Tiny Scottish club’s earning notoriety with long winning run
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.”