Despite flirting with their very existence last year, Edinburgh’s forgotten football club have their sights set on title glory after dragging themselves from the doldrums of East Junior football – and with a little help from a Hibs and Scotland midfielder.
Current Easter Road star Kevin Thomson is helping coach an Edinburgh United outfit that has been revitalised from top to bottom. Members of the original committee, which helped form the Capital’s sole junior club in 1985, have returned, bringing a winning mentality with them, while they have an ambitious manager at the helm who has assembled what looks like a title-winning team.
United haven’t won a trophy since 1989, when they lifted the Fife and Lothians Cup in a spell of success, and just last season they finished bottom of the McBookie South Division on a measly 12 points. However, under the stewardship of experienced junior man Johnny Harvey – in his first full season in management – the Paties Road club are on the cusp of achieving their greatest triumph yet. They sit top of the South Division by nine points, mainly thanks to an unbeaten run of 15 games that span from September to March.
Recently, Harvey brought in Thomson to assist at training on a Tuesday night. The arrangement helps both parties, as Thomson is doing his coaching badges and Edinburgh United are reaping the rewards of having a former UEFA Cup finalist passing on his vast knowledge.
Thomson’s involvement underlines just how far the club has come. Committee member Bob Smith admits the turnaround in the club’s fortunes has been unprecedented, considering United were close to going under towards the end of last season.
He said: “We were just surviving last season. It really came to a crisis last year when we couldn’t really afford anything. We had to do something to turn it around.
“The biggest catalyst for that has been a new committee. The vision of those before us saw that something needed to be done quickly. We learned early on that something needed to change and it needed to change for the better if we were going to survive.”
With the newly formed committee pulling in the one direction, their first change was to appoint former Bathgate Thistle striker Harvey as manager in June last year. After struggling through injury in his final season as a player last year, Harvey jumped at the chance to take charge of Tranent on an interim basis until the end of the season, whom he had joined on loan from Bo’ness United.
Harvey explains his jaunt into management with Tranent only came from his reluctance to retire as a player.
He said: “I didn’t feel confident enough to retire from football and to not be involved in the game. I needed something to get my teeth into and I still wanted to be involved in the football environment.”
United saw a complete overhaul in playing staff when Harvey took over, with just three players remaining from the side that finished at the foot of East Junior football last season.
Harvey was able to count on former team-mates and friends, including his brother-in-law Chris Hume, to join him in his first management role. While he brought in experienced junior players Chris Gordon and Kenny Fisher – who scored more than 25 goals for Dalkeith Thistle in the Premier League last year.
With such a drastic change in the playing squad you would have thought they would have taken time to come together as a team, however that wasn’t the case with United under Harvey.
He said: “To put that amount of players together and to get them to gel as quickly as we have, it’s really pleasing. I couldn’t have asked for much more after the squad turnaround which we had at the start of the season.”
United are a different animal under the former Junior Cup winner’s management, with Harvey insisting that from the boardroom to the playing field, the whole club are all hungry for success.
He said: “Everyone is focused on making the club a success again. Maybe for a two or three year spell there wasn’t much direction and ambition at the club. I’ve came here totally focused on getting the club further up the league and making sure we were competing for a promotion place.
“There are clubs in our league who are far better equipped to go on and get automatic promotion than what we are. The likes of Haddington Athletic and Blackburn United have had the same squad for the last few seasons and have been up there challenging. They’ve got budgets that are far greater than ours. Of course, at the start of the season our aim was to get promotion, but when you compare us against the other teams maybe it was just a case of trying to build gradually.”
Not that United are going to settle for just promotion now though. They are going full tilt for the title, in what would be a remarkable achievement for this group of players and Harvey, a young manager still learning his trade.
Harvey added: “We’ve now put ourselves in a position to go for the title, but there is a long way to go and there is no way that anyone at the club is getting complacent. Haddington, Blackburn and Dundonald are right within striking distance so it’s still all to play for. We’ll certainly be going for it though, that’s for sure.”