||By Danny Scott
YFS South East Region Reporter
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Danny Scott catches up with Duns’ Under 17’s Keith ‘Dava’ Wilson as they prepare for the next chapter in their Scottish Cup fairytale.
The Scottish Borders is a unique sporting region. Sparsely populated by 100,000 inhabitants it’s arguably the only region of Scotland to adopt rugby as it’s first sport and has scrummaged above its weight in producing some of the finest rugby players to wear a thistle on their chest.
Some say this is down to the traditional ball games that preceded the arrival of the oval ball, games which are still played today in many border towns. For centuries, men in Selkirk, Jedburgh and Duns would come out in force for annual folk games where, generally, the object would be for half the town’s men to get a ball past the other half across the market square.
With such competition football teams in amongst the rolling border hills have tended to be dwarfed by the achievements of their rugby-playing counterparts. Duns U17s (pictured, right), however, are looking to redress the balance.
Just fifteen miles from the border with England, Duns has a history of footballing overachievement, considering the town’s population is less than 3,000. It boasts a trophy cabinet full of regional honours and, in the ‘50s, the senior side once faced Celtic in the second round of the Scottish Cup.
This fixture remains one of the proudest moments in the club’s history but the class of ‘96 are busy writing their own part of Dingers footballing folklore having reached the fourth round of the U17 Scottish Youth Football Cup.
It’s quite a story considering the team has never entered the cup before. What makes it a fairytale is that this year’s U17s are actually last year’s U15s.
Coach Dava admits he’s had to be resourceful to pull together a squad capable of going up two age brackets in one season: “This year’s been special cause we’ve mixed in U17 players with the U15 squad. The Borders’ league doesn’t have an U16s competition so I’ve had to enhance the team. The U15s are Cameron Gunn Cup and Scottish Border JFA U15 champions but still would’ve struggled with the adjustment. To cope, we’ve had to bring back players that have perhaps left for bigger clubs but it’s maybe not worked out for whatever reason. I know all the players in the area. It’s a small town.
Duns’ coach’s claims about his knowledge of the squad aren’t an empty boast. He’s coached this team since they were 6 years old and over sixty-percent of his current team are formed by that original group of youngsters.
Any integration problems have yet to materialise as Dava, a keen follower of football on the other side of the nearby border, reflects: “It could have been tricky but they’re getting on well at the moment, fighting hard for each other. We train once a week and get an average of twenty lads turning up even though some of the lads play rugby too. It gives every sympathy for Wenger, Mancini and the other managers who have to rotate to keep their squad happy.”
Certainly in a league of only six teams there is a danger of familiarity breeding contempt on the pitch. It should be a bigger league but two teams failed to raise a squad for the season so Duns must play their league rivals four times during 2012/13.
Therefore this cup run has provided a much needed shot of excitement and challenge. Dava retells the story so far during our conversation: “Every one of the games has been a cracker. In the first round, we were always trailing to Winchburgh but put our noses in front with an 85th minute header to win the game 6-5. Next up were Salveson who are a huge club but we took them to extra time at 3-3 and then to penalties. Our keeper, Philip Smith, who used to play against us for Lauder, saved the first three (pictured, above left) and we were through.”
“For round 3 I was speaking to the opposition [Perthshire’s Pitfour FC] regularly about the weather. They turned up in suits and ties in and I was there with armfuls of toilet rolls and hand towels – it was a real eye-opener. They looked the part but we ran out 4-2 winners (pictured right, one of Duns' goals). Every fixture has been very sportsmanlike with no maliciousness no bad mouthing it’s been fantastic.”
Duns will again run out in front of their own fans in round four with a crowd of around 150 parents, friends and fans expected to turn up. Blocking their path to the last 16 will be Inverclyde’s Gourock who must first traverse the breadth of the country before facing a Duns team fired up by these final words from coach Dava: “I’ll have the fist in the air giving a few strong words of encouragement before the lads run out. First and foremost I’ll tell them to go out and enjoy themselves. I’ll ask them to give us their all, give us all they’ve got… make all of us proud and enjoy the occasion.”
Regardless of the result, this generation of footballers have already done their town proud by putting Scottish Borders youth football back on the map. And, who knows, in the magic of the cup anything is possible…