Spartans FC reveal plans for more rugby at Wardie – but hedge bets on Super 6

Action from last week's match between Scotland U20s and a Club XV
Representative games such as this one between Scotland U20s and a Club XV could be played at Wardie if plans get the go-ahead. Image: © Craig Watson.

A PLANNED redevelopment of playing fields in north Edinburgh could see a number of rugby teams join existing tenants Broughton in training and playing there. The Spartans Football Club want to install an all-weather pitch at Wardie that could be used by other clubs as well as by Scotland age-group sides, and have had talks with Scottish Rugby about their plans. They would also consider working with a Super 6 franchise, but have accepted that their proposed 500-seat stand might be seen as too small to host games in the proposed competition.

Spartans play in the Lowland League, the fifth tier of Scottish senior football, and are based at Ainslie Park, less than a mile from Wardie playing fields. Edinburgh Leisure own the Wardie site, so Spartans would either have to buy it or agree a long-term lease before proceeding with their project, as well as receiving planning permission.

The Spartans Community Football Academy at Ainslie Park is a registered charity, and the aim is to run Wardie along similar lines, as Spartans chairman Craig Graham told The Offside Line. “The charity is a social enterprise,” he said. “We run sporting facilities commercially, and use the profit to make a social impact in north Edinburgh, particularly with young people.

“What we see in the Wardie site is an opportunity to really extend what we do in our existing site at Ainslie Park. Ainslie Park is predominantly football-based – we’re using football as the hook to deliver as much positive social change as we can. The potential for Wardie is that we add both gymnastics [in a new multi-sport building] and rugby – the people that back us, whether it’s our funders or the Scottish Government, have been asking us for many years to extend what we do to other sports.”

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“We’ve had a number of chats with Broughton, who are very much partners in this development. The plan would be to make their grass pitch a synthetic pitch, and they would be our anchor tenant. They’ve got a men’s team and a women’s team, and they also participate in BATS, the junior section [in which other local clubs also participate].

“We’ve also talked to the junior sections of a number of other local rugby clubs, so hopefully they’ll get involved as well. And there might even be the chance for one of the other adult men’s and women’s teams to also play there. The final rugby bit is discussions we’ve had with the SRU about this type of facility being used for age-group training sessions or matches, to help us fill the calendar.”

Super 6 franchise

Graham declined to name those clubs or individuals with whom he has had discussions about possible use of Wardie by a Super 6 franchise, but contrary to previous suggestions that Spartans would be part of a bid, their potential role would more likely be restricted to that of landlords. “We have talked to Super 6 guys as you’d expect – we’ve talked to a whole number of people in the Edinburgh area about what they might do,” he continued.

“Our interest there would be very much to hopefully build a facility that could be used for a variety of clubs, and if there’s an Edinburgh franchise around and this met the bill for them, it’s a possibility. But I’m sure they’ve also got a number of other sites across town.”

While the football club would in theory welcome potential investment by Scottish Rugby, their commitment to the local community would have to come first. Mark Dodson, the governing body’s chief executive, has refused to specify the size of attendances he hopes for in Super 6,  but a main stand of just 500 with room for a similar number standing around the pitch would appear to be setting the bar too low for a level of competition designed to be a replacement for the existing BT Premiership.

“If they were up at 2,000 or 3,000, I really don’t think that this would be the site for them, because I don’t think that’s what we’re looking to build,” Graham added of potential Super 6 franchise bidders. “If that was the case they’d probably be better looking elsewhere.

“At one point a few years ago we looked at Edinburgh Rugby playing at Ainslie Park. But this [the Wardie plan] is predominantly aimed at participation, whether in matches or training.

“Our current place at Ainslie Park has become a bit of a social home. It’s used by a breastfeeding mothers’ club at one end of the spectrum, at the other we’ve got walking football for older men, and we’ve got every age in between. It’s very common for grandparents to bring their grandchildren for their football then sit in the cafe and read the paper or have a coffee while the kids are out playing. It’s about somewhere the community can genuinely call their home, and that’s what I would hope we could replicate at Wardie.”

Earlier this week Graham explained the plans to a meeting of local residents, and while some were broadly in favour, others were strenuously opposed. Some residents are concerned about the uncertainty regarding which teams may be playing at Wardie and what size of crowds they might attract, while another, Rick Loup, also voiced safety concerns.

“I’ve always respected Spartans and their ambitions, but I object completely to this proposal,” he said. “I don’t want a municipal greenfield space developed in any significant way. I still don’t understand the objective of the Spartans project, and I’m very concerned about road safety and parking in this area, which is already dangerous.”

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About Stuart Bathgate 1414 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.