April 21, 2009 – City Park, Edinburgh
City Park is a ground I have an affinity with, albeit indirectly, as it was the home ground of Ferranti Thistle at one point.
My team, Livingston were Ferranti Thistle in a former life, so there’s a connection there, even if it extends back to a time when I was a twinkle in my father’s eye.
The old ground is about to be built over with housing and consigned to history, so I took advantage of this midweek fixture with Whitehill Welfare to visit for probably the final time.
Located in the north of Edinburgh, City Park has been a significant footballing venue in the capital since it was laid out by Edinburgh City back in the 1930s.
City played there for several of their record-breakingly bad years as members of the Scottish Football League. Post-war it remained their base as they dropped into the league’s Division C, then junior football before folding in 1955.
Murrayfield Amateurs played there for a while, with Ferranti taking up residence in 1969. After some upgrading work the ground allowed them to enter the Scottish Cup for the first time three years later, a development which saw the club become high profile enough to win election to the Scottish League in 1974.
Ironically, it was regarded as unsuitable for league football and Ferranti moved into Meadowbank Stadium, taking the ground of their new home.
Shortly afterwards Spartans took over at City Park, where they have played continuously for 34 years, sharing for a time with fellow East of Scotland League outfit Craigroyston.
When I first visited City Park in the early 1990s I was there to report on both Spartans and Craigroyston matches for the late and lamented Pink News, phoning in my reports to the copytakers in time for the paper to hit the streets on a Saturday evening.
Back then mobile phones were still the size of a house brick and outrageously expensive, so finding the nearest public phone was always a key part of the job.
At that time, the newly built Ainslie Park Leisure Centre had the closest phone to City Park.
The leisure centre is still there, just across Pilton Drive. Adjacent to it lies Spartans new community academy and home ground.
I arrived purposefully early for the game so that I could have a look at the new place, which reportedly cost £3.5m to make a reality.
Ainslie Park, as it will be known, is everything that City Park isn’t. The complex includes a full sized artificial pitch, clubhouse and a grass ‘stadium’ pitch which looked ready to play on this visit.
It has a 500 setaer stand which is reminiscent of the one installed at Petershill Park. It’s a basic effort, but should be more than sufficient for Spartans’ needs.
Wandering back over to City Park was like moving back in time in footballing terms.
With grass banking on three sides and the site of the now demolished stand on the other it’s somewhat lacking in spectator comfort. Indeed, the only structures these days are portacabin dressing rooms.
It’s got some ‘soul’ though. With a big crowd in, as Spartans have managed on a few occasions in recent years, it’s got a certain ‘something’. The 2004 visit of Livingston on Scottish Cup duty, which attracted an all-ticket 3000 crowd, is one of the most unique footballing occasions I have attended.
The visit of Whitehill Welfare attracts considerably fewer. The official Spartans website offered 186 as an official attendance afterwards, but my headcount was nearer 150.
It’s not a bad turn out for this level of football. Spectators at East of Scotland League games are often outnumbered by the players.
Whitehill are reigning East of Scotland League champions, but they needed a result in this game to hold onto their faint hopes of retaining their title.
Spartans, on the other hand, stand a decent chance of signing off from City Park with some championship glory. Dalbeattie Star, who I saw beat Lothian Thistle recently, are the other major player as the season draws to a close.
That Spartans are well ahead of Whitehill would not have been clearly apparent from the way the game went.
The Rosewell side missed a barrowload of chances to win comfortably, with their front pairing of Kevin Haynes and Scott Gormley especially wasteful. They were also caught offside on a ridiculous number of occasions.
Nicknamed ‘Hulk’ on account of his strapping physique no 12 Haynes failed to convert two one on one chances, failing badly to hit the target on either occasion.
His partner-in-crime Gormley, wearing no 9, opened the scoring with a good finish on 20 minutes, but passed up a great chance to win the game late on.
Spartans were below my expectations throughout the game. They were missing a couple of their better players, most notably central defender Dan Gerrard, who had a solid game when I saw them run Airdrie United close back in January.
They were certainly a bit fitter than Welfare, but there was a certain lack of punch.
They passed the ball relatively well and they ended the game as more of a threat than they started it, but overall looked a shadow of the side that has become the scourge of League sides in cup competition.
In the end the spoils were shared thanks to a headed equaliser from Struan Preston.
As a spectacle the game was alright. It produced a fair result which when all was said and done killed off Whitehill’s championship hopes but left Spartans’ very much alive.
After their failure to join the Scottish League last summer it might be viewed as a bit of a second prize though.
On the road home, I pondered a common question in my part of the world – how the East of Scotland League and junior football compare. As someone who watches much more of the latter, I tend to think about how the senior sides would fit into the junior game.
For me, the ‘senior’ Premier Division is weaker overall than the Super and Premier Leagues which operate in the SJFA’s East Region, although that’s not to say that the top sides wouldn’t do well.
On what I have seen this season, Spartans would probably do reasonably well in the Super League. Whitehill and their misfiring strikers, I am not so sure.
Spartans new ground
Scoring – 0-1 Gormley (20), 1-1 Preston (70)
Attendance – 186
Admission – £4
Programme – £1
Ground – 5/10. A relic of a bygone era
Game – 6/10. Hard fought and competitive to the end
Overall experience – 6/10. Decent value for money
Match Report Links
Spartans FC official website