Date: Saturday July 12, 2014 – 1pm
Venue: Ainslie Park, Edinburgh
Hard on the heels of the Forfar trip, Livingston’s pre-season continued at Ainslie Park, as one of four clubs competing a weekend tournament.
Named after late Spartans’ stalwart Ronnie Swan, the tournament line up was completed by the host club, Falkirk and Dunfermline Athletic, with the format of two semi finals on day one and a final and third place game on day two guaranteeing everyone a couple of games.
Livingston and Dunfermline were paired in the first semi final, a 1pm kick off and once again, I was able to get a lift through to Edinburgh with Gordon, a fellow Livi supporter and friend who lives just down the road from me in Bathgate. With lots going on at home with the new baby, the chance of a lift rather than using public transport was very much appreciated.
Ainslie Park, or more formerly the ‘Spartans Community Football Academy’ is situated in the north of Edinburgh, on the site of a former secondary school of the same name.
Though it’s a fairly new facility, there is football heritage in close proximity, with City Park a mere stone’s throw away.
City Park was one of the home grounds used by Edinburgh City during their spell as a perennially bad Scottish League side in the 1930s. Later, it became home to Ferranti Thistle – the first incarnation of my own club – then Spartans.
One of the old ground’s last hurrahs was, fittingly, a Scottish Cup between Spartans and Livingston in 2004, witnessed by a 3000 strong capacity crowd.
Nowadays, it’s well on the way to becoming a housing development. A peek beyond the barricaded fence on Pilton Drive revealed that the unique shape of the ground with it’s steep grass banking is all gone. Looking at the site now (and it’s quite literally a building site), you’d never know it was once a football ground.
Whereas City Park was a throwback to a different footballing age, Ainslie Park is a superb modern facility; testimony to the drive and ingenuity of Spartans Football Club and their associated Academy.
It has two artificial pitches of a good standard, one caged, the other in a small stadium with a tidy 500 seater stand. There’s also a recently extended two storey clubhouse with ‘cafe bar’ which was open to fans of all clubs over the tournament weekend. Everything is spick and span.
In many ways it’s a model for other small football clubs to follow, though at times it feels more like a community centre than a football ground in my opinion. That’s not meant to be an uncharitable or disparaging comment, because I genuinely admire the effort that got it built, now running effectively as a successful social enterprise.
Thankfully there were a few traditional football staples in evidence. It was good to see a programme on offer covering both days of the tournament, and food was on sale from a servery behind the goal. The sausage rolls were not only excellent, but cheap at a pound a go.
With reading material and sustenance consumed, the football duly commenced in overcast conditions, which later gave way to persistent drizzle. A classic Scottish summer day!
After seeing them in action up at Forfar, I was able to identify the new lads in Livingston side without having to rely on the tannoy announcer, which was just as well given he stumbled inaudibly through the line ups without cutting out the pre-match music.
Dunfermline planned to put out two distinct sides either side of the half time interval and were as good as their word, giving a run out to a large squad containing both youth and experience.
With two strong sides on show, the game was relatively competitive, albeit lacking a wee bit in terms of goalmouth incident.
The Fife side took an early lead when Ross Forbes found the net with a decent free kick from around 20 yards range. Whilst it was a reasonable strike, my first thought was that Livi keeper Darren Jamieson had been let down by a disintegrating defensive wall.
As was the case in the first half at Forfar, Livi struggled to find a cutting edge with a pick of the first half chances falling to Gary Glen who should have found the target with a headed from only six yards range.
The second half saw an improvement in spite of all the changes in personnel by both teams. The crossbar denied Dunfermline a second goal, and later on new Livi signing Michael McKenna grazed the woodwork at the other end with what looked suspiciously like a mishit cross.
Despite one or two other half chances, there was no goal for the sizeable contingent of Livingston supporters to cheer.
Defeat confirmed that the Lions’ Sunday kick off would be 1pm, against the losers of the Spartans v Falkirk game which kicked off no sooner had the Dunfermline and Livi players trooped back to the changing rooms.
Conscious of family responsibilities and that I planned to see both the Livi game and the final on Sunday, I decided not to stick around for that game, heading home instead by bus and train as Gordon had other plans in Edinburgh.
I wasn’t the only one who made an exit, despite the £5 admission charge covering both games. The result was that Spartans and Falkirk played out their game in front of a crowd much smaller than the 400 or so that saw the first game.
On the way home, I kept an eye on Spartans’ Twitter updates to see who Livi’s Sunday opponents would be, and by virtue of their 4-1 defeat to the hosts, Falkirk ‘earned’ that distinction. Or more accurately, a very young looking Falkirk youth side.
Scoring: 1-0 Ross Forbes (16)
Attendance: 400 (estimate)
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