Capital gains

Colin McPherson explains how Edinburgh City have gained some new fans thanks to the supporters of Meadowbank Thistle 

Like the first drops of snot at the onset of a bad cold we started to support our new team.

Disenfranchised by the demise of Meadowbank Thistle, disenchanted by the way it had happened, it took many of us months before we could contemplate watching, let alone supporting, another club. But start we did. First a couple, then some more, until Edinburgh City FC, a club with lofty ambitions (they want their place in the Scottish League back) rather suddenly acquired a support which, in terms of the league they toil away in, the East of Scotland, is probably the largest of any club.

Founded 1928 as ‘Edinburgh’s Queen’s Park’ (ie a gentlemanly amateur club hell bent on preserving the unfashionable ideals of fair play and honesty in a culture of festering commercial interests) they entered the Scottish League and endured years of terrible thrashings, interrupted, mercifully, by World War II. Beatings continued after hostilities had ceased until City left the League with the worst record of all time.

After a few years as a Junior outfit, common sense prevailed and the vet was summoned in 1955 to administer to the dying beast. The only blemish on this record of perfect ineptitude came in 1938 when in a Scottish Cup tie at Easter Road, City defeated First Division Hibernian 3-2, a scoreline which caused a seismic shock throughout Scotland. True to form, the Lilywhites (a nickname thankfully no longer with us) conceded 13 in a league match the following week.

My connection with the great deeds of Edinburgh City FC were tenuous. A mate of mine had a magnificent framed photograph of 11 haggard men in white shirts staring pensively out in monochrome misery, as if awaiting an unpleasant fate. This, my friend explained, was Edinburgh City on the day they beat Hibs in the Cup. “And that’s my Dad,” he continued, pointing to a slight man perched on the end of the front row looking frostbitten and scared.

All this would have meant nothing to me had Edinburgh City not been reformed in 1976. In a piece of franchising, the like of which Meadowbank Thistle fans would protest long and loud about years later, an East of Scotland League team known as Postal United were persuaded to change their name in return for a crop of new players and the promise of a stash of silverware. For 20 years thereafter Edinburgh City lived a wayward existence of ground and division-hopping until running into the sinking Titanic which was Meadowbank Thistle.

As Edinburgh’s third League club lurched towards a violent and unhappy demise, the people at City were already eyeing up one potential prize: The Commonwealth Stadium. Hated by every Scottish football fan, the monstrous edifice which became known as the ‘Concrete Lavvypan’ was, however, a fantastic asset to any East of Scotland League side, where a rope round a public park pitch constitutes a ground for many clubs.

During Thistle’s prolonged and agonising death throes which were convulsed by a protracted sabotage campaign by supporters aimed at foiling the dastardly plans of chairman Bill ‘Mr Blobby’ Hunter, a builders’ merchant who wanted to get his hands on huge grants available to relocate Thistle to the bottom-end of Scotland, the people at City were making overtones to the man who had orchestrated the resistance to Blobby’s final solution.

They saw in David Baxter, a mild-mannered and beige-clad administrator whose penchant for deciphering minutiae had won him friend and foe alike at Thistle, a man who could guide Edinburgh City to their Jerusalem. When Meadowbank Thistle finally subsided into the abyss, the real West Lothian question was posed: How many of their erstwhile supporters would turn quisling and follow the pied piper to the wastes of Livingston. Answer: Four. The rest of us just kicked our heels and waited to die.

Then, like a creeping rash, Mr Baxter persuaded his fallen comrades to sample life in the City. Just as the idea of standing in the persistent drizzle by some rain-sodden field was filling my wellies with water, City’s application to move into the Commonwealth Stadium was approved and in January 1996 Selkirk arrived for a league match in the sort of grand surroundings they clearly weren’t used to.

The rest of the season was triumphal as City won the First Division and reached the final of the East of Scotland Cup. While not in itself one of football’s major achievements, finalists participate in the prestigious City Cup, an ancient and ignored competition which pairs Berwick Rangers and Club-Formally-Known-As-Meadowbank-Thistle against two East of Scotland League clubs. Our reward was a trip to the Berwick Social Club and a 4-0 defeat.

This season, City are near the top of the Premier Division, locked in mortal combat with giants such as Whitehill Welfare and Gala Fairydean. Due to the palatial environs of Meadowbank Stadium, entry was gained into the SFA, and City played their first Scottish Cup tie in 50 years, when they thrashed St Cuthbert Wanderers.

Sadly dreams of Hampden Park were thwarted during a miserable afternoon at Hawick Royal Albert, where we went out the cup. Nevertheless, for the reformed Thistle fans who now pay £2 to watch a team which plays nine attackers and scored 60 goals in the first 15 games this season, the future is bright.

Certainly the clouds of depression which enshrouded the last couple of years have dispersed and, while trips to Pencaitland or Civil Service Strollers will never replace the comparative big-time with Thistle, it’s at least reassuring to know you’re among friends and free from the scourge of monetary greed. And just maybe one day, when our miserable failures are long forgotten in dust-clogged history books at Scottish FA headquarters, Edinburgh City will regain their place in the Scottish League. Only next time there will be no more Mr Nice Guy . . .

From WSC 124 June 1997. What was happening this month