Football / Fan's Eye View: Biggest bus park in history: No. 35 - Penicuik Athletic

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The Independent Online
ACCRINGTON STANLEY. Bradford Park Avenue. Aldershot. Great footballing names which, if not quite like Phoenix, have at least risen to fight another day. Penicuik Athletic may be another.

Who? You may well ask. But Penicuik (pronounced Penny - cook) Athletic were a great Scottish junior football team who had their heyday in the late Sixties and early Seventies. Sadly, the club is now defunct, having lost its ground. Eastfield Park, looking today like the immortal images of the equally simply named Peel Park, was required for other purposes.

It was at places like Penicuik Athletic, situated south of Edinburgh, that I was introduced by my father to real football. Teams from local towns and villages. Almost every match a derby, passionate and raw. Some players made it to the big time, such as Penicuik's legendary Charlie Dickson who scored for Dunfermline when they won the Scottish Cup for the first time in 1961.

In those days my loyalties were equally divided between Hibs and Penicuik, with some affection also for Cowdenbeath Nil, my first home town team. Penicuik usually took priority. My dad was the club treasurer; I was allowed to travel on the team bus (to hot spots such as Tranent Juniors, Dunbar United, Preston Athletic, Arniston Rangers, Newtongrange Star); and as an official ball boy (at the gas works end) I was actually paid to watch a match.

The Penicuik team of that era included a number of household names (certainly in our household). Willie Hume at right-half, one of the greatest Scottish junior footballers; Willie Finlayson at centre- forward, said to have a big goal bag; and Eddie Thomson at centre-half, later of Aberdeen and Hearts. Sadly, Eddie also played on New Years' Day 1973, famous because Hibs humiliated Hearts 7-0 at Tynecastle. I was there. It was one of the happiest days of my life. Others may remember it as the day Britain joined the Common Market.

Also at Tynecastle, on Monday 11 April 1966, over 11,000 punters made their way along the Gorgie Road to see what was to be the climax of Penicuik Athletic's greatest- ever season for many years - a Scottish Junior Cup semi-final with the much-fancied Bonnyrigg Rose (whose old boys included a guy called Sean Connery). To reach these dizzy heights for the first time the Athletic had humiliated one of the great powerhouses of the junior game, Johnstone Burgh, in a memorable fifth-round tie.

This famous victory announced our arrival. It was all the sweeter for the presence of a record crowd of 2,400, swollen by the great influx of fans from the west of Scotland. The convoy of coaches from Johnstone had turned the one-time paper-making town into what seemed like the biggest bus park in history. But, having slain one giant, the Athletic made a mockery of the unkind quarter-final draw against the equally feared Linlithgow Rose. A 1-0 away win earned us that magic Monday night.

A third chilling draw in succession proved one too many. Our opponents had already beaten us 8-0 that season and on the night they were again too strong and well organised. But all was not lost. The cup run was a nice little earner which enabled a number of long overdue ground improvements to be made, including a nice new boundary wall to replace the corrugated iron fencing. The foundations had also been laid for greater success. We finally made it to the Cup final at Hampden in 1970, going down bravely to Blantyre Victoria after a replay.

Whatever the reason, the passing of once proud Penicuik Athletic is a tragedy we should all lament. This is a club who held the mighty Hearts to 14 lucky goals in a pre-war cup tie and were permitted to play in the same league as Hibs' third team after the war. No self-respecting town of 20,000 inhabitants should be without a football team, an important source of civic pride and an essential focus for the dreams of small boys. Forget Jude the Obscure. I would have given anything to have worn Charlie Dickson's jersey.

Keith Ewing, Law Professor at King's College, London

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