Friday 9th July 2021 – New Central Park – The Premier Sports Cup
There’s a new name of the scene in Scotland this season. For football ground purists it has meant saying goodbye to the most famous hedge in British football as Brechin City, and their picturesque Glebe Park have said goodbye, but they have been replaced by Kelty Hearts, who will I am sure become a firm favourite of those who like to take in a new stadium or two on their travels.
After winning the 2019/20 Lowland League on points per game, Kelty Hearts were denied promotion due to COVID-19. When they repeated the feat in 2020/21 there was a fear lightning would strike twice, but a decision to continue with the Scottish Football League, albeit in a reduced format, meant that they faced off against Brechin City in May, winning 3-1 on aggregate. Their reward was a spot in the fourth tier of Scottish Football for the first time since they were formed in 1975.
Whilst their fans had one eye on the announcement of the league fixtures, the traditional pre-season period also contained the group stages of the League Cup which would see them take part (along with Highland League champions Brora Rangers) in six games against opposition from all four divisions. Their opening game would see one of the most famous names in Scottish football, Dundee United come to New Central Park and be televised to boot.
The Jambos had former Birmingham City and Rangers midfielder Barry Ferguson to thank for their climb up from Lowland League but he had departed in the summer for Alloa Athletic. They had retained the majority of their promotion-winning squad and based on the performances of over promoted teams in recent years such as Cove Rangers and Edinburgh City, will fancy their chances of a shot at the play-offs.
This would be the first opportunity for many fans to see the team since they won promotion. Kelty is a small village about 25 minutes drive north of Edinburgh, almost cuddling the M90 with Dunfermline and Cowdenbeath just to the south. It is also less than an hour from Dundee and so the limited number of tickets that went on sale were snapped up within hours.
New Central Park sits in the middle of the village – anyone planning on a wild night out here will be bitterly disappointed, although the one pub here, the Kings, is a decent bar. The ground is a mix of the old, with two equal sized covered terraces sitting opposite a newer, main stand, with the ends behind the goal standing on a couple of concrete steps. The north end of the ground has tall trees that give way to views in the distance of the Lomond Hills. With limited capacity, many of the younger locals took up their position in the playground of the primary school next door, offering perfect views.
There was a real community feel not only as you entered the ground and were warmly welcomed, despite as the turnstile operator said, “turning my back on England”, but also watching and listening to the locals inside the ground. Many saw this as a real test of the squad, whilst others as a “gimme”, where the result wasn’t that important at all.
In the end it was a single goal, by the prolific Lawrence Shankland late in the game that decided a tight game, perhaps a bit harsh on the home side who generated more chances in the match, especially in the first period. Both teams, with new management teams in the dugout, set their sides up as 4-4-1-1, meaning time on the ball was at a premium. Nevertheless, Joe Cardle brought saves from the Dundee United keeper in the opening ten minutes before Shankland almost giving the visitors the lead but his shot was well saved at the other end.
It was clear that there was a fair number of Dundee United fans in the crowd. With a normal capacity at New Central Park of just 2,100, there was no more than a few hundred in the ground in total but there seemed to be away fans dotted all around. The low grumbles about the performance of their team permeated the air – whilst they were finally back in the Premier League, there was an uncertain feeling about the season ahead.
The second half was high on energy but low on chances at goal. With fifteen minutes remaining, Freeman’s cross found Shankland unmarked at the far post and he made no mistake. The home side rallied but never really looked like troubling the United goal as the clock wound down.
Kelty Hearts next game in the competition sees them host East Fife in what could be considered a derby in these parts, hoping to test themselves against a side a little bit closer to their mark.
I’m sure the club will win many new hearts as they begin their journey in the Scottish Football Leagues – it is a great venue, with very friendly fans and club officials located close enough to Edinburgh for most passing through.