After having visited Berwick, Clyde and Falkirk this season, there was only one ground that I had never visited in the SPFL.
The missing ground was Meadowbank, home of Edinburgh City, the newest addition to the league structure. That meant that today was a ’42 grounds’ of sorts, and a milestone that would satisfy any groundhopping football fan. Of course, the bigger challenge I’m attempting is visiting the grounds over the course of a season.
The journey this morning was much simpler than some trips of late. One train and around three hours later I arrived at Waverley Station. This was a different experience from the multiple connections and the dash between platforms that I have become used to in recent weeks.
Although, for all the convenience of the journey, arrival was a different story. With only a couple of weeks until Christmas, Edinburgh is extremely busy with shoppers and people enjoying the festivities at the various markets that spring up at this time of year.
I wonder if, for those weary shoppers fed up of barging through crowds, Meadowbank could provide some respite. A civilised afternoon spent berating semi-professional footballers would surely be more relaxing than a day of Christmas shopping in the capital.
The club are in an interesting position. They offer the chance to watch league football in Edinburgh at a cheaper price than the established clubs in the city. They provide no real threat to those clubs and can attract fans who have been priced out or don’t travel to away games. There is potential for the club to grow.
They were the first team to win promotion to League Two from the Lowland League at the end of last season. Few fans would argue with the introduction of the ‘pyramid’ structure which made that possible. It allows for some variety in the leagues, and a way for ambitious clubs to earn promotion to the very top (in theory). While for years positions in the SFL were allocated on the basis of commercial merits and the like, now it comes down to sporting merit. This is a definite improvement.
After beating East Stirlingshire over two legs, their promotion was confirmed and they began preparing for a season in League Two.
The beginning of the season was a challenge for the club. They struggled for a win for weeks. At the time I spoke to various figures involved with the club. They were adamant that they would turn it round, even when everyone was doubting them. The manager, Gary Jardine, explained the philosophy of the club at the time, and I was extremely impressed. They have shown loyalty to the players that brought them up, and they have given a lot of their young players a chance in the team over the last few seasons.
In recent weeks, they appear to have been proven right. The club have gone from bottom of the league and winless to eighth in the league after an unbeaten November. The manager, Jardine, got a well deserved manager of the month award last month, and things seem to be improving.
Today’s game was a bottom of the table clash with Stirling Albion. While Edinburgh City stuck with their manager through a difficult period, Stirling made a change and are now managed by the former St Johnstone player Dave MacKay.
Meadowbank was built for the Commonwealth games in 1970. I’m not an expert in architecture, but it was built for its time. The brutalist style which may have been the norm at the time makes it look like a Soviet style stadium. Like Cowdenbeath’s ground, it’s different. It’s a stadium with a lot of potential, and it does what is required. It doesn’t feel like it has been loved over the years, and it is extremely dated. Seats are a long way from the action and the large open space between the stands make for an unusual atmosphere.
In saying that, the stadium is still impressive. The large main stand is surely the biggest in the division. There is a giant screen behind one of the goals, which is presumably used for athletics events. There are also areas around the pitch which look like they could house standing spectators, although with attendances relatively low they are unlikely to be needed. The fans have made it their own. The concourse (a 100 metre running track) was full of life, with tables set out to enjoy a pie and a chat, and happy faces were selling programmes and merchandise with the kind of personalised customer service that doesn’t exist at bigger grounds.
I don’t want to be too critical of the stadium. I like it, but I think it is need of a face lift. That may be out of the club’s hands, but perhaps that could go hand in hand with the job of attracting new supporters to games.
Today’s game wasn’t a classic, but there was some impressive skill on display in the first half in particular.
While the away side might have started brighter, Edinburgh City grew in to the game. Their initial attempt to play a route one style didn’t appear to suit their style, and they had a lot more joy when they got the ball down and started to pass it.
The difference between the sides in the first half was the quality of striker Ouzy See. His pace and direct running caused problems for the Binos defence, and he almost produced a world class piece of skill with a volley dipping just over the bar from the edge of the box. It was See that opened the scoring after a brilliant passing move from the home side. His finish was exactly what the exciting build up deserved.
The home fans were happy at half time, while the away side matched off the pitch with a soundtrack of discontent from their fans.
The second half was less eventful, and the away side caused few genuine problems for the City defence.
City doubled their lead towards the end of the match after a through ball caught out a defence which was pushing up to attack. The swift counter attack saw Dougie Gair in on goal and he looked calm as he slotted the ball past the Albion keeper.
After a rocky start to the season, Edinburgh City have improved a lot in the last few weeks. If they continue to play as they did today they will pull themselves clear of a potential relegation playoff.
It must be an exciting time for the supporters, with different teams to play and new challenges.
The club will be hoping that with continued success they might be able to win over a few more fans and use their geographic advantages to continue their growth.
Edinburgh City 2 Stirling Albion 0