Who are Bonnyrigg Rose?

THE Scottish Professional Football League could have a new, romantic name among its membership next season in the form of Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic, a team from a small town in Midlothian just eight miles south east of Edinburgh. The Rose (or the Rosey Posey) won the Lowland League in 2021-22 for the first time, by a 14-point margin, and went on to beat Highland League champions Fraserburgh 3-2 on aggregate in the pyramid play-off and are up against the team that finished bottom of the Scottish League Division Two, Cowdenbeath.

The first leg of the tie that may completely transform either Bonnyrigg or Cowdenbeath saw the non-leaguers win 3-0 at their New Dundas Park stadium. The second leg, on May 14, may not be a formality, but it will take a huge effort for “the Blue Brazil” to overcome the three-goal deficit, particularly as they only won three league games at Central Park in the league programme.

Bonnyrigg’s rise has been impressive as they only entered the Lowland League in 2019 from the East of Scotland Football League, beating Penicuik Athletic and Broxburn Athletic in the play-offs are a barn-storming campaign in Conference B, winning 22 of their 24 games and scoring 105 goals while conceding 17.

One of this tiny club’s former players was none other than Sean Connery of James Bond fame. Connery played on the wing for Bonnyrigg in the 1950s. He’s not the only big name to have worn the club’s colours, John White, who was part of the Tottenham 1961 double-winning team, and later died in a tragic accident on a golf course, and Pat Stanton, who starred for Hibernian, both started their careers at Bonnyrigg.

More notable in recent years was the club’s recovery after almost suffering liquidation in 2009 due to the accumulation of huge debts. Chairman Charlie Kirkwood claimed the club was 48 hours from going under. Kirkwood’s connection with the club goes back to the 1960s, starting out as kit boy and ended up in charge as the financial crisis threatened to kill-off a club formed in 1881.

In front of a 2,200 crowd, Bonnyrigg defied the odds to beat Cowdenbeath 3-0 after manager Robbie Horn urged the town to get behind the team and act as a “12th man”. Horn said his side were the underdogs, especially as Cowdenbeath had picked up in recent weeks after a dismal season as they sought to preserve the league status they had enjoyed for 117 years.

Sean Brown, Neil Martyniuk (penalty) and Dean Brett scored the goals for Bonnyrigg and Cowdenbeath received a further blow when left back Harvey Swann was sent off for a challenge on Brett. Horn admitted it was a soft penalty but felt his team were in control after Swann’s dismissal. “We’ve out ourselves in a good position with a solid performance. They put out a strong side and I thought we matched them physically,” he told the local media.

If Bonnyrigg win the play-off, they will be the third successive non-league side to win promotion, following Kelty Hearts and Cove Rangers.

Dundee United look forward rather than backwards

IT HAS been a long time since Dundee United were referred to as part of the “new firm”, but the club’s management are confident the hurdles of the pandemic may soon be consigned to the past. The Tangerines’ finances took a hit in 2020-21, but the club managed to limit their losses to £ 2.5 million for the campaign. 

Dundee United aim to be a top six Premiership club and qualify for European football. In 2021-22, they are currently in a Conference League position and are still in the Scottish Cup, their objectives look realistic at the moment.

The club’s turnover in 2020-21 was down by around 2.5% to £ 3.8 million, while their deficit was an improvement on 2019-20 when they lost £ 3 million. Like all other Scottish clubs, the lack of matchday income decimated turnover, but Dundee United fared better than some – Hearts saw their revenues drop by 38%, Aberdeen 22% and Celtic 13%.

With revenues dropping, the wage bill became more of a drain on the club’s finances. In 2020-21, the wage bill was up by 7% to £ 4.9 million and this represented 132% of income. In 2019-20, the wage to income ratio was 120%. Ideally, the club would like to see the ratio closer to 80%, still high but much more manageable.

Scottish football benefitted from the government’s relief measures and Dundee United secured £ 2.8 million from the debt facility which has a zero interest rate and is repayable over 21 years. The club estimates it has lost around £ 4.2 million from the pandemic.

In addition, the club’s owner and chairman, Mark Ogren, a US-based businessman, has made interest free loans of over £ 9 million to the club since taking over in 2018. He is committed to the club in the medium to long term and is aware that success on the field is the best way to get a return on his investment. 

Covid has got in the way of his plans and his claim the club is “going places”, and he has received some criticism from a section of the fanbase. However, Dundee United won the Championship in 2020 and returned to the Premiership.

The club expects to return to profit in 2022 partly due to income from transfers involving Lawrence Shankland (who was sold to Beerschot for £ 1 million) and youth product Kerr Smith (£ 800,000 to Aston Villa, rising to £ 2 million), and also a return to normal income streams. 

There is also considerable upside to match attendances. In 2019-20, they averaged 8,500 at Tannadice, but the 2021-22 gates are around 6,500. There is potential at Dundee United, although the gap between the “old firm” and the rest of Scottish football is enormous and growing all the time.

The fans have played a major role in assisting the club during the pandemic, with most of the 3,000 season ticket holders waiving their refunds and the Supporters Foundation donating £ 100,000 towards the development of the academy site at Gussie Park. 

Dundee United could end 2021-22 in a better financial state and bound for European football, that would certainly be a case of going places, to quote the club owner.