Bonnyrigg Rose: What promotion to the SPFL means to chairman Charlie Kirkwood

Charlie Kirkwood was the team’s 12-year-old kit boy when Bonnyrigg Rose won the first of their two Scottish Junior Cups in 1966. Now 68, chairman’s lifelong journey with his home-town club has now reached a destination he never dreamed possible.

The idea that Bonnyrigg could one day be playing Scottish League football was unfathomable back in the 60s when Kirkwood was a lad watching the Rose with his dad.

So when the unfathomable became reality at Central Park, Cowdenbeath on Saturday, it brought a tear to the eye. “It’s mind blowing for me,” he says.

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When the moment came Kirkwood thought about the dedication shown by the committee since he took over as chairman 13 years ago of a club that was in a bad way. He thought of the wider community support that has been sought and harnessed. And he thought of his late dad, a Bonnyrigg Rose devotee who passed on his love for the club from father to son.

The moment arrived when left-back Neil Martynuick dispatched his penalty in the 62nd minute to give the Rosey Posey a 1-0 lead on the day in Fife and put them 4-0 ahead on aggregate in the pyramid play-off final. With no way back for crestfallen Cowdenbeath, a lump came to Kirkwood’s throat. It was a special moment.

“When we got the penalty, that was me, it set me off,” he says, choking up. “I’m quite an emotional person. I knew when we scored that was it. They weren’t going to come back from that.

“On a personal not it makes me very, very proud to be the chairman. I was 11 years old when I first took the job as kit boy and I’m 68 now. I always supported them and when I had my own window cleaning business I used to sponsor them. My family came through from Motherwell. My dad, God rest him, was a big Bonnyrigg fan. Every game, he loved the Rose, him and his two pals.”

His dad will be proud. When Kirkwood stepped up to become chairman, Bonnyrigg Rose had problems. They now have financial stability, much-improved facilities at New Dundas Park, a progressive community club with hundreds of children playing every week and growing success on the pitch.

Club chairman Charlie Kirkwood celebrates in front of the fans at Cowdenbeath, where former junior club Bonnyrigg Rose secured a historic promotion and completed their meteoric rise to SPFL League 2 for next season. Picture: Joe Gilhooley LRPS

All of that has been achieved despite the switch from the junior to senior ranks in 2018. That decision, made at a special general meeting in March 2018, was a momentous one for a club woven into the fabric of junior football in Scotland since its formation in 1881. Traditionalists were reluctant, but after Kelty Hearts broke ranks and it became increasingly evident that more and more junior clubs were about to follow suit, Bonnyrigg made the leap.

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They were east region junior Superleague champions at the end of that season, but didn’t stay to defend their crown and were one of 24 junior clubs to switch to the East of Scotland League that summer.

It smashed the glass ceiling for Bonnyrigg and opened up new possibilities that are now bearing fruit. League 2 next season. Beyond that, who knows?

The Scottish Junior Cup triumphs in 1966 and 1978, after which the team celebrated with an open-top bus tour of the town centre, had always been the benchmark for success. But Kirkwood believes promotion to the SPFL in 2022 takes things to a new level.

Neil Martynuick scores from the penalty spot in 62 minutes to seal victory and promotion. Picture: Joe Gilhooley LRPS
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“This is the club’s biggest achievement in my opinion,” he says. “The older guys might say differently. They weren’t very happy when we moved [from the juniors to the East of Scotland League], but I think we had to move.

“It feels emotional. Fantastic achievement. It’s been a hard 13 years bringing the club up from where it was. But every bit of work we all do has been worth it. Absolutely.

“The club was in a very bad way. I’m not going to hide the fact. but myself and Brendan Parkinson, as treasurer, came on board and we worked hard and had to pay a lot of debt off. It took about five years, but we cleared everything. We still had success on the way.

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The Rose players celebrate in the dressing room. Picture: Joe Gilhooley LRPS

“We’ve done stuff to the ground. People say the ground is unrecognisable now, but we’re not finished yet. This club can go on. We’ve got 310 season ticket holders and I think it’s going to treble for next season, I really do.”

Part of the explanation for the increasing fanbase is the rapid expansion of the town itself. New houses are being built all the time and the growth has been harnessed and mirrored by the football club on and off the pitch.

“There’s a real buzz about the town just now,” adds Kirkwood. “There must have been about about 1,000 fans at Cowdenbeath. There were five busses, people coming in trains and cars.

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“We’ve always been a well-supported team, but I think especially now with Bonnyrigg being bigger. Since we’ve come on board, people trust me and they trust Brendan. We’re getting sponsorship money in now that we would never have got before.

“I’m born and bred in Bonnyrigg and I’ve got a lot of friends who are sponsors. The main sponsor is one of my good friends. We have a lot more and my phone hasn’t stopped over the last three weeks with others wanting to come on board for next season.”

He adds: “When we do well, the whole town does well.”

The Bonnyrigg Rose players celebrate promotion to the SPFL. Picture: Roddy Scott / SNS
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With town and club both growing and feeding off each other, the future looks rosey for Bonnyrigg.