Sitting watching the snow last Saturday when, outside of The Stadium of Light, there was no football to watch within a sensible distance, my mind wandered to the hazy memories of pre-season friendlies on sunny Summer afternoons. Yes, I was bored and fighting the urge to attend a local hostelry.
I recalled the days when we used to visit the likes of Gretna and, a personal favourite, Berwick Rangers; with no offence to their supporters, but Shildon and Spennymoor cannot compete with an afternoon in somewhere like Berwick (and I’ve never been much of a fan of ‘home’ fixtures against the likes of Sunderland or Borer).
As most folk know, Berwick Rangers are one of a handful of teams in the world to play in a national football league other than their own country’s, where both countries have their own fully professional competitions.
Berwick-upon-Tweed is 2 1⁄2 miles (4 km) south of the Scottish border but is closer to the Scottish capital Edinburgh than to North East England’s largest city.
The time (and expense) involved in travelling to away matches against English opposition would be greater than it is to travel to matches in Scotland; for example a match at England’s southernmost and westernmost league team Plymouth Argyle would result in a round-trip of almost 1,000 miles. Were Berwick to make the transition they would be more likely to initially compete in one of the regional divisions below the Conference North, as Gretna did before making the opposite move (England to Scotland).
Berwick has never played in the Scottish top flight, so questions of potential competition in European tournaments have not arisen.
Berwick’s status as a club physically located in England led to the anomaly of them being the only team in the Scottish leagues who were subject to the implementation of the Taylor report following the Hillsborough disaster in 1989.
Berwick Rangers was officially formed on 7 January 1884 after a match was played in the town between a team of millworkers from Dunbar and a team of railway clerks from Newcastle. Their first competitive match was against another team from Berwick, ‘The Royal Oaks’ on 16 February 1884. Berwick Rangers won the match by “one goal to nil”.
Berwick Rangers affiliated to the Scottish Football Association around 1905 and entered the Scottish Border League in 1905, followed by the Border Amateur League (1908–09). Recent research has revealed that the club joined the East of Scotland League immediately after the First World War, a new competition formed to replace the Borders League. The club made several attempts to join the North Northumberland League but were rebuffed. It was not until 1951 that they were admitted to Scottish League Division C Division (North & East). This third tier, made up largely of reserve sides, had been created in 1946 and was regionalised in 1949. The division was scrapped in 1955 and Berwick, along with the other non-reserve teams, were placed in an enlarged Division B (renamed Division Two the following season). Berwick Rangers have played in the Scottish Football League ever since, despite low attendances and frequent financial problems – and the obvious point that they play in England.
Following its foundation, the club had had a nomadic existence before eventually settling down at Shielfield Park in 1954. Shielfield Park is a twenty five minute walk from the railway station – and, so far as I can remember, a good fifteen minutes away from the nearest decent boozer – but who cares when you’re on a day out, near Scotland, watching Pools.
Arguably their greatest success came in 1967, when they beat Rangers 1–0 in the Scottish Cup under the management of player manager Jock Wallace. It was the highlight of a memorable cup run, which had seen them break a club record in beating Vale of Leithen 8–1 in the first round. The result sent shockwaves around Scottish football and led to a number of the Rangers players leaving Ibrox; it was also the club’s greatest home attendance of 13,365. They were paired with Hibernian in the following round but lost 1–0 in front of a crowd of nearly 30,000.
The following years saw little progress until the late 1970s, when under the management of Dave Smith they won the Division Two title in 1979. Despite that success they were unable to build and suffered a slow decline through the 1980s. The nadir came in season 1988–89 when they were nearly bankrupted and the club were locked out of Shielfield, having to play their games elsewhere. Add to this a police investigation into financial irregularities, changes in the ownership of the ground, strained relations with the operator of the greyhound track, and parts of the stadium being deemed unfit for use, and you can then compare their problems to ours in recent years with a smile on the face.
The club weathered these and other crises in the early 1990s, narrowly avoiding going into administration in 1994. Later in the decade Berwick enjoyed a bit more in the way of success only missing out on promotion to Division One due to league reorganisation in 1994. They were relegated to Division Three in 1997 but under the management of Paul Smith regained promotion in 2000. Under Smith’s stewardship they took both Rangers and Heart of Midlothian to replays in the Scottish Cup.
They were again relegated to the Third Division in 2005, and narrowly missed out on an instant return to the Second Division the following season, this time losing to Alloa Athletic in the Second Division play-offs. Despite losing a good deal of the squad to other clubs in the close season, manager John Coughlin exceeded expectations by rebuilding the team and guiding them to the Third Division championship in 2007, their first title in 28 years, in a season which also saw a new record for consecutive league wins.
John Coughlin resigned as Berwick Rangers manager after a 3–0 home loss to Alloa Athletic on 6 October 2007. He left with Berwick at the foot of the table with only 5 points after 9 games. Cowdenbeath coach Michael Renwick was appointed new manager on 25 October 2007. However after a dismal season which saw Berwick finish bottom and ship 101 goals, including a 9–2 defeat to Peterhead, Renwick was relieved of his duties on 19 April 2008. The official website reported on 12 May 2008 that Camelon manager Allan McGonigal would take over as manager. He resigned from his post on 13 November 2008. His announcement came in the wake of a deal which saw a fan led consortium take control of the club. On 27 January the consortium concluded their deal to buy the club.
Following McGonigal’s resignation Jimmy Crease became manager for the fourth time, initially as a caretaker, but then on a permanent basis in December 2008. Following a 4–0 defeat to Deveronvale in the second round of the 2011–12 Scottish Cup Crease stood down as manager. Player Ian Little was named caretaker manager until the end of 2011 when his position was to be reviewed. On 28 December 2011, Little was given the manager’s job at least until the end of the 2011–12 season. On 26 August 2012, Rangers FC played their first ever league game in England when they faced Berwick Rangers at Shielfield Park, in a repeat of their famous cup game in 1967. Berwick Rangers earned another famous result, with a 1–1 draw – Fraser McLaren scoring in the 62nd minute of the game. And we think we have a revolving door for managers?
The fans have played an important part in the survival of Berwick Rangers. Formed in 2003, the ‘Berwick Rangers Supporters Society’ (to give it its official name) boasts over 230 active members – more than half of the football club’s core support. The Society exits to promote football in the local community and to secure the long term future of Berwick Rangers Football Club. To date they have donated over £98,000 and are now one of the largest shareholders in the club.
The Trust is a registered industrial and provident society and, as such, it has to adhere to certain rules regarding its constitution and administration. It also tries to operate on the basis that it will raise and provide funds for the football club for specific purposes.
A major example of this occurred in the 2013-14 season when the Trust sponsored the home SPFL 2 match against Peterhead. Under the terms of the sponsorship deal, spectators were admitted free of charge but invited to make donations. So as to ensure that the club did not lose out financially, in the first instance, the Trust donated one thousand pounds more than the expected gate receipts.
Later, it approved the club spending the £1,800 collected from the fans to pay for a block of eighty four new seats in the Main Stand at Shielfield. Thus, as a result, overall, the Trust helped to boost Berwick Rangers’ income from that particular game by almost three thousand pounds.
Membership of the Trust has, despite the harsh economic climate, remained steady over the last few years. Some members live abroad in countries such as the U.S.A., Spain, United Arab Emirates, New Zealand and Australia. Within the U.K. there is a wide geographical distribution from Aberdeenshire to Southampton and into Wales.
There are members who have never seen Berwick Rangers play and others who, because of their locations, rarely get the chance to do so but being a member of the Trust is a concrete way of supporting and identifying with their favourite club. Is anyone from HUST reading this?
As well as members’ subscriptions (adults minimum twenty-four pounds per annum or two pounds per month, juniors five pounds per annum), the Trust holds fund raising events and has also been able to attract some commercial sponsorship.
The present Trust Board is willing to work in tandem with Berwick Rangers Supporters Club as appropriate and does not see this as compromising its independence. Apart from informal liaison between Trust Board members and the football club, there is official representation on the football club board through club vice chairman John Bell; John is on the Trust board; this direct link means that members can ask the Trust Board to raise any matter of interest or concern with the football club as the Trust also exists to give supporters a voice.
Whilst the following that Berwick Rangers enjoy is much smaller than our own, the trials and tribulations which they have overcome resonate and the achievements of this relatively small Trust are to be applauded – and perhaps are own Trust Board can learn a few things from the fund raising initiatives in Berwick and how those funds raised have been used.
And perhaps there could be another pre-season visit this coming July?
Mine’s a keg heavy….with a wee one.