BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
When Tom Allison founded Lothian Thistle in 1969, he never in his wildest dreams imagined that one day they would by eyeing a place in the last 16 of the Scottish Cup.
They plied their trade in front of one man and his dog on local parks in Edinburgh’s Gyle area. They did not even have goal-nets for their kickabouts in the lower reaches of the Lothian Amateur League.
Forty-six years on, and the name may have changed following their 2009 merger with Hutchison Vale, but that has done nothing to dampen Allison’s pride after watching his minnows from the capital make history.
The 69-year-old, now secretary and honorary chairman of Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale (LTHV), was in attendance for Monday’s 3-0 win over Huntly in the third round replay, despite a persistent chest infection. Wild dogs would not have kept him from Ainslie Park.
That triumph tees up a fourth round tie against Lowland League outfit East Kilbride Thistle – ensuring a side from out-with the SPFL will be in the last-16.
“I founded Lothian Thistle back in 1969 and was their manager back then,” recalled Allison. “I was with them in the Lothian Amateur divisions, through to the Caledonian Leagues and then we came into the East of Scotland League.
“We used to go down at play at the Gyle and we didn’t even have nets at that time. There were just 11 players – no substitutes – and we had our wee hold-all with water and some medical equipment. Nobody really watched!
“It’s been a long journey and, if you had said 46 years ago that this is where we would be, I would have laughed you out of the room. We’ve come a long way.
“Monday was the biggest win we’ve ever had and this cup run has been historic. It has been the first time we have beaten a league team, Montrose, and the first time we have beaten the reigning Junior champions, Kelty Hearts, and now we’ve beaten a Highland team. We have certainly set a few benchmarks.”
However, Allison is uncomfortable with the notion of taking any credit following an unforgettable evening at Ainslie Park – borrowed for the night from Edinburgh neighbours Spartans after LTHV’s Saughton Enclosure home was waterlogged.
“It’s not for me to take any credit for what we have achieved,” he continued. “The players and staff have done a wonderful job and worked so hard to raise the bar and get to where we are. They deserve all the credit.
“I think Spartans and Whitehill are the only clubs from this area to have done this, so it is a wonderful achievement from the players and the coaches.
“We also want to thank Spartans, who allowed us to host the tie against Huntly, and all of the supporters at Ainslie Park who came out and backed us.”
Allison believes the progress made is testament to the success of the partnership between Lothian Thistle and Hutchison Vale, with the latter’s renowned boys club structure proving invaluable.
Hutchie have produced the likes of John Collins, Leigh Griffiths, Allan McGregor, Kenny Miller and Ian Murray – and Allison believes the affiliation has given the next generation an even better opportunity to make their mark.
“It has proved very successful and it was an easy decision to make,” he continued. “Hutchie Vale have a terrific record of bringing through young players and give them a real chance.
“Teaming up with Lothian Thistle allows those boys a pathway to the East of Scotland League so they are playing senior, competitive football.”
The challenge is now to go one step further by defeating East Kilbride and potentially setting up a tie against one of Scottish football’s big guns.
Allison does, however, acknowledge that their rivals from the West will have the same idea.
He added: “In all fairness, East Kilbride will think this is a wonderful opportunity for them to reach the next round and they should be commended for their own great results. It will be a very tight match. They are a good side and it’ll be a fine occasion.”