32-year amateur football rivalry under threat

From left, Stuart Montgomery, Kit Fraser and Colin Pearson. Picture: Lesley Martin

From left, Stuart Montgomery, Kit Fraser and Colin Pearson. Picture: Lesley Martin

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IT’S a historic fixture that first kicked off in the year Scotland’s David Narey blasted a wonder strike past a helpless Brazilian goalkeeper in the World Cup.

Since 1982, Reith Rovers have been scoring goals and crunching into tackles on the artificial pitches of Meadowbank Sports Centre – a near religious commitment at the same time every week.

Perhaps for not much longer, however, as founder Kit Fraser, 61, and his team-mates are being shunted from their regular Thursday game to accommodate training sessions for Leith Athletic FC – a move that could sound the final whistle on one of Edinburgh’s longest-running seven-a-side fixtures.

Mr Fraser calculates his players have shelled out more than £74,000 on their weekly booking over the last three decades and blamed a Scottish Government-funded project to revitalise the pitch for the loss of their slot. Leith Athletic FC successfully bid to become the new venue’s ‘home club’, allowing them priority access to the pitch at pre-arranged times and forcing Reith out.

He said his creaking band of players were “disappointed and angry” at the loss of their regular kick-about.

“It’s a point of principle really because what you have is a public facility that on specific times during the week is being run as a private enterprise,” he said.

“We understand that Leith Athletic are a community club but unless you play for them then you will not get on during these times.

“Everyone of us knows that at 8pm every Thursday we play football. We’re looking into possibly switching to Wednesday nights but everyone has different commitments.

“It would be a real shame if the game stopped after all these years.”

The new £500,000 park was part-financed through the Scottish Government’s CashBack For Communities which aims to pour crooks’ ill-gotten gains back into local programmes.

Edinburgh Leisure, the arms-length council body which runs Meadowbank Sports Centre, said it had discussed the change with the players last October who had “expressed no concerns”, which was today denied by Reith Rovers.

Graeme Gardiner, Edinburgh Leisure director of operations, said: “Whilst we appreciate that Reith Rovers have been given a change to their regular booking slot, the manager of Meadowbank Sports Centre has been in close consultation with the team’s designated point of contact since last October who was aware of and expressed no concerns about the allocation of a new Monday slot from July.

“We have worked hard to ensure the least possible disruption to regular bookings while working within the stipulations of the new 3G pitch, as set out by Cashback for Communities.”

All hope is not lost for Reith, however. Leith Athletic FC have asked to meet the devoted seven-a-side players in the hope a deal can be thrashed out to allow their enduring fixture to continue unhindered.

Albert Bungay, club president of Leith Athletic, said: “To be honest to these guys, we would be really happy to speak to them and see if we can help them out. We could perhaps give them a slot that we are using.

“It might not be possible but we are a community club and the last thing we want is to cause problems for other people.”

The highlights reel from back in 1982

April 2: The Falklands War begins. Argentina invades and occupies the Falkland Islands.

May 12: Spanish priest tries to stab Pope John Paul II with a bayonet during the latter’s pilgrimage to the shrine at Fatima.

June 14: The Falklands War ends. Formal surrender of Argentinean forces, and liberation of the Falkland Islanders.

June 18: David Narey gives Scotland an unlikely lead against Brazil in the World Cup in Spain, right. Brazil won 4-1.

July 11: Italy win the World Cup, beating West Germany 3-1 in the final.

August 17: The first compact discs (CDs) are released to the public in Germany.

November 30: Michael Jackson releases Thriller, the best selling album of all time.