Toddling Along to Tynecastle

“Coming back to Edinburgh is to me like coming home.”

Don’t let the title mislead you, today was not a another visit to my boyhood heroes, rather a trip to EoSFL Premier Division side Tynecastle who faced Kinnoull just over a mile away from the famous ground they share their name with. It was however a long overdue return to Auld Reekie, my first time in the capital since that ‘Homecoming to Hearts‘ back in May of 2019. No disrespect to my hosts, who are often reported to be a rather exciting side to watch, but I was looking forward to the beer this afternoon just as much as the fitba. My adventure was to begin at a couple of boozers I’d long wanted to report on, both located in the city’s iconic Rose Street; the legendary Dirty Dick’s and a craft ale palace called Fierce Bar Edinburgh.

Forget the badge that has 1928 embroidered upon it, this Tynecastle Football Club began life in 2005 as an amalgamation of future megastar factory Tynecastle Boys Club (who in fairness were formed ninety six years ago) and senior side Tollcross United. Dressed like Arsenal and based at Fernieside Recreation Park, Tollcross were founded in 1971 and played in the EoSFL from ’87 until the merger. Never making much of an impact in the league, their sole success with silverware came in 1998 when they lifted the very much still prestigious Alex Jack Cup. In a statement made back in 2005, United’s secretary Alistair Wilkie said the coming together of the two clubs was because his side: “struggled to encourage young players to join and the tie up with Tynecastle is the only way forward.” Regardless of the reasoning, the move has been a good one for all concerned. The new club has an Alex Jack Cup as well as a South & East of Scotland Cup-Winners Shield to boast about and, despite the influx of strong Junior clubs into the East of Scotland set-up, have solidified their position as a Premier Division team.

When I called Tynecastle Boys Club a ‘future megastar factory’ it was hyperbole that ironically bordered on understatement, for the list of talent which emerged from that youth organisation is quite simply stunning. For me the first great name is Dundee United‘s only Premier Division winning captain Paul Hegarty. The defender was a Tynecastle kid until signing for Hamilton Academical in 1972, but is most famed for playing 493 league games for The Arabs, as well as eight times for Scotland, between ’74 and ’90. Next up is the Liverpool, Rangers and Sampdoria icon turned torn-faced Sky Sports pundit Graeme Souness. The marvelously moustachioed midfielder, raised in nearby Saughton, left Tynecastle to win four English league titles as a player as well as one Scottish title, the Coppa Italia, three European Cups and much more. Oh and he played in three FIFA World Cups, while making fifty four Scotland appearances too. Finally, another household name to emerge from today’s hosts is a five time FA Premier League champion and one of Manchester United‘s greatest ever box-to-box midfielders; Darren Fletcher. At Old Trafford he also got his hands on Champion’s League and FIFA World Club Championship winners medals while amassing eighty caps for our national side, many of which he earned as captain.

Pre-match Pints

You need to be careful when Googling Dirty Dick’s. Upon trying to do that myself Google Maps gave the opening time as 11am on a Saturday, a fact that happened to be completely false and not fault of the bar at all. Now hanging around Rose Street like a spare prick, I headed briefly into the Rose & Crown which was nothing to write home about, except the rather delicious Stewart Brewing Holyrood pale ale at £4.90 a pint, before finding a shoap that was most interesting indeed. Out on South Charlotte Street I entered the large and reasonably busy Shandwick’s, which was doing Coors Light at £1.95 a pint and a very reasonably priced selection of malts too. Back in my Tillicoultry local Coors is £3.60 a pint, never mind Edinburgh City centre and my pint here plus a Cragganmore was less than six quid! In that last place I saw a bloke pay £8.35 for a double Jack & Coke without batting an eyelid. Enjoying my drinks I get the opportunity to ask the boss about what the hell is going on with these prices. She admits it has caused controversy, but is correct in her assertion that if they do their job and don’t serve the pished then cheap drink does not result in a den of drunkenness. For example they offer whole bottles of spirits with jugs of mixers, Smirnoff being just under fifty quid, however they sensibly will not sell this offer to groups less than six. Great place; super friendly, well worn but completely clean and obviously much loved. Would be rude not to stay for a Lagavulin, which was enjoyed as a gang of young lads are all checked for ID.

Finally after an hour’s fannying about I insert myself into the marvel that is Dirty Dick’s. My notebook was out to write down a description of the place but I simply couldn’t, it is almost indescribable. The best I can say and I mean it in one hundred percent a positive way is that Dirty Dick’s is a dark hovel with tonnes of shite hanging from the ceiling and on the walls, lit by fairy lights as well as candles. What kinda shite? Well we had pewter tankards, a Coca-Cola bucket, malt whiskey boxes, brass plaques, convex mirrors, metal brewery signs and much, much more. Plus you know what? The entire effect is utterly beautiful, perhaps it is the most outstandingly gorgeous boozer I’ve ever been in. Decor aside the drink is grand too, a pint of Fyne Ales Jarl is poured from a hand pump into an old school glass tankard and tastes great. Hundreds of pubs visited by the Fitba Nomad and that is my first beer from such a vessel. DD’s is busy from opening with the kitchen serving good Scottish home cooked fayre going great guns. It is so easy to see why, this bar is one of the truly iconic public houses in the whole of the land and everyone who has ever enjoyed a pint should give it a go.

Finally I find myself in Fierce Bar Edinburgh, as I’ve stated before I knew the company founders Dave and Louise Grant back when they were making home brew and it is fantastic to see them doing so well. It has been a great disservice to my old friends however that this is only my first visit to their second Scottish bar. Entering I discover that Covid rules are still tightly in place; table service in operation and card payments only. That’s fine, having a staff being coronavirus free is good for their health and means the doors stay open. Starting with a glorious pint of Hazy IPA and joined by a friend who’s on the lager we enjoy both pints in a setting that strongly reminds me of Copenhagen’s original Mikkeller Bar. Beer begun, we order food too and my pulled brisket sandwich is utterly amazing, strangely although my ‘skin on’ fries appear perfectly normal they are in fact the best bit about the meal. Someone in that kitchen clearly knows how to season. The delay in getting here means I don’t get to spend the time I want to, however I have seen and experienced enough to know we have another top drawer craft beer bar in the capital and its location at the end of Rose Street makes it feel like the gateway pub into the city centre if arriving from Haymarket way.

The Ground

After a thirty minute walk from the city centre along the stunning Union Canal I finally find myself at Meggetland Sports Complex. Home to Tynecastle since the switch from the Saughton Enclosure in 2018, she has a number of ‘real’ and synthetic pitches made for a numerous different sports, with our hosts using the main grass surface along with SRU Super Six side Boroughmuir RFC. The main pitch is a lush flat surface (with one corner slightly raised) and for today the egg chasing markings have been painted over to allow the superior football lines to stand out strongly. It is quite the place, one end is just grass and fencing, while a single touchline has concrete terracing. However behind the other goal a rugby club bar sits high over the pitch with more terracing while we have a massive stand on the remaining touchline. That main stand is a beauty, fully seated with an arched roof not unlike the one at Fleetwood Town’s Highbury or more famously Huddersfield Town‘s Kirklees Stadium. The front row is some eight foot higher than the pitch, meaning great views are available to all.

Sadly in a ground good enough for the SPFL only a couple of dozen punters have shown up today, there being more subs and officials in the stand than supporters. How can this be? We are in a heavily residential part of the city and Heart of Midlothian are away from home. Gutted to see a team play at this level without anyone to cheer them on. A big plus however is that Boroughmuir club bar, open throughout the game and with stunning views itself from behind the goal. The fact you can drink during the game makes the lack of crowd even more annoying, it is a very pleasant place to imbibe and enjoy football. Worth noting that entering the bar from the road means anyone can access pitch side and bypass the turnstile, a loophole that really needs closing.

The Game

As someone who writes about football I have to confess that the actual match report sections in my articles are definitely the weakest part. One of my more tenuous ‘friends’ regularly points out, “you know more about the rim of a pie than you do about the fitba.” Well folks the following maybe my worst report yet, as the match at Meggetland (though no fault of either team) failed to spark my imagination and, due to circumstances beyond my control, I was required to leave before the end. I expected a rout this afternoon with Tynecastle a top flight side, compared to Kinnoull a mid-table Conference B club, and before I had a bite out of my pie the homes side were indeed one nil up. The fully maroon clad boys were pretty good at knocking the ball about on the lovely surface and almost doubled then could have tripled the advantage before the half hour mark (that third chance would certainly have gone in if not for the striker making a ridiculous rabona attempt).

From then on the very loud ref and some rather over zealous assistants conspired to slow things down. As I moved to watch the action high above the pitch with a drink from that rugby club bar, very debatable offsides were given with certainty and anyone arguing had the official roar “You want a yella card?!” at them until they backed down. In the second period, before I had to go, Kinnoull began to shine. They received a number of corners early in the period and a few other chances that the home goalie, with a boot like Thor’s hammer Mjollnir, managed to clear away. At the same time Kinnoull pressure gave space to Tynecastle on the break, acres of space in fact and with both sides having chances galore it was little surprise to me that the match finished a 2-2 draw. The hosts would not be pleased one imagines, after three games they sit third in League Cup Group L with both teams above them coming from lower in the pyramid. However, given they could still be drawn into a Premier Division relegation bun fight, perhaps they are concentrating on the league at the expense of having a cup run. On the other hand the visitors should be delighted to grab the point at a top division side, staying in the cup hunt.

The Aftermath

Unlike Charles Dickens I cannot say returning to Edinburgh is as coming home to me, however being back in our nation’s capital for the first time since before the pandemic sure felt good. Despite being delayed I was blown away by Dirty Dick’s, a pub that I must reiterate is essential for any beer fan to visit. If you like dark windowless rooms, stunning ales, a spectacular malt selection and an abundance of random shite on the walls then it really is the place for you. Then if modern craft beer is more your thing Fierce Bar Edinburgh is a perfect example of the genre. The BBQ menu provided by Smoke and Soul is stupendous and I’ll need at least three more visits to sample everything I want from it.

As far as the fitba was concerned Tynecastle really are a top East of Scotland side on the pitch but seem to lack the following of other Premier Division side like Linlithgow Rose, Dunbar United or even my local side Sauchie Juniors. I have to say I really don’t understand why either. We have a great ground where pies, bovril, booze and comfort are easily available. It exists in a densely populated area where people appear to have the means to spend seven quid a fortnight on the fitba and Tynecastle themselves are a fine side to watch. If you find yourself having a daunder along the Union Canal one Saturday afternoon and hear the sound of a pedantic referee roaring orders from Meggetland, take a detour and try it out. If you enjoy yourself then let others know and perhaps the crowds will grow. Hopefully they do as a club that has produced so many legends we’ve all adored certainly deserve a bit of adoration themselves.

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