WELCOMING new faces before the start of a new season, if not a new ground, is part of the old routine for footballers. Edinburgh City’s Shaun Harrison however, has seen more change this time around than at any other point in his City career.
Gary Jardine’s team kick-off their second ever Ladbrokes League Two campaign against Montrose at Ainslie Park tomorrow – the first time the North Edinburgh ground will have hosted a Scottish league match.
City have been through it all – with few players remaining from the previous two campaigns and new additions, most of whom have SPFL experience. And Harrison believes the lack of that unknown factor should stand them in good stead.
“It does feel different,” he admitted. “We know who we’re up against from last season and we know what teams have got now and it’s different in that a lot of the guys are away now as well. That gives it a different feel in that a lot of those guys were here when I originally started, but I’m looking forward to it, it should be good.”
Harrison is now City’s longest serving player [the experienced Jordan Caddow’s lengthy service was interrupted with spells at Whitehill and Tynecastle] following the departures of fellow under-19 graduates Ross Guthrie and Ian McFarland [both to Spartans], Mark McConnell [to Bonnyrigg Rose] and Gordon Donaldson [to Broxburn].
With such an established core of long-serving players moving on, the defender admits it’s strange to see so much incoming transfer activity after years of gradual tweaking.
“Eight years I’ve been with the club and I’ll be the longest serving player now,” he said. “Obviously the likes of [Craig] Beattie, Josh [Walker], Lairdy [Marc Laird] and [Ashley] Grimes, they’ve all played at decent levels. Even the younger boys coming in from Hibs, they’re all adding quality, especially the ones with experience of playing at the top level.
“It’s hard to see the other boys go though. We’ve been together since we were 19 so to see Subo [McFarland], Guthrie and Gordon go it’s hard as we all played in the same team – I’m the last one standing!
“That’s the way football is though, and I’m sure there’ll be more movement at the club in the years to come. They’ll all do well at Spartans and the other teams the boys have signed for.”
Harrison is now one of the more experienced heads that the current crop of young players will look to. Seven or eight of the club’s under-20 players have featured during the recent Betfred Cup campaign, and Harrison is pleased to see the club continuing it’s tradition of giving home-produced players their chance.
“It’s good to see,” he said. “Even young Calum Hall that’s joined us, he’s only 16 and the maturity he has for a football payer of that age is great. I know obviously Morton at the weekend wasn’t a great result, but for the other young guys it’ll be the biggest game they’ve ever played in. They’re looking good.
“When Gary brought us through, he maybe had a bit more room to manoeuvre back then – not so much now. If these boys show that they’re good enough and keen enough to play and put in the effort, I’m sure Gary will keep giving them a chance.”
As well as new names, Harrison also has new surroundings to familiarise himself as City will play at Ainslie Park whilst Meadowbank is redeveloped. Having enjoyed success as an opposition player on the same artificial surface before, he’s confident City can do just as well as tenants.
“The astro suits me so I’m happy with it,” Harrison insisted. “Gary’s always said we’ve sort of been an astroturf team. We like to get the ball down and play with it.”
“We’ve obviously played Spartans numerous times down at that ground and we’ve always played well down there. It should suit us over the year so I’m hoping that the home form will be good. There aren’t many teams in this league now that play on grass.”
Tomorrow’s opponents have their own plastic pitch, and having seen how Stewart Petrie turned The Gable Endies around last term, Harrison believes they can be an example to follow.
“They were weird last year, because they were at the bottom for long enough beside us,” he recalled.
“All of a sudden they went on a winning streak and got themselves in the play-offs so it just shows you what the right bodies and a change in mentality can do.”