Identity crisis of following Berwick Rangers explored in new book

PIES, beer and Bovril are usually the fare of football matches, rather than literary launches.

Berwick Rangers celebrate winning the Third Division title in front of the main stand at Shielfield in 2007 (Doug Stenhouse)

PIES, beer and Bovril are usually the fare of football matches, rather than literary launches.

But at Berwick Town Hall tonight it is quite fitting, for a new book on a unique football club from an equally unique town.

It is Berwick Rangers fan Tom Maxwell’s account of following the only English team playing in the Scottish league.

The Lone Rangers, published by Northumbria Press at £17.99, marks the 60th anniversary this week of Berwick joining the Scottish league.

The fact that Berwick’s every fixture is an international and that they are greeted with away games jibes about being “English *******” mirrors the split identity of the town itself.

The peculiar status of both football club and town is something which has long fascinated Tom.

For a start, most of the Berwick players on the end of the anti-English brickbats are Scots, and the club’s following is roughly half English and half Scottish.

But the Berwick identity crisis goes back long before the founding of the club in 1884.

The town was at the centre of an elongated pass-the-parcel during the centuries of Anglo-Scottish warfare, changing hands 13 times.

And 32-year-old Tom is well placed to write about the confusion of being a Berwicker.

Although having been born in a hospital in Edinburgh, where he now lives, he spent the first eight years of his life on a farm in Cornhill-on-Tweed in Northumberland.

“Living just two miles from the Scottish town of Coldstream meant that crossing the border was an almost daily occurrence,” he said.

At the age of eight, he moved to Berwick, where he was introduced to the black and gold colours of Berwick Rangers by his father, who was born in Northumberland.

But true to the theme, Tom’s mother came from Dunfermline in Scotland.

The borderline existence was present as Tom grew up admiring one of Berwick’s greatest footballing sons – Trevor Steven – one of whose clubs was Glasgow Rangers but who also won 36 caps for England.

The confusion continued with the Berwick Rangers club crest.

Tom said: “The club made two additions to its crest in the early Nineties. Today, the familiar town symbol of a bear relieving itself against a tree is joined by the respective lions of Scotland and England.”

During the Euro tournaments when both England and Scotland played, Tom recalls alternate English and Scots flags along the High Street.

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Fans can buy Berwick Rangers scarves bearing either the cross of St George or St Andrew.

Geography doesn’t help, either, with Berwick being roughly equidistant between Edinburgh and Newcastle.

Tom said: “The crooked nature of the border means that Berwick actually lies further north than a number of Scottish towns.

“Ayr United, Annan Athletic, Stranraer and Kilmarnock all play their home games south of Berwick’s Shielfield Park.

“I have English and Scottish blood, so I am sort of representative of the town

“Like the town, many of its residents and its football team, I’ve suffered my dilemmas about nationality.

“That’s what happens when, if you travel 10 miles north you’re labelled a Geordie and if you travel 10 miles south you’re labelled a Jock.”

Tom Maxwell and his book about supporting Berwick Rangers

Tom has discussed Berwick’s English-Scottish balancing act with local MP Sir Alan Beith, who is also Berwick Rangers honorary president.

Sir Alan said: “The thing that most people from outside the area know about Berwick is that it has a football team that plays in the Scottish league.

“It helps to keep that ambivalence about Berwick’s status. It’s also important to the town having them on the television every Saturday afternoon. It keeps Berwick in people’s minds.”

Which brings Tom to the man who he considers is partly responsible for the belief that Berwick is in Scotland.

That man is the owner of one of the most familiar voices to legions of football fans – James Alexander Gordon – who reads the football results out on the BBC every Saturday. Tom says: “If the vast majority of people only hear the words Berwick Rangers, invariably followed by an elongated ‘niiil’ from the BBC announcer as he reads the Scottish football scores every Saturday, it’s little wonder that they think the town is in Scotland.”

Mind, it works both ways.

“I’m forced to admit that I know virtually nothing about Preston apart from the fact that it has a North End,” says Tom.

Dr Annie Tindley, a former classmate of Tom who is now a lecturer in Scottish history, is of the opinion that “Berwick is a football between England and Scotland”.

That has been the experience of John Bell, chairman of Berwick Rangers Supporters Trust.

He says: “I played for Berwick as a youngster in the north Northumberland league which at the time stretched down the coast and all the way up to Eyemouth. We’d play in Eyemouth in Scotland and we’d get kicked around a bit and called all the English ******* under the sun and then we’d go down to Alnwick and it was a case of ‘get stuck into the Jocks.’”

Tom’s devotion to Berwick Rangers is also a testament to the alternative experience of following a smaller team, compared to the millionaire players of the pampered Premier League and all the attendant tantrums and shenanigans.

And Berwick have had their times in the limelight, like the 1-0 win over Glasgow Rangers in 1967 in the Scottish Cup and the one occasion in 2002 when Paul Gascoigne, with clubs like Newcastle, Spurs, Lazio and Glasgow Rangers behind him, turned out for one game with Berwick Holiday Centre across his shirt.

Whatever, Tom will be taking a break from the football next May when he marries fiancee Jenna.

And true to form, while he considers himself English, Jenna is Scots.

Page 3 - Team that has created it's own history >>

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Team that has created it's own history

Berwick Rangers team of 1967, pictured prior to beating Rangers

Pictured: Berwick Rangers team of 1967, pictured prior to beating Rangers

RANGERS have managed to set a couple of precedents in the world of football since forming in 1884.

They are most well-known for being the only English team to play in the Scottish league, but historically they played on both sides of the border before settling on the far side. Forming in January 1884, they won the North Northumberland League without losing a match, but turned their attention to Scotland after bigger English teams refused to travel so far north.

They still play a part in English football, and carry Northumberland FA status. However, they were elected to the Scottish Football League in 1951/52.

They began forming their giant- killing reputation early on, beating Ayr United and Dundee in the Scottish Cup before a quarter-final meeting with Glasgow Rangers in 1953/54. In 1954 they moved to Shielfield Park, built by supporters.

Another great cup run saw them lose to Glasgow Rangers in the 1963/64 season, before the same club tried to expel their namesake in a league reorganisation. Berwick Rangers survived and in January 1967 got revenge with another precedent – the biggest ever Scottish Cup shock with a 1-0 defeat of Glasgow Rangers.


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