Newburgh Juniors FC vs St Johnstone XI
Attendance: 100 (est.)
Monday 25th July 2011
1. The Clubs
Newburgh Juniors are my hometown club and the team other than St Johnstone I’ve gone to watch the most. Formed in 1909 as Newburgh West End, they dropped the ‘West End’ suffix in 1935 (possibly because it misleadingly suggests the existence of a discernible west end in the town). They’ve reached the semi-final stage of the Scottish Junior Cup twice, in 1962 and 1971; the former of these cup runs saw 3,960 people cram into East Shore Park to watch the home side defeat Irvine Meadow. Sadly Saints can’t even guarantee crowds of this size these days.
Newburgh’s fortunes have changed of late and the last few seasons have seen them scrape around the lower reaches of the succinctly named Scottish Junior Football Association East Region Central Division. This is the 3rd year in a row that this fixture has made up part of St Johnstone’s pre-season calendar, it’s usually the under 19’s team with the odd recovering-from-injury first-teamer thrown in. Tonight’s line-up is no exception, the appearance of first team fringe player Stevie May the only real surprise.
2. The Ground
East Shore Park is a tidy little village ground with no lack of rustic charm. An enclosure with a handful of benches runs along the East side of the pitch with a similar, but smaller, pigeon stand facing. Behind the north goal sits a clubhouse containing dressing rooms and a small shop with the usual pie and bovril fayre. Next to this is a grassy embankment which offers a beautiful view of the Ochil Hills. All in all an extremely picturesque setting to watch a game in.
A dedicated group of local volunteers have been tirelessly working away at refurbishing the ground over the last couple of years and the results are fantastic – so much so that St Johnstone actually approached Newburgh recently with a view to hiring East Shore Park for their under-19 matches. Unfortunately, however, the pitch is narrower than SFA regulations allow. Entry to league and cup matches for season 2011/12 is £3.
3. The Game
We missed the first half hour due to a late finish at work (Michael) and generally poor timekeeping skills (me). The friendly chap on the gate let us in for a pound each because of this which was very nice of him. We arrived to find St Johnstone a goal up, Newburgh boy Stevie May on the score sheet. This lead was doubled shortly before half time when the ‘Burgh defence went to sleep and were punished with a cut back and a tap in. Infuriatingly I haven’t been able to source any team information for this game so all goals bar the first will have to be credited to anonymous scorers.
Newburgh made some changes at half-time and came out all guns blazing, piling on pressure and generally keeping Saints under the kosh for the opening third. Their efforts were rewarded with a nicely taken goal, a long ball from a half time sub finding its way into the box where an attacker stooped to head neatly into the corner.Unfortunately for the home side they couldn’t find an equaliser and the scoring was completed midway through the half, Saints breaking quickly to put the game to bed. The goal itself was somewhat strange, both an onrushing Saints striker and the Newburgh goalkeeper failing to properly connect with a low through ball which trundled over the line. There wasn’t much in the way of action in the last 10 minutes and the match as a whole can be accurately summed up as standard issue pre-season stuff.
4. The Banter
It was never gonna rival Barcelona v Real Madrid in terms of atmosphere and was a pleasant evening out rather than a thrilling one. Michael getting asked by a boy of about 5 to take his photo with Stevie May and then trying to let the young lad down gently by subtly implying that a bearded man in his late 20’s asking for the contact details of a child might look a bit strange to the casual observer was a highlight! We took in the match with my Dad and my Uncle Ronnie who, although a season ticket holder, was unable to give us much team information owing to the many new faces and trialists that made up the Newburgh squad.
5. The Verdict
Newburgh look like they could be a force to reckoned with this season and were hugely improved from the team I saw competing this fixture in 2009 and 2010. One of the half-time substitutes, a central midfielder, stood out in particular; strong in the tackle and with bags of pace and passing ability he was at the heart of every Newburgh move in the second half. Stevie May was head and shoulders above anyone else on the pitch and his SPL experience last season shows. I wouldn’t be surprised if he becomes a household name, at least in Scotland, over the next 5 years. A couple of other new faces amongst the Saints youngsters looked pretty handy too, a valid reason to be quietly hopeful for the future as a Saints supporter.