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Vale of Tears | @AlexHTheMax

A 7-0 defeat along with two 7-1 reverses, one after scoring first, and a 10-0 hammering at home with the season only two months old, plus the manager that has helped keep the club alive since 2015 resigns.

You'd be hard pushed to find a team in the UK in worse shape than Scottish non-league club Vale of Leithen as football at a domestic level emerges from COVID.

Alex Horsburgh (@AlexHTheMax) looks at a tiny borders club who, before this season, were also mostly known to those who do not watch non-league fitba' as the team that took one of the biggest post war hammerings in the Scottish Cup.


My own surname of Horsburgh has its roots in the Innerleithen area of the Scottish borders and, although I have no connections there personally, I can't help but take a traditional look at news from the local club, Vale of Leithen FC, and their results at the weekend.

It's painful viewing currently as Vale are out of their depth in the Scottish Lowland League after less than a dozen games.

This unofficial 5th Division of Scottish football produces a team that can end up in SPFL League 2, as Lowland and Highland League champions clash over two legs at the end of the season, with the winners getting a chance to play bottom of Scottish League 2 for a place in the fourth tier.

Edinburgh City (in 2015) and, last season, Kelty Hearts have been promoted to League 2 via this Pyramid path from the Lowland League with once Scottish League stalwarts Brechin City (Highland League currently) and (now Lowland League) East Stirlingshire falling to non-league level at the expense of ambitious community teams on the way up.

SPFL League 2 teams demoted from geographical areas below Dundee are placed in the Lowland League while those north of the Tay must play in the Highland League.

At the basement end of the Lowland League, however, there are a couple of teams who are proving there is a gulf in the division currently bigger than any in the Scottish Premiership where the big two in Glasgow rule.

 Sean Connery in his Bonnyrigg Rose days

While the likes of Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic (Sean Connery played for them before Bond), Edinburgh Spartans (set up as a club for ex-Edinburgh Uni students in 1943) and the delightfully named Civil Service Strollers (although you don't have to work for the civil service to play for them) prosper at the top of the Lowland League it is poor Vale of Leithen who have become the "whipping boys" (a traditional journalistic phrase in Scotland) of the 5th tier.

Vale survived relegation to tier 6 because of COVID and the Lowland League being abandoned before the final few games last season. Runaway leaders Kelty were then declared champions and went on to gain League 2 status, but Vale couldn't regroup to find form after relegation in the LL was suspended for a season and they are now being battered weekly with seemingly no end to their problems.

For non non-league watchers Vale of Leithen are mostly known in UK football for a major post WW2 hammering they took in the Scottish Cup in the mid-70s at the hands of Montrose.

Every record book you see will have the scoreline as Vale of Leithen 0-12 Montrose, but the game was actually played at Montrose after a fire at Vale's Victoria Park demolished their dressing rooms and with a fortnight to go before their cup tie v Division 2 Montrose in 1975, they were using a nearby public park pavilion to change in for league games.

The SFA finally had to break their long-standing rule of no switching venues for cup ties (although these days small clubs can go to a neutral venue if drawn at home) when it was discovered there was no hot running water at the pavilion Vale were using at the public park.

Montrose moved the tie to their Links Park ground and won 12-0 in the 2nd Round but to this day the game is still listed with Vale at home.

Now, nearly 50 years later, the spirit of that cup tie thrashing lives on in Vale Lowland League matches so those looking for an underdog to adopt this season must surely choose Vale of Leithen.

The inclusion of Celtic and Rangers B teams into the Lowland League this season hasn't helped Vale's cause. Celtic's youngsters won 10-0 at Vale recently and Rangers B are coming soon. Rangers B play home fixtures at Dumbarton FC while Airdrie host Celtic B home games.

Incidentally, the Old Firm B team inclusion in the LL set up is for one season only and was set up to bring cash into the Lowland League following covid. Celtic or Rangers B cannot be promoted and they haven't had it all their own way recently so the LL is proving competitive at the top end of the division, contrary to what some fans believed before the controversial inclusion of Old Firm B.

With Vale now adrift at the bottom it would seem they're only function this season will be to boost the goal difference of those clubs above them but let's wish them all the best in what will be an uphill battle in tier 5 of Scottish football.

As far as Vale are concerned never was a club badge and motto more appropriate.

The Lowland League table on August 16th shortly before another 7-1 thrashing for Vale.

By Alex Horsburgh, written for @TFHBs

©The Football History Boys, 2021
(All pictures borrowed and not owned in any form by TFHB)

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