Tiny Scot­tish club’s earn­ing no­to­ri­ety with long win­ning run

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

They've re­ceived con­grat­u­la­tory emails from a US re­al­ity TV star, praise and sup­port from a Hol­ly­wood ac­tor, and 27 cases of beer from one of the most sto­ried football teams in Europe.

Play­ers from tiny Glas­gow football side East Kil­bride are cur­rently the talk of the Scot­tish game — and be­yond — thanks to a 27-match win­ning run that the club says is “cre­at­ing his­tory.”

Ajax holds the world record for con­sec­u­tive vic­to­ries at 26, achieved in the top flight of Dutch football in the 1971-72 sea­son with a team con­tain­ing greats like Jo­han Cruyff and Jo­han Neeskens. Of­fi­cially, East Kil­bride hasn't bro­ken that record since it plays in the fifth tier of Scot­tish football, but Ajax doesn't see it that way.

Af­ter the fi­nal whis­tle went on East Kil­bride's 27th straight win in the Low­land League, an Ajax-branded van was driven onto the field at the club's K-Park ground and the crates of beer were re­vealed be­hind its slid­ing side door. Also in­side was a con­grat­u­la­tory video mes­sage from Ed­win van der Sar, the for­mer Ajax goal­keeper and a cur­rent di­rec­tor at the club.

“It was a fan­tas­tic ges­ture,” East Kil­bride chair­man Mark Horner told The As­so­ci­ated Press on Wed­nes­day. “The fact that Ajax rec­og­nizes it (as a record), that's the main thing for us.”

East Kil­bride's play­ers usu­ally play in front of around 100 spec­ta­tors at the team's com­mu­nity-funded play­ing fa­cil­ity that is lo­cated about eight miles (13 kilo­me­ters) south­east of Glas­gow, a city that has two huge, fa­mous football clubs — Celtic and Rangers. Turn­ing out for “Kilby,” as the team is known lo­cally, is a merry band of elec­tri­cians, plumbers, teach­ers and of­fice work­ers who don't get paid to play football, ex­cept for ex­penses.

Now they have a place in the spot­light, with news out­lets in Bri­tain and other coun­tries in Europe and the Mid­dle East cov­er­ing the club's achieve­ment of win­ning 14 matches at the end of last sea­son fol­lowed by 13 at the start of this sea­son.

Ja­cob Kean, East Kil­bride's goal­keeper, told the AP that the club has been sent emails by Sig Hansen, cap­tain of the North­west­ern boat that's the fo­cus of the “Dead­li­est Catch” doc­u­men­tary se­ries on the Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel.

“He's a big fan of the club,” said Kean, who is a joiner/car­pen­ter for his fa­ther's build­ing firm.

Horner said East Kil­bride-born ac­tor John Han­nah, who had roles in movies like The Mummy Re­turns and Slid­ing Doors, also is a sup­porter and has bought into the dream of a club that was only formed in 2010.

East Kil­bride is a so-called “new town” built in 1947 as part of the over­flow from nearby Glas­gow. It now has a pop­u­la­tion of 80,000 and a football team of which to be proud, the fo­cal point of a com­mu­nity trust es­tab­lished by lo­cal busi­ness­men who wanted to put some­thing back into the area where they grew up. Among the back­ers for the project is Ally McCoist, a for­mer Rangers and Scot­land striker.

“Where we play used to be a muddy field with two high­land cows on it,” said East Kil­bride of­fi­cial Ian Aitchi­son. “Now it's a field of dreams.”

East Kil­bride's ca­pac­ity at KPark is for 500 spec­ta­tors. Plans are afoot for a new fa­cil­ity, hold­ing 6,000 spec­ta­tors, to be built about a mile (two kilo­me­ters) away.

“The new sta­dium is an­other part of the jig­saw,” Horner said. “Our main am­bi­tion is to play in League Two (fourth tier) of Scot­tish football, as then we're a se­nior club.” That could soon be a re­al­ity. East Kil­bride is 14 points clear in the Low­land League and is in line to en­ter a play­off sys­tem at the end of the sea­son, when it could get the chance to play the last-place team in League Two.

The im­me­di­ate pri­or­ity is ex­tend­ing the 27-match win­ning run, and next up is a game against Stir­ling Uni­ver­sity on Thurs­day. How­ever long the streak stretches, though, it will never make it into the of­fi­cial record book.

“This is an out­stand­ing achieve­ment from East Kil­bride, a club clearly go­ing places and one their fans can be ex­tremely proud of,” Guin­ness World Records said in an email to the AP. “How­ever, due to the dif­fer­ing stan­dards of pro­fes­sional football around the world, we only mon­i­tor records achieved in top di­vi­sion football. No Guin­ness World Records ti­tle on this oc­ca­sion but a hugely im­pres­sive feat none­the­less.”

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