Football: Border raiders in full retreat

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The Independent Online
Brechin City 3

Kerrigan 13, Brand 62,70

Berwick Rangers 2

Forrester 24, Robson 50

Attendance: 362

When you happen to be at war with Russia, losing a football match in Brechin might seem a trifling matter. But yesterday was another of those days that passed, for the good folk of Berwick upon Tweed, without the distant rumble of Cossacks gathering on the horizon. So the defeat Berwick suffered in the battle of Glebe Park was of serious concern to the dozen-or-so hardy souls who followed the lone Rangers on their latest cross-border raid.

Berwick, of course, is the Northumberland town with an identity crisis. On 14 occasions it has switched between English and Scottish hands and was once regarded as a semi-sovereign entity, being mentioned separately in Acts of Parliament. Hence, when hostilities ceased in the Crimea in 1856, the peace delegates in Paris forgot about the town on the Tweed, which had been included in the declaration of war against Russia.

Yesterday the force opposing Berwick's footballers were the reds of Brechin City, not quite the pride of Angus and certainly a less daunting proposition than the reds of Moscow. Berwick Rangers were up against the one team that started the day below them in the Scottish Second Division table.

Berwick, where the left arm of the executed William Wallace was displayed as a deterrent to those Borderers sympathetic to revolting Scots, actually stands in England. But the town's football club have been members of the Scottish League since 1951 and famously defeated Scotland's Rangers, the Glasgow lot, in the Scottish Cup in 1967.

Just a point yesterday would have been a victory of sorts for the team of part-timers. Berwick have yet to claim one on Scottish soil thus far into their troubled season. They looked des- tined to secure three when David Robinson shot them into a 2-1 lead from the penalty spot four minutes into the second-half.

But then, to the delight of the Scots in the 362 crowd, the defence with the worst record in the eight divisions of the Scottish and English leagues lived up to its unfortunate form. Ralph Brand, no relation apparently to the 1960s Glasgow Ranger who spilled the beans about the bigoted goings on inside Ibrox, scored twice tae send the English side hame - bottom of the table - tae think again.

Ian Ross, Berwick's manager since the summer, certainly had an abundance of thinking time on the 250-mile drive back to his home in Durham. Though the defensive damage suffered yesterday was only half as bad as against Stenhousemuir and Ayr United in August, with 26 goals conceded in eight matches they could do with a little first-hand help from the man who marked Franz Beckenbauer out of a Fairs Cup tie in Munich 25 years ago. Ross, to the delight of Bill Shankly, also scored the goal that knocked out Bayern and took Liverpool through to the semi-finals.

Ross, though, is content with his present lot in football, far from the madding crowds spending each Saturday at such outposts as Berwick and Brechin. "I just love the game," he said. "Nothing gives me a bigger kick than football."

The one-time Aston Villa captain got his first kicks with a Glasgow park side which also featured one Kenny Dalglish. The exploits of Milton Milan are mentioned in Dalglish's new autobiography, but the manager of the breadline club from the borders said: "I'll wait until it comes out in paperback before buying it." He might be in charge of the last team in England but, like the lone rangers of Berwick, Ross is unquestionably Scottish at heart.