Relocated in 1995, Livingston FC are now longer established than Meadowbank Thistle were when they operated as the successors of Edinburgh works team Ferranti.
Representing the New Town of Livingston 15 miles west of the Scottish capital, Livi have yet to regain the momentum of their early years, setting up at the new-build Almondvale Stadium winning three promotions, a European place and the Scottish League Cup in under a decade.
Livi last saw Premier action in 2006. The current side is making a rapid return to the Championship and can field former youth-team players such as Danny Mullen and Scottish under-17 international Matthew Knox, both strikers.
Livingston’s own birth date given on the club website is ‘Est 1943’. This refers to the works team of engineering factory Ferranti, an Edinburgh-based firm that helped developed radar. Playing in the local leagues, Ferranti Thistle entered the Scottish Cup in 1972 and was looking to membership of the Scottish League two years later when a third division was being created.
The club got the nod over a miffed Inverness Thistle by five votes, the lack of a suitable home ground a stumbling block until Edinburgh Council stepped in to provide the recently opened and underused Meadowbank Stadium. Unable to join the SFL under a sponsors’ name – Ferranti Thistle – the newcomers became Meadowbank Thistle.
For all the crowing when the idea of a move to Livingston was mooted, Meadowbank didn’t achieve too much over two decades of second- and third-tier football. One highlight would be the 5-1 win at Hamilton Academicals, eventual First Division champions that 1987-88 season when Meadowbank’s runners-up spot didn’t gain them promotion to the elite as the top tier was being reduced from 12 to ten teams.
Relegated to the newly created Third Division and playing before scant grounds at a long-neglected athletics stadium, cash-strapped Meadowbank were on already thin ice when the Livingston Development Corporation hatched a scheme not dissimilar to the one that moved Wimbledon to Milton Keynes a decade later. The club was uprooted from Edinburgh and plonked into a new stadium co-financed by the LDC, Almondvale.
Jim Leishman, successful with Dunfermline in the 1980s was appointed manager, fan discontent died down and Livingston got on with the job of taking over Meadowbank’s position in the then lowest tier, the Third Division.
Winning the title at first attempt, Livi by no means disgraced themselves in the third tier, immediately finishing one place from promotion then reaching the second flight in 1999.
By the time they won the First Division title in 2001, Livingston were attracting average gates of 3,600, a figure then doubled with regular games in the SPL against Celtic, Rangers and former city rivals Hibs and Hearts. Leishman had returned for a second stint as manager and his Livi side snuck in above Aberdeen to finish in third place.
Despite the arrival of later Argentina international Rolando Zárate and under-18 Spanish international Juanjo Camacho, Livingston fluffed their lines when making their European debut, scraping draws against lowly Vaduz of Liechtenstein and pulling back two stoppage-time goals at Sturm Graz to embellish a 5-0 pasting.
In the domestic game, Leishman gave way to his long-term assistant, Celtic legend Davie Hay, who led Livi to a surprise, and surprisingly easy, win in the Scottish League Cup final of 2004. With debts of £3.5 million, the club had overcome Aberdeen 3-2 after extra time in the quarter-final, then, on the same day as the semi with Dundee, been placed into administration. With players facing uncertain futures, Livingston held Dundee to 0-0 at nearby Easter Road before a last-minute penalty by former Dundee United striker Derek Lilley sent Livi to Hampden. There another Lilley goal opened the scoring against Hibs, Livi’s lead soon doubled by Scottish international defender Jamie McAllister.
The foolish sacking of Hay, compounded with the logistical constraints of administration, soon saw Livingston relegated, the hiring and firing of a string of unsuitable managers then, in 2009, a further period of administration and demotion.
Returned to the Third Division, Livi gained back-to-back promotions, the prolific Iain Russell scoring a goal every other game. Comfortable in the second tier, Livingston again suffered through financial mismanagement and were docked five points in 2014-15. In May 2016, a high-scoring play-off with Stranraer ended in aggregate defeat of 8-6, sending Livi to third-tier League One.
A satisfying campaign under David Hopkin looks to have steered Livingston back to the Championship for 2017-18.
Almondvale was the model the Taylor Report had in mind when it recommended wholesale changes of football grounds in the early 1990s. Built in that first wave of security-conscious, comfort-conscious all-seater grounds, the Almondvale Stadium also benefitted from its location in a New Town – no need to relocate from a squeezed-in location surrounded by cramped pre-war terracing housing, the host club had already relocated from Edinburgh.
Four neat stands surround a grass pitch, although now that Livi are back in League One, for 2016-17, only two are used, the West Stand for home fans, East Stand away. Assuming Championship football and bigger names coming in 2017-18, then the ground may revert back to allocating the north goal to visiting supporters and making the South Stand the home end.
Stands don’t have sponsors’ names – the stadium being called the Tony Macaroni Arena, part of a current branding agreement with a chain of Italian restaurants, is punishment enough.
Capacity is 9,000, all-seated, of course.
The stadium is a short walk from Livingston bus terminal – walk up to the roundabout and left down Almondvale Boulevard, past Vue, round College Roundabout, round Tony Macaroni, then follow the road past West Lothian College. The bus from Edinburgh takes 1hr.
The alternative is to get the quicker train to either Livingston North or South. From Livingston South, Horsburgh bus No.9 runs every 30min (Mon-Sat only) to Livingston bus terminal – journey time 5min.
Alternatively, it’s a 30min walk from Livingston South, up the access road, left down Murieston W Road, right at the vet’s up Murieston W Road, past the park to the end, over the roundabout to the end, and the junction with Dedridge W Road. Turn left there, follow that road to the end, then right past Morrisons, all the way up.
The walk from Livingston North to the ground is just as far – and more complicated.
Only showcase cup ties require advance ticketing. Livingston otherwise operate a simple pay-on-the-day policy of an across-the-board £12. Students, seniors and under-18s pay £10, under-16s £5.
Gates open an hour before kick-off.
A match-day club shop is just big enough to stock Livi Lion cuddly toys, old-school scarves, Tony Macaroni-sponsored replica shirts – polo shirts come without – and coffee mugs.
The only suitable outlet in the vicinity of the ground is halfway along the walk from the bus terminal, the Lime Kiln in the family-friendly Hungry Horse restaurant chain shows live sport and offers a mainsteam menu in terms of food and beers.
If you just need a bag of chips, then Marini’s, just past the first roundabout from the bus terminal, is where to head for.
The stadium has two bars: the Almondvale Suite behind the South Stand, and the main outlet behind the West Stand. Each opens at 12.30pm on a 3pm kick-off day.