Spartans chairman Craig Graham celebrates promotion after play-off triumph against Albion Rovers
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Spartans chairman Craig Graham was wiping away the tears after watching his club achieve promotion to the SPFL for the first time thanks to a 1-0 victory away to Albion Rovers in the pyramid play-off.
In front of a capacity 1,500 crowd at Cliftonhill, top scorer Blair Henderson scored the decisive goal from the penalty spot in the first half to take the north Edinburgh club into League Two next season. Rovers will drop to the Lowland League.
Graham has been connected to Spartans for more than 40 years and has been the driving force behind their transformation into one of the most respected community club’s in the UK, earning an MBE for his efforts.
“It’s impossible to put it into words,” said Graham. “So many people over so many years have worked exceptionally hard, hundreds of people. We’ve built and continued to build and eventually the day came. I’m so delighted for he players, the coaches and everyone who has taken part over the last 15 years.
“The whole Spartans family has got right behind us. We’ve had two home crowds of over 2,000, which is higher than most other play-off games. The whole community … the smiles on people’s faces. You can’t buy that.”
It was a tense finish as Albion, who were reduced to ten men late on, pressed desperately for an equaliser and might have had a claim for a penalty but Spartans goalkeeper Blair Carswell, who had pulled off a magnificent diving save earlier in the second half, steadied the nerves by clasping a couple of crosses into the box and that was it.
The Lowland League champions should have been two up by then, Henderson having blazed a golden opportunity to double the lead over the bar. But they were deserved winners after containing the Coatbridge side comfortably for the most part and edging the midfield battle.
The result will go down as the greatest in the club’s history. Founded in 1951 by Edinburgh University graduates, Spartans went on to become a powerhouse in the East of Scotland League and pushed hard to set up a pyramid system to enable ambitious clubs to achieve promotion to the senior national leagues.
Under Graham’s leadership, the club has been transformed over the past 20 years, opening an impressive, purpose-build modern ground at Ainslie Park in 2008, establishing a youth academy pathway and a very strong girls and women’s section. Off the pitch, they have created and expanded a community outreach programme for north Edinburgh which now boasts more than 20 staff and many more volunteers.
Dougie Samuel, who is also chief executive of the club’s charity arm, is one of the longest-serving managers in Scotland after 11 seasons in charge of the first team.
“It wasn’t a normal game in terms of the club’s history on the park, but Spartans is so much more than its first team,” he explained. “It’s a much bigger project than that and I think that helps to give me perspective and keep me calm.
“I know what it means to the Spartans family and I know what it means to the local community. The direction of travel for this football club is upwards. This club is in a good place.”