Edinburgh Harps flying the Irish flag in Scotland

Edinburgh Harps flying the Irish flag in Scotland

TURNING thoughtful ideas into actual reality can be demanding, but in Scotland a group of Irish emigrants walk the streets of the capital city proudly.  Edinburgh Harps’ debut season in the Lothian and Edinburgh Amateur Football Association’s Saturday league has been quite an adventure.

An April LEAFA Stead and Simpson Cup final defeat might have brought some pain and left enough regret to ensure that next year will be one in which silverware is craved.  Trophies were far from Colm Sweeney and Gary Gormley’s minds in 2012 when this journey commenced.

“Back then a group of us decided to set up an Irish Supporters club branch similar to what they have done in London,” Ashbourne native Sweeney explains about Edinburgh Harps’ start.  “We were in contact with them about how to get it going so we did it in Edinburgh.

“What we noticed was that the majority of lads that came down to our gatherings were aged between 20 and 30.  For some reason we didn’t really seem to attract that many older people.  Most of the lads were interested in playing so it took off from there.

“We started playing friendlies in 2012, it was a bit informal, but we started playing competitively in 2014 and we have acquitted ourselves quite well so far.

“Gary Gormley was instrumental too and we then just executed the plan we came up with.  We are delighted with how it has went.”

That is certainly the case even if penalty shoot-out decider loss to Craigroyston CYFC ruined the perfect end to the campaign.  Ultimately that was only one match in a tale featuring several interesting sub plots.

An old colleague of David De Gea from his Atletico Madrid underage days even wore a Harps jersey for a stint.

“We’ve assembled a very good squad, 85-90% are Irish born so it really is a home from home for the lads,” Sweeney says.  “The only thing I’d stress, though, is that the standard is very good, we aren’t just a pub side.

“For example three of our squad played for Derry City under 19s a couple of years ago.  We had a guy, who played on the same underage teams as David De Gea at Atletico Madrid; he worked in Subway, but he is gone now.

“Another guy we had played for Hercules until he was 17.  Being honest he is probably the best player that was involved in our league.

“When we have everybody available we have a good side.  It is unfortunate that we were beaten in the Cup final, but it showed us how far we’ve come.”

Edinburgh Harps. Edinburgh Harps.

The established Edinburgh Irish community have occupied a central role for Harps too according to Sweeney.  “The older people in the Irish community have been very helpful to us,” Sweeney admits.

“The sponsorship they’ve given to us has been brilliant.  Here you’ve a lot of older people from Mayo and Donegal in particular.  For instance an awful lot of people came from Achill direction here in the 1950s, and people have been willing to give us money because they see what we are trying to do.”

It is only now that people are becoming truly aware of what Edinburgh Harps have achieved in such a short space of time.  The upcoming UEFA Championships June 13 qualifier at the Aviva Stadium between the Republic of Ireland and Scotland will see Edinburgh Harps featured in the match programme.

“When Ireland play Scotland there will be a page in the match programme about us which is encouraging and will help more people see what we are trying to do.  It is a very big thing for us.  We are trying to get people up here to see what we are trying to do because it definitely is a nice story.”

Simon Keane’s Malone’s Bar remains the club’s spiritual home, but similar to other places the demographic of the Irish emigrants is altering in Edinburgh.  “Things have changed here dramatically during the past number of decades,” Sweeney reckons.  “The lads we have playing for us are pharmacists and doctors.  What we’ve noticed is that lads who might have went home before during the summers for work in Ireland don’t really do it as much anymore.

“Even when they are finished maybe traditionally they would have been able to get jobs in Ireland.  That isn’t really happening so much anymore; they are staying working in the medical profession here.  The demographics have changed hugely.

“In London people more so go there to work rather than just for third level education.  Here you’d have more of a mix.  It is a nice place and we do feel the team is a home from home.  We train two nights a week and then play on a Saturday during the season.

“Sometimes we might travel up to 40 miles or so for a game so great friendships have been developed.    We want to keep it going next season.”  Edinburgh Harps continue to be driven by passion and positivity.