exceptional this season and that has been shown by the fact that they are still unbeaten” states Powrie, who quickly points out that his team were very unfortunate not to get a draw during their only encounter with Cove this season in a 1-0 defeat away from home in which the visitors also missed a penalty. “They’ll have a great chance of going up when they enter the play offs”. But once again the Cattachs chairman is adamant that Ross Tokely and his team can bring SPFL football to Dudgeon Park. “We’ve been building a great squad with really good depth over the past couple of years, and I speak for all of us at Brora when I say that I am incredibly determined to regain the title next season.” The optimism and belief that Powrie has in his team is again personified when he tells Stonewaller where he would like to see the club in three or four years’ time and how they would benefit from playing at a much higher level. “I’d like to think we’d be in League One by then. We are only able to bring in players from the Inverness and Highlands area at the moment, so going up would enable us to cast a bigger net and perhaps look at more players from the central belt. This could give the club a completely new dynamic. “But we need to be careful, as we are of the firm belief that bringing in players from our local region can bring us the success that we all hope and strive for.” With a successful winning mentality and a talented young manager who already has silverware and a couple of SPFL scalps in the Scottish Cup on his CV, Brora Rangers are most certainly a club on the way up.
By Anthony Evans
Student made magazine for Scottish Non-League Football. Covering the Highland, Lowland, East/South and Junior Leagues.