Spartans have won the Central Taxis Premier Division or the past three seasons and the bad news for all of their would-be challengers is that the Ainslie Park outfit are determined to make it four titles in a row.
“We are trying to make history again by being the first Spartans team to win the league title on four successive occasions,” stressed the Spartans co-manager, Sam Lynch.
Spartans secured the championship flag in season 2008-2009 by 14 points from runners-up Dalbeattie Star. The Edinburgh club followed that up in 2009-2010 by winning with a margin of 15 points over Whitehill Welfare before last season finishing 14 points ahead of Stirling University.
As the East of Scotland League prepares to take a break for Christmas and New Year, Spartans lead the Premier Division by eight points at roughly the halfway stage in the number of games played as far as they are concerned, although they have played more games than almost every other team in the league.
Lynch, however, admitted that this season he does not envisage Spartans, or any other side, winning the league by as wide a margin as has been the case in recent seasons.
“We are delighted to be at the top of the pile at the moment when it looks like it is going to be a much tougher league,” said Lynch. “There is no doubt about that and we are not going to win the league by as many points as we have done in the past three seasons. Stirling University, Whitehill Welfare, Gretna 2008, Edinburgh City and Vale of Leithen will all make it tough and it will be a real challenge.”
Spartans have a different look about their team line-ups this season having lost defender Chris Townsley to Berwick Rangers while midfield players Alex King and Ross Archibald were both enticed into Junior football with Bonnyrigg Rose and club captain Stewart Fowlie was forced to retire through ongoing injury problems. “Yes, we lost four big players during the summer but that is what happens to football teams,” added Lynch. “I am particularly pleased when players leave Spartans to go onwards and upwards into the SFL and always wish them the best of luck. On the other side of the coin, we have brought in players who have already done well for the club.”
The Spartans newcomers include former Edinburgh University players Alasdair MacKinnon and Scott Fusco along with striker Chris Anderson and their most recent recruit, John Grant, from Alloa Athletic. “People keep telling me that Spartans are not the team they used to be but to be unbeaten at this stage of the league competition and be top is pleasing,” stressed Lynch. “We are delighted and would be even more delighted if our position at the end of the season was the same because our aim each season is to win the league title. As a school teacher I would say that our report card reads – so far, so good!”
The only major blot on the season so far was the embarassing dismissal from the William Hill Scottish Cup when, having beaten north Junior Superleague champions Culter 2-0 away from home in the second round, they were subsequently informed by the SFA that they had played an ineligible player – leading goalscorer Keith McLeod – due to an error in the paperwork. Spartans were thrown out, denying them a money-spinning home clash with Partick Thistle. “That Scottish Cup debacle is something that will never happen again,” said Lynch. “What I would say is that our elimination was a hammer blow to the players and the club. The players’ heads went down but not for long because Mike [Lawson, co-manager] and me soon got them back up.
“The players’ reaction was great and the following week we had a superb win against Edinburgh City.
“As I have mentioned already Spartans are happy to be sitting at the top of the league table and happy to have the points in the bag.” One other major change the side has had to contend with was the decision to replace the turf on the main pitch at Ainslie Park with a state-of-the-art artificial surface.
Once the players had become acclimatised to it, though, the ability to play home matches during a cold snap while the rest of the fixture list was laid waste has proved a godsend.
“On our artificial surface we can almost guarantee that games will go ahead. If we can get more points on the board then we could be difficult to catch,” explained Lynch. “Winning leagues is what Spartans are about.”