First Junior season, 1980-81.
Beaten at home 3-2 by Bathgate Thistle in a League Cup section tie that opened the first season in the Juniors the game might have been won if ace goalscorer Alec McMichael had not booked his holidays for the start of the season! Alec, along with Ian “Sudsy“ Sunderland and Cammy Sutherland, who both played that day, were former Bathgate players of distinction in the 70’s and Cammy is still recognised as being their all time top goalscorer. Sudsy was a former Albion Rovers FC Player of the Year.
Billy Henderson, a former Livingston United player, went onto become a manager at Junior and Senior level winning the East Region League title whilst at Whitburn Juniors. Youngster Stephen Hazelton, a future Player of the Year, later joined Whitburn as a promising centre half. Bobby Seaton, a classy sweeper, briefly became the caretaker manager the following season before leaving for the Dalkeith Thistle job.
Local boy, the diminutive Harvey Ryan, was a skillful playmaker in midfield alongside Timmy Brady, a talented player who went onto have long and successful career in the Juniors with many top clubs. Both were eventually transferred to Fauldhouse United. Centre forward that day was “Tooch” McLeod (why Tooch? – maybe he had a good first one?!). He was a high scoring striker signed from Bathgate United U21’s Juveniles but only played a few games. Tooch himself suggested one theory for this. After training one night he told a teammate he might not make Saturday’s game as there was the possibility he was to be “entertained by Her Majesty” instead!
Rab Krendlar, another local lad, was a tall, skillful winger with an eye for goal who played at the club for many seasons. He and Brady were recruited from the successful Blackburn Under 21 Juveniles who had, the previous season, won the national trophy, The Lady Darling Cup. Two other recruits to the team were the long serving Des Gallagher and Podge Dixon. The latter went onto be the regular goalkeeper. Incidentally, the manager of the Juveniles, the irrepressible Alec “Kitty” Dunnigan, went on to be the only Blackburn United manager to take the club to promotion.
Des Tempany, yet another local boy, also went on to be a future Player of the Year as an outfield player although he was an outstanding goalkeeper in his youth. Des now lives in Australia. His younger brother, Willie Tempany, a former St Johnstone first team player, joined later in the season. Between the sticks on the opening day was Graham Meikle, ex-Pumpherston goalkeeper and one time Hibs prospect.
Robert Stewart, a pacey midfielder, Tam Davidson, a tenacious full back and back-up goalkeeper George Thomson were retained players from the Blackburn United Welfare team of the previous season. Centre half Graeme Findlay, another ex-Pumpherston player, had previously played as a forward for the defunct New Blackburn Athletic side which ceased in 1974. His son, Craig, has subsequently played for the club.
The team that went down to Bathgate in that first League Cup group game was; Meikle; Henderson, Findlay, Seaton, Sunderland; Brady, Ryan, Stewart; Sutherland, Macleod, Krendlar. The substitutes were Davidson and Hazelton while the scorers were Sunderland and Ryan. A local newspaper report on the game, which attracted a substantial crowd, stated that “Blackburn showed much promise and came away with a great deal of credit. When in the mood they played fast, exciting football and if they can sustain their early aggressiveness and power throughout 90 minutes they will clearly be a force to be reckoned with”. A few days later, in a home league match, the players secured the club’s first victory at Junior level when beating Preston Athletic 2-1 after trailing at half time.
Team colours were a yellow and blue Admiral kit, the Tottenham Hotspur change kit of the time. The club reputedly gave the strip to Pat Whelan, club secretary at the time and a one-time player for the White Hart Lane side. The side’s change strip was the trendy Argentina international kit of the day.
Team coach was Jimmy Irvine an ex-Dundee United, Middlesbrough and Heart of Midlothian player. The club were delighted to secure his services but the arrangement was not ideal since Jimmy was also a scout for Hibernian and this meant that the players and committee had to convey to him what had happened during games he had to miss! The main coach on match days was committee man Eddie Roberts who later went on to be the team coach in his own right, as did Jimmy in later seasons.
The committee included Messrs; Whelan, Roberts, Tam Shaw, George Aitken and President Arthur MacDonald. All were local enthusiasts who had all played football at various levels and had formed the original Welfare team. None was keener than Arthur who escaped from his own wedding, which was taking place at the chapel adjacent to Murrayfield Park, to find out the score of an on-going game. A United substitute told Arthur we were losing 2-0 and that he had more chance of scoring that night than the centre forward had of doing so that afternoon!
Worst performance of the season was an 11-0 thrashing at Arniston Rangers when the prophetic Eddie Roberts, at half time, warned the team, 2-0 down, that they were playing so badly they could end up getting thumped 10-0! Good displays included beating Dunbar United 5-2 in our first away league win and trouncing Tranent 4-1 in a cup replay. Ironically, the last game of the season was a home league match against Bathgate Thistle with Blackburn earning a degree of revenge for that opening day defeat in securing a 1-0 victory. The team finished in a reasonable mid-table position to justify inclusion in the Junior ranks, although the other newcomers, Ormiston Primrose, won the league in a canter.