Ex-footballers share memories as ‘much loved’ sports shop set to close

Ian Ireland is the owner of Leith Athletics Ltd store on Leith Walk which has closed down after 45 years of business. Picture: Greg Macvean
Ian Ireland is the owner of Leith Athletics Ltd store on Leith Walk which has closed down after 45 years of business. Picture: Greg Macvean
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It provided a generation of football stars with their first boots and replica strips – but sadly the final whistle is set to blow on an Edinburgh instution at the end of this month.

Sports shop Leith Athletics Ltd will close its doors next week after 45 years in business.

Store owner Ian Ireland has called time on the venture, which also operated as a flower shop for the last 15 years.

The decision has brought with it an outpouring of emotion on social media with local people including former footballers John “Yogi” Hughes and Allan Preston keen to share their memories of visits to the sporting shrine.

Mr Ireland, 79, said the shop was originally his late wife Ann’s business, which opened its doors for the first time in 1971.

He said: “My wife did most of the work, but she died around four years ago. I was an accountant but I worked [in the shop] on a Saturday. It was her life, she loved talking to folk and meeting all the locals.

“We’re both local people, we went to Leith Academy, we went to the same church and we got married – more than 50 years ago now.

“The shop was very busy, lots of kids came in to buy their first football boots and we also provided kit for tennis, hockey and badminton – all the sports really.”

He added: “We’ve sold everything – there’s nothing in the shop now.

“The response has been terrific, I know nothing about Facebook but we’ve had over 3000 hits – people contacting us from Australia and the US.

“One chap came in, he lives locally but he’s originally from Ghana and he bought hundreds of pounds worth of stuff for churches and schools to give to the poor people over there.”

Former Hibs player and manager Hughes said: “It was a real Leith icon and will be sorely missed.

“I bought my football boots there and I remember if you couldn’t get something you wanted, you would always try Leith Athletics and they would have it.

“As well as the latest strips they had great football equipment like long studs that you could screw into your boots. The staff were really friendly, typical Leithers – they knew your mother – that kind of thing.

“It was great for youngsters like me who lived for football.”

At one point Leith Athletics ran three stores, the flagship one in Leith, a Meadowbank shop and one in Wester Hailes.

BBC broadcaster and ex-Hearts player Preston, said: “I have great memories of Leith Athletics, it’s a local landmark – loved by everyone.

“I remember buying an Argentina strip out of there after they won the World Cup in 1978 and I also bought a pair of Puma Kempes Rosario football boots.

“It was not long after replica kits had come out and the full strip came in a box. I distinctly remember a dodgy Coventry strip with the vertical lines down the front.”

kevan.christie@jpress.co.uk