Former mining community welcomes new era in the SPFL

Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game

The Midlothian town of Bonnyrigg, can look back on nearly 150 years of football history, all of it of the non-league variety until Bonnyrigg Rose gained promotion to League Two in 2022.

Eight miles south-east of the Scottish capital, this former mining community embraced the round-ball game around the same time as Edinburgh giants Hearts and Hibs. Certain sources suggest that a club called the Rose was formed in 1874, from which sprang Bonnyrigg Swifts, whose foundation date of 1881 is the one given for the SPFL club today.

In these early days, clubs in junior (ie non-league) football were distinct from those operating under the Scottish FA umbrella. While teams representing mining communities in Midlothian and West Lothian thrived in the junior set-up, producing some of the finest players in the Scottish game, the formation of the East of Scotland League in 1923 attracted some of the bigger clubs away.

Welcome to Bonnyrigg/Rob Proud

The EoSL was more closely aligned to the FA but many still preferred to play, and watch, junior football. Later Hearts and Spurs legend Dave Mackay got his first start at Newtongrange Star, while his later Tottenham and Scotland teammate John White ran out for Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic, as they were then called.

In this golden age of junior football just after the war, actor Sean Connery and later Hibs and Scotland captain Pat Stanton both played for The Rose. The highlight of the season was the final of the Scottish Junior Cup, played at Hampden in front of crowds of 60,000-plus. In 1951, the attendance hit 77,650.

In 1966, Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic won the trophy for the first time but by then, the junior game was in slow decline, much like the small mining communities which had supported it in such numbers. By the time they won it again in 1978, the crowd was 8,000.

While its importance to the town hadn’t changed, the winners paraded in around Bonnyrigg in an open-top bus, the local dynamic was changing. Bonnyrigg was now linked in administrative terms with neighbouring Lasswade, a historic parish in the Edinburgh green belt populated by retirees and commuters. There, sporting recreation means horse-riding stables, two golf courses and a rugby club. Its list of illustrious residents includes a wildlife artist, an architect and a philosopher.

Welcome to Bonnyrigg/Rob Proud

Bonnyrigg, meanwhile, erected a statue in memory of miners’ leader Mick McGahey, a life-long Communist, who died in 1999. The town was expanding with new housing and residents, bringing a younger demographic.

Changing circumstances across the former industrial belt called for a new football infrastructure, and the East Region Super League of the Scottish Junior FA was created in 2002. From 2007, its winners could enter the Scottish Cup, beginning with Linlithgow Rose. The West Lothian side had a followed a similar path to their Bonnyrigg counterpart, winning the Scottish Junior Cup the year before, in 1965.

Crowned champions above runners-up Bonnyrigg, Linlithgow Rose made the Fourth Round of the Scottish Cup, setting a precedent that their rivals would follow nearly ten years later. Both clubs still competed in the Scottish Junior Cup, by now the final mainly staged at Kilmarnock, Partick or Livingston.

Welcome to Bonnyrigg/Rob Proud

After the financial crash of 2008-09, with money tight, lifelong Bonnyrigg man Charlie Kirkwood took over as chairman. A kit boy when The Rose won the Scottish Junior Cup in 1966, son of a diehard supporter, Kirkwood had put money into the club from his window-cleaning firm.

Now he began to run his beloved Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic as a local business, attracting others to come on board, slowly clearing the debt, improving facilities at the club’s New Dundas Park ground and shifting operations from hand-to-mouth to something more stable. His good works would not go unrewarded.

After a third SJFA East Region Super League title in 2016, under former Scotland U-21 centre-back Robbie Horn, Bonnyrigg generated a tidy income in the Scottish Cup. A win at Dumbarton in the Third Round led to a dream tie with Hibernian, the match moved to Hearts’ home of Tynecastle, where 5,000 fans from Bonnyrigg helped boost the attendance to 12,451.

Welcome to Bonnyrigg/Rob Proud

While the game was one-way traffic, reflected in the 8-1 scoreline, a penalty appeal for The Rose at 3-1 may have tipped the balance before half-time. Kirkwood had seen enough, though, to know that his club’s future lay beyond the junior set-up.

Later that year, Kelty Hearts, runners-up to Bonnyrigg in 2016, their positions reversed in the spring of 2017, broke with tradition to leave the junior game behind and join the SFA. By now, the pyramid system was in place, one that the Fife side eventually took advantage of in 2021.

In March 2018, Kirkwood convinced the Bonnyrigg board to do likewise. They took some convincing but they weren’t alone. Seeing the potential in senior football, dozens of their counterparts jumped ship.

Ironically, The Rose pipped Linlithgow to the East Superleague that last season in the junior ranks, left their title undefended and started life in the East of Scotland Football League, the sixth tier of the Scottish pyramid, in August 2018.

Welcome to Bonnyrigg/Rob Proud

Some of the most venerable names from the old days, Newtongrange Star, Hill of Beath Hawthorn, Linlithgow Rose, lined up alongside Bonnyrigg, requiring three divisions to be drawn up, Conference A-C.

The Rose walked away with the Conference B title, then overcame Penicuik Athletic and, after being 0-2 down, Broxburn Athletic, to win the Championship play-off in stoppage time.

Bonnyrigg were now in the unchartered territory of the fifth-tier Lowland League. Just behind Kelty Hearts when pandemic stopped play, and again in 2021, The Rose won the Lowland League by a country mile in 2022.

A crowd of 1,571 gathered at New Dundas Park for the play-off with Highland League champions Fraserburgh, and 2,202 for the decider with sorry Cowdenbeath. Slaying the Blue Brazil 3-0, The Rose took 1,000 fans to Fife, the tie settled just after the hour by a Bonnyrigg penalty. The Rose were in League Two.

Getting Around

Arriving in town, local transport and tips

Edinburgh Airport is 22km (13.5 miles) north-west of Bonnyrigg, connected by tram to Haymarket (£7.50, every 7mins, journey time 25mins) in the city centre.

Alternatively, the Airlink 100 bus (£5.50, contactless on board, exact change if cash) runs every 10mins to Haymarket station (journey time 20mins).

From Haymarket station (stop HB), Lothian bus 31 runs every 15-20mins to Bonnyrigg Park Road (£2, journey time 50mins), by High Street, near the town’s precious few pubs. Every other service goes on one stop to Bonnyrigg Toll, closest to New Dundas Park.

East Coast buses from Musselburgh and Dalkeith also serve stops around Bonnyrigg

A taxi service is provided by Capital Cars (0131 777 7777), fare into town around £30-£35. The fare all the way to Bonnyrigg, skirting the Edinburgh centre, shouldn’t be much more, around £40-£45. For a more local taxi service, contact East Lothian (0131 665 5555).

Where to Drink

The best pubs and bars for football fans

Right on High Street, the Anvil Inn is hospitality itself, run by a new team since the pandemic, serving hearty pub grub and staging occasional live music. Close by on Polton Street, the Beetroot Bar & Grill puts the focus on food but also offers craft beer and cocktails, staying open until 1am at weekends.

Further along Polton Street, the Royal Oak is another popular haunt, with its own beer garden and live music nights. Opening hours stretch to 1am, 2am at weekends.

If you’re prepared to venture a little further or you’re staying there anyway, the Laird & Dog Inn in neighbouring Lasswade shows sport in a classic pub/restaurant setting, with its fireplace in winter and sun-catching terrace once spring arrives. Excellent food, too.

Where to stay

The best hotels for the ground and town centre

Visit Midlothian has a limited database of lodgings in the region.

The only accommodation option within walking distance of Bonnyrigg is just over the North Esk in Lasswade. The mid-range Laird & Dog Inn comprises 11 comfortable, en-suite rooms, each with a flat-screen TV and tea-/coffee-making facilities. Pub and restaurant are both excellent, from the full breakfast to the Peterhead haddock or haggis, neeps and tatties.

All is run by an efficient, friendly staff, with late check-out and parking both available.