Stern tests for Borders sides as new football season kicks off

Gala Fairydean Rovers'  Alex Chingwalu holds off Shane Bonnington in their match against Coldstream (picture by Steve Cox).
Gala Fairydean Rovers' Alex Chingwalu holds off Shane Bonnington in their match against Coldstream (picture by Steve Cox).

The busy flurry of pre-season activity is almost over as the area’s four semi-pro football teams line up to kick off another season this Saturday.

There’s a slightly new look to at least one of the teams, while others have new personnel in the management posts – and one of the leagues has undergone another reshuffle.

Peebles Rovers, managed by Ryan Bisset, will line up in the East of Scotland Division One Conference ‘A’, while recently-created Hawick Royal Albert United – and the product of a merger between (amateur) Hawick United and Hawick Royal Albert, and managed by Geo Shepherd – are in Division One Conference ‘B’.

In the Lowland League, Gala Fairydean Rovers, with Neil Hastings newly at the helm, and Vale of Leithen, where Chris Anderson is back for his fourth season in charge, will be aiming respectively to trade the mid-table and the lower reaches of the league for the top half.

Anderson said Vale had enjoyed a “really good pre-season” with a number of practice games under their belts and a number of new faces in the squad, while other players had left, either voluntarily or through the club.

“We have recruited really well,” said Anderson, adding a key acquisition in defence was Paul Thomson, whom he described as “a real leader”.

Vale needed someone with influence at the back after conceding more goals than any other Lowland League team last season, added the boss.

Vale face a tough trip to Bonnyrigg Rose on Saturday and then welcoome Gala FR to Victoria Park on Tuesday night for an early-season local derby.

“I think the Gala game in midweek will be a massive game for both teams and will help shape things early on,” said Anderson.

Vale’s pre-season diary has included a 1-1 draw on Tuesday with Upper Annandale, a win last week over Dalkeith and a 5-3 victory against Hawick Royal Albert United.

Gary Nicholson with two, Brad Rixon, Liam Ireland and Lewis Hall were on target for Vale, with Kevin Strathdee and Duncan Kemp scoring for HRAU.

The revamped Hawick side travels on Saturday to play Tweedmouth Rangers – who had an even more torrid season last year in terms of results than the Albert Park side.

Hawick RA United manager Geo Shepherd, with 15 years’ management experience in the amateur game under his belt, said there was a strong committee in place to help guide the club, while he had another very experienced figure in Eastern Scottish football, Mick Murphy, by his side as assistant.

HRAU was effectively looking towards a three-to-five year plan, said Shepherd, and no one was predicting overnight success. But he and his colleagues hoped to enhance the club’s local profile once again and hopefully make it attractive to young footballers from Hawick who wanted to play.

Gala Fairydean Rovers are due to welcome a Celtic XI to Netherdale tonight (Thursday) at 7.30pm.

On Saturday, they stay at home to entertain a team they know well from the Lowland League – Cumbernauld Colts.

Last weekend, GFR travelled to Coldstream and defeated the hosts 3-2, in a game which also raised £400 for the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation.

Other managerial and player reshuffles have gone on at Whitestone Park, with Peebles Rovers also having a busy pre-season diary.

This Saturday, they travel to East Lothian to meet Haddington Athletic.