Many domestic cup competitions have lost their appeal over the years, with most big clubs only really becoming interested if or when they find themselves in the latter stages of the competition.
The same can be said of the Scottish Cup. Top sides will play, try to win, but if knocked out will spin out well used rhetoric about concentrating on league form – the chase for the league, Europe or avoiding relegation.
Romance is not dead however, many smaller clubs revel in their participation within the tournament – a tournament which before recent league pyramid restructuring moves represented an opportunity for teams from different league set ups – the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL), Highland League, Lowland League and even the Scottish Juniors to participate and pit their wits against each other and a much more varied calibre of opponent than they would usually face in their own league set ups. Back in the 2015/16 season, Linlithgow Rose – at the time of the Junior East Superleague, caught the imagination of the whole country as they made it through to the 5th round of the cup (further than top division teams like St Johnstone and Aberdeen) and on the way, proved that the romance of the cup is still alive and kicking.
For those less accustomed with Linlithgow Rose (Lithgae Rose, The Rose, The Gallant Rosey Posey), they are a relatively successful and well run football club from the town of Linlithgow in West Lothian. Historically successful, the club have won a number of honours at Junior level and with their relatively sizeable fanbase represent one of the best resourced and top football clubs at their level. They play at the neat, tidy and well kept Prestonfield Stadium within the town, complete with terrace, grass banking and main stand. Team colours could best or most simplistically be described as matching those of Hearts – claret or maroon with a white trim.
The first round of the Scottish Cup drew The Rose away to Gala Fairydean, from the town of Galasheils in the Scottish Borders. Playing away at a team higher up in the (at the time) nominal pyramid represented a challenge for Linlithgow on paper. However the reality of the Scottish football system at the time was that successful Junior Teams could realistically match their counterparts from a technically higher pyramid position. This proved to be the case on this occasion at The Rose ran out 2-0 winners to kick off their Scottish Cup run.
So far, so good at this point but really nothing to write home about. As above, it was customary for Junior sides to be able to match or beat teams from a technically higher position – the reality being that with a well run or resourced club, it became a “different” rather than a “higher ” league, with the quality of football team relatively even. This had been proven the season before, when Linlithgow’s local rivals Bo’ness United had progressed as far as the 4th Round, beating the likes of Selkirk on the way.
The victory in the borders set The Rose up for a long trip north to face Clachnacuddin of the Highland League (this would be the first of many trips north). The Rose travelled to Inverness with some optimism – Clachnacuddin represented a good Highland League side, but by no means the toughest opponent from that part of the country. In beating Gala in the previous round it had also already been proven that they could beat opponents from higher up in the pyramid also. Again, this proved to be the case.
The Rose didn’t take long to open the scoring in Inverness, taking the lead through Gary Thom after only 10 minutes. An equaliser on the stroke of half time could have shaken things up, but goals from Weir and Batchelor after 54 and 67 minutes respectively meant that The Rose and their travelling fans returned back to the central belt victorious, and hoping for a tie closer to home in the next round.
Such is the way of things however, that The Rose were not drawn closer to home in the 3rd Round, but were instead draw away at Wick Academy, right at the very north of the country. The Gallant Rosey Posey and their fans were certainly being made to work for their success.
The trip to Wick did however prove to be fruitful however. Again the Rose took the lead in the tie, only to be pegged back just before half time once more. Just like the last round, this did not rattle Linlithgow as a Kelbie goal after 50 minutes looked to have secured a 2-1 victory. However, romance isn’t romance without some drama and an equaliser in the 93rd minute made for a less joyful trip home, and meant that there would now be a replay at Prestonfield.
The Rose welcomed Wick to Prestonfield for their first home match of the competition that year. In a mirror image of the preceding rounds, it was the Rose who fell behind to an early 4th minute goal. This was to be the start of a dramatic and incident filled match. After 20 minutes parity was restored, before in the 24th minute Wick were reduced to 10 men after a red card. The Rose capitalised on this by then going 3-1 up before half time. A 4th goal just after half time seemed to signal the end of the tie, before yet another Wick red card in the 57th minute. Against 9 men now, a 5th goal was added and Linlithgow ran out 5-1 winners.
Into the 4th round, nose bleed territory for a club like The Rose. At this stage, Aberdeen and St Johnstone were being knocked out and so in facing Forfar Athletic there was a sense that this could be it, a good side and SPFL opposition. The Rose were at home however, which added some advantage and some hope.
Forfar took the lead in the match after around 30 minutes, but not deterred, The Rose fought back and equalised a few minutes later and made it into half time all square. Just after half time, a red card for The Rose’s Gary Thom was followed by a Forfar goal from the penalty spot and then a 3rd for the visitors only a couple of minutes later. Down to 10 men and 3-1 behind, all looked lost for Linlithgow, especially given they were up against a good SPFL side. However, it isn’t called the romance of the cup for nothing – a couple of quick-fire goals from McKenzie and Weir drew The Rose level on the day and they managed to hold out for the remainder to take the tie to a replay up in Angus.
The excitement and hysteria from that comeback followed The Rose up the A90 to Forfar a couple of weeks later. The supporters especially had taken the team’s progress to heart and travelled in numbers on what was a cold, damp Tuesday evening in January. Spirits were high as supporters buses rolled into the stadium car park in Forfar, with excited fans pounding on bus windows, singing, cheering and generally making a right old racket. For those of us who had driven to the match and were waiting outside the stadium for the turnstyles to open, this was a sight which both showed the interest and support for the team, but also signified that there was the potential for this excitement to overspill.
The terracing at Forfar soon filled up as kick off approached, both home and away fans expectant ahead of the match. Some Linlithgow fans in particular were at a point of excitement almost at bursting point. This was perfectly illustrated in the delaying of kick off as numerous flares and maroon smoke bombs were set off and thrown towards the pitch. After the smoke had cleared, amidst an overriding feeling of confusion and concern among most fans, the referee blew for kick off.
After only a couple of minutes of play however, the lights went out – literally. The floodlights in the ground failed completely and the ground was plunged into an eerie darkness. At that point, the referee took the players back inside and the crowd was advised that a solution was being sought. At this point, more flares were set off, thrown on to the pitch and some others who had become a bit over excited and agitated even ran onto the pitch only to be stopped and rugby tackled by stewards. These unsavoury incidents represented the final noteworthy incidents as the match was then abandoned as a solution for the floodlight failure failed to materialise.
Take 2 on the Forfar v Linlithgow Rose 4th Round Replay finally took place a further week later. This time, an even match was played out without much incident. The 90 minutes came and passed without any goals. Into extra time and again, the match was evenly poised until the 115th minute when Kelbie grabbed the winner with a right footed shot to send the Lithgae fans wild and The Rose into the heady heights of the Scottish Cup 5th round.
True to form, the 5th Round draw sent Linlithgow north once again, this time to face Premiership side Ross County. Again, fans set out on a long trip to the Highlands to see if The Rose could continue this great cup run. Excitement was quickly dampened after kick off however, as after only 4 minutes Ross County took the lead. Thereafter an even first have ensued, Ross County always seeming just about in control with The Rose trying their best to make headway forward when they could, but always mindful of keeping the back door closed.
Towards the end of the first half, Linlithgow made their way into the box, down the inside left channel. The ball was almost cleared but then defected back into the box, a County player then tried to clear again only for the ball then to hit off his own teammate and nestle in the net – a bit of a mess, but 1-1, The Rose were level with Premiership Ross County at half time.
Into the second half and the pattern of play continued, with County pushing forward but Linlithgow standing up and making their own moves where they could. County re-took the lead after about an hour with a simple headed goal from a corner. Rather than their heads going down however, Linlithgow demonstrated some of the spirit that had taken them this far. The ball was played back to the keeper, who then chipped the ball over the onrushing striker to the centre half McKenzie, who again clipped the ball up the line to the right back Tyrrell, who again controlled and flicked up the line this time to winger Kelly. Kelly played it inside to Batchelor who dribbled infield before sending the ball back out wide to Kelly who had continued his run up the right and raced towards the box. Kelly then sent a low cross into the box which evaded the defenders and found its way to MacLennan at the back post who swept the ball home for 2-2. A great goal, flowing passing football as The Rose sliced their way through their more illustrious opponents to score what was surely one of the goals of the round – look it up on the internet, honestly it’s amazing!!
In a way, it would have been nice if the match had ended there, a great goal to mark the crescendo of a brilliant cup run. However, it is the romance of the cup after all and like all romantic tales there was some pain round the corner. Just a couple of minutes after the equaliser, County grabbed a third, which was then followed by a 4th later on as Linlithgow started to tire.
Notwithstanding the defeat, Linlithgow could go home with their heads held high and fans went home proud of their team. The 5th Round of the Scottish Cup, for a team from the Junior ranks was a truly remarkable achievement. The cup run had seen epic away trips, goal fests, giant killings, pyrotechnics, brilliant goals and roaring comebacks – these all combined to create a truly brilliant cup run which proved that the magic of the cup, that oh so fabled cup magic, is still alive and kicking.
Episodes like this cup run, the results, goals and comebacks feed an overriding sense of hunger and anticipation ahead of future Scottish Cup years. For me, interest in the cup draws is now dominated by searches for smaller teams, Juniors, Lowland League, Highland League sides, who they have drawn and how far they progress – always hoping for another run like that of the Gallant Rosey Posey back in 2015/16.