Capital gains

Football in Edinburgh is more than just Hibs and Hearts. While its two main clubs battle to regain top-flight status, just below the league pyramid, unbeaten Edinburgh City look set for a play-off place. Across town, Spartans FC are one game away from a Scottish Cup quarter-final with… Hibs. Peter Doyle reports.

 

For the first time since organised league football in Scotland began more than 125 years ago, Edinburgh is without a club in the top flight.

But while both Hibs and Hearts are eyeing a swift return to the Scottish Premiership League, two lesser-known lights from the Scottish capital are blazing a trail for non-league football.

When Hearts lost 3-2 to Falkirk in January, it was generally reported that the last unbeaten league record in Scotland or England had ended – ignoring the fact that Edinburgh City had yet to lose a match.

‘We noticed the quote, but just regarded it with amusement,’ said ECFC treasurer Alick Milne. ‘If I’m honest, I couldn’t say whether there are any unbeaten sides in the Welsh or Northern Irish leagues, or in the higher levels of the English pyramid.’

‘We just take it for granted that many journalists think that ‘national league’ and ‘senior’ football are the same thing,’ he continued. ‘Brora Rangers haven’t yet been defeated in the Highland League either.’

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Meadowbank/Peter Doyle

After 15 wins and two draws in 17 games, Edinburgh City head the recently formed Lowland League, effectively Scotland’s fifth division along with the Highland League. Success in an end-of-season play-off offers the chance of full league status.

Meanwhile City’s neighbours and Lowland League rivals Spartans FC, are enjoying a best-ever run in the Scottish Cup – and could face Hibs in next month’s quarter-final.

Spartans travel to Berwick for a fifth-round replay on February 17. A win would mean a short hop from Ainslie Park north of the city centre for an unlikely derby day at Easter Road.

Close by is Meadowbank, where City have been based since 1996. ECFC’s social club is at Baxter’s Place, where you find a real sense of optimism surrounding the club that fell off the football map 60 years ago.

Formed in 1928, Edinburgh City lost senior status in 1955, only to be revived 30 years later. According to Milne, a City supporter for nearly two decades, the achievements of both City and Spartans have forced critics to view the Lowland League as integral to Scotland’s league pyramid.

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Edinburgh City Social Club/Peter Doyle

‘The Lowland League was created in a bit of a rush. It took a bit of early criticism and was then ignored. The fact that there are play-offs this season involving the bottom side in League Two and either the winners of the Lowland or the Highland Leagues is starting to focus attention on our developing pyramid system. and I expect that to intensify as the season comes to an end.’

Unlike in England, in Scotland there is a highly developed network of non-league football affiliated to the FA – without being integrated into the league pyramid as a whole. Known as ‘junior’ football – a reference to its status, not the age of the players – it only gained entry to the Scottish Cup as late as 2007 and still remains outside of the overall league system.

‘This season,’ explained Milne, ‘Spartans’ phenomenal Scottish Cup run and our defeat of top junior side Auchinleck Talbot have shown that the Lowland League has to be treated with respect – something that the Highland League has always enjoyed, of course.’

‘Even among Scottish football supporters,’ concluded Milne, ‘there is ignorance of the difference between senior and junior non-league football. I now get the impression that some supporters of the bigger junior clubs are starting to wonder whether they are, in fact, losing out by not showing interest in the pyramid.’

 

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