This weekend’s Football Nation Qualifying Cup final is another reminder of the calibre of opposition Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale could be rubbing shoulders with each week.
The reigning East of Scotland League champions will pit their wits against Lowland League table-toppers East Kilbride at Blackburn United’s New Murrayfield Park tomorrow, bidding to win their first trophy of what promises to be an exciting climax to the season.
There is no disputing that Raymond Carr’s priority this year is for his team to defend their league crown, although they face stiff competition from league newcomers Kelty Hearts who are top. However, promotion to the Lowland League, after four attempts, could finally be rubber stamped should they triumph.
Having failed to obtain an SFA Licence in recent years, Carr insists the club are doing all they can to ensure there is to be no repeat this term.
Extensive work both on and off the pitch at Saughton Enclosure is well underway and should Lothian go on to lift the trophy, Carr says there is no reason why they can’t be a real force next season.
“If we are to go on and win the league then I think we have every chance of starting next season as a Lowland League side,” Carr said. “There’s a lot of ifs and buts at the moment to see if they’re going to change the set-up so we’re still waiting to see what happens. We’ve just got to make sure we do our job on the park and win the league.
“We have won the league three times out of the last four seasons and not once have we had the opportunity [to go up].
“We want to be the first team to get there on merit and not because of anything else. We should have had a play-off against Edusport last season but that didn’t happen because we don’t have a licence. Edusport don’t even have their own park so it’s about playing football and not having a set of toilets.
“There’s too many people that don’t want us there as I think a lot of teams would fear us. It’s still work in progress at Saughton but all that will be completed during the close season. As long as the right people notice what we’re trying to do. They need to be looking at the calibre of player we are bringing through and helping instead of hindering us.
“The club feels every time we take three steps forward we’re taking two steps back. We all know there are teams in the Lowland League who are simply not good enough and shouldn’t be there. A number of clubs were also instructed to have their houses in order within three years and that’s still not happened. Yet, there’s us who have to have everything ticked off just to be in with a shout.”
The majority of Junior clubs this week backed a motion to take their game under the SFA’s Pyramid system. The likes of Bonnyrigg Rose have revealed their plans to join the East of Scotland League ahead of today’s deadline.
“Obviously the league can’t take every side but if it’s Bonnyrigg or Bo’ness then it’s going to enhance the league, without a doubt,” Carr said.
“These clubs will think the East of Scotland League is the easier route to get up so let’s see.”
Carr says his players are desperate to show they belong at a higher level – starting with victory tomorrow.
“We’ve played East Kilbride before so we know what they’re all about,” he said. “They always have good sides but our players aren’t scared of facing anyone so they know they can hold their own.
“I think it will be a terrific match. The boys are really looking forward to it. The guys just need to go out and do their best and if they do that then we’ll give ourselves a really good chance of winning the game.”