A dream came true not only for Edinburgh City yesterday but also for those who have long argued that Scottish football needed to embrace some form of pyramid system to breathe new life into its lower order.
Just as the debate over the shake-up of the leagues was a painfully drawn out affair so this play-off, tied after the first leg at the Commonwealth Stadium, was fraught with uncertainty right to the end. With the possibility of a penalty shoot out looming, the fate of both sides was determined by only one goal as Dougie Gair calmly slotted a spot kick past East Stirlingshire goalkeeper Darren Dolan with just three minutes remaining.
A member of the Scottish League in a previous incarnation, the name Edinburgh City will return to senior football after a near-70 year absence and restores the Capital’s compliment of clubs of that status to three for the first time since Meadowbank Thistle were uprooted to Livingston in the 1990s. Having moved into Thistle’s former home, City’s success in making the step up takes the story almost perfectly full circle.
The dominant force in the Lowland League in the past couple of seasons, and denied in the play-offs last year by Brora Rangers, few could contend that City didn’t deserve this moment, particularly on the basis of an assertive second half performance yesterday. It will still take some time to sink in however.
“It feels surreal,” admitted the emotional City manager Gary Jardine. “Right now my head is spinning, I don’t know what’s going to happen next season, but it’s a fantastic feeling. These boys in there, nobody’s given them a chance, only Joe Mbu’s played senior football.
“They’ve played their hearts out in Lowland and East of Scotland League football and they’ve deserved their opportunity and now they’ve gone and grabbed it”.
As for what the future might hold in League Two next season, Jardine will not be content for his side just to make up the numbers. “We want to make our mark,” he insisted. “We’ll go on the front foot and look to give it a go. We won’t be looking just to be second bottom, we’ll take it game by game, but there’s no reason we shouldn’t get in the play-offs.”
With the hand of history resting heavily on both sides it was no surprise that the game turned out to be a tense, cagey affair with nervous energy the most conspicuous thing on display. Keenly but fairly contested, the ball flew teasingly across the face of either goal sporadically while direct efforts on target were even scarcer. A nicely weighted free kick from the hosts’ Kris Faulds picked out Chris Townsley and his downward header landed plum in the City box before being lofted clear in what was probably the most anxious moment of the opening 45 minutes for the Lowland League side.
For the most part however the City defence was impressively marshalled by Mbu, proving just how important the club’s successful appeal against a red card shown in the first leg was to their chances of prevailing in this contest. After half time, they dominated possession and created two decent openings for Ross Allum and Mark McConnell, with the latter seeing his low drive well smothered by Dolan.
With tiredness making its inevitable toll on both sets of players on this momentous occasion the game became stretched and this worked in the Capital club’s favour as their pace upfront clearly troubled home rearguard.
Allum was nearly through but only managed a stumbling effort goalwards, however a few minutes later in a similar position he was tugged over by Reece Donaldson. The Shire defender was shown a red card for the second time in the tie, and just as he had done in the first leg Gair stepped forward to dispatch the ball into the net from the penalty spot. This time however it meant so much more.
Success lives cheek by jowl with failure in these situations and for the Shire after years of dancing perilously on the league basement trapdoor it has finally given way on them. They have had their share of football near-death experiences in their history, including an unwanted merger with Clydebank Juniors in the mid-60s that saw them uprooted to the other side of the country for a season. This though is a daunting new challenge for them as their chairman Alan Archibald acknowledged.
“I’ve never felt the way I did on the final whistle in my life,” he conceded. “You plan for this, but you’re hoping against hope that you’re going to pull through, but it wasn’t to be on the day. East Stirling’s been here since 1880 and we’re not going away anywhere – our aim is to be back next year. That’s all we can do, dust ourselves down and be ready for next season.”
Just who are The Scottish League’s newest member?
• With their 2-1 aggregrate defeat of East Stirlingshire yesterday, Edinburgh City have created history as the first club to earn promotion to the Scottish Professional Football League through the pyramid system.
• City will take their place in SPFL League 2 next season at the expense of Shire, who now drop into the Lowland League.
• The last time Scottish football had a new club enter the fray was in 2008 when Annan Athletic were accepted into the Scottish Professional Football League as a result of Gretna’s demise.
• Gary Jardine, pictured, is Edinburgh City’s manager and their home matches are played at an increasingly tired-looking Meadowbank Stadium, host venue of the 1970 and 1986 Commonwealth Games.
• The club’s colours are black and white.
• The club was founded in 1928 and competed professionally during the 1930s and 40s. They produced a Scottish Cup upset in 1934 with a 3-2 win over Hibs at Easter Road.
• Saughton Enclosure, Paties Road, and Fernieside have all listed Edinburgh City as its tenants in seasons gone by. However, City have occupied Meadowbank since 1995 after Meadowbank Thistle relocated to become Livingston Football Club.