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Saturday 21st March 2015 ko 12.00

Lowland League

VALE OF LEITHEN 0

PRESTON ATHLETIC 2 (Bruce 41 Roy 57)

Att 312

Entry £5

Programme £1.50

Badge £3

I suspect we all needed a good night’s sleep after Friday’s long journey, certainly the faces at breakfast looked refreshed, maybe the hotel bar hadn’t done as well from GroundhopUK as is usually the case! We left East Kilbride heading south down the M74 before striking out east along the beautiful Tweed valley.

We passed through Peebles, right past Peebles Rovers’ ground (isn’t it handy that the Lowland and East of Scotland Leagues share a fixture secretary?) before reaching the small town of Innerleithen.

Its a town born of the woollen industry, but tourism dominates today and that is an issue for the football club. A club should represent its community and industry, and that relationship should be a two-way street. The trouble is that tourism is there to attract people from afar so advertising at the local football team is of no use to them. Would the mountain bikers visiting here be interested in the football team?

The club is one of the oldest in the Borders founded in 1891 and moved to their current ground, Victoria Park in 1922. When we were negotiating to get this hop off the ground I remember to speaking to someone, who when I mentioned the club said , “You won’t want to visit there, there’s nothing there!”

Now it was a conversation on the phone so I’m assuming when we meet in person, I’ll have to introduce myself to his guide dog too! I introduced myself to the committee at the gate, then glanced to my left and was stopped in my tracks by the view of the rolling hills beyond. Moreover the place has more than just a view, the place has character by the bucketload, and that stand….. actually let’s let the pictures tell the story.

I was put immediately to work sorting out the team lines for the hoppers, I’m not sure why but in the first year of any hop clubs tend to miss out that request, its in the blurb we send out I promise! My reward for helping out was the best cup of tea I had the entire weekend. So if Innerleithen want an alternative means of advertising for tourists, they could try this epithet, ” Innerleithen, the best tea in Scotland!”

I rather took to the club, they have that lovely mix of decency and friendliness I look for. I suspect they had no idea why 250-or-so Englishmen would be interested in a small team in Scotland, but decided to enjoy the fact they were and enjoyed the experience on that basis.

I managed to spend a little time with SFA Council member Scott Struthers, he supplied the hop with a list of all the referees and assistants for the hop, and he let me know we were making a little more groundhop history, linesman Frank Campbell is an ordained minster! Campbell roared with laughter when during the second half I called out, “Are you sure that was offside Reverend?”

What I couldn’t wish for Vale of Leithen was a win. Losing to second-from-bottom Preston (Prestonpans) Athletic was an unwelcome surprise for them but on the day midfielder Alistair Roy was irresistible, setting up the first goal, a sumptuous cushioned lob.,then scoring the winner himself.

Perhaps this was a day when the match was of secondary importance to the occasion. The thanks from the committee was heartfelt, and as I strolled back to my coach I felt a pang of regret that we couldn’t have lingered a little longer. I must make sure they’re an away club on a subsequent hop, it would be good to catch up with them.

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