In Berwick Rangers’ darkest hour, and as the victorious Cove Rangers players bounced and sang on their pitch, John Brownlie could at least summon some humour.
“Who are you lot?” he said as reporters clustered round him for what would be, for the time being anyway, the last post-match quote extracted from a Wee Rangers manager in senior football. “Are you the alligators? Or the undertakers? Bet you’ve been called a lot worse.”
Maybe he could joke because he was only appointed in time for the play-offs which, when you think about it, is a bit of a joke itself. But, having played for the Wee Rangers after his stint as a Hibernian legend, “Onion” wasn’t without sympathy or feeling for the club exiting the SPFL.
What could he really have achieved in only a handful of training sessions, given that Berwick hadn’t even been able to muster a goal since mid-March?
“It was always going to be a difficult job,” he admitted. “The club had been on a bad run before and we were just hoping for a wee bounce factor that obviously never came.”
Berwick are bound for the Lowland League but what about the 67-year-old Brownlie? “I’d certainly like to help the club in some way,” said the former Scotland full-back who had been assisted during this emergency appointment by ex-Berwick player Ian Little. “That depends on what the directors want to do because they’re the guys with the power.”
Berwick, he said, would not want to hang around the Lowland League for long. “They’ve got to have aspirations of coming straight back up but it’s not going to be easy. You’ve got Kelty Hearts, East Kilbride, Spartans and East Stirling who are going to make a big go of it as well.”
Can they return to League 2 quickly? “At the moment the infrastructure isn’t there to get the club back up,” added Brownlie. “We’ve no defensive-minded players – all of them are forward-thinking.” One of the most forward-thinking defenders Scotland has ever produced added: “We need to build a solid base.”
Cove manager John Sheran was only able to be at Shielfield after getting the all-clear from his doctor following a heart attack four weeks ago. “There was never any doubt about me being here,” he said, “but it’s been a nightmare having to watch the team from afar. These were two unbelievable performances against Berwick. We’ve finally made it and we’re delighted.”
What can the Highland champions, and now the city of Aberdeen’s second SPFL team, achieve in senior football? “I think the quality of the group has been there to see,” said Sheran. “The challenge now is to do it in the big league. They will have to up their game every week because sometimes in the Highland there are less-demanding fixtures but I think we can do a lot.”
Sheran extended a degree of sympathy to the vanquished Berwick. “It’s always hard for a club to drop out of the league. But that’s football and that’s the way it should be, with opportunities for others to get in. We think the 42nd club should be relegated automatically.”