Spartans stay rooted in the community ahead of Hearts cup tie

David versus Goliath clash will be held at Ainslie Park, where Spartans' vital community work is also based.

It is the classic David versus Goliath cup tie – two Edinburgh neighbours who could scarcely be more different in profile.

The Spartans, recently promoted to League Two after more than 70 years in non-league competition, will play host to the capital city institution that is Heart of Midlothian, one of Scottish football’s most successful clubs.

And while Spartans will face potentially their biggest ever challenge on the field at Ainslie Park on Saturday, their vital work away from the pitch will be showcased in noise and colour from the sidelines.

The Spartans “Ultras North” are producing a large display – known as a tifo – for the televised tie against the Tynecastle side.

It will be latest project for the group, which was formed out of the youth work carried out by the Spartans Community Foundation.

The youngsters formed the group after attending the youth work centre at Spartans, which carries out a variety of work in the North Edinburgh community including youth clubs, alternative schooling, health and wellbeing initiatives, and breakfast and tea clubs where local youngsters can get a warm meal after school or on weekends.

Youth work manager Kenny Cameron said: “They’re a youth group that wanted to show their support for Spartans Football Club at the matches and do a bit more with tifos, displays and banners.

“They’ve developed into making some quite spectacular tifos and their most up to date one will be for the Hearts game.

“Some of these young people have been involved with Spartans Community Foundation since they were three-years-old, in nursery. We work in the local primary schools and we’ve built a relationship with some of them there.

“The ultras are involved in various clubs, some of them come to get their tea here and a lot of them come to breakfast club on a Saturday morning – so on a match day they could be here at Ainslie Park from 9am all the way until the game finishes after 6pm.

“It is a long day but it is good because we know they are safe here, we are able to engage with them and they are happy because they get something to eat and they can also cheer on Spartans.”

Ainslie Park is located within communities acknowledged to be among the most deprived in Scotland. The percentage of young people not in education or employment in North Edinburgh is above national averages, as are crime rates and health indicators.

After 16 years, the youth work centre that houses the ultras club and the many other sides of Spartans community wing needs to be renovated – and Cameron believes the community’s need for the facility is greater than ever.

He said: “I think it is bizarre to think that the challenges facing the families of young people in the area have actually got worse, for a variety of reasons.

“On the back of Covid and with the cost of living crisis, we are finding that more and more families are needing that extra support.

“At every club we run there is a food aspect to it, whether that is young people making themselves stuff or us putting on food for them.

“Sadly there has been a massive upturn, from what we can see, in poverty and the conditions that children are living in in this area.

“We work for these young people, they own this, this is their space. This building has served us well but it is coming to the end of its shelf life and we massively need this new youth work space that we are fundraising for and hoping to build.”

The ultras have also helped bring the community foundation and the football club even closer together, with the Spartans players engaging with young people on matchdays.

Spartans winger Danny Denholm, who joined the club in the summer and now volunteers part-time with the community foundation, said: “I didn’t know much about the ultras at Spartans until my first game. I came out and they had this huge display that wouldn’t look out of place at a big stadium, never mind here.

“It keeps the lads on task, it keeps them engaged and I think it has helped to grow the club organically.

“Something the gaffer [Dougie Samuel] says to us is that these guys look up to us and every single player here takes time to speak to the young lads.

“It is weird – we are League Two footballers but you can see that they look up to us and we have that relationship with them. It is great to see.

“Saturday is absolutely massive. It is an Edinburgh derby! I’ve played against Hearts in the cup before but not with a club from this neck of the woods so I know the gravitas of it.

“To keep it at Ainslie Park as well was really important because it means we keep it in the community, which is huge.”

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