Conference C champions Broxburn visit Conference A winners Penicuik Athletic tomorrow in the first of three play-off matches involving the winners of the three East of Scotland leagues to determine the overall champion, who will advance to the top of the pyramid and feature in next season’s Scottish Cup.
Broxburn have already upset the odds so far this season, as they finished five points clear of Linlithgow Rose in Conference C – winning their last 13 league matches – with Rose considered by many at the beginning of the campaign to be heavy favourites.
“Linlithgow were massive favourites and did a lot of their talking in the press, and they said this and that, but we just plodded away,” said former Preston Athletic man Binnie. “We played them at Broxburn when they could have went six points clear, and a lot of the boys were saying if we didn’t win we could essentially say goodbye to our chances of winning the league, but we won 4-3 after being 3-2 down with five minutes to go. I think the difference was that we were always quietly confident whereas they were vocal in their thoughts of who should win the league and who was the best team, and that was one of the things we used to fuel our season.
“It has been very much us focussing on ourselves as opposed to worrying about others.
“For us to get this far and to finish five points clear is worth celebrating in itself. We’ve been used to being overlooked all season, so we are very confident in ourselves. I know a few of the Penicuik boys, Sam Jones and Greg Page, who are both brilliant players, and I have seen some of their games this season. These next two games are massive, not that we are looking past Penicuik yet, because all our focus is on that.”
The 22-year-old only switched from a midfielder to a striker a few years ago, the move thanks to then Preston under-20s boss George Thomson, who convinced Binnie to return to football after taking seven months out. The plan was a masterstroke, as Binnie returned, netting close to 30 goals in half a season, and he hasn’t looked back.
Binnie continued: “I packed it in after Christmas, then George got on to my case and asked me to come back. I have always played centre midfield since I was young but he said he would stick me up front. One of the things I didn’t fancy doing was just running after folk for 90 minutes like I used to do, I just wanted to go and enjoy it and George gave me that licence at Preston. He gave me the captain’s armband and told me to try and set an example to the young boys. For the first month I played centre mid and then he stuck me up front, and in my first four games I scored four hat-tricks. I cannot speak any higher of George, the guy is absolutely brilliant.”
The striker’s resurgence is similar in a way to that of Broxburn, having risen from being a mid-table club in recent years in the Juniors to a community-backed outfit, riding a crest of a wave with the dream of competing in the Lowland League now within touching distance.
The togetherness of the club is something that has certainly left a mark on Binnie, who joined last summer.
“We get treated like royalty at Broxburn, it’s brilliant. I’ve never been treated like how we do at Broxburn, it’s a right good family feel to the place and they make you feel appreciated. With the season we’ve had so far, it’s all been pretty positive. It’s not just 11 boys on the park, it’s everyone on the sidelines and everyone back in the village. There is a real community feel about it, in the way that we are all in it together.”
Penicuik co-manager Kevin Milne says his players have their destiny in their own hands, given they play their two play-off matches first.
“We could effectively have it done and dusted by the Wednesday, which the other two teams can’t,” said Milne. “It is up to us to go and win the first game and then if we win that, we play Bonnyrigg on Wednesday, and if we win that, no-one else can win it. We are in a very good position given how the fixtures are arranged.”