FEATURE – Non League Football in Edinburgh

While the capital’s two football teams Hibs and Hearts are the main attractions in Edinburgh, lower-league football can make for an entertaining and vastly cheaper alternative, with many sides in the city playing in the semi-professional ranks.

Semi-professional football in Scotland is split into two different associations, Seniors (East of Scotland League and Highland) and Juniors, which is country-wide. While a lot of junior sides operate in the towns and villages in the Lothians, only one club play in the city – Edinburgh United, whose home is Paties Road, near Craiglockhart.

The senior ranks are where the bulk of Edinburgh teams can be found. Spartans, Edinburgh City, Lothian Thistle, Leith Athletic, Craigroyston, Tynecastle, and the quaintly-named Civil Service Strollers side all play in the East of Scotland League, along with Edinburgh University and Heriot-Watt University. Admission to games varies, but is usually between £2 and £5, while a couple of clubs operate free admission. A scan at the fixture list on the association’s website www.eastofscotlandfa.co.uk will show you who is playing where, and when.

Spartans have proved the most successful of the city sides in recent seasons, and have enjoyed some memorable adventures in the main Scottish Cup competition, playing against St Mirren and Livingston and managing to beat a string of Second and Third Division sides from the Scottish Football League. Their former home was City Park in north Edinburgh, but they have moved to an impressive new complex and clubhouse at Ainslie Park, near Pilton, which has been a welcome addition to the community. Their grass pitch hosts first-team games, but an adjacent synthetic pitch hosts local seven-a-side leagues and is hired out for eleven-a-side games.

Edinburgh City’s home is Meadowbank Stadium and they too have a good recent pedigree in the Scottish Cup. They are still in the 2010 competition and are due to replay Third Division Montrose with the promise of meeting Hibernian FC in the following round if they win.  Lothian Thistle have gone from strength to strength in recent seasons and play at Saughton Enclosure sports complex neat Balgreen on the west of the city. Thistle recently announced a tie-up with the famous Hutcheson Vale Boys Club and the flourishing club is riding high in the East of Scotland League.

Craigroyston play at St Mark’s Park, near Warriston, and although they were relegated to the First Division a couple of years back, the club have a proud history in the top-flight and are sure to be back there before long.

Tynecastle were founded just a few seasons ago, and come under the umbrella of the famous boys club of the same name, The East of Scotland side were formerly called Tollcross United, and play at Fernieside on the south side of Edinburgh, but since changing their name to Tynecastle they have become one of the emerging forces of the league.

Civil Service Strollers have a long and proud history and play at the impeccably-kept Muirhouse Sports Ground, while Leith Athletic also play at the same venue – the famous club having relocated and joined forces with the former occupants Edinburgh Athletic (previously Manor Thistle) in order to join the East of Scotland League. The two University sides have also done incredibly well in recent years, both winning silverware, which is a remarkable achievement given that many of the first-pick student players are absent during holiday times.

Many players previously signed with the professional clubs in Scotland find their way into the East of Scotland ranks, while for others the league proves a stepping stone to professional careers, so the standard is high and the football is good to watch. If you’re not in a position to fork out £20-plus to watch a Scottish Premier League match, a trip down to watch one of the East of Scotland or Junior games is a worthwhile experience.

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