LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Livingston FC

Livi live with the big dogs and reach another final

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

Relocated in 1995, Livingston FC are now far longer established than Meadowbank Thistle were when they operated as the successors of Edinburgh works team Ferranti.

Representing the New Town of Livingston 15 miles west of the Scottish capital, Livi have yet to regain the momentum of their early years, setting up at the new-build Almondvale Stadium, winning three promotions, a European place and the Scottish League Cup in under a decade.

Livi last experienced promotion to the Premiership in 2018. Struggling to maintain elite status but welcoming bumper crowds from Glasgow and Edinburgh, the club has overcome its near disappearance of 2009, buoyed by the consecutive promotions that swept Livi from the fourth to second tiers, then third to top flight.

Almondvale Stadium/Natália Jánossy

Livingston’s own birth date given on the club website is ‘Est 1943’. This refers to the works team of engineering factory Ferranti, an Edinburgh-based firm that helped developed radar. Playing in the local leagues, Ferranti Thistle entered the Scottish Cup in 1972 and was looking to membership of the Scottish League two years later when a third division was being created.

The club got the nod over a miffed Inverness Thistle by five votes, the lack of a suitable home ground a stumbling block until Edinburgh Council stepped in to provide the recently opened and underused Meadowbank Stadium. Unable to join the SFL under a sponsors’ name – Ferranti Thistle – the newcomers became Meadowbank Thistle.

For all the crowing when the idea of a move to Livingston was mooted, Meadowbank didn’t achieve too much over two decades of second- and third-tier football. One highlight would be the 5-1 win at Hamilton Academical, eventual First Division champions that 1987-88 season when Meadowbank’s runners-up spot didn’t gain them promotion to the elite as the top tier was being reduced from 12 to ten teams.

Almondvale Stadium/Natália Jánossy

Relegated to the newly created Third Division and playing before scant grounds at a long-neglected athletics stadium, cash-strapped Meadowbank were on already thin ice when the Livingston Development Corporation hatched a scheme not dissimilar to the one that moved Wimbledon to Milton Keynes a decade later. The club was uprooted from Edinburgh and plonked into a new stadium co-financed by the LDC, Almondvale.

Jim Leishman, successful with Dunfermline in the 1980s was appointed manager, fan discontent died down and Livingston got on with the job of taking over Meadowbank’s position in the then lowest tier, the Third Division.

Winning the title at first attempt, Livi by no means disgraced themselves in the third tier, immediately finishing one place from promotion then reaching the second flight in 1999.

By the time they won the First Division title in 2001, Livingston were attracting average gates of 3,600, a figure then doubled with regular games in the SPL against Celtic, Rangers and former city rivals Hibs and Hearts. Leishman had returned for a second stint as manager and his Livi side snuck in above Aberdeen to finish in third place.

Almondvale Stadium/Natália Jánossy

Despite the arrival of later Argentina international Rolando Zárate and under-18 Spanish international Juanjo Camacho, Livingston fluffed their lines when making their European debut, scraping draws against lowly Vaduz of Liechtenstein and pulling back two stoppage-time goals at Sturm Graz to embellish a 5-0 pasting.

In the domestic game, Leishman gave way to his long-term assistant, Celtic legend Davie Hay, who led Livi to a surprise, and surprisingly easy, win in the Scottish League Cup final of 2004. With debts of £3.5 million, the club had overcome Aberdeen 3-2 after extra time in the quarter-final, then, on the same day as the semi with Dundee, been placed into administration. 

With players facing uncertain futures, Livingston held Dundee to 0-0 at nearby Easter Road before a last-minute penalty by former Dundee United striker Derek Lilley sent Livi to Hampden. There another Lilley goal opened the scoring against Hibs, Livi’s lead soon doubled by Scottish international defender Jamie McAllister.

The foolish sacking of Hay, compounded with the logistical constraints of administration, soon saw Livingston relegated, the hiring and firing of a string of unsuitable managers then, in 2009, a further period of administration and demotion.

Returned to the Third Division, Livi gained back-to-back promotions, the prolific Iain Russell scoring a goal every other game. Comfortable in the second tier, Livingston again suffered through financial mismanagement and were docked five points in 2014-15. In May 2016, a high-scoring play-off with Stranraer ended in aggregate defeat of 8-6, sending Livi to third-tier League One.

A satisfying campaign under David Hopkin steered Livingston back to the Championship in 2017-18. His side welcomed the return of veteran goalkeeper Neil Alexander, 16 years after he had set out for a successful career at Cardiff, Rangers and Hearts. Stopping three penalties in a shoot-out against Partick in the League Cup early in the season, the three-time Scottish cap bookended his farewell campaign by saving another spot-kick and keeping a clean sheet against the same opposition in the promotion play-off. 

Attracting crowds close to 9,500 capacity for Old Firm visits, Livi have since hung on to top-tier status while relegation hovered, the possibility becoming an inevitability in 2023-24 given the streak of 17 winless games. Another run to the final of the Scottish League Cup in 2021 culminated in a narrow defeat by St Johnstone, Livi fans denied the chance to experience the occasion at a pandemic-restricted Hampden.

Ground Guide

The field of dreams – and the story behind it

Almondvale was the model the Taylor Report had in mind when it recommended wholesale changes of football grounds in the early 1990s. Built in that first wave of security-conscious, comfort-conscious all-seater grounds, the Almondvale Stadium also benefitted from its location in a New Town – no need to relocate from a squeezed-in location surrounded by cramped pre-war terracing housing, the host club had already relocated from Edinburgh.

Four neat stands surround a 3G pitch, laid out before the return to the Premiership in 2018. The South Stand is for louder home fans, North the away end, the allocation extended round into the East stand for the Old Firm.

Stands don’t have sponsors’ names – the stadium being called the Tony Macaroni Arena, part of a current branding agreement with a chain of Italian restaurants, is punishment enough.

Capacity is 9,500, all-seated, of course.

getting here

Going to the ground – tips and timings

The stadium is a short walk from Livingston bus terminal – walk up to the roundabout and left down Almondvale Boulevard, past Vue, round College Roundabout, round Tony Macaroni, then follow the road past West Lothian College. The bus from Edinburgh takes 1hr.

The alternative is to get the quicker train to either Livingston North or South. From Livingston South, SD Travel bus 9 runs every hour Mon-Sat only) to Livingston bus terminal – journey time 5mins.

Alternatively, it’s a 30min walk from Livingston South, up the access road, left down Murieston W Road, right at the vet’s up Murieston W Road, past the park to the end, over the roundabout to the end, and the junction with Dedridge W Road. Turn left there, follow that road to the end, then right past Morrisons, all the way up.

The walk from Livingston North to the ground is just as far – and more complicated.

The sat nav code for the Almondvale Stadium, aka Tony Macaroni Arena, is EH54 7DN. The sizeable stadium car park costs £5 but if full on Old Firm days, the Centre Mall (EH54 6QL, open daily 7am-midnight, free after 6pm) has more than 7,000 spaces at £1.50/3hrs. It’s a 10min walk to the ground.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

Tickets are distributed from the club office (Mon-Thur 8.30am-4.30pm, Fri 8.30am-1pm, match-day Sat 10am-6pm, midweek match days 9am-10pm) and online. There are no cash turnstiles. 

For all enquiries, contact 01506 417 000, lfcreception@livingstonfc.co.uk.

While Livi are in the Premiership, there are three categories of matches. For A games against Celtic and Rangers, admission is £30, £20 for over-65s and students. Category B matches with Aberdeen, Hearts and Hibs cost £27.50/£17, all other fixtures are £25/£17. Under-16s are charged £10 across the board.

Away fans have their own ticket outlet in the East Stand, to the right of turnstiles 15-17.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

The club shop at the ground operates Thur 4pm-8pm, match-day Sat 1pm-3pm, non-match day Sat 10am-1pm. The current iteration of the Liv home shirt of old gold has a thick black collar and cuffs, and a black markings on the left shoulder and right hip. Away tops are black with gold cuffs and interwoven gold/black collars. Thin gold chevron stripes run up to the neck.

T-shirts have been conceived by a marketing genius, channelling their inner Trainspotting with the ‘Choose Livi’ message (‘Choose plastic’, ‘Choose roundabouts’, Choose Peterhead away on a Tuesday night’). Another design shows a range of old LFC tops, which also come in beermat and keyring form. Great merch for a club that once struggled to create an identity.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

With the closure of the only suitable outlet in the vicinity of the ground, the Lime Kiln, match-day visitors are stuck with the many other chain places in Livingston’s shopping malls. For a proper pub, the Livingston Inn is 15min walk away on Main Street in Livingston Village. Live TV sport, Moretti on draught and classic dishes all feature. The ground is 1km east, just the other side of the river Almond.

On match days at the ground, the Ferranti Suite welcomes those who have purchased hospitality packages, while the Stadium Bar accommodates home and most visiting fans depending on the opposition.