To the City Chambers, and I’m pretty sure this will be my first visit to the throbbing pulsebeat of Edinburgh’s municipal affairs since my days as a news reporter. Covering council meetings was tedious stuff, especially the general purposes committee, a dumping ground for the business which even the capital’s elected representatives deemed boring. Then one afternoon…
“Mr chairman,” inquired the Hibernian-supporting elected member, “I’d like to know a bit more about ‘pantone 201’, the colour we’re being asked to approve for the new council stationery. What’s its real name?”
“I don’t know what my colleague means,” said the Hearts-favouring chief cook and bottle washer of gen. purp. “Pantone 201 is pantone 201.”
Back and forward the argument went, with the chairman refusing to elaborate on the official description, adding no light or shade whatsoever, until the Hibee-inclined politico could take no more: “Why doesn’t he come right out and say it?” the councillor roared. “Why doesn’t he say it’s maroon?”
Ah the eternal Embra struggle, but the football man I’m meeting today likes to dream of a world without the old rivals. “Imagine if we were starting all over again, life beginning right now, and there was no Hibs or Hearts,” says Gary Jardine. “Edinburgh City would be the best thing, wouldn’t it? If there was to be just one football club in the city you’d want to call it Edinburgh City, it’s the perfect name.
“Not just for football either. If you live in Barcelona you want to have the best football team but also the best basketball team, the best netball team. The whole gamut of sports could come under the name Edinburgh City, ice hockey, speedway, everything. That’s what happens elsewhere in the world, so why not here? Can you be patriotic about a city? I am about this place.”
Jardine, as you can tell, likes to say “Edinburgh City” a lot. He’s the manager of the football club, not yet a large and multi-headed sporting conglomeration. And Hibs and Hearts are still around. But he doesn’t want to see them disappear, or to take them over. He may work out of an Eastern Bloc-style hunk of architectural brutalism – Meadowbank – but he’s no fiendish despot intent on totalitarian rule. He’s simply an Embra boy (or man, he’s 39), who wants the best for the capital. And making City “the best part-time team in Scotland” would suit him just fine.
“At the moment that’s probably Dumbarton. Could we be bottom half of the Championship? I don’t see why not. Look, this city is growing. Take a trip round the outskirts and see how it’s getting bigger. In 20 years’ time it’s reckoned our population will have overtaken Glasgow’s. Why couldn’t we be the football team for these people? Right now, Hibs and Hearts’ attendances are going through the roof but their grounds cannot expand anymore. The newcomers would have no allegiances to Hibs or Hearts and I think there’s room for a third club to really grow.”
Bottom half of the Championship? City aren’t even propping up that division yet, but then neither are they adrift at the foot of the fourth tier, which was where many expected them to be, halfway through their maiden season as a senior club. Jardine has taken them to the dizzy heights of sixth place in League Two and is determined the team won’t be returning to the Lowland from whence they came.
He’s really in charge of two teams: the football one and a unit at the City Chambers which deals with everything from residential parking permits for the capital’s grandest Georgian crescents where its bumper-to-pavement and the cars are uniformly swish, to applications from the hard-up for help with buying school uniform.
This is why we’re meeting at the council HQ where the woman at the front desk, when I ask for Jardine, wants to know: “Is it council tax or to do with football?” “I hope you said council tax,” says Jardine, leading me to his office. Sorry, but I didn’t. Ah well, he’ll be working through his lunch hour to make up the lost time, a regular occurrence now that City are playing with the big boys.
“This is my first transfer window,” he says, with a mixture of excitement and fatigue, partly caused by the recent arrival of daughter No 3. He reckons the two jobs are quite similar. “You’re managing people, you’ve got to know who you’re dealing with and you’ve got to gain trust. In these offices, we get a lot of complaints. People have a lot of issues with the council. But if you’re not willing to try and help them, there’s no point being here.”
Still, I say, it must be tough having to listen to the 27th parking-ticket challenge before the mid-morning tea-break. He laughs. “The perception is we race round the city issuing as many tickets as possible and that’s a good revenue stream for us. But if you’ve paid for a permit and motorists are parking illegally in your street you’d want us to take action.”
From here, Jardine moves seamlessly to his other post where parking the bus is perfectly legitimate. Opposing teams aren’t quite using this tactic to stop City but there’s no doubt in the boss’s mind that the team’s revival after collecting just three points from their first ten games has caused consternation and not a little disappointment among the rest.
He says: “I definitely think when we came up through the pyramid system the attitude was: ‘Welcome and thanks for the three points’. We were a banker as far as other clubs were concerned; they were delighted. Their chairmen looked on this as a free season with no likelihood of finishing in tenth place because that was going to be us. There might have been people round our club who were worried that was going to be the case but that wasn’t the attitude within the four walls of our dressing-room.”
Before we continue I should maybe amend “seamlessly”. Jardine doesn’t just move from the City Chambers to Edinburgh City without a backwards glance. There is another team in his life and it’s the most important one – wife Debbie and daughters Lucy, Casey and Poppy, just 13 weeks old. They suffer with him having two demanding jobs. “When City weren’t doing so well, Casey, who’s five and the caring one, gave her dad a cuddle. Lucy, though, is nine going on 16. Her attitude was: ‘Yes! That means you’re going to get sacked. We’ll then see more of you.’”
Jardine, who’s worked for the council since he was 19, was 26 when his own playing career was cut short against the most glamorous of opponents. “I’d just joined City in 2004 when they played their 75th anniversary match against Manchester United. Brian McClair was in charge of United and Phil Bardsley maybe went on to become the best-known in a young team. But 2,000 folk turned up at Meadowbank and it was a special day for the club, just not me, because I broke my ankle and never recovered.”
That wasn’t all that broke. “I split up with Debbie, who was then my girlfriend. I was virtually housebound after my injury, she was always clearing up after me and I know I was selfish and a nightmare to be with. We sold the house we’d bought and she moved to Canada.
“The unfortunate thing about football is that it can take over your life. Football means more to me than it should. I take it more seriously than I should and sometimes it’s crossed the boundary into my personal life.
“When I couldn’t play anymore I went on a real downer.”
Two years later, though, Debbie returned to Edinburgh and convinced herself that Jardine, by then coaching the kids at City, had sufficiently matured. “We did the things we promised each other we’d do: get married at Edinburgh Castle and start a family.
“Before, I was guilty of not giving enough to her and probably still am. It’s not through lack of love; football can just consume you. I can’t play the game anymore, which, even for an average left-back who came from the Juniors, is still a tragedy. But I can do the next best thing and manage a rare wee team. I can only do that, though, because of Debbie. She’s fantastic and I’m the luckiest guy I know.”
A rare wee team indeed. Somewhere back in the mists of time, and perhaps logged in the dustiest of record books, will be my own father’s brief stint as a City goalie. Jardine reflects on the road travelled by the club in the seven years since he became manager, initially sharing the gig with John Green. “Our third game in charge was against Coldstream. If we’d lost we would have gone bottom of the old East of Scotland League. Then there was our run of 13 lost cup finals. It began after we’d won the league, which turned out to be a flash in the pan. You can lose a final lots of different ways and we must have experienced every single one of them. But the players didn’t begin to fear finals; they just got more determined. Then at last we won one, the Qualifying Cup, and thought: ‘We can build on this.’
“We achieved better and better finishes in the league and then came the introduction of the pyramid system. In the first year of the play-offs we got beat by Brora Rangers which was tough. If you remember, their chairman was unsure about whether joining the seniors would have been a good thing. But we really wanted to go up and had been banging on the door for a while.”
Jardine ponders the secret of City’s success. “It’s probably been what everyone in football talks about: continuity. At other clubs, though, managers get sacked all the time and there are changes at every level. Before me at City there was Shaun Steven and before him for a good few years his brother Tom was manager. Some of the current team go all the way back to my youth side: Shaun Harrison, Ian McFarland and Ross Guthrie. Then there’s our goalkeeper, Andrew Stobie, League Two’s player of the month, and our captain, Dougie Gair, who’s been at City for 17 years. Gordon Donaldson is 25 and is now in his 21st season with us. These guys have an affinity. It might sound corny but they play for the badge.”
Our man is a double winner of the division’s manager of the month covering the period of City stunning their opponents and going eight matches unbeaten. “We always reckoned the season being four quarters, with the first one a learning process, although I thought we’d get more points than we did. Then in the second we won more than I could have hoped for.”
Before the turnaround, was he worried about his job? “No, I wasn’t. I hope this doesn’t sound cocky but I’ve always had confidence in my own ability and I certainly had confidence in the team. Over the years I’ve seen these guys grow and, as I say, it’s the same people involved.”
After City’s breakthrough victory, away to Forfar Athletic, sackings came in League Two, all right, but just not at Meadowbank. “Stirling Albion lost their manager, then Montrose lost theirs. I’m not sure there would have been these changes if we hadn’t gone on a wee run but other teams had got complacent. Traditionally in Scottish football, it didn’t matter if you finished bottom of the bottom division – you’d still be safe. The pyramid system changed that.” Re-enforced, of course, by the pluck shown by City’s ten-quid-a-week men.
What changed for them? “We did more fitness work. We spent some money on video analysis.” Maybe, too, Jardine’s attention to detail started paying dividends.
“You could count on one hand the number of times when I’ve been in bed before midnight. I stay up to try to learn everything about our opponents. Every player, every injury, every booking. What’s the width of Gayfield again? Honestly, I can’t quantify how good a person my wife is! As much as I love her, Debbie puts up with so much.”
Arbroath were the team to bring City’s unbeaten run to an end last Saturday and Jardine reckons just as he’d started to work out the rest of the league, the Red Lichties had clearly been studying the new, improved City. They, and he, are building a reputation. So what managers does Jardine admire? Guy Roux might sound like a choice out of left field, or champ a gauche, but not when you consider the Auxerre legend’s achievement in growing the amateur outfit into Ligue 1 champions and a force in European competition. “He was so wrapped up in the job he used to sleep in the stadium.” Jardine doesn’t think he’d go as far as bunking down at Meadowbank – Debbie will be pleased to hear that – and has mixed feelings about the old place, due for demolition in the summer. “Much as it’s had its day it’s kind of iconic, isn’t it?” Spoken like a true Edinburgher.
Then there’s Brian Clough. “A lot of managers follow other managers, there’s a circuit, but Cloughie did it his way and had good values. One of my values is that I won’t tolerate my players talking back to referees. Poor Chris McKee who works upstairs from me at the council did that last week and got hooked after half an hour.”
Maybe Jardine was at his most Clough-esque a few years ago when he read out a line-up including a striker, Robbie Ross, who wasn’t present in the City dressing room. “When this was pointed out to me, I had to choose between our two subs who was going to start. Aware that the guy I didn’t pick would think himself third choice, which could have been demoralising, I got them to flip a coin, which I thought was pretty smart.
“But what wasn’t smart was forgetting that Robbie would have been at his granny’s 80th birthday party. Of course he was. Another of our players was at it, too – Robbie’s brother Kenny – and I knew that. Cloughie wouldn’t have made the same mistake!”