A Hearts-supporting north businessman has turned football heartache into bottles of joy to help cup heroes and promotion-chasing Brora Rangers.
Eric De Venny, proprietor of the Eagle Hotel in Dornoch, is a massive Jambo who was stunned as Highland League champions Brora knocked his beloved Premiership-bound club out of the Scottish Cup on March 23 in one of the biggest shocks in the competition’s history.
It was a golden moment. Up there with the best sporting achievements for Sutherland, but Mr De Venny was thrilled that Brora’s 2-1 victory had shot them into the headlines worldwide.
Now, amid their pyramid play-off double-header against Lowland League winners Kelty Hearts this week, a special cask of malt whisky has been bought by Mr De Venny which marks that stunning triumph over the Edinburgh club, and he even designed the label.
‘Fitting’ contribution to local club as they look to realise long-held ambition
He explained: “I heard of the challenges that Brora were facing and how Ross County and Inverness CT had rallied round to help their wee neighbour in terms of Covid testing, protocols and advice to ensure Brora were compliant and able to compete in the Scottish Cup, Highland League and now the play-offs.
“I thought it would be fitting to find a way to contribute to the club and, after the giant-killing act against my beloved Hearts, wanted to try and create something to mark one of the greatest sporting achievements of all-time in Sutherland.
“Having got the blessing of the football club, I sought advice from Phil and Simon Thompson at Dornoch Distillery.
“They advised me on purchasing a cask of malt whisky and having it bottled, while I came up with the label design celebrating the game and the goalscorers (Jordan Macrae and Martin Maclean).
“From receiving the bottles on Friday – we sold out within 24 hours thanks to a post on the Brora Rangers Facebook group.
“The whisky is a nine-year-old Glen Rothes malt matured in a sherry cask – it’s absolutely exquisite.
“Thankfully I have bottles in stock at the Eagle for customers to enjoy. The bottles sold at £50 each.
“We have donated £2000 worth of bottles to Brora Rangers to help their push towards the Scottish league.
“You normally find bottles linked to other bigger clubs can be really rubbish blends and folk will leave them in a cupboard. However, this one is really drinkable, one for special occasions.
“I have had six Hibs fans in a row, all with Brora connections, buying the whisky. The local Hearts fans have all dug deep to buy bottles.
“I have put a cask aside for if Brora go on to win promotion and on to better things.”
Jambo Eric says you’ve got to be able ‘to laugh at yourself’ after side beaten by ‘accessible’ and ‘approachable’ Cattachs
The night of drama at Dudgeon Park in which Championship winners Hearts fell against a team several levels lower opened eyes nationwide and beyond.
Mr De Venny still smiles at the antics away from the pitch, with fans watching on remotely due to Covid.
He said: “You have to always be able to laugh at yourself.
“On the night of the Hearts game, the 4G was knocked out in Sutherland because all the Brora fans were trying to cash out when, at odds of 50/1, they went 1-0.
“A lot of people’s bottles crashed that night. It was a 20/1 price for a cash-out and everyone was scrambling to get a bit.
“That result has put Brora and Sutherland on the map.
“The young centre-half Colin Williamson delivers my beer and he’s actually picking up some of these whisky bottles that some of the team have put their hands in their pockets to buy. That’s the kind of club they are.
“They are all very accessible and approachable lads and a lot have come from Ross County and Caley Thistle backgrounds.
“There is a really good link between all these Highland clubs. Brora is a small town and they really need the whole of Sutherland to help sustain them.
“If they can get through these play-offs, many more people locally will get involved in that success.
“I am a board sponsor and I have not been to many games in the past, but the appeal of SPFL football is a rich one to me.”
The pub businessman revealed that the local connections continue on the week of the Kelty Hearts clashes.
He explained: “Kelty manager Barry Ferguson is a former Clyde boss and I was involved in bringing Clyde up to Brora and Wick for their pre-season a few years ago.
Mr De Venny said there are several Sutherland-based Hearts fans who have all made a significant contribution to the local community in the last year during the pandemic.
These include a Dornoch postwoman who has been a ray of sunshine, an estate manager who donated considerable produce to help feed parts of the local community who had to shield during the first lockdown, and a local golf pro who kept spirits up with his regular social media posts.
Brora slid to a 2-0 home defeat against Kelty on Tuesday, so the heat is on the Cattachs to overturn that scoreline in the second leg in Fife this Saturday.