In the Scottish borders, rugby is the game. Except in Coldstream. Here, the oval ball game is reserved for the Army; since 1895 the town’s football club has been the bigger draw.
Admittedly, success hasn’t exactly come flooding along the Tweed. Winners of the inaugural East of Scotland League in 1924, the club has remained at that level ever since without repeating that triumph. The 20s brought a couple of other cup successes, most notably the Scottish Amateur Cup, and there was a King Cup win in 1967. Otherwise, though, it’s been honest grassroots toil rather than a procession of silverware for the Streamers.
Nonetheless, the longevity is impressive. Found a decade before the schoolhouse next to their Home Park ground was opened, the club is still going long after the school itself moved on. Right in the centre of this small town, Coldstream retain a community feel even if their attendances tend to be modest. The visit of a Musselburgh team with outside title hopes brings an above-average crowd to the game; in the pub next door the size of the visiting contingent is a talking point before the conversation turns to the alarming demise of Berwick Rangers, a slow-motion car crash skidding out of the Scottish League just eight miles down the river.
The weather is overcast, but this is a day where the details put a smile on a groundhopper’s face. Stepping into the ‘pivvy’, the clubhouse pavilion, I crossed paths with a bloke nervously pulling on a cigarette and scanning the clouds. The flag in his hand told the story – pressganged into running the line, he was weighing up the likelihood of rain. Announcements come from on high: a club official perches precariously on a ladder with a mic to give out the goalscorers. Creature comforts are few and far between, with both teams left to use uncovered benches on the sidelines and the only stand tucked awkwardly away in a corner behind the top goal.
Coldstream, mid-table and little to play for, start slowly. Third-placed Musselburgh look the likelier team until some neat play sets up an opening goal for the host in the 25th minute. ‘Buster Briggs,’ announced the man on the ladder, a name redolent of another age of amateur football. From Buster to netbuster in the second half, Briggs’ flick set up Matt Corfield for a thumping half volley and exuberant celebrations. The teams traded penalties late in the game, Musselburgh picked up a red card and saw their title hopes all-but ended by this defeat.
Home Park, Coldstream, Scotland
March 30, 2019. East of Scotland League
Coldstream 3 (Briggs, Corfield, Dixon) Musselburgh Athletic 1 (Thomson)