“Live Together, Play Together, Win Together”
Spartans Football Club is one of very few teams who can match Barcelona – not on the football pitch but in its ethos. Football fans are often left ridiculed as their team’s attempts to follow suit are instantly taken as a cringeworthy slogan.
Thankfully fans of the Edinburgh side need not worry as their ethos, not their slogan, portrays exactly what their club is about: togetherness.
The football club, based in the north of Edinburgh, are a club very much on the up. When asked what the short, medium and long-term plans were for the club, Spartans chairman Craig Graham was straight to the point:
“We want to develop and grow everything we do.”
That’s what they have been doing for the last 59 years since they were founded by two ex-Edinburgh University players, Elliot Wardlaw and Jimmy Beaumont, in 1951. They instantly set about joining the East of Scotland League – in which they still participate today.
Originally only graduates of university and college were allowed to play, but the club soon opened their doors to players of all backgrounds as they became full members of the Scottish Football Association in 1976. That same year they moved into the council-owned City Park as tenants.
In keeping with their aim to “develop and grow”, Spartans – named because their founders thought that the Spartans would be good at football – have moved into a ground they can finally call their own. In the summer of last year the club officially opened their new purpose-built ground at Ainslie Park. The new stadium includes a 504-seater stand, standing room for almost 2,000 fans, and both a standard pitch (complete with floodlights) as well as an artificial one nearby.
Graham is in no doubt that this is a monumental step in the club’s progression;
“This has transformed the club”, He asserts. “We have a home, not just for the club but for the community.”
It is this talk of community which not only separates Spartans from clubs at the same level, but also from those deemed bigger and better. They pride themselves on the fact that they have more registered players than almost any other club in Scotland. With over 500 youngsters on the clubs books ranging from under-8’s right up to under-19’s, there is every chance Spartans could be training some of Scottish Football’s next superstars.
The club, however, is not just about the round ball game. With seven full-time staff and over 100 volunteers the capital club have gone into schools to educate children on health, using sport as the “hook”. They have even helped lower crime in the area.
Craig Graham explains, “Our community work is extensive, probably the biggest of any club in Scotland. We have run over 25 different courses in the last 12 months in the community. Ranging from Spartans Smilers, our Oral Health Programme for Primary 3 children, to “Street Football in a Safe Place”, which gives over 200 children the chance to play football for free every week on a leading synthetic pitch. Since we opened there has been a marked reduction in local crime – in particular knife crime and nuisance calls.”
Spartans’ senior side are currently reigning champions of the East of Scotland League, and are on course to defend their title for the first time since 2004-2005. It is their work in the community that has helped the club remain competitive at a time where money is scarce. The extra activities are also drawing in the punters;
“Our crowds are up this year at our new ground with league fixtures averaging 150. The facilities, the football on offer and our work in the local community have encouraged more people to come along. We have a small player budget but make up for it by having the best coaching staff at our level, combined with superb facilities and a positive club ethos.”
One of the main aims now for the senior side is to take the next step up and challenge these sides regularly in the SFL. Spartans were almost handed the chance to do so at the start of the 2008-2009 season when Gretna were expelled from the football league due to financial problems. However, Dumfries and Galloway side Annan Athletic were eventually voted in beating Spartans, Preston Athletic and Cove Rangers to the much coveted spot.
When asked how disappointed they were, Graham said: “Very. But Annan Athletic is a very good club who have been an excellent ambassador for the East of Scotland League in the SFL.”
The dream is far from over though. With Scottish football trying to “open up”, the league’s tentative discussions have taken place over a pyramid system, much akin to the one in England, where the bottom teams from the Third Division can drop out and be replaced by sides like Spartans. It is an idea the club very much supports.
“We would welcome the chance to play in the SFL. The SFA are driving discussions but they have been doing so for 18 months.”
Graham could have gone on to heavily criticise the leaders of the national game, but he was full of praise and support for the progress in the sport. Who better to comment than the man in charge of one of Scotland’s biggest academies?
“Scottish football is struggling with the financial situation impacting all industries. I do however think that youth coaching and development has improved recently and hopefully this will lead to better results for our national teams, and encourage our leading teams to include more Scottish players in their squads.”
Graham’s positivity clearly comes from how much he enjoys his job: “It’s great fun – we have a fantastic group of heavily committed volunteers who drive our club forward in the community.”
Togetherness is the key for Spartans as the club live, play and win together. They could quite easily describe themselves as ‘more than a club’ like the famous Catalan side. Spartans are more like Barcelona than some people think.
To find out what Spartans’ captain, Dan Gerrard, has to say, go to: https://impulse2010.wordpress.com/2010/03/26/spartans-theatre-of-dream
Words by Joel Sked
Photography by Agnieszka Gryczkowska