Soapbox: who cares who won the cup?

soapbox


It’s called the escape committee and it meets once a year on the day of the FA Cup Final. Salut! Sunderland did its duty and paid respectful attention to the Wembley event, but our own Pete Sixsmith and like-minded souls, true to form, were tunnelling their way out of England in search of grass roots football and tons of ale …

So I found out that Chelsea had done the once unelusive double when I saw the score on the screen in the corner of the Guildford Arms, Edinburgh. It wasn’t until I crawled out of bed on Sunday morning that I realised that penalties had been missed and that it had actually been a decent game.

Edinburgh has been my destination for a number of Cup Final Saturdays. I have gone on from Waverley to places like Musselburgh, Linlithgow, Bathgate No More and, on one grim, rainy day, Camelon, where the pub we sheltered in was such that even Rab C Nesbitt would have recoiled from ordering a pint in it

Six of us set off on Cross Country Trains, picking up the seventh member of the group in Edinburgh. Fixtures had been perused and the original choice was Bo’ness United, a good Super League club in a town a spit and a throw away from the railway at Linlithgow.

However, a phone call from friends on Wednesday night changed all that. They were watching Tranent Juniors. Did I know that they were at home on Saturday? Did I know who their chairman was? Would I like a word with him?

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I knew that Tranent was an old coal mining town in East Lothian, about 10 miles out of the city. I also knew that it was the home town of Neil Martin a prolific goalscorer for Sunderland in the mid 60s. Could he be the chairman, I asked my friends?

It transpired that he was and a short and respectful conversation elicited an invite to Saturday’s game. Plans were changed, maps were consulted, train and bus timetables were pored over. Tranent and an opportunity to meet a boyhood hero it was.

The route was to entrain to Prestonpans and then pick up a cab or a bus to Forester Park, the home of Tranent Juniors. The added attraction was a wonderful pub in Prestonpans called the Prestoungrange Gothenburg, a genuine Edwardian hostelry with arts and crafts décor – and a mini brewery.

The Gothenburg pubs flourished in Scotland at the turn of the last century and the idea behind them was not to discourage drinking (as some Scots bars do with their smell of disinfectant and poor quality beer) but put the profits back into the community, with particular reference to sport. There are a few left, bit the Prestonpans one is widely regarded as the jewel in the crown.

The Beer was brewed at the back. We sampled pints of a fine Porter, a tasty 80/- and I shared a half of the aptly titled Wee Heavy, a 7.5% killer, with Doug Forrest. The bar staff told us that they were not allowed to sell it in pints. Those of our intrepid band who sampled it found out why!!

A jovial taxi driver took us to Tranent, even stopping in the High Street so that Paul Dobson could leap out for a consignment of Scotch Pies. Alas, the good citizens of Tranent had scoffed them all and there was only one left, which was quickly dispatched by the Northern Echo‘s Mike Amos, doyen of North-eastern columnists.

Forester Park had been a large ground and you could imagine crowds of 4-5,000 filing in in the 40s and 50s. The crowd for the game against West Calder United was roughly 2.5 per cent of that. A stroll around the perimeter and there was Neil Martin standing on his own watching a chubby No 9 miss the first of numerous chances that he spurned.

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He was most welcoming and was quite happy to chat about his days as a professional footballer (and to pose with Sixer – that’s Neil on the right). He had fond memories of Sunderland and Roker Park, which he thought was a wonderful stadium. He had visited the Stadium of Light a couple of times, and he was impressed, but he said that for a player the Roker atmosphere was second to none.

Stories of Syd Collings,(“an autocrat”), Brian Clough (“he didn’t like me”) and the rampant cheating of Leeds United (“horrible people on the pitch”) in the FA Cup 2nd replay at Hull, diverted his attention from events on the pitch as the No 9 continued to put balls into the smouldering ruins of the defunct Social Club, which the gilded youth of Tranent had ignited the previous night.

He kindly invited our band of five into the Directors’ Room for a cup of tea and a sandwich, found a programme for me and signed it “All the best, Neil Martin”, which he must have done many, many times in his career at Alloa, Queen of the South, Hibernian, Sunderland, Coventry City, Nottingham Forest, Brighton and Hove Albion, Walsall and St Patricks Athletic. He was the first player to score 100 goals in Scotland and England, long before Kenny Dalglish repeated the feat.

We left him to watch the game on his own in the second half, as Tranent finally managed to score twice to win the game and remain at the top of the league, although Broxburn appear to be the likely Champions having won at Forester Park the previous week.

The taxi arrived at 4.30, the train arrived at 4.38 and we were in the Café Royal supping Kelburn Ales by 5. The two who had gone to Bo’ness arrived, we met friends from Shildon who were up for the weekend and after beers here and in the Guildford next door, we rolled on to the 1900 from Waverley.

A pleasant wee session in the buffet bar with Dave Parnaby, the Middlesbrough Academy Director, and a long wait in Dunbar, interrupted by a mad woman opposite spilling her drink and trying to instigate a discussion about Lord Palmerston, meant that we arrived late in to Darlington.

A fine day out. Good weather, good beer, good company and a decent game. Who needs a Cup Final ? Not me!!!

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