Edinburgh City FC: Trailblazers of the new Scottish pyramid

Promotion and relegation are taken for granted in football. You support your club throughout the season and if you are not in mid table, the chances are you will be enjoying, or suffering, the emotions associated with potentially going up or down a division. The football pyramid structure with relegation and promotion does not exist in every country however. Australia and USA are severe examples of this where there is no movement in and out of their top division. Scotland does have promotion and relegation, but until recently there was a brick wall underneath League Two, preventing clubs being relegated.

Until the 2014/15 season, football clubs in the top four tiers of Scottish football could not be relegated to the regional leagues of tier five. This meant that in recent years the likes of East Stirlingshire and Queen's Park had finished bottom of League Two by more than a 10 point gap but had not suffered the consequence of relegation. In 2014 a new rule change took effect gifting hope to lower league clubs all over Scotland.


This admirable change to the rules meant that the club that finished bottom of the Scottish League Two would have to enter a play off to rescue their Scottish Professional League status. Their opponent in the play off would be the winner of a two legged tie between the champions of the Highland League and the Lowland League. In the 2014/15 season, Montrose were able to remain in the Scottish League Two by defeating Brora Rangers, the champions of the Highland League, 3-2 on aggregate in the first of these play off matches.


Edinburgh City were first on the footballing map in 1928 with the aim of becoming an Edinburgh rival to the Glasgow amateur club, Queen's Park. The club did not last long however and resigned from the Scottish Football League in 1949, just 18 years after it had officially joined. The club continued as a junior team until 1955 when they completely ceased footballing activity. 31 years later, in 1986, Edinburgh City Football Club Ltd, which was still active as a social club, gave Postal United FC the approval to use the Edinburgh City name. The club were finally back in a new form.


The ambition of the club to enter the Scottish Professional Football League system has been evident for a number of years. They applied for membership in 2002 following the bankruptcy of Airdrieonians but lost out to Gretna. With no promotion or relegation to and from League Two, Edinburgh City were back on the application trail again following the liquidation of Gretna in 2008. They lost out again, this time to Annan Athletic.  

The club then resigned from the East of Scotland League to join the newly formed Lowland League in 2013 as the Scottish FA looked to implement a pyramid structure that extended beyond League Two. Although they managed to win the Lowland League in the 2014/15 season, a defeat to Brora Rangers in the play off meant that they could not play Montrose for a place in the National League system. Their chances of League Two football had been scuppered for a third time in 13 years.


It was clear that Edinburgh City were a cut above the rest of the clubs in the Lowland League as they lost just one match during the 2014/15 season and were crowned champions with a 19 point cushion. This point was proven again in the 2015/16 season as Edinburgh City were crowned champions for the second time in a row. They then went further than the previous season as they emphatically defeated the Highland League champions, Cove Rangers, 4-1 on aggregate, including an impressive 3-0 win away from home. Finally, this club would have a real shot at entering the professional leagues. Only East Stirlingshire would stand in their way.

The first leg in Edinburgh finished 1-1 after the home side scored a penalty awarded for a handball. East Stirlingshire equalised just before half time and the second half, although it produced no more goals, did see a player from each team sent off. The stakes were high and the pressure would roll over into the second leg as one team would desperately attempt to rescue their professional league status with the other desperate to take their place.


A week later and the second leg arrived. It was a tense affair of even possession and not too many shots on target. The match was 0-0 before Edinburgh City were awarded a penalty in the 87th minute. Dougie Gair was the man who stepped up. One kick could see his name enter the history books as a hero of Edinburgh City, it could see the club be the first to gain promotion through the new pyramid system and fulfil the clubs ambitions. Gair held his nerve and converted the penalty marking a historic day for Edinburgh City as the 14th May 2016. Finally the club could enter the Scottish League Two.


Since promotion to League Two, Edinburgh City have sadly been rooted to the bottom of the table since the second week of the season as wins have proved almost impossible to come by. Although the club has gone well so far in the Scottish Cup, the league form will perhaps worry some fans. From an optimistic point of view, the club is new to League Two and will no doubt improve as the season goes on and the players get used to the higher level.


Relegation is not guaranteed for Edinburgh City, no matter what happens this season. Although a pyramid system is now in operation, the club that finishes at the foot of League Two will always have that one last chance to fight to stay in the national league system. East Kilbride are looking like early candidates to be knocking on the door of League Two for next season as they have, at time of writing, won all 13 of their league games. The relegation play off system does have the obvious quirk of pitting two teams against each other who have had vastly contrasting seasons. You will have one club who has spent most of the season losing matches playing against a team high in confidence. In that situation I would have to back the winner of the Highland/Lowland play off to go all the way although to date it has been 50/50.


Whether or not Edinburgh City will continue to face clubs such as Clyde, Stirling Albion and Berwick Rangers week in and week out beyond this season remains to be seen. Edinburgh City will not finish bottom of the table without a fight as they have waited far too long for this opportunity to let it slip away within a year. Whatever happens this club have made history as the first team to take advantage of the new door that has been installed between League Two and the regional leagues. For me it is a huge step forward that the Scottish FA has taken as there is now a clear progression path up to the professional leagues and that can only be good for grassroots football.


Now that Edinburgh City have realised their goal of becoming a team in the Scottish Professional Football League system they have to accept that there are 34 clubs in the tier below them who all want to join the party. Edinburgh City may be the trailblazers of this new pyramid system but there are many others aiming to put them back where they came from and take their place in Scotland's big time.