Edinburgh City will create history tomorrow, playing their first football league fixture since the club reformed in its current guise when they host Forfar at Meadowbank to open the 2016/17 Ladbrokes League Two season.
For many outside the club, City’s rise from the Lowland League will seem sudden, with back-to-back titles culminating in promotion via the Pyramid Play-Offs in May.
For Ross Guthrie, who is part a nucleus of Gary Jardine’s squad that has come right through the ranks at City from youth football and East of Scotland League, it has been a long time in the making. “I remember years ago phoning in sick for shift at Next to go down to Annan,” he recalled. “I sat on the bench the whole game, Steven Clee came on, scored and we won 3-2. If somebody had told me then by 26 I’d be playing Livi, Hamilton, St Mirren and Ayr in the League Cup, in competitive games then I’d have told them where to go to be honest! It’s a ridiculous achievement when you think about it.
“I remember speaking to the gaffer about it four seasons ago. He was calling it the Lowland League tier one or something and he said ‘my aim is to get in that.’ We were finishing mid-table and I remember one season we almost got relegated not that long ago. It’s all come from Jardine.
“He’s had that target there and dragged us up to that level. He’s had this idea in his head for a long time. The bigger names in the Lowland League – East Kilbride and Spartans especially, they were the ones every knew and looked at. I think we shocked a lot of people the first season we won the Lowland League, and then to do it again last year was magnificent. I think that’s one thing that will stand us in good stead, we’re used to being underdogs and not getting the credit where it’s due. That’ll be emphasised in League Two. Judging by some of the forums, everyone has us bottom of the league by quite a way.”
While results speak for themselves, Jardine’s man-management is something Guthrie can’t praise highly enough. “People don’t see that side,” he said. “They’ll just see the guy who stands on the touchline but for me, his man-management is probably his best asset. I’ve had a horrible couple of years with injury and I didn’t really feel involved, even in the league winning season due to that. He’s conscious of when I might not be happy at not playing so he’ll put the arm round your shoulder and talk to you. He actually phoned me before the start of the season and just asked me to trust him, which is great.”
While aware of their historical tag as underdogs, there is also ambition within Jardine and his players. “Absolutely not,” Guthrie responded when asked if mere survival was this season’s target. “Nobody should start the season wanting to finish second bottom. Some people might see that as an achievement for us but the boys in that changing room won’t accept it. The likes of Joe Mbu don’t even accept defeat on a Saturday.”
Characters like Mbu and Craig Beattie will be vital if City are to thrive, with the latter impressing Guthrie after just one training session. “That Thursday session was weird. I’ve never seen that amount of press at training! Craig’s fitted in ideally though, he’s just like one of the boys. I was looking at his Wikipedia page that day. He’s won the English Championship, two Scottish Cups and three league titles. It’s another one of those, if you’d told me when I started here seven years ago I’d be playing up front with Craig Beattie... He was responsible for one of the best days of my life when he scored that penalty against Celtic! Even in that session you could see he’s a class above, with the drop of the shoulder and things like that.”
Another new arrival, Calum Antell, is more familiar to Guthrie, who persuaded his colleague from his day job to join City. “I’ve known him for about a year now,” he explained. “He’s something else! I’d never actually seen him play, but I knew his background. He’s a really good lad and you can already see his ability. Again, his experience is invaluable having been at Hibs for years and Queen of the South. He knows what this level is like.”