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.