The opportunity to pull on the Tranent Juniors jersey was one Stephen Manson simply could not refuse.
Having grown up in the East Lothian town, where he went along to matches at Foresters Park with his grandfather Robert Hogg, his love for the club stemmed from an early age.
Manson has won all the Junior game has to offer. A spell at Linlithgow from 2009-2013 gave the former Hibs youngster every winners’ medal available to him – the Scottish Junior Cup, Super League title, Fife & Lothians Cup and the East of Scotland Cup.
His time in the Juniors came after spells at senior level with Falkirk, Berwick Rangers, Sligo Rovers and Cowdenbeath. Yet, the chance to win medals at Foresters Park, where he used to walk around the side of the pitch with the half-time raffle board, is what inspires him now. “I’m just loving it at Tranent, I’m just really happy here,” said 29-year-old Manson who recently moved into a new family home in Bonnyrigg with fiancée Amanda and their children Oliver and Amelia.
“I was at Linlithgow and Bonnyrigg but Tranent is my hometown and there is just a bit more heart in it for me. You’ve got your hometown love and it’s just pride playing for them. My dad and older brother both played for the club, so it’s nice to say we all pulled on the Tranent jersey.”
Under manager Gary Small, Tranent are flying high in the South Division. They sit joint-top with Blackburn United, although the East Lothian outfit have a game in hand. Tomorrow’s match at home to their co-leaders will be their biggest test of the season so far, before a mammoth clash at home to Junior Cup holders Auchinleck Talbot lies in wait.
Tranent are aiming to win the league title at the first time of asking under Small, who took over from James Thomson at the tail end of last season having assisted Johnny Harvey with champions Haddington Athletic.
Manson believes he and his team-mates are benefiting from the professional attitude currently being instilled across the whole club, with the experienced players like Darren Smith and assistant player-manager Joe Murray guiding the youngsters in the squad. It also helps that there is the factor of a family-feel within the squad, with the majority of the players within having grown up in the area.
“I think it kind of helps with the experience I’ve had, myself and Darren – the two of us are quite experienced boys. We’ve also got Joe Murray as well, boys that have been senior and I think that helps the young boys. They look up to us for our experience, it’s as professional as what it was when I was Linlithgow.
“Myself and Darren were neighbours when we were younger, we played along the street – he stayed in one street and I stayed in the next. Even at training we still have a joke about when we were playing football in the back garden and now we’re playing football at Foresters together.
“I didn’t even realise [tomorrow’s match] was a top-of-the -table clash until one of the committee members said. As players we are just taking it each week, we aren’t thinking about how many points clear we will go – we are just playing whoever is in front of us. Everybody is out to beat us.”
The long-term plan at Tranent is to climb up the leagues, to compete with their neighbours Musselburgh and to follow in the footsteps of Haddington.
For now though, Manson is just enjoying the present. “I heard what Gary and Joe had to say about Tranent and their plans for the future, and I was just that excited. I wanted to be part of it. I didn’t want to pick up the paper in a year’s time to see Tranent have won the league. I want to be one that’s in the celebration pictures, not the one that’s reading about.”