THEY are a football team made up of storemen, scaffolders and bank workers. But now the squad of Linlithgow Rose is on course to match the legendary Arsenal team of Thierry Henry, Sol Campbell and Patrick Vieira – known as the Invincibles – who went an entire season unbeaten.
The Rose line up against Auchinleck Talbot this Sunday in the Scottish Junior Cup Final on the back of a 49-game unbeaten run stretching into last season – and one more win will see them pip the Premier League giants who completed the season unbeaten in 2003-4.
However, unlike their multi-millionaire counterparts, Rose players have a working week to see off before facing their cup opposition – goalkeeper David Hay works in a bank, while midfielders Stuart McArthur and Andrew Shirra work as a storeman and scaffolder respectively, while fellow players Ruairi and Roddy MacLennan are both college students.
It will be hard to avoid the cup fever sweeping through the West Lothian town, with team-inspired cakes being baked and promises of free sausage rolls for a week should they win.
More than 4000 fans are expected to travel to the game at Livingston’s Braidwood Motor Company Stadium, and the rest of the town will be glued to the action on BBC Alba in bars along the High Street.
Oliphants Bakers has arranged a special cake and window display for the occasion, and owners Alice and David Gibson have offered free sausage rolls to the team if they bring the cup home.
Mr Gibson said: “It would be fantastic if they were to win it on Sunday. I’m sure they will.”
David Paterson, of The Football & Cricketers Arms, said: “We have the flags and bunting up and the whole town is hoping for them to do it. There’s a great buzz around the place about them winning and continuing their unbeaten streak.”
The Rose previously won the Scottish Junior Cup in 1964-5, 2001-2, 2006-7 and 2009-10. This year they have already won the league and the East of Scotland League Cup, but as an added incentive they have been offered an extra £5000 on top of the usual £8000 Scottish Junior Cup prize money by online bookmaker and league sponsor McBookie.com.
However, the pressure is somewhat eased on the players as, given their league-winning season, West Lothian Council and club officials have announced they will parade on an open-top bus and get a civic reception on Sunday evening whether they win or lose.
The side’s strikeforce of Tommy Coyne and Colin Strickland have a combined total of 50 goals between them for the season and club secretary Jim Harkins is hopeful they can fire the side to victory.
He said: “The whole town is confident they will win and continue this streak. If we see off Auchinleck Talbot and also win our remaining league games then we can draw level with Fauldhouse United on 49 games unbeaten in one single season – a record which has stood since the war.”
The Gunners vs The Rose
Date formed: Arsenal were founded in 1886; Linlithgow Rose were formed three years later in 1889.
Nicknames: Arsenal – The Gunners; Linlithgow Rose – The Rose or The Rosey Posey.
Average attendances: Linlithgow Rose regularly attract 500 supporters to Prestonfield Park, rising to as many as 1500 for cup games. Arsenal boast more than 60,000 at home games.
Annual turnover: Arsenal - £331 million; Linlithgow Rose - £150,000 (both 2012-2013 figures).
Most expensive transfers: For Linlithgow Rose Brian Carrigan holds both records as he left for Hamilton Academicals in a £15,000 deal in August 2008 and returned just four months later for £7500. Arsenal’s most expensive signing is Russian forward Andrei Arshavin who signed from Zenit St Petersburg for £15m in August 2009. They sold Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona in 2011 for £35m.
Most famous win: Linlithgow Rose won the Scottish Junior Cup Final in 2007 when Mark Whyte scored with the last kick of the game in extra time against Kelty Hearts. In 1988-89, Arsenal won their first league title for 18 years, beating defending champions Liverpool 2-0 at Anfield to clinch the league on goal difference.
Number of Frenchmen: Arsenal – 8 (including manager Arsene Wenger); Linlithgow Rose – 0.