IN A season which has served up more than its fair share of victories, it is a match back in November that stands out for Linlithgow Rose manager Mark Bradley.
It was the third round of the Scottish Junior Cup, at home to Fauldhouse United, and it was one Rose might have lost. On one of the few occasions this term when the team didn’t really get going, the fact they still dug out a 3-1 win makes it memorable.
“That was a tough game but we showed guts and determination and managed to get the win,” says the former Hearts, Cowdenbeath, Berwick and Dumbarton midfielder. “We weren’t at our best so I think of that game as our bit of luck for the season. It wasn’t that the others were a formality but in most of our other games we played really well. The way we played against Fauldhouse, we might have gone out if we hadn’t worked so hard and shown some grit.”
Until that point, Bradley, in his first full season in charge, had been able to showcase his players’ football skills, the passing play and the pace and movement which shies away from the lump it and like it style many still associate with the hurly burly Junior sides. But that day they proved they have real substance to go with the style.
Having already won the East Superleague title without losing a match, and with the League Cup already secured for the trophy cabinet, Bradley would love to add the Scottish Cup in the final against Auchinleck Talbot at Almondvale this afternoon.
“It’s talked about like it is the holy grail for everyone at the club and not just at this club, at all the Junior clubs. This is the one everyone wants.”
The last time Linlithgow won it was 2010. Back in 2007 they did the league and Scottish Cup double. That’s the feat Bradley wants to repeat. “As soon as I got the job it was made clear that they wanted the league and they wanted the Scottish Cup so there is a level of expectation. That’s the kind of demands made at a club like this and if you come here you have to accept that. So, for me to have the chance to deliver both in my first full season is beyond what I could have hoped for. But the credit for that goes to the players.”
In 2007, Bradley was a player at the club and he added: “I’ve been at Linlithgow so long now that I know nearly everybody and they live and breathe their Junior football. I know the effort that goes into keeping things running well and how happy it makes them if we win.”
Win or lose, the team will get an open-top bus parade through the town in recognition of their feats this season and the good thing as far as Bradley is concerned is that this time they will be able to celebrate with a clear conscience.
“I remember coming back into Linlithgow after the win in 2007 and there were people lining the streets and we all headed up to the club and celebrated that night and into the Monday but I remember that the league had kindly given us a fixture for the Tuesday night! Thankfully we won’t have any midweek games this time, so, if we win, we can enjoy the celebrations.”
But he’s not expecting it to be easy. Bradley, who earns his living as a business development manager for the Survitec Group in Glasgow, says the final is as closely matched as it could be. It is a third successive final appearance for opponents Auchinleck Talbot, who also romped through their West Superleague season undefeated, making the final a real clash of this season’s Titans.
One of a cluster of young managers hewn from solid foundations at Hearts, 36-year-old Bardley is aiming to join fellow Tynecastle old boys Allan Johnston of Queen of the South and Alloa’s Paul Hartley in savouring the season’s rewards.
“Yeah, there are a few of us. I don’t know what it is about that group of players but Gary Locke has gone into management as well now, and there’s Colin Cameron, Grant Murray, Steven Pressley, a few of us. Magic [Johnston] has had a remarkable season and Paul has got Alloa back-to-back promotions so they are working hard but so am I. Most of us came through with Jim Jefferies and if we can go on to have the same kind of career as he’s had then I think we would all accept that.
“I still speak to some of the lads but I don’t phone anyone for advice. I tend to make my own decisions and stick by them. I don’t get nervous. I never did as a player either. But I am looking forward to the game. We have prepared well. We have tried to keep things as simple and as normal as possible and the players are focused. They have been a credit this season. They are big game players and they want this double so I expect it to be a good game.”
When Rose won their last double in 2007, it was Mark Whyte who was the cup hero, scoring in the final minute of extra time against Kelty Hearts. Still a fan of the club, when the draw was made for the cup final mascots, the fact that it was Whyte’s son Kai’s name which came out the hat could be considered an omen. He will lead the team out along with Bradley’s youngest son Dean, invoking memories of those glory days and offering some inspiration for the current crop of players.
“I don’t think anyone who was involved that season will forget it and I want that for these players. If we do it, then I think this time will probably mean even more to me. This time I’ve had 23 boys to deal with and to prepare and get organised and this time I know what it will mean to everyone and to deliver on my first full season as a manager probably would be better than experiencing it as a player.”