Livingston I Presume | @Alexecky

Part of a series of Scottish football history articles written for us by radio presenter Alex Horsburgh, today we look at the history of Livingston FC:

25 years old now, the story of a leading Scottish League club who had humble beginnings, an identity crisis, and a nomadic existence before finally finding its feet and even finishing third in the league behind the Old Firm.

The concept of Premier League football in the UK was a Scottish idea. 1974/5 was the season that Scottish League football instigated a sea change in its set up after many years of a two division set up, which by 1973/4, included a top (First) Division of 18 teams and a Second Division of 19 clubs North of the border. A decision was taken in 1974 to bring in a Premier Division of 10 elite Scottish clubs, while Division 1 and 2 would consist of 14 teams each in a three division Scottish League set up fit for the 1980s and beyond.

The new Premier League sides would play each other four times in the league season (still the case), whilst in the opening campaign, the other two tiers played each other twice before finishing their season with a Spring Cup competition played in group stages. This cup was ditched after one season and First and Second Division teams went to playing each other three times in the league. 37 league teams would become 38 for the defining '74/75 season and with Scotland just back from their first World Cup appearance in 16 years, Celtic reaching the semi finals of the European Cup and the nation still providing a steady stream of talent to top English clubs, the Scottish game appeared in pretty good nick in the summer of 1974.

The top ten teams at the end of the league season in May 1975 would form the new Scottish Premier Division the following campaign. The remaining eight in the top tier would join the top six of Division Two at end of play in 1975 to form the new First Division, whilst the remaining 14 in Div 2 in May 1975 would start season 1975/6 as the new Second Division.

A new club was required to make the numbers fit so in early 1974 the Scottish League asked for applications for its first new league member since the mid 1960's, when Clydebank joined the set up. Although in their first year of existence, they actually merged with East Stirlingshire FC for their opening campaign, before both clubs became separate entities again a year later.

A number of Highland League clubs applied for Scottish League status when applications opened but these were the days when football life beyond Aberdeen was a long haul for all the clubs below the Granite City on the map of Scotland, with roads not as quick and organised as they are today.

There was outcry from the Highlands in the summer of 1974 as the Scottish League turned its back on both Inverness sides Caledonian and Thistle (who later had to merge to win a place for Inverness in the 1990s), redoubtable Scottish Cup fighters Elgin City (again not elected to the Scottish League until the '90s), Ross County (now a Scottish Premiership club), plus several other decent Highland League sides who enjoyed crowds every bit as good as most Scottish Division 2 sides of the early 1970s.

With Hibs and Hearts - Could Edinburgh accommodate a 'big' third club?
 Instead, the Scottish League retained what many at the time claimed was central belt bias, and it almost certainly was, by accepting the bid from the solitary candidate South of Aberdeen. The surprise Team 38 for the start of the 1974/5 season would be Ferranti Thistle of the East of Scotland League, a division for non-League clubs in the Borders and Edinburgh area of Scotland, which also included Hibs and Hearts Reserves!

Thistle were a works team for the Ferranti Electronics Firm in Edinburgh but included some ex-professionals who paid for the privilege of turning out in the Amber and black shirt. Ferranti were by far the weakest of the clubs vying for Scottish League status for season 1974/5, but gained overwhelming support from the 19 Second Division sides in the vote who preferred the cheaper option of travelling to the Scottish capital, rather than journeys of over 100 miles to the Highland sides on offer to them.

Ferranti played at the run down City Park in Edinburgh and it was clear a new home would have to be found to meet Scottish League safety regulations. With only weeks to go before the big kick off in August 1974 another snag hit the tiny Edinburgh team when the Scottish League voted that a team with a brand name / company game in their title couldn't be included in the top flight in a time when even shirt advertising was seen in the UK as something only the continental Europeans did.

Ferranti launched a "Find a name for Ferranti" campaign in the Edinburgh Evening News with Castle United, Dunedin (the old name for Edinburgh) and even Waverley Rovers all suggested. However with time running out before the start of the 1974/5 season, a sudden move to Meadowbank Stadium (built for the 1970 Commonwealth Games) on the advice of Edinburgh City Council solved the club's venue and name change headache in one fell swoop.

Meadowbank Thistle would start the 1974/5 campaign as Edinburgh's third league club but the team of former Second Division and amateur players found their opening season tough with 4 and 5-0 defeats common place (and an 8-0 at Hamilton Academical).

In some places people even struggled to recognise them. Their first visit to Cowdenbeath on league duty saw not only a 5-0 defeat at the hands of the Fifers but the match programme for the fixture also referred to them as MEADOWFIELD Thistle!

The new club also struggled for a fan base with a city divided traditionally between the green of Hibs and the maroon of Hearts. Meadowbank Athletics Stadium also didn't lend itself to football with a running track separating sparse crowds from the action and the club sometimes only opened the main stand for matches, such was the low level of attendance. In one midweek league game against Stranraer the attendance was less than 100.

It was clear the inclusion of Meadowbank Thistle in the Scottish League had more to do with arithmetic than football prowess and the club ended its opening season second bottom of Division Two, putting them in the third tier in the inaugural Premier League season which started in August 1975.

The rest of the 1970s saw little improvement in form but the club did find its feet in the 1980s. although by the early 1990s it was becoming clear that they'd never reach Premier heights unless change was implemented.

When construction tycoon Bill Hunter invested in the club in the mid 1990s, he took the step to move them out of not only Meadowbank Stadium but Edinburgh too, all the way to West Lothian and the town of Livingston, where they became a sort of Scottish MK Dons - changing their name to fit their new surroundings.

Livingston FC was born. 

Since 1995 'Livi' have won a Scottish League Cup, played in the UEFA Cup and are now a firm fixture in the current 12 team Scottish Premiership. If the UK football community struggled to know what Meadowbank Thistle were actually for back in the day there is absolutely no doubt, in Scotland at least, that their rebirth as Livingston is one of the best things that has happened in the 46 years of the nation's Premier Division.

Meadowbank Milestones

  • The Edinburgh club were once forced to move their home league match with Cowdenbeath in the late 1970s to a Friday night (unusual in Scotland back then), as Meadowbank Stadium was used as the home of the annual Scottish Horticultural Show on the Saturday afternoon and evening (Meadowbank lost the Friday game 6-1).
  • Sparse attendances at Meadowbank weren't helped in 1979 when George Best signed for capital rivals Hibs with home games at Easter Road and nearby Meadowbank Stadium sometimes on the same day.
  • Prog Rock keyboard hero Rick Wakeman decided to support the team in the late 1970s and football mad DJ John Peel also attended a couple of Meadowbank games.
  • The football fanzine era in Scotland largely started at Meadowbank. The football and music fanzine 'Cheers' was an invention of five Meadowbank fans in the late 1970's.
  • Meadowbank's punk credentials were stamped in the late 1970s when John Jobson signed for the club. The striker was the brother of chart breaking Punk Rockers 'The Skids' front man Richard Jobson.
  • When Highland League side Buckie Thistle knocked Meadowbank out of the Scottish Cup in the late 1970s in a replay after a draw in Edinburgh, one Scottish football reporter referred to Meadowbank as "a club that should consider its position in the Scottish League". Adding in a withering report of their exit from the Cup at Buckie "If Meadowbank were a boxer the trainer would have thrown in the towel by now, this team is Rocky in reverse".

The current Scottish League status is now four divisions of 12/10/10 and 10 teams playing each other four times in the league season.

Livingston Lowdown 
  • The club are based in the former West Lothian village of Livingston which was developed into a 'new town' in the 1950s. A sort of Scottish Milton Keynes, the town hosts Livingston FC at perhaps the most memorable of Scottish stadiums with naming rights, a restaurant chain giving the former Almondvale Stadium (built in 1995) the title 'The Tony Macaroni Arena'!
  • Livingston retain the colours and badge of the former Meadowbank Thistle.
  • Livingston's first home game at Almondvale was a 0-1 home defeat by Cowdenbeath in the Scottish Second Division in season 1995/6. The Livingston manager at the time was former Cowdenbeath player Jim Leishman, who was famous in Scottish football at the time for writing poetry. Leishman did have good form as a manager however, having taken Dunfermline Athletic from Division 2 to Premier League before joining Livingston as boss. Leishman actually ended up having two spells as Livingston boss.
  • Former Celtic, Chelsea and Scotland full back David Hay led Livingston to their first national silverware as manager in 2004 when they beat Hibs to lift the Scottish League Cup at Hampden. A third place Premier League finish in 2002 gave Livingston a passage to the UEFA Cup. They beat FC Vaduz of Liechtenstein before going out to Austrian side Strum Graz.
  • Other notable managers in the Livingston years have been former Scottish Internationals Richard Gough, Paul Lambert and John Robertson.
  • It was maybe over ambition that led the club to a financial crisis and subsequent demotion to Scottish Division 3 in the late 2000s, but in the grand scheme of Livingston history this is now merely a blip as the club gained back to back promotions back to the Scottish top flight, got its cash flow in order and carried on.
  • Livingston's most famous export to England is Robert Snodgrass (79 appearances and 15 goals for Livingston).
  • Although he famously supports Port Vale Robbie Williams has indicated he watches out for Livingston's results.

This piece was kindly written and given to @TFHBs by Alex Horsburgh - you can follow him on Twitter: @Alexecky

©The Football History Boys, 2020


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