Historian Gus Martin knew what was coming as he handed out flyers for his new book West Lothian’s Scottish Cup History.
As he wandered round Linlithgow Rose’s social club following their Junior Cup triumph over Cumbernauld, he was collared by one woman who told him: “I know what this will be about, Livingston, Livingston and Livingston.”
But while it is true the Championship club’s exploits in the Scottish Cup command more than a few of its 209 pages, Martin’s book transports the reader back to the days when clubs throughout the county were involved.
Long forgotten names such as South Queensferry’s Bellstane Birds, Durhamtown Rangers of Bathgate, West Calder’s Mossend Swifts, Broxburn Shamrock and Champfleurie, a small village to the east of Linlithgow, sit alongside the names of clubs still familiar within today’s Junior circles.
Martin’s second book – his first being The Broxburn Football Story – has been seven years in the writing but represents a painstaking record of those bygone days when clubs throughout West Lothian jousted with the likes of Hibs, Hearts, Celtic, Rangers Aberdeen, Partick Thistle and St Mirren.
Certainly there were a few painful results for some of the sides from “Linlithgowshire,” but also more than a few games to remember as they more than held their own against their more illustrious opponents.
At least, that’s how those clubs would be regarded today, but, according to Martin, not back in the first half of last century.
While West Lothian still boasts a good number of Junior clubs spread across the county, Martin said: “I think we tend to look as what they are today, not what they were back then when they were capable of giving most opponents a good game.
“When people see the title of the book they automatically think it’s about Livingston and they are surprised to discover there were so many teams from this areas who entered the Scottish Cup in the past.
“Times have changed, of course, and people sometimes don’t have a clue as to what happened in their own town all those years ago.”
Seeing the likes of Linlithgow – who travel to face Wick Academy on Saturday – and Bo’ness again involved in the “Big Cup” has given fans in the area a taste of what used to be. Martin’s book does the rest.
A storeman from Dechmont, Martin said: “I started writing it about seven years ago as a hobby, a past-time.
“I had more or less everything for Broxburn, Uphall and Winchburgh from my first book which gave me the idea of covering other West Lothian teams on a particular subject, the Scottish Cup.
“We’ve had a good few clubs winning the Scottish Junior Cup. but what a good few people didn’t know was many towns had sides entering the seniors equivalent.
“I spent a lot of time in the History Library in Linlithgow where they have all the old Gazettes and Couriers, but sometimes it could be difficult to find what I wanted.
“Sometimes it could prove to be a bit of a nightmare. Early matches when the game itself was still developing proved difficult as local paper more or less recorded the final result and little more.
“It wasn’t until the beginning of the Twentieth Century when the game became firmly established that we got more in-depth reports and this improved even more when local clubs were admitted to the Scottish League.
“Teams would also go defunct only to reappear a few years later. I’d find myself up against it at times but I found a brilliant set of football historians on-line who’d answer seemingly impossible questions.
“But I’ve come up with a complete record of all Scottish Cup matches played and also the Scottish Qualifying Cup.”
Broxburn Shamrock did reach the semi-finals of the Cup in season 1892-93 when, having beaten both Partick Thistle and St Mirren, they lost to Queen’s Park at Hampden, the Spiders officials and players almost unanimous in describing the miners as “the roughest team” they’d ever seen at their ground.
Hearts, too, had found themselves on the receiving end in Broxburn, their players attacked and one severely kicked after the Capital club had fought back from 2-0 down to force a replay with Shamrock a couple of years earlier.
The Gorgie side were said to have been left “trembling with fear” as a mob waited for them outside their hotel afterwards, while the Edinburgh Evening News blasted the “disgraceful” way in which the supporters had acted and that there was a danger of top Scottish team refusing to play in Broxburn.
Remarkably, though, more than 400 made the journey to Tynecastle for the replay courtesy of a “football special” train, something which, Martin revealed, wasn’t uncommon.
He said: “The railway network was the main means of travel and when a West Lothian team found itself on a good run followers of other clubs would go to end their support. It’s still the same in the Juniors today – when a local club is on a good Cup run then guys from elsewhere will go along to give them their backing.”
Time and the disappearance of the shale oil industry, gates dwindling and financial demands saw those clubs of yesteryear fade away one by one with, sadly, little to remind you of them today.
Martin said: “For example, Mossend, to the north of West Calder, was one of the top team in their day, but it was a village with a population of little more than 1000. Today there’s nothing but a couple of houses.
“Champfluerie was another shale-mining village as was Durhamtown to the south of Bathgate while West Lothian Albion in Winchburgh didn’t really stand a chance with five other teams in the area.
“It’s hard to believe today that West Lothian was such a hotbed of football bringing the likes of Celtic, Rangers, Hibs and Hearts to our towns long before Livingston arrived”.
Gus Martin’s book is priced £10 and is on sale at various outlets in West Lothian, further information at email@example.com.