Why Edinburgh City deserve credit for bold Friday night move
City deserve credit for drive to attract new Citizens – but bold move isn’t without risks, writes Patrick McPartlin
A Monday night in the aftermath of the Scotland men’s national team’s first game at a major finals since 1998 seemed like a strange time to make such a striking announcement, but Edinburgh City’s revelation that they had decided to play their home games on a Friday night next term certainly got tongues wagging.
Arduous journey to SPFL
It has not been the most straightforward of journeys since Postal United revived the dormant Edinburgh City identity in 1986. The club competed in the East of Scotland League – winning the title in 1996 and 2006 – but they twice had applications to join the league rejected in 2002 and again in 2008.
When they finally won promotion through conventional means in 2016 by defeating East Stirlingshire in the League Two play-offs, they had collected grounds like football stickers before eventually settling on Meadowbank in 1996.
It was around this time that the club briefly incorporated green into its colours. In the aftermath of a player registration scandal that saw southern Edinburgh side Liberton Cropley thrown out of the Scottish Amateur ranks, a number of players and officials joined City and for a time, Liberton’s colours were incorporated into Edinburgh City's strips – until a committee member suggested the team shouldn't wear any colours associated with Hearts and Hibs.
Yet now, the Citizens would relish supporters of the bigger Capital clubs adopting City as their unofficial second team as they embark on a drive to boost attendances and the coffers following the coronavirus pandemic.
Friday night lights
By getting the go-ahead to play their home games on a Friday night, City are hopeful of attracting a few more fans to their matches – and supporters of traditional Capital rivals Hearts and Hibs are top of the list.
A club statement pointed out that City's long-term plan is “dependent on being able to field a successful team [and] to do this we need to increase our income”.
Switching games to a Friday night in a bid to boost attendance is not a new phenomenon. In Lancashire, lower-league team Southport brought their games forward to a Friday night in the late 1960s after experimenting with Saturday evenings and Monday nights, while Tranmere Rovers followed suit in the 1970s, maintaining the quirk into the early Nineties.
Tranmere's Prenton Park home is less than 20 minutes drive from both Anfield and Goodison and with many Wirral residents leaning towards Everton or Liverpool, Rovers chiefs knew that bringing the game forward could boost attendances.
Stockport County also went down this route in greater Manchester.
Edinburgh City will hope to attract Hearts and Hibs fans in the same way because during the truncated 2019/20 campaign, fewer than half their home gates exceeded 350.
Tough but exciting division
City have been groundsharing with former Lowland League rivals Spartans at Ainslie Park in Pilton since the summer of 2017, when renovation work started on Meadowbank Stadium.
After a bit of a rocky start they are now one of the strongest teams in League Two, as illustrated by their appearances in the promotion play-offs. It’s not that long ago that they were only eight points off bottom.
It could be argued that they have been unlucky to be in the division at the same time as yo-yo teams Peterhead and Clyde, and then Cove Rangers, and then Queen's Park.
Next season Kelty Hearts will be looking to make a splash, while Elgin City will hope to build on an impressive 2020/21 campaign as well.
Edinburgh City are often an entertaining team to watch and League Two should be an exciting division, so it’s not hard to see why the club has taken this decision.
Bold – but risky
Switching home games to a Friday night is a bold move whichever way you look at it. It’s a fair bet that if City are going well and in the top two or three then key home games against the other title and play-off challengers would presumably entice a larger gate.
But looking at City’s attendances at Ainslie Park, there are understandable drop-offs for matches involving teams travelling a long distance – see Annan Athletic, or Stranraer, both of whom are still in League Two.
Teams such as Albion Rovers, Cowdenbeath, and Stenhousemuir tend not to bring large travelling supports either.
The casual fan may be sold on a Friday night game between Edinburgh City and Kelty Hearts but would the same numbers turn out for City v Annan?
Form can also have an impact on gates. If City are performing well and can ape the consistency shown in recent seasons by Cove Rangers and Queen's Park then they will be an attractive prospect. If they struggle, so will the attendances.
On top of that, when they do return to Meadowbank, the stand is a good bit away from the pitch thanks to the running track – and being that bit more distant from the action could put off some walk-up fans.
Good luck to them
There is certainly something admirable about City thinking outside the box in a bid to compete and progress and the club should be applauded for going out on a limb in a bid to boost attendances, even if they do risk losing some current fans through work or personal commitments that render them unable to regularly attend on Friday nights. Some season-ticket holders have already said on social media that Friday nights won’t work for them.
This approach will undoubtedly snare some curious fans of Hearts, Hibs, and maybe even other teams. Groundhoppers could be sold on the idea of spending a weekend in Edinburgh and being able to tick off a handful of grounds in 48 hours.
Good luck to City in this venture – if they can build an exciting team capable of going the distance in League Two and attracting regular supporters, then their bold move might just pay off.