“That is absolute PISH, St Johnstone!”
Ian, sitting next to me is RAGING, and he is correct – it really is. It’s May 1989 and this is my first visit to Meadowbank Stadium for a football match. Shouldn’t have bothered. Still, I can’t say I’m too perturbed. It’s a warm May evening, The Stone Roses have just released their eponymous debut album and I’m meeting my mate Olaf later to go to Shag (settle down at the back, it’s a long-defunct club on Edinburgh’s Victoria Street). What makes me even happier, and able to block out the fact that we have just gone a goal behind to Meadowbank is the knowledge that at full-time, the steward, Stevie The Plank (no, I don’t know either), who like me is a Perth boy lost to Edinburgh, is going to show us the Queen’s personal toilet. This semi-mythical facility is reserved solely for Her Britannic Majesty’s regal buttocks and a throwback to when the stadium was used for the 1970 and 1986 Commonwealth Games.
Ten minutes later and Meadowbank are two-up. Ian is apoplectic. I am also somewhat distressed, as I have just noticed Stevie taking off his hi-vis jacket and wandering off down the tunnel. This is not looking good…
St Johnstone rally and peg one back but Meadowbank hold on for a deserved 2-1 victory. I’m up and out of my seat like a greyhound after the hare but my search is for Stevie The Plank, who has completely disappeared. Crestfallen I approach another steward at least a foot taller than me and around two foot broader. “Excuse me, you haven’t seen Stevie have you – he promised me a tour of the Queen’s old toilet?” He doesn’t even look at me, just gesticulates with his thumb to the exit. “It’s just that Stevie said…” I stop, as the massive steward’s eyes snap round to mine and I decide an orderly retreat is my safest option.
Five minutes later as I trudge away from the ground I think to myself, that’s it – I’ll never get another chance.
Fast-forward a couple of decades and once again I am let loose around Meadowbank Stadium, resplendent in all its Brutalist glory. There is no football on today though, indeed no sport of any kind. The bulldozers will shortly replace the rugby scrum and soon the wrecking ball will echo the arcing swing of the long-gone hammer throwers. The stadium has finally crossed the finishing line. I’m here thanks to Jo, the manager of the Meadowbank sports complex, to take photos before the stadium is closed permanently. I casually ask about the Queen’s toilet (I don’t want to appear too keen). “No problem – we can have a look at that later.” My heart beats a little faster.
It seems somehow blasphemous to concentrate on football when Meadowbank hosted pretty much every sport possible over its 50-year lifespan. However I realised years ago that I had no interest in sport, which is why I like football so much.
Football has always played an important part in the Meadowbank story though. Before the modern stadium was built in 1970, the old Meadowbank stadium was, from 1936 to 1955, the home of Leith Athletic FC. From 1996 until the present day Edinburgh City moved in and brought league football back to the stadium when they were promoted to the Second Division for the 2016/17 season.
No talk of football and Meadowbank is however complete without mentioning the old Ferranti Thistle works team who moved in at the start of the 1975/76 season and in so doing acquired not only a new home but a new name as well: Meadowbank Thistle. What followed was a roller-coaster 20 years that ended in the ignominy of the club being once more uprooted, this time to Livingston, 20 miles to the west, and again being renamed, this time to Livingston FC (gone was the beloved Thistle suffix).
Looking back now, Meadowbank were a much more successful team than most of us realised at the time. They quickly gained promotion from the old second division and it was only that eternal curse of identity-stricken Scottish football, league reconstruction, which denied them the chance of promotion to the Premier Division after finishing in second place in the league in the 1985/86 season.
In 1971 at a world five-a-side championships Meadowbank would play host to players of the calibre of Stanley Matthews, Tom Finney, Bobby Charlton and Ferenc Puskas (who was joined by two other members of THAT Hungary team, Gyula Grocics and Nandor Hidegkuti). The Magnificent Magyars were at Meadowbank.
I’ve been to the odd match at Meadowbank after that very first one. It wasn’t the greatest venue to watch football (although Hampden gave it a run for its money). I always had a soft spot for the place though. It was all angles and ledges, with strange geometries and concrete terraces, all presided over by a giant scoreboard that was a gift to Edinburgh from the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. It stopped working decades ago.
Whenever I watched a game here it always felt like I was at some lower-league match in Europe. It wasn’t Edinburgh City against Civil Service Strollers, but Tours against Angers or Wacker Innsbruck (surely a bully from the Beano?) lining up against Austria Lustenau. There was a distinctly un-Scottish feel about the place that I always liked. Maybe it was the bleached orange seats in the stand giving the impression of sunnier climes or the tree-lined perimeter like some enclave in the forests of southern Germany. Whatever it was, I liked it and I will miss it.
When, on April 29, 2017, from just outside the penalty box, Edinburgh City’s Derek Riordan (for it was he) swung his right boot to place a last-minute winner past the Stirling Albion goalkeeper, the days of Meadowbank as a football venue were at an end – well, temporarily at least: a new stadium is planned with Edinburgh City hoping to move back sometime in the first half of the next decade.
I say thanks to Jo. I’ve got all the photos I need. As she leads me over the running track to the exit I take a last look at the place. It’s still a fine looking piece of architecture. The old commentary position hangs down from the roof of the stand (they had to move it because the commentators couldn’t see Lane 8 of the running-track due to the roof overhang) and the lovely old pylon floodlights quietly stand guard over their domain. We part company at the main exit and she locks the door behind me.
Five minutes later as I trudge away from the ground I stop in my tracks. SHE FORGOT TO SHOW ME THE QUEEN’S TOILET! I take a last look back and think to myself that it just wasn’t meant to be and that this time, I really will never get another chance.