Scottish Cup fever is about to descend upon Leith this weekend, barely three months since Hibs historic cup win at Hampden in May.
However, this time the focus is rightly on the Easter Road side’s local neighbours, Leith Athletic, who are gearing up for their first Scottish Cup tie in 62 years when they journey south to the Dumfriesshire town of Kirkcudbright on Saturday for their first-round preliminary tie with hosts St Cuthbert Wanderers.
Last season’s East of Scotland champions previous venture into Scottish football’s pinnacle competition ended in a 5-4 defeat to Highland League opposition Fraserburgh in January 1954.
This weekend’s occasion has been long overdue for a club that went out of business just a year later before reforming in 1996 primarily as a club for boys football.
Now first-team manager Derek Riddel will call on his group of players who stormed to the club’s first league championship since joining the East of Scotland setup in 2008 to go and make an impression on the big stage.
Although the club are just dipping their toes in with Saturday the first of a potential two preliminary ties, chairman Jim Montgomery says this weekend marks a special occasion.
“We are keen for us to be linked into the overall history despite the club being reformed in 1996. It’s really exciting for everybody to be entering the Scottish Cup again and we’re just hoping Derek can take his team as far as possible,” Montgomery said.
“It would be great to get to the latter stages, of course it would, as that’s when you get that bit more exposure. Interestingly we were beaten by Hibs 4-1 back in 1903 when they went about trying to defend their title having won it the previous year.
“But what Lothian Thistle did last season when they came to within one game of facing Celtic was tremendous. They are a local club like ourselves so it gives us hope. It would be fantastic to see the side progress through the early stages and into the draw when the bigger clubs enter the fray. There’s no expectations though as we have to be realistic.”
With a huge emphasis on providing a platform for nurturing young local talent, the club’s devotion to the cause is depicted by the development of current first-team player Neil Lowson who was part of Leith’s Under-17 side that won the Scottish Cup in 2008. “What’s good for us is what we can say to our younger teams, ‘Look if you want to stay and play football here then there is an opportunity and a pathway that can take you all they way to playing in the national cup competition’” Montgomery explained.
“We’ve got that in Neil who won the Scottish Cup eight years ago and he now has the chance to play at the pinnacle of the competition at senior level. We’ve had to earn the right to be part of this season’s Scottish Cup so we want to use this as a stepping stone to take the club to the next level which is the Lowland League. As a club, though, we are excited about any of our teams doing well at any level of the game.”
Whilst offering a strong appraisal for manager Riddel’s work ethic and contributions, Montgomery also singled out praise for former East of Scotland club Edinburgh Athletic in helping them fulfil their potential.
“Derek has done a fantastic job. He knows the club inside out and I work with him closely on a daily basis,” he said. “But it’s not just about what he does for his team, it wouldn’t be unusual to see him down Leith Links marking out a pitch for the juveniles even though his side play their home games at Meadowbank. We’re also so grateful for Edinburgh Athletic in coming to us in 2008 when they were no longer going to run. They had their position in the league and really helped take us to that level so I think a lot of the guys who used to play and coach there will be proud to see where we are this weekend.”
And, what about a potential meeting with the current Scottish Cup winners 113 years later? “That’s a long way off but we can all dream can’t we,” Montgomery said. “Maybe it’s meant to be given the two sides met all these years ago when Hibs went about defending their title so what an occasion that would be.”