Franchise is not a word many like to associate with football in Britain. This is not America. Clubs here, especially in Scotland, have been embedded in the community since the 1880s, some even before. Livingston FC, moved to this New Town of the same name in 1995 after being uprooted from nearby Edinburgh, do not fit this pattern of longevity.
By the same token, Livingston, centrepieced by two massive shopping malls two roundabouts from Livi’s Almondvale Stadium home, is no community of stern granite façades pre-dating Victoria.
But barring the odd financial crisis and play-off agony, the switch from an unloved athletics stadium proposed for demolition, Edinburgh’s Meadowbank, to a pristine, soccer-specific stadium walking distance from the central bus terminal and those shopping malls, has been a success.
Almondvale, separated from the original, centuries-old village of Livingston by the pretty river Almond, is one of the better football grounds in Scotland’s Central Belt. An easy drive from Edinburgh and Glasgow on the M8 that connects the two cities, Almondvale has been used for Scotland under-21, under-19 and under-17, and women’s, internationals.
Lumbered with the somewhat unfortunate sponsor’s name of the Tony Macaroni Arena (Arena?!? It’s 10,000 capacity!), Almondvale is nonetheless a comfortable and pleasant place to watch a football match.
Its construction was the last major project undertaken by the Livingston Development Corporation, a body set up to help develop this New Town. Despite protests from fans who had supported the club long before its transformation from the Ferranti factory works team in 1974 – the LDC attracted struggling Meadowbank Thistle away from Edinburgh with the promise of a new start and a new stadium.
In return, Livingston gained an identity, ‘Livi’, the club representing the largest town in West Lothian, flying the black-and-amber flag across Europe in 2002-03 and at the Scottish League Cup final at Hampden in 2004.
True, months beforehand, the club had gone into the first of two administrations, triggering points deductions and demotion to the then Third Division – but currently Livi look set for a quick return to the Championship after the high-scoring but narrow defeat in the 2016 relegation play-off with Stranraer. Crowds then averaged 1,700-plus – a figure Livi will be hoping to match in 2017-18.
Edinburgh Airport is 20km (12miles) east of Livingston. There are no direct public transport links – take the tram from the airport terminal (every 10min) to Edinburgh Haymarket station (25min journey time, £5.50). There First Group bus Nos.21 and 22 run hourly to Livingston (last No.21 back after 6pm, last No.22 back after 10pm), the Nos.27/28 from Haymarket/Dalry Road every 15-30min, last one back after 10pm. Journey time is 1hr.
The frequent train is much quicker, Edinburgh Haymarket to Livingston North or South (£5 single, off-peak day return £5.60) in 15-20min – but Livingston bus terminal is right in town, a short walk from the football stadium. Each train station is about a 30min walk to the town centre/ground, though each has a bus service.
Direct trains from Glasgow Queen Street run to Livingston North, from Glasgow Central to Livingston South, journey time 45min-1hr, single £10, off-peak day return £11-£12.
Livingston-based Fair Deal Cabs (01506 499 111) offers airport transfers with Edinburgh.
The nearest lodging to the ground is the Travelodge Livingston on Almondvale Crescent a short walk away, with rooms from £30 a head and limited free parking.
Also strollable, and in the heritage surroundings of Main Street in Livingston Village, Livingston Inn dates back to 1760 and today comprises 12 en-suite rooms, a restaurant and bar with TV sport.
The other side of the malls, the Mercure Livingston is a handy find, a three-star with a heated pool, gym, bar and brasserie.
Down near Livingston South train station, the Bankton House Hotel fills an imposing Georgian building with eight guestrooms, a mix of en-suite and shared-facility, and a lounge bar with kitchen.
Local drinking and after-dark entertainment take place in and around The Centre mall/Livingston Designer Outlet.
After hours, nearby EQHQ gets Livingston dancing every Friday and Saturday.
The other side of Livingston Village, Oscar’s puts more focus on food (steak, burgers) than drink but pours a reasonable pint.
If it’s a pub you need, then Elm Tree Inn offers a pleasant and short diversion when walking into town from Livingston South station. Set in what was the main square of the village of Bellsquarry, now part of Livingston, it provides food prepared by the Italian restaurant upstairs, Belhaven beers and a TV should the match be on. Most of all, it saves you from having to dine, sup and watch the game in a shopping mall.