This Friday, Lowland League leaders East Kilbride face Cumbernauld Colts at K-Park, where bizarre celebrations marked the club’s 27-win world record last month. Can ‘Kilby’ gain accession to the Scottish League only seven years after their foundation? Tony Dawber speaks to EK secretary Dave McKenna.
Launched by two Old Firm legends in 2010, East Kilbride are poised to become a new force in the Scottish game. Leading the Lowland League by ten points, in pole position for an end-of-season play-off with their Highland League counterparts, ‘Kilby’ recently made headlines when they smashed the world record for consecutive victories in senior football.
The club’s 27th straight win prompted surreal scenes at K-Park when previous record holders Ajax sent a truck laden with 27 crates of beer across the pitch at full-time.
As it was Johan Cruyff and team who set the bar high in 1971-72, Edwin van der Sar relayed a congratulatory video message to the 660-capacity training ground where Kilby play – spurring locally born club captain Barry Russell to lead his men in cracking open the post-match Jupilers.
East Kilbride now host fellow New Town club Cumbernauld Colts to extend their lead at the top. A league crown would grant a fifth-level play-off and the chance to then take on the bottom club in League Two for admission to the professional Scottish League in 2017-18.
‘This is a big place and a football place,’ explains club secretary Dave McKenna. ‘It is the home town of Ally McCoist. Youth football has always been very strong here.’
Also famous for having produced indie feedback legends The Jesus & Mary Chain, East Kilbride was the first of Scotland’s new urban developments in the immediate post-war period. It is now the fifth biggest town in the country – and the biggest without a team in the Scottish League.
As a small village, it supported a previous East Kilbride FC back in the 1870s. In more modern times, a Junior (ie non-league) side, East Kilbride Thistle, nurtured later Scottish international Willie Pettigrew. They currently compete in the West of Scotland League with the likes of Port Glasgow and Vale of Leven.
Prominent Thistle followers, local millionaire property developer James Kean and Iain King, a chief football writer on the Scottish Sun, both held ambitions that senior football would come to East Kilbride. Before 2013, there was no Lowland League or play-off process. Realising the limitations at Showpark, Thistle’s home in the Village area of East Kilbride, the pair enlisted the help of former Celtic star John Hartson and nine-time Rangers title-winner John Brown, and raised funds to launch a new club: East Kilbride FC.
Winning the Scottish Amateur League in 2013, Kilby joined the newly introduced Lowland League. Two years later, they gained a runners-up spot behind current League Two side Edinburgh City.
‘Now local people are beginning to realise how the standard in the Lowland League is improving all the time,’ says Dave McKenna, ‘what good value it is for fans and how entertaining it can be’.
East Kilbride have already come to national prominence. In 2014, the club sacked coach Iain King, the journalist then having to report on his own demise. Earlier this year, Kilby made the Fifth Round of the Scottish Cup and landed a glamour tie with Celtic.
‘We were drawn at home,’ says McKenna. ‘And we absolutely wanted to play the game at our own ground.’
The club lost its battle to stage the match at neat but tiny K-Park, and it was switched to Airdrie.
A 7,000-plus crowd, split evenly between fans of the Glasgow giants and East Kilbride, witnessed two scrappy goals settle the fixture in favour of the overdogs, one a possible handball. East Kilbride were on the radar.
As well as the standard of refereeing, the match highlighted the limitations of Kilby’s K-Park, where 28 teams, aged five and up, are based. The club aims to move into a 4,000-seater stadium in Langlands that will host a range of sports across the age groups.
‘K-Park is owned by the East Kilbride Community Trust who are fully backing the plan,’ outlines McKenna. ‘Planning permission for a new ground was granted last May, so we are all hopeful.’
Already holding a full licence from the Scottish Football League, East Kilbride would not be refused entry to League Two on logistical grounds. But it’s on the pitch that Kilby have to earn the right of accession, starting with Cumbernauld Colts on Friday.
The regular league season finishes in April with Kilby’s visit to Stenhousemuir, home of second-place East Stirlingshire, relegated out of the Scottish League in 2016. By then, East Kilbride may well have long booked their next trek, up to the Highlands.
East Kilbride-Cumbernauld Colts, K-Park, Calderglen Country Park. Friday December 30, 7.45pm.