The 2000s were disappointing for Vale in that, despite four appearances in cup finals and losing out on the First Division championship on goal difference, it was the first decade during the club’s history that they had failed to land a trophy. While the 90s had seen only two managers at the helm, the 2000s saw no less than seven changes of management as the team spent most of the decade under-achieving in the First Division. Off the park though, great strides were made, with a large committee working hard behind the scenes, careful financial management keeping the club in a healthy position, the setting up of a website promoting the club around the world and the introduction of regular match programmes for home games.
Season 2000/01 saw manager Stuart Robertson assemble a strong squad, which was tested to its limit with injuries, suspensions and unavailability taking its toll amid a hectic end of season schedule. The Scottish Qualifying Cup saw Vale overcome Hawick Royal Albert before being paired with Coldstream in the Second Round. Having already beaten the Streamers in a league fixture, Vale were confident of progressing, but could only stutter to a 0-0 draw at Home Park. Vale had several players missing through injury and boss Stuart Robertson away on holiday for the replay and had to substitute top scorer Scott Dyett early in the game due to hamstring trouble. Steven Shennan opened the scoring for Coldstream before Peter Moffat equalised in 69 minutes. However, with six minutes of the game remaining, Keith Wilson fired home what proved to be the winning goal for Coldstream. Vale then crashed out of the Image Printers Cup after a heavy defeat at the hands of Craigroyston, which saw the end of Stuart Robertson’s four and a half years in charge. Coach Willie Hume, who had previously spent six years at the helm at Coldstream, was put in charge, assisted by goalkeeper John Reid.
Britain was hit by a foot & mouth epidemic during 2001 and at its height, a controversial away fixture to Annan led to Vale putting in a protest to the league. The South of Scotland League had already been abandoned due to fears of the disease spreading, but the East of Scotland Association insisted that fixtures involving travel to the area should proceed as normal, albeit with diversions avoiding troublesome areas. In the end, heavy rain prevented the game from going ahead on its original date but it was eventually played, with Vale taking precautionary measures after seeking advice. The season ended in an incredible period of activity which saw Vale reach the League Cup Semi Final and the King Cup Final, while battling to catch up with League fixtures. The month of May saw a crazy schedule of 10 games in 25 days, but Vale managed to reach their first final in five years when they met Spartans at Ferguson Park, Rosewell. Unfortunately a 2-0 defeat put paid to Vale hopes of capturing some silverware to show for their efforts.
The following season, South of Scotland League side Wigtown & Bladnoch were drawn at home in the Preliminary Round of the Scottish Qualifying Cup and Vale ran out comfortable 7-1 winners to set up a First Round meeting with Gala Fairydean. A bad start to the match by Vale contributed to the final result, a 2-0 victory sending Fairydean into the next round and eventually into the Scottish Cup proper where they progressed to the Third Round, recording a famous victory over Scottish League side Stirling Albion along the way. In the Premier Division, manager Willie Hume had set his sights on a top three finish but Vale finished three points off their target and with an inferior goal difference to fourth place Threave Rovers, prompting some wistful reflection on what might have been. Top scorer Phil Johnson was invited to play for a Scottish non-league representative side in the end of season Unibond Four Nations Tournament against semi-proffessional sides from England, Wales and Northern Ireland. He scored in a warm-up game against Queens Park and went on to appear in all three tournament games where Scotland unfortunately failed to register a win, but the prestige of being selected to play at international level reflected well on player and club.
Pre-season preparations for 2002-03 included friendlies against Under-21 teams from Hibernian and Hearts in the same week. In the Hibs game, goals from Liam McKenna and Kevin Thomson put the visitors 2-0 up, but Vale replied through Craig Lothian and John McGowan before Derek Riordan notched a winner for Hibs. The following Sunday Hearts were the visitors to Victoria Park and a Kerr Thomson volley opened the scoring for Vale after 36 minutes, but shortly before half time Ryan Davidson equalised for the Jambos. No further scoring in the second period saw Vale achieve a respectable draw against a Hearts side who featured future first team players Robbie Neilson, Christophe Berra, Joe Hamill, Robert Sloan and Paul McMullan, plus goalkeeper Craig Gordon, who within two years would establish himself as a Scotland internationalist.
In the Scottish Qualifying Cup, Vale were drawn to play in the Preliminary Round at home to Tarff Rovers. After only 11 minutes the Kirkcowan side suffered a blow as Ryan Wilson was sent off and goals from Gary Lothian, Kerr Thomson and Fran Naviero put Vale firmly in control. Although Richard Simpson pulled a goal back for Rovers, Darren Lockhart nodded home a fourth to see Vale through to a meeting with Gala Fairydean for the second year running. A thrilling match at Netherdale saw Vale take the lead in 10 minutes as Kerr Thomson continued his good form in front of goal, but ten minutes later ‘Dean levelled when John Martin headed home. In the second half Gala were reduced to nine men as scorer Martin and Aaron Cummings were both dismissed. Vale pounded the home goal and hit the bar and post on several occasions, and even Gala must have been wondering how they’d managed to somehow survive to take the game to a replay the following Saturday. A large crowd turned out back at Innerleithen in the pouring rain to see Gala take a lead with a deflected John Clark free kick, before Mark Pagliarulo added a second. Substitute John Coogan gave Vale hope, scoring with his first touch, but another sub, Darren Lockhart, was red-carded shortly after coming on and it ended 2-1 to Gala.
Speculation was mounting over the future of defender Daniel O’Donnell, which eventually led to him joining Spartans in January 2003. Ironically, O’Donnell’s first appearance for his new club was a league fixture at Victoria Park, but by the time he replaced Spartans other ex-Vale player Phil Johnson in the 86th minute, the game was beyond Vale and a heavy defeat followed at the hands of Preston Athletic as pressure mounted on the management to turn things round. In February, Vale were paired at home in the League Cup with Easthouses Lily. Vale, who had John McGowan sent off five minutes before half time, ended up lucky to only be beaten 4-0 by Lily, who could even afford the luxury of missing a penalty. The game signalled an end to Willie Hume’s two-year reign as manager, as he tendered his resignation to leave his assistant Jack Diamond in charge of team affairs. He was soon joined by in the dugout by the returning Stuart Robertson, who had resigned as manager of Coldstream, but inconsistent results saw Vale with a battle on their hands to ensure Premier Division safety. However, a couple of well-fought victories over Lothian Thistle and Threave Rovers saw Vale avoid relegation on goal difference.
Diamond and Robertson rang the changes for 2003-04, with only four players remaining from the previous season. A number of Borders-based players were signed, but performances in pre-season games were far from encouraging and avoiding relegation seemed to be the only realistic extent of Vale’s ambitions. On a brighter note, Vale introduced an U-19s side which took part in the newly formed East of Scotland Youth League and also entered the Scottish Youth Cup, with Partick Thistle paying a visit to Victoria Park in the Second Round and having to work hard for their victory. However, the U-19 side lasted just one season, as changes to the running of the league, including an insistence that matches were played on a Sunday, led to the team withdrawing. In the Scottish Qualifying Cup First Round, Vale were again drawn to face Tarff Rovers, who were in abeyance from the South of Scotland League after losing their manager and entire playing staff and Vale progressed easily with an 11-0 scoreline. The Second Round paired Vale with Burntisland Shipyard and an early George Fairgrieve penalty gave Vale the lead, but a Tom Fairgrieve goal for Burntisland had levelled things at half time. A Jamie Yuill goal just after the restart put Vale back in front, before Gary Hastie made the tie safe. It had not been a great performance, but it meant that Vale were in the Scottish Cup First Round draw for the first time in six years.
In October 2003, the club was saddened by the death of Eddie Sanderson, who had been involved in some capacity at Victoria Park for an incredible 69 years and had held the position of Honourary President since 1985. A minutes silence was observed before a league match against Whitehill Welfare and the players paid their own tribute on the pitch, a fantastic battling performance in driving rain bringing a 3-1 victory. Former chairman Willie Brunton was installed as Vale’s new Honourary President.
When the draw for the Scottish Cup took place, Vale eyes were on two possible away games – Queens Park, for the chance to play at Hampden or Morton, as the best supported side at that stage in the draw. To the delight of everyone, the latter came out the hat. The match was originally scheduled for the 20th of December, but as the team and a large support prepared to leave the Borders, news came through that heavy rain in the west of Scotland had forced a postponement and the game was rescheduled for the following week. Playing the game a couple of days after Christmas proved to be a headache, as a few players already had booked up Christmas holidays and the Vale support too was diminished. The delay had meant that Vale’s name appeared as the draw for the Third Round was made though, with the winners knowing that a home tie against Partick Thistle awaited in the next round. Morton were riding high 12 points clear at the top of the Scottish Second Division, regularly putting 5 or 6 goals past teams in their own league, and as expected they were by far the dominant side in the match. Peter Weatherston opened the scoring after quarter of an hour and right on the stroke of half time Alex Williams pounced to make it 2-0. Further goals from Chris Millar and another from Williams in the first ten minutes of the second half, wrapped things up for Morton. Determined defending ensured no more goals and Vale emerged with credit from the game.
The excitement of the Scottish Cup over, it was back to reality, and while 2004 started with an excellent league victory over Threave Rovers, Vale crashed out of the remaining cup competitions and although some more league points were gained as performances picked up, a disastrous final match at Meadowbank saw Vale heavily beaten by Edinburgh City and left Lothian Thistle needing only two points from their three remaining games to condemn Vale to First Division football, which they duly did.
Vale prepared for life in the First Division in optimistic mood as the majority of the squad had remained at the club. As the season approached there was even hope that a place in the Premier Division might be regained without even kicking a ball as Threave Rovers withdrew from the East of Scotland League. But the league management committee opted to reduce the Premier Division to 11 teams for 2004-05. In the Scottish Qualifying Cup, Vale beat St Cuthbert’s Wanderers 2-1 in the First Round, thanks to a stunning 40-yard strike by Mel Graham in injury time. This set up a meeting with Whitehill Welfare in the Second Round, again at Victoria Park. Vale fell behind to an early goal and never looked much like getting back on level terms until they were awarded a penalty three minutes from the end. But substitute Peter Moffat’s spot kick was beaten away by Ryan McGurk into the path of Gary Hastie, who unfortunately screwed the rebound wide.
A league match at Craigroyston in November was to see Vale’s fortunes turn around dramatically. A poor first half ended with Vale trailing 1-0, but they came out for the second half a different team and four goals in the space of seven minutes led to a 5-2 victory, which was the start of a three-month unbeaten run. Coach George Watson, son of legendary Vale manager Finlay, had joined the club from Newtongrange Star to lend his assistance in the technical area, but a defeat at Ormiston left promotion hopes hanging by a thread before being finally extinguished.
Another mass exodus of players saw a very different squad for season 2005-06 as George Watson, who was now co-manager alongside Stuart Robertson, brought in a number of Midlothian-based players, mostly from former club Newtongrange Star. A change to the structure of the League Cup, which for the first time since season 1999-2000 was played in a group format, was a steep learning curve as Vale ended up rooted to the bottom of their section after losing all their games. The draw for the Scottish Qualifying Cup could scarcely have been tougher – a Preliminary Round meeting against holders Whitehill Welfare at Victoria Park. In front of a large crowd including SFA Chief Executive David Taylor, underdogs Vale put in a superb performance with a Mark Brown goal ten minutes from time enough to defeat Whitehill, whose manager John Clark resigned after the game. After having done the hard bit, Vale crashed in the next round to Threave Rovers, whose young side routed Vale 5-0. More poor results in the league saw Vale’s promotion hopes dashed for another year and George Watson departed to leave Stuart Robertson in sole charge of the team.
2006-07 was another season to forget. The standard of the First Division was particularly poor, with the exception of Dalbeattie Star who won the division at a canter, although their sole league defeat of the season did come at Victoria Park. But that was one of only four occasions Vale collected maximum points at home – a significant factor in the Innerleithen side passing up their best chance of regaining a Premier Division place since relegation. In the Scottish Qualifying Cup, Vale were drawn at home to Newton Stewart and won 2-1, before Edinburgh University came to Innerleithen and qualified for their first Scottish Cup campaign since the 70s with a 3-0 victory. Vale’s promotion aspirations were dealt a blow when they went down 2-1 to Coldstream at Home Park, a result which contributed hugely to the Streamers squeezing into the second promotion spot to leave Vale in third place. Some high scoring victories though, saw Vale finish the season the equal top scoring East of Scotland team with Premier Division champions Annan Athletic – although Annan had played two league games more – and player Mark Brown winning the award for the highest goal scorer in the East of Scotland League.
Whatever words could be used to describe season 2007-08, dull wasn’t one of them. A mammoth 10-month, 37-game campaign turned into a rollercoaster ride. The squad took on a more local flavour as Vale signed goalkeeper Mark Wilson, midfielder Colin Smith and striker Aaron Somerville from Leithen Rovers, who had been the outstanding side in the Border Amateur League the previous season. The pre-season programme saw a visit from a Motherwell side featuring veteran Phil O’Donnell – who was to tragically collapse and die during a SPL match against Dundee United six months later. Another game against a young Livingston side featured Innerleithen local lad Murray Davidson and also Leigh Griffiths – two players who would go on to make their mark on the game at a higher level. Once again the League Cup provided the season’s curtain raiser and Vale made a positive start against Hawick Royal Albert with a 6-0 win, but defeats followed to Annan Athletic, Heriot-Watt University, Easthouses Lily and Selkirk. The First Division campaign started with a draw against Gala Fairydean at Netherdale, but Vale slumped to defeat at home to Eyemouth United after a terrible performance. This made it five defeats from the opening seven games and the club parted company with manager Stuart Robertson following the game.
A revolutionary change to the Scottish Cup saw all senior member clubs going straight into the first round draw, and for the first time SJFA sides were included in the competition, with the three regional league champions and the SJFA Cup winners joining in. Vale were paired at home in the First Round with familiar opposition in the shape of Gala Fairydean. Robbie Clark oversaw team matters alongside coach Jack Diamond and a splendid display saw Aaron Somerville score two and Mike MacKale add a third to give Vale a 3-0 half time lead. ‘Dean captain Shane Greene scored a penalty late in the game, but there was no way back for the Gala men and Vale went through to the second round draw and a daunting trip to Aberdeenshire, to face Culter. Prior to the game, Vale announced their new look management team with Leithen Rovers assistant Lindsay Rathie co-managing the side with Clark. The Scottish Cup expedition saw Vale come agonisingly close to taking their SJFA North Region opponents to a replay. The Aberdeenshire side took the lead, but Vale fought back well in the second half and substitute Aaron Somerville equalised with 15 minutes remaining. Tragedy then struck as captain John Sanders was red-carded five minutes from time for his second bookable offence and, with the Vale defence still re-organising, Culter forced a winner home.
The result was a sore one to take, but three days later, any football result was put into perspective as Vale player Richard Edge collapsed after suffering a brain haemorrhage. The 26 year-old was rushed to hospital in Edinburgh and after undergoing an operation and a few weeks spent in intensive care, Richard’s condition improved and a period of rehabilitation saw him make an excellent recovery.
With the changes in the format of the Scottish Cup, the Scottish Qualifying Cup (South) had been scrapped, to be replaced with a new competition, the SFA South Region Challenge Cup, which included the former entrants of the Qualifying Cup, along with the rest of the teams from the East and South of Scotland Leagues. After a first round bye, Vale were paired with St Cuthbert’s Wanderers at home in the second round, and Vale saw off their opponents before another home tie, this time against Edinburgh City. Vale were missing the services of no fewer than seven regulars, but a spirited performance ended with only a goal from the Citizens’ deadly striker Robbie Ross separating the sides at the final whistle.
With Vale destined to finish no better than mid-table, the main focus of attention became the last competition of the season, the King Cup. Victories against Kelso United and Hawick Royal Albert saw Vale through to a quarter final meeting with First Division champions Heriot-Watt University at Riccarton, who were beaten 3-2 and the semi final match against Lothian Thistle led to a 2-1 win and a place in the final against Spartans. Vale’s route to the final had echoed that of their last cup final appearance seven years previously, when victory over Lothian Thistle in the semis had seen Vale face Spartans in the final at Rosewell. Vale’s big day was slightly soured by some confusion over the date of the final. It had been announced before the semi finals as Saturday 7th June, however Spartans objected as they would have players on holiday and it went ahead on Monday 2nd June when Vale were missing players themselves. Spartans held a three goal lead by half time, and had notched another three in the second half prior to Steven Notman curling home a free kick and a seventh before substitute Frank Harrison scored the last goal of the game to make the final score 7-2.
2008-09 was another season of highs and lows. The previous season’s promotion winning side from Peebles had broken up and Vale looted Chris Graham, Mike Osborne, Andy Martin, Paul Lee and Gavin Tainsh from the side, who formed the spine of the team along with influential playmaker Steven Notman, who extended his stay in Innerleithen for another season. In the SFA South Region Challenge Cup, Vale survived a late rally from Glasgow University to win 3-2, but lost out to Edinburgh City in the next round. The draw for the Scottish Cup paired Vale once again with Glasgow University. It proved to be a tighter game than the South Region Cup tie six weeks earlier, with only a late goal by substitute Greig Shortreed separating the sides. An injury to Andy Martin caused the game to be held up for half an hour while paramedics were called to the scene, but the injury wasn’t as serious as first thought and Martin returned to in time for the second round meeting with Civil Service at Muirhouse, in which a 77th minute volley by Aaron Somerville was enough to ensure victory. Vale lifted themselves off the foot of the First Division with victories over Ormiston and Civil Service Strollers, but the club were set for a turbulent period off the park, as they firstly learned of the death of former player Alec Lucas – killed by an explosive device as he served with the Marines in Afghanistan – before the saga of their Scottish Cup Third Round tie.
Drawn against Highland League side Inverurie Loco Works, the tie was originally scheduled to take place on October 29th. Vale travelled up the day before, staying in Aberdeen on the Friday, but even as the coach made its way northwards, it seemed it would be a miracle if the game was on. In the event it wasn’t and the following Saturday Vale arrived at Harlaw Park to find the pitch with some surface frost, but playable. Not so according to the referee, who put the game off after one of his assistants objected to the condition of a touchline. This meant that the clubs had used up the two Saturdays afforded to them under SFA rules and the game would take place mid-week – a nightmare scenario for Vale, with some players bound by work commitments or needing compensation for loss of earnings. An early postponement the following Tuesday, was followed by another nearer to kick off on the Thursday, by which time Vale had made their way to Aberdeenshire. As the affair generated a fair amount of column inches in the tabloids, the SFA intervened and scheduled the match for Saturday 13th December. While the day saw milder temperatures, it also saw heavy rainfall, but to everyone’s relief the referee ruled that the game would go ahead. Prior to kick off, a minutes silence was held in memory of Alec Lucas, which was respectfully observed by every single person in the 400-strong crowd. Once the action was finally underway, Vale received an early set back as Locos took the lead in only the second minute and added another before half time. Two more goals in the second half killed off the challenge of Vale, but the disappointment of an exit from the competition was offset by relief that the whole episode, which had been a significant drain on club finances, was over.
Following some mixed results, Lindsay Rathie announced his intention to step down from the manager’s position to devote more time to his young family. Rathie’s final game was a League Cup tie at Victoria Park against Spartans. Vale fell behind, but strikes from Aaron Somerville and Steven Notman turned the game around and Rathie went out on a high. Prior to the Spartans game the club had announced that the new manager would be Rab Paget. The new man brought with him coaches Stewart Churchill and Stuart Gray, with David McGinley as goalkeeping coach, although Rathie’s co-manager Robbie Clark was retained as a player.
Paget’s first game in charge was a King Cup quarter final against Lothian Thistle. Ninety minutes failed to produce a goal, but Thistle took the lead in extra time before Aaron Somerville found the net in the fourth minute of injury time, sending the match to a penalty shoot-out. Vale keeper Mark Wilson saved the first two Lothian spot-kicks and although Gavin Tainsh saw his attempt come back off the bar, Ronald Fleming dispatched Vale’s fifth penalty to send them through to a semi final against Edinburgh City. A 1-0 win at Meadowbank Stadium saw Vale through to a second successive King Cup final, again at Rosewell, where their opponents would be Heriot-Watt University. The game turned on the introduction of Watt’s strong-running Norwegian striker Lars Berger who, within five minutes of coming on, put the students ahead. Vale managed a late rally, but really it had been a disappointing display and the cup deservedly went to Heriot-Watt.
Things had been steadily improving and in 2009-10 the team finally managed to gain a place back in the Premier Division. Success on the field of play for Vale – and for Leithen Rovers, who captured the Border Amateur League Championship – was especially welcome as Innerleithen itself had endured a miserable time of it, with the closure of one of the last remaining cashmere mills in the town having a devastating effect on local employment. As manager Rab Paget gathered his squad together for his first full season in charge, missing from pre-season for the first time in a decade was Robbie Clark, who had decided to join Leithen Rovers. Vale got their league campaign off to a flying start and it wasn’t until October, and a 3-3 draw away at Leith Athletic, that the team dropped their first points. The Scottish Cup first round draw paired Vale with Edinburgh University and two goals from Aaron Somerville put Vale in the driving seat at Peffermill, before Stevie Dongo added a late goal. The second round saw Vale handed their first Scottish Cup home tie for over two years, with Highland League side Keith the visitors. Vale faced an uphill struggle after falling behind just five minutes into the game, but Aaron Somerville equalised in the 26th minute. Vale fell behind again just past the hour mark and a third nine minutes from time to assured Keith a place in the next round.
A run in the Image Printers East of Scotland Qualifying Cup led to a cup final appearance for the third year in a row. After requiring extra time to defeat Ormiston at Recreation Park, the second round was an away tie at Coldstream, which went to a penalty shoot-out after it ended 2-2 after 120 minutes. Incredibly, seven of the ten penalties were missed, with captain Michael Stewart tucking away the winning kick. The next round saw Vale visit Whitehill Welfare with a squad decimated by injuries and suspensions, but a fantastic individual goal by Aaron Somerville was enough to book a semi final spot against Spartans. Vale produced their best performance of the season on their first ever visit to the Edinburgh side’s smart new Ainslie Park ground, taking the lead in the 26th minute as Aaron Somerville superbly volleyed home. It was a good goal, but Somerville’s second six minutes into the second half was even better. Running on to a long ball forward, Somerville checked back to lose his marker, before unleashing a stunning shot into the top corner of the net from 25 yards. Spartans pulled a goal back and it was backs to the wall time as Spartans laid siege to the Vale goal, but Vale held out for a memorable victory. The final took place in Hawick against Gretna 2008 but ended in disappointment. A poor first half display saw Gretna take the initiative and although Vale came more into the game in the second half, an unfortunate five minute hold up when trouble amongst the large crowd flared up caused the Innerleithen side to lose their momentum and two late goals saw Gretna lift the trophy.
A severe winter saw record levels of snow and temperatures as low as -17c, with many Borders towns and villages cut off as roads were closed. Due to a huge backlog of games, the East of Scotland League took the unique step of allowing clubs to decline from participation in the League Cup. Vale were one of five clubs who did so, but it still meant a busy end of season. A 2-0 reverse at Gretna saw Vale lose their unbeaten league record, but with the news coming through that Stirling had beaten Craigroyston, Vale’s promotion was confirmed. Following the match, manager Rab Paget announced his intention to step down from the manager’s position, due to work commitments making it increasingly difficult to devote time to the job. The only thing that still needed sorted out was the destination of the First Division championship. Vale duly recorded wins in their remaining fixtures, but a vastly superior goal difference saw Stirling champions on goal difference. Despite not capturing the championship, it had still been a marvellous way for Vale to end the decade, with their points total of 59 was the highest ever recorded by a side in the East of Scotland League without having won their respective league.