Madness…? This is Sparta!
Ok, it’s not, it’s Edinburgh but every time I hear the name of Spartans, I immediately think of King Leonidas kicking that Persian messenger down a well.
We weren’t expecting to witness anything quite that dramatic on our trip to Ainslie Park in the north of Edinburgh today.
Having visited Edinburgh a few times now, the usual attractions of this fabulous city weren’t on our agenda today.
We wanted to visit a decent watering hole or two…
So, with our agenda set and visions of Sparta’s King Leonidas in my head, we set off.
Our day began at 06:30 when the remarkably awake Mrs Hopper dragged me out of bed.
I’m not saying I hate early mornings but there are usually holes in the bedsheets where my fingernails desperately try to keep a grip…
Anyway, I was grateful for Mrs H’s perseverance and patience once I was awake and dressed.
Without her, there would be a lot of blog-less Saturdays!
After making our way to the bus station, we caught the X1 to Newcastle at 07:33, arriving at 08:15.
Our next stop, as regular readers will already know, was Greggs, where we got some pastry delights to eat on the train.
The later-than-usual train arrived on time at 09:11.
We have a Two Together card that gives us a third off the ticket costs. The last couple of times booking trains, it might as well be called a Two (Nearly) Together card.
Once again, we had been allocated seats that weren’t together and people aren’t always willing to swap seats. I have no idea why this has started happening but I hope the problem gets rectified soon.
Why would I want to sit next to anyone other than my wife on a long journey? It’s pretty obvious to any human being. Unfortunately, like everything else these days, booking services are all done by automated systems.
A little common sense, please train operators and algorithm coders!
Gripe aside, we had a smooth journey (apart) and arrived in Edinburgh at 11:00.
As already stated, Edinburgh is our favourite UK city and I would recommend it to anyone for a short break.
We have seen most of the sites on previous trips, so today, I decided to look for a couple of bars with character and make the long walk to Ainslie Park.
We exited Waverley station and up into Princes Street where a chilly blue sky awaited us.
The usual hubbub of people and noise wafted along the busy street, accompanied by trams, buses and the skirl of a rousing bagpiper.
We walked along Princes Street before turning right onto Frederick Street.
A statue of William Pitt The Younger stands on a mini roundabout at the junction of Frederick Street and George Street.
I’m not sure what the connection is between Edinburgh and the UK’s youngest-ever Prime Minister. If you know, please leave a comment.
Just past Pitt Jr, was our first port of call.
The Queen’s Arms
Edinburgh is stuffed full of interesting boozers and I could happily visit them all.
However, with an ageing bladder and a propensity for getting drunk easily, it’s probably for the best that we do them in small chunks…
The Queen’s Arms is yet another fantastic setting for a relaxing pint.
You have to go down down below street level to get in and this is the sight that greets you once inside.
Bookshelves stuffed with old books, leather upholstery and snug little booths for enjoying food.
This would be a great place to spend with your other half enjoying an evening meal.
It was also a great place to enjoy our first pint!
We ordered an Inch’s cider and a Morretti, for a total of £11.75. A stark reminder of the eye-watering price for beers in Edinburgh.
Oh well, when in Rome… or Sparta!
Our next pub was literally next door to the Queen’s Arms and what a gem of a place this was.
Kitty O’Shea’s is an Irish bar and another sub-street level place.
We ordered a Staropramen and an Atlantic IPA, costing £11.50.
Drinks in hand, we wandered around the empty premises and I took photos of all its nooks and crannies.
What an incredible place!
I could imagine the same bar later on a Saturday night bouncing to the live Irish music they host here.
This early in the day, there was just Mrs Hopper and I but it was still a cool place to sup a pint or two.
Next time we stay in Edinburgh overnight, we may just head back here and check it out again.
After leaving Kitty’s, we carried on along the street before turning left and bisecting the Royal Circus.
Just past there, on the right corner, was our final stop-off.
A welcoming bar with a real fire roaring on one wall.
One gentleman made sure we had somewhere to sit at the bar and moved along so we could sit together. Scotland is just full of kind, thoughtful people.
We ordered Staropramen and a Hazy Jane Brewdog IPA, costing £11.90.
This was probably the least interesting of the three bars but was welcoming and would still be recommended by us.
After our drink, it was time to head the rest of the way to Ainslie Park.
The Long Walk
It may be a bit of an exaggeration to call 2.6 miles a ‘Long Walk’, but at fifty-six and totally out of condition, it feels like it!
Fortunately, Edinburgh is just a wonderful city and wherever you go, there is always something new to see. Even in the less touristy areas, there is great architecture to admire.
What made this walk feel even longer was that ageing bladder I have already mentioned…
The beer weighed heavy and I had real concerns that this could get embarrassing. With each passing step getting more dangerous, I hurried behind a discreet tree out of sight and managed to save my blushes.
The Spartans – Ainslie Park
Upon arrival at Ainslie Park, you have to walk past a 3g pitch to your right and there was a game going on concurrently with the first team game. I’m not sure who was playing but I’m guessing one of the junior teams?
Past this pitch, you come to the turnstile entrance to the stadium proper.
We had bought our tickets in advance from the Fanbase website, which The Spartans use for online sales.
You can also pay at the gate, where entrance costs £15.00 per person.
Our mobile digital tickets were scanned on my phone and we went inside.
Once through the turnstiles, we bought a programme from a seller just inside.
£3.00 gets you thirty-two glossy pages of news and info and a rundown on today’s visitors. It contains four full pages of advertising.
A decent effort from the Scottish League newcomers.
Also just inside the turnstile, is The Spartans’ club shop.
This consists of a basic blue shed but it has almost everything you would want in a club shop.
We spoke to the lovely lady behind the counter as I bought a pin badge and a replica shirt.
I am slowly trying to collect a shirt from every Scottish League club and this was the latest addition to my collection.
The entrance leads you into the southeast corner of the ground and we started by heading to our right.
The intention was to walk right around to the west side and sit there for the game.
This didn’t quite work out, as you will see.
The east side contains the turnstiles, club shop and the main stand at Ainslie Park.
A decent number of Clyde fans had made the journey to Edinburgh for today’s game. They were mostly populating the far end of the main stand, complete with flags.
The northern end of Ainslie Park is bereft of any structures.
The path continues around from east to west behind the goal and there is a small grassy bank behind the path.
A fence perched atop the grass bank is the only other thing of note.
The west side of the ground is where the home and away dugouts are located, on either side of the halfway line.
A small two-level building is located between the two dugouts.
I assume this building is used as a TV gantry, but if you know differently, please drop a comment.
The other seating area for spectators is at the southern end of the west side.
This is where we intended to sit, as the low winter sun wouldn’t be shining in our eyes here.
We were stopped from carrying on down this side though, as a fence bars further progress.
We walked back around the pitch, with the game already in progress and Clyde nearly taking an early lead straight from the kick-off.
At the south end of the ground is the main building at Ainslie Park. This contains the dressing rooms, player’s entrance, offices and a bar with toilets.
Another small building lies just past the big one. Again, I’m not sure what this is used for.
EDIT: This building is the Youth Work Space and is used by the ultras with the club’s permission. They use it to create their flags and Tifo’s
Although my only experience of the club bar was to visit the toilets, it looked roomy and well equipped to deal with a good number of supporters.
Ainslie Park has a total capacity of 3,612 with 534 seats.
It has a synthetic 3g surface and there are ten floodlights, with five on each side of the stadium.
The Spartans – Ainslie Park Gallery
The Spartans Tidbits
Spartans FC were founded in 1951.
Originally, the club was filled with players from Edinburgh University, though the club now has players from a diverse background.
The club colours are white shirts with red shorts and white socks.
After being a successful team from the seventies onwards in the East of Scotland Football League, the club gained promotion to the Lowland League in 2013.
Spartans’ record attendance came at their old City Park ground when 3,346 were there versus St. Mirren on 5th February 2006.
The Spartans moved to Ainslie Park for the 2009/10 season.
The record attendance at Ainslie Park is 3,127 versus Manchester United on 23rd July 2011.
EDIT: this changed as recently as the previous week. The Scottish Cup game against city neighbours Hearts saw an attendance of 3,500.
Hoppers Guides’ first experience of a Spartans game came in our first year of Hopping back in 2022. This was for a game at Berwick Rangers, where they played out a 0-0 stalemate.
The club was promoted to the SPFL at the culmination of the 2022/23 season. This followed a successful playoff campaign that saw them beat Brechin City in the Highland/Lowland League final on penalties.
They followed this by beating Albion Rovers 2-1 over two legs in the final playoff to seal promotion to the big time.
The Spartans – Pre-Game View of Ainslie Park
The Spartans v Clyde – The Game
Coming into today’s game, The Spartans were in third place, a whopping twenty points behind runaway leaders Stenhousemuir.
Indeed, they lost 0-2 to Stenny in their last league game at Ainslie Park.
They suffered a 1-2 defeat in their last match, a Scottish Cup 4th Round game against SPL team, Hearts.
A plucky effort from the underdogs!
This has been an impressive start to their first SPFL season and they should be in the mix for a playoff spot come the end of the season.
Opponents, Clyde, have had a polar opposite season. Following last season’s relegation, they would have been hoping to get straight back to League One.
Instead, they languish in the danger zone and are four points behind the second-bottom team, Elgin City.
Recent games have seen an improvement with only one defeat in the last four.
Again, the 1-2 defeat came at the hands of Stenhousemuir, who look certain for promotion this season.
That aside, they have drawn two and won one, including a fantastic 4-4 game at Dumbarton.
Last time out, they suffered a 0-2 home defeat against SPL team Aberdeen in the cup.
My pre-match prediction for this game was a 2-0 home win.
The home side got the game underway with us still walking back around the pitch having been thwarted by the fence.
The fans of both teams were creating a decent atmosphere considering only 531 were in attendance.
A small pocket of support from both teams kept up a pretty constant noise throughout most of the match.
Straight from the kick-off, the visitors almost scored.
The ball was hit long over the home defence and Jordan Allan, was through.
It took a great save by Blair Carswell to steer the ball wide with an outstretched leg and prevent an embarrassing start for the home team. He also dealt well with the ensuing corner.
The Bully Wee were certainly proving to be better than the league table would suggest and they had already scuppered my pre-match prediction.
In the fourth minute, they got their noses in front via that man Allan, again through on goal from a long through ball.
This time he made no mistake and placed it wide of the keeper and into the far corner.
Wearing number 99 on his back, he was certainly giving The Spartans ‘Problems’…
Goal for Clyde – 0-1
The equaliser came in the 24th minute. It was a great team goal with some neat passing and one lovely long ball out wide.
Falling to Danny Denholm on the left wing, he controlled it perfectly before playing a short pass inside to Blair Henderson.
Henderson played the ball back to the onrushing Rhys Armstrong and he fired the ball past Neil Parry at full stretch.
What a goal!
The highlights don’t capture the fact that every outfield player had a touch in the build-up and included seventeen unanswered passes.
Goal for The Spartans – 1-1
Chris McGinn went close for Clyde as the half wore on, Carswell again coming to the rescue at the expense of a corner.
McGinn was a new signing for the Bully Wee at left-back.
So new, that his name wasn’t even in the programme. He had a great debut for his new team. The eighteen-year-old Hamilton Accies loanee will be a popular player if he keeps this up for Clyde.
Half Time – The Spartans 1 v Clyde 1
Halftime means it’s time to check on Stoke’s score.
Most supporters who live in exile from their club make sure to go to the game when they play nearby.
The truth is, I would much rather visit a new ground these days. The Hopping bug is well and truly embedded in me.
The Stadium of Light is great but having already been a couple of times, it just doesn’t hold enough interest for me to stop me itching for a new stadium. Even when Stoke are the visitors.
Besides, we lost 3-1, so I don’t care… 😉
The second half wasn’t as good as the first forty-five and chances were at a premium.
I managed to capture one of the best moves of the half in the video below.
Clyde’s Liam Scullion with the final shot.
The rest of the half was a bit of a borefest if we are being honest.
Clyde remained the stronger looking of the two teams on the day but created little of note.
They will be pleased with a point from a tricky away game, though and will look to use the recent form to escape the position they find themselves in.
Full-Time – The Spartans 1 v Clyde 1
Attendance – 531
Entrance Fee – £15.00
Programme – £3.00
You can read a more detailed Match Report here, via The Spartans FC website.
The Spartans v Clyde – Match Highlights
Next up for The Spartans is a trip over the Forth Bridge to East Fife‘s Bayview Stadium on January 30th.
This will be followed by another away game at Forfar Athletic (February 3rd), before returning home for a match against Elgin City on the 10th.
For Clyde, a huge game at Elgin City is next up on January 30th.
This is the definition of a must-win game for the Bully Wee against the team just above them.
They will then face another tricky game at home to second-placed Peterhead on February 3rd, before travelling to Stranraer on the 10th.
The Spartans – Thoughts
Ainslie Park may be a sports complex with synthetic pitches and cage fences around it but it maintains some character.
It helped that there were a good number of Clyde fans in good voice, as well as the young Spartans ultras sitting to our right.
Some people may not like the constant banging of a drum but I think it’s great that youngsters are embracing the European football fan culture and bringing it to Scotland.
I’m not sure if The Spartans have permanently allocated this space for their young supporters but if so, well done.
One comment I would make is that it seemed strange to have another game going on at the same time on the pitch next door.
If this game was unrelated to The Spartans, fair enough. If it was club-related though, it seems counter-productive to have potential spectators standing watching another game, or even players who might want to watch the first team.
Just my thoughts.
Everything about Ainslie Park looked modern and well looked after.
The staff around the ground were all friendly and helpful and it was an all-round pleasant place to watch a game of football.
The Spartans – After the Game
Following the final whistle, we exited Ainslie Park and headed for the bus stop on Boswall Parkway, northeast of the ground.
The #8 bus arrived at 17:10 and wound its way through the busy city centre.
We walked the final five minutes to Waverley and arrived with about twenty minutes to spare.
Mrs Hopper got herself a coffee and we made our way to Platform 7, where our train was already in situ.
We even had seats next to each other… imagine that!
The train left on time and we were in Newcastle by 19:30.
Unfortunately, this meant we didn’t have time to catch the 19:35 bus and would have to wait thirty minutes for the next one.
We caught the 20:05 bus home and along the way ordered a pizza to be delivered topping another great day in Scotland.
See what I did there… I will get my coat.
Next Up for Hoppers Guide
Next week we will be taking a trip across the country to Carlisle.
Not, as you might expect, to United’s Brunton Park (Hopper Tales #53) but rather, another attempt to visit Carlisle City’s, Gillford Park.
We have tried twice before and a combination of train strikes and the weather has seen both efforts thwarted.
Their opponents on the day will be Newcastle Benfield (Hopper Tales #71) and I’m looking forward to this one!
Onto the next!