EAST Kilbride has long been synonymous with roundabouts. Thanks to the Scottish Cup tie this afternoon, Mark Horner hopes the perception of the town swings ever more towards football. The 47-year-old is chairman of East Kilbride FC, and today is a great one for the six-year-old football club in a town whose many circles he has been negotiating for his lifetime.
His fervent hope is for an upward mobility offering many better to come. “All the goodwill, the interest, the profile from the cup tie we have to try and harness to make the weeks since we earned this game provide a long-term boost.
“Those who started this club, like so many of us in town, recognised that with the size of East Kilbride – the fact it boasts a population over 70,000 and is the fifth biggest new town in the country – the framework was there to support a professional football club. It was what the place really lacked when you think there are so many far smaller towns that have senior football teams. Now we have a game that shows our potential. People have talked about the financial windfall we will receive from the Celtic tie. Yet, much more important has been the chance to put our club on the footballing map. No money could buy that.”
The farrago over the venue for the fifth-round encounter that could not be accommodated at the 500-capacity K-Park has not tarnished one of the more colourful cup tales of recent times for a team that came into being through a merger of Jackton Boys’ Club and Stewartfield FC to establish a club that was a community hub in principle and practice.
And there is a sense of satisfaction from Horner that taking Celtic to Airdrie’s 10,000 seater Excelsior Stadium has allowed the club to serve its aims in a manner that extends beyond football.
“There will be 350 special needs kids and their carers at the cup tie; which the facilities in the Excelsior made possible. That is central to what this club is about and I’m glad that we stood our ground over where the game should be played. The hospitality areas with the four-stand lay-out was vital in this respect.”
The size of the ground means that East Kilbride have been able to serve notice that the have the “fanbase” to grow and develop into a vibrant senior league team. Indeed, from the more than 4,000 “home” supporters who will be at today’s tie there perhaps ought to be cries of: “Are you watching South Lanarkshire Council” as the club look to take the next step. K-Park, run by East Kilbride Community Trust – which has Ally McCoist among its patrons – is insufficient to meet the needs of club and community.
Detailed proposals for a 4,000-seater stadium that will include facilities for children with special needs, as well as an indoor centre for fitness, and boxing and martial arts spaces have been lodged.
“The pre-planning application is with the council so the ball is at the feet of the councillors,” Horner said. “You hope they would see what has been happening in the past few weeks and past few years, and give their backing. We have had great support from the community trust, now we need that from others in positions of authority.
“We have 25 football teams that we run, starting from the age of five. We have amateur sides, and under-17s and under-20s side. We want to run a football set-up that has a place for everybody that wants to play the game, and we have a team of volunteers that put heart and soul into making that happen.”
East Kilbride were one of the founding members of the Lowland League two years ago, having claimed cup and league honours below that level. What supplied Horner and his town with particular pride, though, is the fact that the meeting with Celtic in only their second tilt at the Scottish Cup isn’t merely the consequence of a lucky draw.
“We are in the fifth round on merit,” he said. “We have come through three rounds to get here – two of these requiring replays – and we took our first senior scalp in beating Stenhousemuir. No-one can say we don’t deserve to be facing up to Celtic. Yet, we aren’t going to get ahead of ourselves. We aren’t going to be another Gretna.
“We want to find the status that is right for us. We believe that is higher up than the Lowland League but we know we are a stepping stone for players to move up to and we have no problem with that. If we can be a gateway for good amateurs then that’s great because we only pay expenses. We will never over-reach.”
For Horner, the excitement in the town over the cup tie has been “the best feeling”.
There would be an even better one if his team were able to pull off the near-impossible. Horner daren’t let his mind race round and round thinking about that, though.