Even more notable than the humble but highly individual tomato swerving away from the vegetable section to declare itself a fruit, Berwick Rangers were, up until 5pm yesterday, a splendid football quirk, the English club who played their games in Scotland.
But, rather like the planet Pluto, which must have thought it was imprinted on the minds of the generation of Space Race kids forever only to suddenly find itself downgraded, a terrible shock has befallen the club.
Maybe not that big a shock, for the devoted black and gold-clad eccentrics mooching around the town’s Saturday market before their fate was sealed were saying how it had been coming for some time. Still, no Berwick Rangers being read out in the classified results anymore? James Alexander Gordon, if he’s not birling in his grave, will surely be shedding a tear.
At the final whistle, signalling the end of senior football for the club after being members of the Scottish League for 68 years, tomatoes were not thrown. The Shielfield worthies trudged away. The Berwick players, who’d needed to trump Liverpool and Spurs’ recent comebacks, sought the sanctuary of the dressing-room. And their conquerors, the thrustingly ambitious Cove Rangers, bounced in front of a chipboard display confirming them as Pyramid champions.
John Brownlie, pressed into service as Berwick’s manager in time for the playoffs, said the job had been “mission impossible”. “It’s very sad. I played for this club and I feel for those who’ve been here a long time. Cove were better than us, let’s not kid ourselves, but Berwick must now try to get back as quickly as possible.”
Berwick have not been banished as far as Pluto. They will resume in the Lowland League, still in Scotland, which will at least be easier on the mileage, although the diehards had come to enjoy the long treks to Elgin and the like, and the company of even more eccentric types collected on the way, such as the St Andrews Uni academic who seemed to have no links to team or town but just liked both, and the railway worker who gave up on Sunderland for “real football, rubbish goalies an’ all”.
The Crosscountry train which had left Edinburgh at 11.08am was full of Cove supremacists already in celebratory mood. “I’ve only got eight bottles of vodka left,” declared one. “Whae do we want in the Betfred qualifiers?” Aberdeen were the unanimous choice. “And at Pittodrie fir mair money.”
Cove seem to have enough of it. And according to one Berwicker, the budget of the similarly striving Kelty Hearts is “obscene”. “Now that the trapdoor is well and truly open, the Second Division is going to look a whole lot different in a few years,” he said. “Watch out Albion Rovers and Cowdenbeath. We’ve had crap boards of directors for 20 years - absolute crap - so you’d better not print my name. Maybe this is evolution but for Berwick it’s so sad. Economically this will hit the town. We’ll lose our national profile. We’ll lose our USP – the English team in Scotland.”
The English team, the Wee Rangers, who once humbled Glasgow Rangers. Second-hand bookshops were displaying annuals from that momentous year, 1967. If anything the demise offers the Scottish Cup shock even more lustre. Not that that’s any consolation to the Ducket, the terracing shed where Crosses of St George fluttered as Berwick ran out to their theme tune “Gold”.
In the main stand a minister in his dog collar and a man with a shivering Jack Russell in his jacket were among those hoping for a miracle. “We have to get some pride back,” Brownlie had stated in his programme notes. Getting a goal back would have been a start, the side having drawn a blank since mid-March, but before long Cove were five up.
Gold, a hit for New Romantic ponces Spandau Ballet, goes: “Thank you for coming home/Sorry that the chairs are all worn.” The Cove fans started singing the song back at Berwick who had no one like the Highland champs’ Mitchel Megginson, a man searching for his 50th strike of the season. He seemed to be in for it right on half-time but was chopped down by Berwick captain Ross Brown who was red-carded.
That could have been a fine team goal but one was only delayed, Jordan Brown finishing the move shortly after the restart. The game was dead and the expiry of Berwick would quickly follow, handing over their league status to Cove and Shielfield to the Berwick Bandits speedway team for last night’s meet with Sheffield Tigers.
Cove’s manager John Sheran, who suffered a heart attack four weeks ago, joked afterwards that he was relieved the playoffs hadn’t caused him too much additional stress. “I’m really lucky to get a second chance,” he said, “and I’m delighted we’re going up.”
Beyond the Wee Rangers, Berwick used to boast another quirk: it remained at war with Russia long after the Crimean War had ended. That was as a result of Queen Victoria missing the town’s name off the peace treaty, a boob exploited by local tourism until a Russian diplomat visiting in the 1960s was supposed to have belatedly declared the conflict over. With senior football gone, one Berwicker sighed: “We’ll just have to storm Moscow for real this time.”