New Town regains elite status but for how much longer?

Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game

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, is no community of stern granite façades pre-dating Victoria.

Welcome to Livingston/Natália Jánossy

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.

Welcome to Livingston/Natália Jánossy

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 Livi achieved two promotions in as many seasons to regain elite status in 2018.

Getting Around

Arriving in town, local transport and tips

Edinburgh Airport is 20km (12 miles) east of Livingston. An hourly Megabus (£4 online, 30min journey time) runs from Stance C outside Arrivals to Livingston bus terminal.

To go by rail, take the tram that runs every 7mins to Edinburgh Haymarket station (£7.50, journey time 25mins). From there, a frequent train runs to Livingston North or South (£6 single, off-peak day return £7) in 20mins – but Livingston bus terminal is right in town, a short walk from the stadium. Each train station is about a 30min walk to the town centre/ground, each served by Lothian or First Buses.

Direct trains from Glasgow Queen Street run to Livingston North (£12, off-peak day return £15, journey time 1hr).

Livingston-based Fair Deal Cabs (01506 499 111) offers airport transfers with Edinburgh, fare around £20-£25.

Where to Drink

The best pubs and bars for football fans

Local drinking and after-dark entertainment are best found in and around The Centre mall/Livingston Designer Outlet. Typical is the Paraffin Lamp, a functional pub/restaurant with all-day breakfasts and plenty of football on TV.

Alongside the mall on Almondvale Way, Chain Runner hardly wins awards for originality but offers standard eats and drinks for the family to enjoy, with accommodation available alongside (see below Where to stay).

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 traditional pub you need, then the Livingston Inn in Livingston Village is your salvation. Dating back to 1760, it’s been spiffed up to provide plenty of TV football, including Prem action from either side of the border, quality pub grub and sought-after draught options such as Moretti, Kozel and East Coast IPA. An attractive beer garden and 12 en-suite rooms (see below Where to stay) complete the picture.

Most of all, it saves you from having to dine, sup and watch the game in a shopping mall.

Where to stay

The best hotels for the ground and around town

Visit Scotland has a database of hotels across the county.

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. Nearby, just the other side of Almondvale Way, the Chain Runner stands alongside the pub/eatery of the same name, with 27 comfortable rooms, free parking and an electric-car charging point.

Also strollable from the ground, 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 rooms aren’t the largest but the use of a quality pub downstairs more than makes up for it.

The other side of the malls, the Mercure Livingston is a handy find, a three-star with a bar and restaurant.

Down near Livingston South train station, the Bankton House Hotel fills an imposing Georgian building with handful of spacious suites, a lounge bar and restaurant, with dining outside in the pretty grounds in warmer weather.