Bonnyrigg Rose chairman Charlie Kirkwood came on board when the club faced its darkest hour – now his reward for turning the Midlothian club’s fortunes around is seeing them face holders Hibs in the William Hill Scottish Cup this Saturday.
Rose were on the brink of financial collapse seven years ago, with the Junior club just weeks away from closing its New Dundas Park gates. Kirkwood, who was the club’s kit boy when they won the Scottish Junior Cup in 1966, couldn’t sit and watch his hometown club go to the wall and got together with local men Brendan Parkinson and Bobby Dickson.
“Just before I arrived, the club was really struggling, it was in a bad way,” said Kirkwood. “It was a hard, hard job. There were some days I was standing at the gate in tears. I don’t think we were far away from not being a club. It was one of the reasons why I came in.
“It was quite a quick promotion [to chairman], to be fair. We went on [the committee] to see what was happening with some people and things weren’t very good. Myself and Brendan got Bobby on board and it’s been really good. We’ve changed the place around a bit and got sponsors on board. I know a lot of people through my window-cleaning business and things have really kicked on. I don’t think there’s any doubt that we’ve changed the club around – myself, Brendan and Bobby. Brendan’s an accountant and he’s very, very thorough, sometimes I have difficultly getting any money off him, but I wouldn’t have him any other way. He’s done a fantastic job.”
Things have gone from strength to strength at Bonnyrigg since then. Saturday’s match against Hibs at Tynecastle represents how far the club has come. From almost being a club condemned to history, they now have the game of a lifetime in front of 13,000 spectators. The financial rewards for their fairytale cup run will be significant, with plans afoot for ground improvements including a seated stand, floodlights and new dugouts. But Kirkwood has stressed the hard work of their nine-strong committee must not stop at a family club which he feels puts many a senior club to shame.
“I keep saying to people just because we’ve had this great run and the club will make a lot of money from it, we’ve still got to keep working hard,” said Kirkwood. “We have people standing at ‘The Toll’ at the traffic lights in Bonnyrigg on a Thursday and Saturday morning selling the lottery – you can’t just rely on sponsors. You’ve got to have a fundraising thing. Our committee members Ray, Helen and Ian go and stand there twice a week selling the lottery in all weathers. Marie Arthur does a monthly ‘100 club’ draw.
“My wife Julie and Pauline Greig do the catering. It’s just a big team. It’s a family. Some people think you get this and that, but basically being part of the committee costs you money. There’s a lot of good people there. There’s no doubt about that and they’ve all got a feeling for the club. The organisation we’ve got probably puts a lot of big clubs to shame.”
Kirkwood is usually found pacing around the pitch when Bonnyrigg play in the East Region Super League, but this weekend he’ll be forced to stay still for the entire 90 minutes. Bonnyrigg’s chairman will take up his seat in the Tynecastle directors’ box on Saturday alongside his Hibs counterparts, and admits it will be a strange experience.
He said: “We’ve got to go to the directors’ box. Not that it interests me any bit because I like to walk about; obviously I won’t be able to do that at Tynecastle! I’ll be totally relaxed, because no matter what the result, it’s been fantastic for the club. Win, lose or draw, to be honest it doesn’t really matter now. It would be great to get a win or a draw but we’ve got to be a realistic. People will say the Junior Cup finals in 1966 and 1978 were bigger, but for me this is the biggest game in the club’s history.”
Kirkwood might have a job on his hands keeping hold of young manager Robbie Horn. Having taking the reins in the summer of 2015, former Hearts player Horn led Rose to last season’s Super League title and masterminded the defeat of Championship side Dumbarton in round three. His achievements won’t have gone unnoticed.
Kirkwood added: “The gaffer has done really well since he came in. He maybe should’ve got the job before David McGlynn, but that’s in hindsight. Robbie has been brilliant. His man management and the way he talks to everybody – he goes and speaks to fans before the game. He’s got a lovely family, his wife and the two kids come to every game. It’s been a pleasure to work with him and hopefully I can work with him for a long time to go come, but football is football. I think it would need to be a good job for us to lose him.”