Bonnyrigg Rose aiming to bloom at Hibs

It is the narrative for A Shot At Glory-style flick that actually wouldn't curl your toes. On Saturday, Hibernian, Scottish Cup holders after waiting more than a century to boast that status, require to travel to Tynecastle, home of their bitterest rivals Hearts, to begin their defence of a trophy only claimed after oceans of blood, sweat and tears.
Bonnyrigg Rose celebrate their cup victory over Dumbarton which gave them the tie with Hibs. Picture: Robert PerryBonnyrigg Rose celebrate their cup victory over Dumbarton which gave them the tie with Hibs. Picture: Robert Perry
Bonnyrigg Rose celebrate their cup victory over Dumbarton which gave them the tie with Hibs. Picture: Robert Perry

Awaiting them at the Gorgie ground will be opponents, residents there for just one day, who take the form of plucky juniors (there is always a need for a plucky underdog in a cinematic pitch) Bonnyrigg Rose. A club that, in order to experience one of the greatest occasions in their history, will make the trip from only 12 miles south of Hearts... in Midlothian.

The tale of this weekend’s fourth-round tie wouldn’t need any more to be a stick-on to delight any studio executive. But it has so much more. That is because as glorious as any element is the fact that managing the Rose just happens to be lifelong Jambo and former Hearts player Robbie Horn. Yet there is only one problem with that strand of the pitch. The 39-year-old has no interest in making it.

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“This day isn’t about me; it’s all about Bonnyrigg Rose,” Horn said. “It’s about the club’s committee, the players and the supporters. The committee have put in a ridiculous amount of hours to make a success of the switch to Tynecastle. They deserve to enjoy every moment of the afternoon. So too do the players. They wouldn’t be facing up to the Hibs this weekend if it hadn’t been for them winning the East Superleague last season.

“And they wouldn’t have a chance to savour a tie like this if they hadn’t come through three previous rounds. They might have had a couple of easy games early on [with a 14-0 win over Burntisland Shipyard followed by an 8-2 victory over Glasgow University]. We were second favourites at home to Cove Rangers and came through that and then took out a really decent Championship side in Dumbarton after two tough games.

“And the game is for our fans, who snapped up 5,000 tickets in quick time and would have snapped up more if there had been a bigger allocation. They have followed us all the way through this cup journey and they all deserve their day in the sun.”

For all that, any dispassionate observer can’t help getting swept along in the sentiment attaching itself to Horn who, with his background, at last has the opportunity to make a real impact in Scottish football with a game at Tynecastle. He never did that after graduating through the ranks at Hearts in the mid-1990s, the centre-back’s solitary competitive senior outing coming in a league defeat at Tannadice in May 1997, though he did appear as a substitute in Craig Levein’s testimonial against Hibs at the Gorgie ground in October of that year. While Horn may acknowledge the unique circumstances in which he will give his team talk, he still seeks to downplay them.

“I never thought the day would ever come that I would be leading a team into the home dressing room at Tynecastle, it will be a fantastic feeling, but I would have been just as excited at the prospect of taking my team into the away dressing room at Easter Road. In fact, I would have preferred that because it would have meant more people being able to go to the game, but the rules didn’t allow us simply to reverse the home and away draw element.”

Construction work at Tynecastle means that the main stand will not be in use, limiting the attendance to around the 11,000 mark and diluting the ground’s ability to produce its renowned crackle. Horn has enjoyed sampling that in Leith of late.

“Obviously, I’ve gone to see Hibs in preparation for the cup tie and the Hibs fans have been exceptional. They have a great manager in Neil Lennon, some terrific players, as they showed in the thumping win over Dundee United, and they are a great club. I really mean it when I say that their Scottish Cup win was great for the city of Edinburgh.”

The towns of Forfar and Berwick were where Horn had to find his level as a player, but not before he earned six Scotland under-21 caps and achieved a lifetime aim. “It was the dream to play for Hearts, and I did that. I always wanted to play for my country, and I did that. I wasn’t good enough to make it at Tynecastle, it turned out. At the time I was aggrieved about not getting the opportunity, but now I see it for it was. I sat on the bench for Hearts many times, including at Ibrox, but I was there when the club started to spend decent money and brought in the likes of Paul Ritchie, David Weir, Alan McManus, Gordan Petric and Steven Pressley.

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“I had a good grounding there under Walter Kidd and Sandy Clark. And I went on to have a good part-time career, with Forfar a great club where I was well looked after and learned so much under Paul Hegarty and Neil Cooper. Some of these guys have reputations for being hard on young players, and tough to work under. They were but I appreciate now that they let you know if you weren’t meeting standard they set and that they really sought to instil discipline. That is what I have tried to take into my coaching career.”

That coaching career began for Horn at Vale of Leithen, where he was became player-manager in 2011. A spell as assistant at Berwick Rangers followed, but stepping back into a No.2 role didn’t sit comfortably. “I missed being the main man and making the decisions, and that’s why I think the opportunity to manage Bonnyrigg came at the right time. And I’m proud that we were able to win the league in my first season, just as I am proud of reaching the Scottish Cup quarter final with Forfar – even if that ended up a 6-0 doing by Rangers live on telly – and proud captaining Berwick to the Third Division title, which gave them only a second trophy.”

Horn is entitled to think his efforts in the juniors would lead to clubs higher up Scotland’s pecking order taking notice, but he fears there is a snobbery when it comes to coaching appointments by the top two tiers of Scottish football.

“I think it is really difficult to get on in Scottish football management if you are not a name, or can point to a full-time playing career. The two should not be related, and coaching in an environment where you are responsible for so many aspects I would say is a better grounding than walking into a job on hanging up your boots – wherever you’ve been.”

On a daily basis, Horn is out and about as a senior property valuer for Hunter’s Residential. The firm is owned by Willie Hunter, who played 250 games for Watsonians and is a renowned after-dinner speaker. Horn is a little sheepish about the other means by which his boss could be marked out. “He does some hospitality in the Gorgie suite at Tynecastle... he’s a Jambo as well.” On Saturday, though, Horn is simply a Rose man by any other name.