On one side, a collection of some of the most talented teenage footballers in the country with aspirations of playing at the highest levels the game can offer.
On the other, a hotch-potch of recreational players in their 20s and 30s who part with a fiver per game for the opportunity to play for fun. The meeting of Hibs’ young East of Scotland team and Easthouses Lily tomorrow afternoon will represent an incongruous pairing in one sense, but there is a common goal for each side: to gain the win to claim the Central Taxis First Division title. The race for the championship crown will climax on the final day of the season with a winner-takes-all play-off between the only remaining contenders in a two-horse race.
The stakes will be sufficient to attract a healthy crowd to Hibs’ East Mains training base and, with silverware at stake for both teams, it is inevitable that all players and officials involved view the fixture as a cup final.
James McDonaugh’s Hibs, in their debut season in the East of Scotland set up, are a point ahead of Lily and know that a draw will be sufficient for them to claim the league title. However, Easthouses boss Dave McQueenie insists that the pressure to gain three points rather than one suits his side.
“I’d prefer having to win,” claimed McQueenie. “It’s better than knowing a draw would do because I always want to win and I’m not one to play for a draw. I think if you’re playing for a point, complacency can set in and hurt you.
“The boys are buzzing at the moment. I don’t think they’ll be nervous tomorrow - the adrenaline will flow. What a great occasion to look forward to!
“The Hibs lads are in every day – it’s their job. For our players, football is their fun time. Hibs will be favourites, as they’re ahead of us and need only a draw.”
Those observing the close-run title race from afar may imagine that the raw talent of the teenage Hibees has simply been equalled by experience and nous of seasoned Easthouses men, wily campaigners familiar with the rough and tumble of East of Scotland football. However, McQueenie’s squad has a youthful dynamic, too, the manager having witnessed the departure of many of his older heads prior to the commencement of the current season. The bulk of his matchday teamsheet is made up of players in their early 20s, many of whom have only recently made the step up from local amateur football, making the achievement by McQueenie and his side all the more remarkable.
“From the first game of the season at Spartans in the cup, when we were hammered 4-0, and after we drew three of our first four league games, I thought it would take a while for our new players to settle in,” admits McQueenie. “But, they blended well for a young side and started to pick up wins. We suffered our first [and only] loss in a league game last month, and that shows the dedication of the lads, many of whom will work a full day’s shift and come straight to training without having had their tea.
“We have a great camaraderie among our boys, and they will socialise together, which is what makes a team.”
McQueenie has assembled a potent outfit. Essentially, though, his club is much like any other – and they won’t alter their approach for the big occasion tomorrow.
“We won’t change anything,” confirmed the Lily boss. “We’ll meet at our changing rooms as usual, and travel to East Mains. I’ll ask the boys for their £5 to play for Easthouses Lily, and we’ll treat it as any other game.”