Football, outings and assorted finery.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Spartans FC - Football for all...

Shortly after my parents and I moved back to Edinburgh in 1996 I became aware of a compact little football ground tucked away behind Ferry Road. It was a few years later, after noticing a small sign at the ground’s entrance, that I discovered that this was in fact City Park the home of Spartans FC.

To give a brief bit of background information Spartans Football Club were formed in 1951 originally as a team intended for ex players from Edinburgh University and immediately joined the East of Scotland Football League. It wasn't until 1976 that they became tenants at the council owned City Park Stadium and it was there that they remained until 2008 when they moved to the Spartans Academy at Ainslie Park. This move across Pilton Drive not only provided Spartans with a new stadium but also a set of facilities which are the envy of many long established Scottish league clubs.

Quite simply, what Spartans have achieved particularly since moving to the academy is phenomenal. They have provided North Edinburgh with a wonderful sporting complex including a café used as a meeting place for a host of different community groups on a daily basis.  Having access to such a facility has given many local youngsters a place to call their own and a chance to be part of the Spartans family with the associated (and in many cases much needed) sense of belonging this offers.  Indeed, it is perhaps no coincidence that local police report a significant reduction in anti-social behaviour since the opening of the Academy.

Spartans have become arguably the most well known 'non league' club in Scotland in recent years due to their first class facilities, community focused outlook, domineering performances in the EoS league and giant killing acts in the Scottish Cup. The club benefits from a small dedicated band of supporters, many of whom take an active role in the running of the club on a voluntary basis. Additionally several Scottish Cup ties of recent tournaments have been enlivened by 'The Spartan Army' whose chants, songs and Mexican style ponchos and sombreros have given proceedings an injection of colour.

I thought it would be interesting to make contact with an official at the club in order to get a bit more information and pose them a few questions. Spartan’s chairman Craig Graham kindly agreed and took a few moments from his busy schedule to answer the questions below.

Craig's answers are in red.


Spartans FC moved to a purpose built stadium back in November 2008 after previously playing at the relatively dilapidated City Park. How much was the move to Ainslie Park the realisation of a long standing vision and how has the move allowed the club to expand its operations?

We started to look at an Academy concept in 2004 so it took us a long time to bring it to fruition. We have expanded so that we now have seven adult teams (4 men and 3 women) plus 500 youths, we were about half that size three years ago.

How was the development of the new ground financed? I understand much of the fund raising came from the dedicated charity work of the Spartans Trustees?

The cost was £4m. It came from the Council (£1m) in exchange for breaking the long term lease on City Park, BIG Lottery (£0.5m), Sport Scotland (£0.5m), Miller Homes (£0.3m) and Social Investment Scotland (£0.9m, of which £0.5m is a loan). The remainder came from a series of sources and fund raising activities driven by the club.

You have a fantastic setup including a modern Café/bar overlooking the main pitch. It seems quite a departure from the social clubs found at many non-league clubs or clubs in the lower reaches of the SFL. Was it important for the club include a vibrant area in the new development offering a welcoming family feel?

This was a very conscious decision as the cafe/bar has to meet a whole series of needs between 9am and 10pm every day. We have over 20 different events being held there and we wanted as many as possible to think it works for them. For example, the alcohol isn't visible when you approach the bar, it’s only when you peer over and down!

What is the average attendance at Spartans Senior team home games since the move to the new ground? Has this met with your expectations?

The average last season was about 190, up about 25%. We are happy with this but do think we can build further. It would be much easier in the SFL but even within EoS we can grow the home support further as we continue to build our work in the community.

With two big clubs in existence in Edinburgh have you struggled to attract supporters? Who do find makes up the mainstay of your support (in addition to long standing fans). Are they newcomers to the Edinburgh area or are you finding people are defecting to Spartans from other clubs?

A small number of fans come to us - they think £5 a game is better value than £18 however most of our fans are either long term fans, friends/relations of players or our new group which is local folks who enjoy good facilities and feeling that they are close to the action.

Spartans seemed man people's favourite to gain entry to the Scottish Football League after Gretna folded but were overlooked in favour of Annan Athletic. Is access to the SFL the ultimate aim?

It is. Our new ground wasn't finished when we lost out to Annan, it is now so we are in a better position. Annan are a great club and it's good to see them doing well.

From reading reports at the time regarding the application to join the SFL I got the impression that those making the final vote didn’t quite grasp the Spartans concept. Whilst I’m sure you hold no ill feeling towards Annan, do you have any lasting grievance over the voting/election process?

No, we've moved on and are proud of what we've achieved on and off the park during the last two seasons. There are a few things we would do differently the next time.

Given Spartan’s performances in the EoS league and the Scottish Cup in recent years, would you be in favour of a pyramid system proving non-league clubs with a route into the SFL. Are Spartans lobbying for change in this area and has there been any indication that restructuring may take place?

Yes we would love a pyramid however the SFA committee looking at it has made little progress over the last two years which is disappointing.

Since 2009 Spartans have fielded a team in the Junior football league in addition to their Senior side in the EoS league, does this require the club to hold membership of both the SFA and SJFA?

It does. Lets be honest the Junior Super League is the top level of "non league" football in Scotland and we have made a small move towards getting there. Irrespective of a pyramid system the EoS League should merge with the East Region Juniors!

Spartans field a senior team, two reserves teams, a team in the Scottish Junior league, a women's team and various youth sides. How many players are currently registered to the club?

At the moment 650 players pull on a Spartans strip every weekend! In addition to this we have over 100 volunteer coaches.

Is there a long term development plan for the club? What are the main goals that you would like to see the club achieve within the next 5-10 years?

Our vision is simple, to be the top community club in Scotland by 2012. It will need us to get into the SFL to achieve it on the pitch but off the pitch we already have a bigger community programme than nearly all other clubs in Scotland and have won a series of rewards over the last 12 months which highlight this.

Whilst I appreciate that your club structure is very different, do occurrences at Gretna and to a lesser extent Livingston serve as a cautionary tale for an ambitious club like Spartans?

We have a simple rule, no debt within the club and it is a "one member, one vote" structure which means one person can’t own it and take it forward for their own gain. The Academy does have a £500k loan necessary to complete the building and enable us to run commercially while meeting a host of community objectives. Since we opened nuisance calls to police in North Edinburgh are down 60% and knife crime is down 40%. We have 9 guys on the payroll working in the community and they are making a massive difference.

Spartan's senior side currently has a joint management team. What was the reasoning behind this, do you think it's an approach which could be used to greater effect within the wider football community?

We've had co-managers for 15 years now...all the time I have been Chairman. To be honest it hasn’t been planned that way. The guys work well together, it will only work with certain individuals and we are lucky Sam (Lynch) and Mike (Lawson) work very well together.

You're the chairman of the club, but presumably you juggle your club responsibilities with another full time job. How many hours a week are you required to spend on club related business?

Between the club and academy I spend about 30 hours a week...but don’t tell the company where I am a partner...I am writing this while in Madrid, last week I was in Montreal and Amsterdam with work. It's all about having a great team which I am delighted we have.

Does your role confirm to the stereotypical image of a chairman at a 'smaller' club, do you muck in with any menial tasks needing carried out?

Ask the guys...we all do everything...sorting strips, putting out the goals the list is endless.

What is your favourite memory of your tenure at Spartan's so far?

That's very tricky. I was on the bench at Arbroath the day we beat them 4 - 1 in the Scottish Cup, this was the day we transformed what people thought of us as a club on the pitch. Off the pitch the day we opened the Academy was special, the team we have at the Academy do an unbelievable job, I am very proud of them.

Finally, it's the world cup this summer, who are you backing to win it?

I am heading out on Thursday for 10 days, it should be special. I intend taking one of the big Spartans flags to show at the games we're going to. I'm backing Spain they seem to be the best on paper by some distance.


Interesting stuff I'm sure you'll agree. Thanks again to Craig and I wish all Spartans teams the very best of luck for next season. Myself and a few work colleagues are planning on finally getting round to attending a Saprtans match next season. We look forward to seeing the action on the pitch and, of course, testing out that new bar.

...Last and by no means least I couldn't write a piece on Spartans without mentioning the late Jim Martin. 'Wheelie Jim' was a guy I knew reasonably well through an old part-time job I had at a bar in Leith. Jim put his legal credentials to great use and did a huge amount of work for Spartans surrounding their move to the new stadium. The club wrote a fitting tribute to Jim after his passing which you can read by clicking here.

Photos obtained from google images and

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely excellent piece on what's going on down Ainslie way.


    A Volunteer