The festive football season continues. Games across the country remain in full swing in most of Scotland’s divisions, with matches coming thick and fast in the process. The SPFL Premiership may now be in its premature winter break, but funnily enough, football does exist outside the topflight despite what some media outlets may suggest.
During my stay with family just south of Scotland’s capital for Christmas, I made a deal with myself to see as much football around Edinburgh and the Lothians as I could. My adventures for this post-Christmas spectacle take me to the north of the city to Christie Gillies Park, home of Civil Service Strollers FC. Originally founded in 1908 as Edinburgh Civil Service Football Club, the senior team have been a mainstay in the lower echelons of Scottish football, with a few league and cup titles to their name. After being installed into the Lowland League in 2016, a South Challenge Cup triumph in 2018 will have ignited a flame to challenge for further silverware.
Presently, Strollers sit sixth in a highly competitive top third of the league, only three points behind Rangers and Celtic’s B teams tied in second. After witnessing the Strollers against Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic earlier in the season, I was impressed by the way they played the ball on the deck and moved efficiently around the park. With some exciting individual players on the Strollers books as well, I was expecting a fast-flowing, attacking performance from the home side this evening. Visitors East Stirlingshire may have other ideas though, with the club looking to make their own advancements up the league.
Christie Gillies Park is quite easy to reach on the roads. As I was travelling from Midlothian, the Edinburgh City Bypass is a godsend to circumnavigate the inner crevices of the city centre. After reaching the Gyle roundabout and a small detour around Davidson Mains and Silverknowes, I reached Muirhouse; home to my hosts for this evening. Parking is straightforward at the ground, with an open car park used by both visitors to CGP and the World of Footballit shared its space with. So far, so good.
After navigating my way through a small path around the side of a few buildings and asking a member of staff where the entrance was, I eventually made it to the turnstiles. Upon entering, you are greeted with a tea-room and basic toilet facilities on your left. Although they are nothing spectacular, they do the job and will be used by many over the course of the game. The staff inside were nothing short of friendly, which as always, I hugely appreciate.
Initially, the expansive open space behind the goals is very noticeable. I’ve never seen so much room around a park at any level, and it is by no means a bad thing. There is plenty of room for expansion if needed, but for now it is used for the youngsters in the crowd to volley a ball back and forward before the game. Behind the opposite goal is a large, wooded area: another unique feature. It looks a bit eerie, and I’m sure plenty of footballs have been lost in its depths over the years.
A single terraced seating area lies parallel to the pitch. The retro look and feel to the structure is nice, and suits its purpose for the size of tonight’s crowd, including those requiring accessible viewpoints. Most punters were spread out the length of the pitch on both sides with plenty of room to get a great view of the action.
Although the ground overall could do with a bit of work and sprucing up, I like it. Its expansive feel and retro look is very distinctive in comparison to other stadia. As football grows, grounds like CGP will remain an interesting place to watch the beautiful game. I just hope it doesn’t get left behind. I feel a score of 2/5 is fair.
I think most of us can agree that the 500-spectator limit imposed on Scottish football is a farce. However, one of the slim positives around it is the encouragement it gives supporters around the country to visit their local clubs. After speaking to a few people around CGP, it appeared a lot of those in attendance were not regulars and had in turn raised the usual number of punters through the turnstiles. Who can blame them? A midweek festive fixture under the lights at a local club is exciting stuff. It is certainly no misery.
As for the atmosphere itself, for most of the ninety-minutes, there was more noise coming from the World of Football next door. A few Shire supporters had made their way to the capital and were providing most of the shouts and encouragement from the side lines. CGP did supply a very friendly aura though. I spoke to a few individuals who could not have been nicer and witnessed a few small groups huddled in discussion around the national game. I hope those who were visiting for the first time will return and give CGP a larger supporter base. This famous old ground certainly has the potential for it. 2.5/5.
Quality of the Match
To begin this bumper midweek encounter, Strollers placed their front foot forward and had the first real chance of the game within five minutes. A decent cross from the right-hand side was controlled in the box by forward Robbie Cole who laid the ball to midfielder Scott Clapperton. Just as the ball had been skied high, so too was Civil’s momentum. Two minutes later, prolific striker Alieau Faye was sent through on goal. The big man may be one of the top scorers in the Lowland League, but this strike was fired straight at Shire ‘keeper Ross Connelly to keep the score level for now.
East Stirling fired back. After a stramash in the Civil box, the ball found its way out to the left. After a low cross in, the ball was somehow poked wide by David Churchill. The offside flag had been raised though to save the Shire midfielder his blushes. From one end to the other, Civil could and should have been ahead once again. After a superb corner delivery by Jayden Fairley, it looked routine for the ball to nestle in the back of the net. Instead, the header was put wide and East Stirling were riding their luck. That was until Strollers stepped it up once again. After a lovely Pepe Reina-esque kick from Civil ‘keeper Craig Murdoch, the ball was controlled expertly on the chest by lively forward Joao Balde. After a jinking run through a few Shire defenders, the ball was sent across the box and bundled into the net. Civil’s social media granted the goal to Faye, but I was sure it was an own goal. Either way, they all count, and the Strollers were a deserved goal up.
From the restart, the Shire awoke and attacked with free-flowing impetus. After a few wayward shots on goal, they should have been level. From an in-swinging free-kick, a close-range header was very well saved by Murdoch in the home goal. The pressure continued, and Murdoch produced another close range save, this time with his feet. The away side pumped balls into the box like artillery but to no avail. Their pressure told for little and ended the half a goal behind.
Half time: Civil Service Strollers 1-0 East Stirlingshire
Stirling immediately picked up where they left off. The feet of Murdoch once again denied David Churchill before the Strollers keeper produced an acrobatic if not awkward save to deny a flying strike from eighteen yards. The Shire pressure continued through a high pressing midfield and denied the Strollers any chance of springing anything meaningful. A further strike by captain Kieran Gibbons flew just wide of Murdoch’s post and from my angle could be described as a bawhair away from levelling the scores.
Strollers did manage to find themselves up the park and began playing the football we all knew they could. Some good interchanging play from the midfield brought playmakers Balde and Cole up the pitch and into attacking areas. However, a few strikes comfortably wide of Connelly’s goal was all the home team could muster. Then, like a light switch, the game’s energy flipped into an end-to-end basketball tie. Attacks on both sides lacked the final pass and, on another day, could have made the score an eye-opening one. Finally, momentum on Shire’s end prevailed. A defence splitting pass sent Kevin Turner through on goal. The veteran striker finished expertly and granted the away fans an almighty roar and a deserved equaliser.
The entertainment did not stop there. As both teams began to tire on the heavy surface, gaps in both defences began to open. On every occasion though, the final pass lacked and resulted in frustrated groan from both sets of supporters. One last opportunity for excitement arrived two minutes before the final whistle. Kieran Offord spearheaded an energetic counterattack down the left and swept the ball towards substitute Jamie Hamilton. The midfielder appeared to have the feet of a well drilled performer as he danced his way past three or four Strollers players. In a cruel turn of events, the final strike was blasted over much to provide the home support a much-needed sigh of relief.
Full time: Civil Service Strollers 1-1 East Stirlingshire
Football is a funny game. Throughout the course of the first-half, Strollers could have been three goals up without anyone batting an eyelid. The skill and pace of Joao Balde brought his teammates forward and created numerous openings. Although, like much of the home side’s attack, the ball was held onto for too long and prevented any opportunities growing arms and legs. On loan Hibernian midfielder Jayden Fairley also impressed for me. His set pieces were consistently whipped in with accuracy and pace and on another day, the young man could have had a couple assists to his name.
On the other hand, the Shire will feel disappointed to have only left CGP with a point after a constant barrage of pressure for most of the game. Captain Kieran Gibbons impressed after a commanding midfield performance. He led his team well and kickstarted several attacks in the second half with Murdoch in the Civil goal keeping the home side ahead. Shire can take confidence from this display though. They showed more than enough defensive competency and attacking prowess to take the game to any team in this division.
Overall, I was treated to a very entertaining spectacle between two sides going for the jugular. Two goals, good individual performances, and plenty of missed opportunities places this experience as a memorable one. One another day, this contest could have ended four-all and made this a five-star spectacle. Today though, I feel a 3.5/5 is fair.
For those not used to lower league football in the capital, the pricing is a stark contrast to the norm. I spent £8 in total to enter CGP and to warm my hands with a cup of tea. That money will get you nowhere near Easter Road or Tynecastle. That’s a fact. I’m a huge believer that supporters of the game should visit the teams local to them. It is cheap, accessible, and thoroughly entertaining. 5/5.
Civil Service Strollers finish on a respectable 13/20 and push themselves into mid-table in the TSFA League Table. I really enjoyed my time at CGP and genuinely hope the Strollers can kick on and push themselves into contention for promotion in future years. They have a good set-up, a nice style of play and a young playing squad that are desperate to make an impact. I’ve found a new club to follow.