The History of Ayr United
The newly formed Ayr United Football Club had the option of two grounds to use as a base. Somerset Park was chosen. The playing attire was amalgamated too. Ayr United's strip comprised the crimson and gold hooped shirts of Ayr FC and the blue shorts of Parkhouse. The first match was a midweek friendly at home to Hurlford. Then, on the Saturday, Port Glasgow Athletic visited for a Second Division fixture in which Archie Campbell and Charlie Howe scored in a 2-0 win.
On 26th November, 1910, a 4-3 defeat at home to Abercorn caused people to question the wisdom of the amalgamation. The Ayr Observer commented: "One left the field on Saturday, mingling with the downhearted supporters of the crimson and gold and listened to the many threats never to come back again." It was a fickle attitude. Ayr United did not lose another home league match until 17th August, 1912, when the damage was inflicted by the Paisley-based Abercorn. The inaugural 1910/11 season ended in a runners-up spot but the club failed to get enough votes on applying for inclusion to the First Division. The Ayrshire Post was prompted to state: "There is no doubt that the method of automatic promotion in force in the English League competition is the right and proper one."
Under Bert Tickle's captaincy Ayr United won the first nine league fixtures of 1911/12. This remains a club record league start. It was decided to run a team at Junior level, effectively a reserve side. Home matches were to be played at Beresford Park. Juniors played their first match on 9th September, 1911. It was the occasion of a 1-0 defeat away to Craigmark Smithfield in the Ayr and District League. Playing at this level meant that Ayr United could field a team in the Scottish Junior Cup. On 16th December a league point was dropped for the first time in 1911 since 7th January. It happened in a 2-2 draw against Dundee Hibs at Tannadice Park. A week later a 4-2 home win over Leith Athletic left the club on top of the table with 21 points from a possible 22. Ultimately the Second Division title was won by beating Albion Rovers 4-0 at home on the same afternoon that near rivals Dumbarton lost 4-2 to Dundee Hibs at Tannadice Park.
Promotion then depended on the outcome of the annual general meeting of the Scottish Football League which was scheduled for the Monday evening of 3rd June. There was a motion from the Celtic delegate to the effect that the highest club in the Second Division should automatically pass into the First Division. The necessary two-thirds majority agreed. Then the St. Mirren delegate complained that the motion would mean the relegation of his club and he told the meeting that they had already committed themselves to a First Division wage bill. Extraordinarily it was decided to do a u-turn on the motion and that the matter of automatic promotion would be held over until the next annual general meeting. The Ayrshire Post opined "It was understood, however, that the meeting virtually decided for automatic promotion twelve months hence." In truth Scottish football was a decade away from automatically promoting the Second Division's top club.
At the end of 1912/13 the Second Division title was retained. Runners-up in 1910/11 and champions in seasons 1911/12 and 1913 - promotion again depended on the yearly farce known as the annual general meeting of the Scottish Football League. It took place on the Monday evening of 2nd June, 1913. Club chairman Tom Steen worked hard in support of Ayr United's application. This was necessary. The matter of league points was a lesser consideration than chamber eloquence. "Nothing has been talked about by football followers in Ayr since the close of last season but the United's prospects of promotion to the First League" - the Daily Record was commendably well informed. It was known that the result would be sent by telegram to the Ayrshire and Galloway Hotel, outside which a large crowd assembled in bad weather. There was great jubilation when the news came through that Ayr United had been promoted. It had been proven that the Scottish Football League could display a reluctance to relegate clubs from the First Division. Had this body now relented? No they had not. There was no relegation in 1913. A decision had merely been made to extend the top tier by two clubs. The other promoted club was Dumbarton who had finished sixth.
In preparation for First Division football the number of turnstiles at Somerset Park was increased from nine to fourteen. Sam Herbertson, fated to fall at Gallipoli, was a goalkeeper signed from Beith. Full-back John Bell was acquired from Cowdenbeath where he was on loan so Ayr United had to negotiate with his parent club Rangers. Billy Middleton, an outside-right, was signed from Brighton and Hove Albion and outside-left Alec Gray was acquired on loan from Celtic, although Ayr United would eventually pay a fee of £225 for him in 1920, the player having remained throughout.
Team strengthening was necessary for the challenge ahead. Half-back Switcher McLaughlan was a veteran of the first Ayr United team. He was a highly popular half-back with a cannonball shot. Full-back Willie McStay, acquired on loan from Celtic in 1912, was the captain. Yet the future star of the team was Johnny Crosby, signed in October 1913 from Muirkirk Athletic. For season 1913/14 it was decided to disband Ayr United Juniors in favour of a reserve team.
The introduction to the top sphere was somewhat sobering with the first four fixtures ending in defeat. Then came a defeat away to Stevenson United in the Scottish Qualifying Cup. The first points on the board came with a 3-1 win away to Scottish Cup holders Falkirk which was followed by a 1-0 win away to Kilmarnock. A tenth-place finish in the twenty-club league was acceptable in view of the fraught start. Jimmy Richardson, a centre-forward, was signed from Sunderland in March 1914. He was to become one the greatest Ayr United strikers of all time.
A historic decision was made by the Ayr United board. The club colours of crimson and gold were discarded in favour of black and white hooped shirts and black shorts. However the declaration of war cast doubt on whether the league programme of 1914-15 would even begin. Mobilisation was immediate. Johnny Crosby, Neil McBain and John Bellringer were players who had already enlisted. The following were to make the supreme sacrifice in the Great War.
THE FALLEN OF AYR FC, PARKHOUSE AND AYR UNITED
- Corporal John Bellringer - Ayr United. 'C'Company. 1st/5th Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Died at Gallipoli at the age of 23 on 12th July, 1915.
- Private Samuel Herbertson - Ayr United. 1st/4th Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers. Died at Gallipoli at the age of 26 on 12th July, 1915
- Private Robert Capperauld - Ayr United. 5th Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers. Died on 14th July, 1915, after suffering wounds at Gallipoli.
- Private Thomas Clifford - Ayr FC. 6th/7th Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers. Died at Somme at the age of 42 on 19th January, 1917.
- Private Hugh Kerr - Ayr FC. 14th Battalion London Scottish. Died at the Western Front on 10th April, 1918.
- 2nd Lieutenant William Kerr - Parkhouse. Machine Gun Corps 4th Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers. Died at the Western Front at the age of 37 on 2nd September, 1918.
- Archie Campbell - Ayr United. 119th Brigade Royal Field Artillery. Died of war wounds at the age of 38 on 14th September, 1918.
War work and military call-ups rendered 1914 - 1918 a difficult time for all football clubs in Britain. It became open house in terms of fielding players. Guest players could make an appearance for clubs in the vicinity of where they were billeted. It did not require any paperwork. Nor did it matter which club held their registration. Ayr United's highest ever league finish occurred in 1915/16 - 4th in the First Division. Yet the fickleness of these times created a situation whereby the club finished at the foot of the table in 1917/18.
Peacetime brought a boom in gates and Ayr United's prosperity was further enhanced by some significant transfer activity in the immediate post war years.
In January 1920 the Ayr United board announced that the club was going to buy Somerset Park and that it would be remodelled. A price of £2,500 was agreed with W.G. Walker and Sons, this is to be payable in five annual instalments of £500. Four months later Johnny Crosby was sold to Birmingham City for £2,800. The sale of Crosby therefore funded the purchase of the entire ground. Archibald Leitch was the foremost expert in the design of football grounds and this was the man Ayr United consulted. Leitch foresaw a full length stand and three sides of open terracing. He also foresaw the pitch being realigned to run parallel with Tryfield rather than at an angle as it had been since 1897. The cost of the envisaged stand was estimated at £8,000. It would have had a capacity of 2,592. Although the purchase of the ground was immediate, four years were to pass before the redevelopment work got underway, a major modification being a less expensive stand with 1,345 seats. Just as Somerset Park's purchase had been funded by the sale of a player so too was the cost of the new stand. Neil McBain was sold to Manchester United for £4,600 in November 1921. It was, at the time, a record fee for Manchester United (since eclipsed!). Although the purchase of the ground took place in 1920 four years were to pass before the bulk of the redevelopment work got started.
1920 also earmarked a transition with regard to personnel. Switcher McLaughlan, a veteran of the first Ayr United team, departed that summer. So too did the outstanding Billy Middleton and, as you have read, Johnny Crosby was already gone. Yet the team still had the appearance of being built on solid foundations. Full-backs Jock Smith (signed 1919) and Phil McCloy (signed 1918) would partner each other at international level while still at Ayr United. Half-back Jimmy Hogg (signed 1918) was another player destined to play for Scotland while still an Ayr United player. The last line of defence was the fearless George Nisbet, a goalkeeper who would instinctively dive head first into flailing boots. Centre-half Jimmy McLeod (signed 1921) was another who would be remembered as a club legend. Yet the total failed to reach the sum of its constituent parts. Individual brilliance brought nothing better than a final placing of fourteenth in the First Division in 1920/21 and the following season replicated this. Finishing tenth in 1922/23 was a false dawn when considered against a lapse to fourteenth in 1923/24. Fourteenth out of eighteen in three seasons out of four - if nothing else there was a consistency.
On 12th April, 1924, the first international match ever played at Wembley resulted England 1 Scotland 1 and the Scotland full-backs were the Ayr United full-backs. The Scotland team was: Harper (Hibs), Smith (Ayr United), McCloy (Ayr United), Clunas (Sunderland), Morris (Raith Rovers), McMullan (Partick Thistle), Archibald (Rangers), Cowan (Newcastle United), Harris (Newcastle United), Cunningham (Rangers) and Morton (Rangers). The Bulletin contained: "The Beith farmer kept plodding on and generally created a fine impression. He kicked powerfully and with accuracy and the longer the game lasted the better did he become. Alongside his less impetuous club mate, Phil McCloy, was tip-top. He played with just as much concern as if he was taking part in an ordinary humdrum match at Somerset Park."
If justice had been served the team would have reached the Scottish Cup semi-finals in 1924. At the end of the season Annual General Meeting chairman Lawrence Gemson said: "The manner of our defeat from the Scottish Cup will ever remain an unhappy memory." There was substance to his prediction. Even seventy two years later it was possible to find old supporters who were still embittered about Ayr United's Scottish Cup exit in that year. The subject of their unforgiven resentment was a quarter-final tie at Airdrie. With the score at 1-1 and the final whistle due, John Anderson drove the ball into the Airdrie net from a John McLean cross. The referee signalled a goal. With the Ayr players lined up for the re-centre, the home players surrounded the referee to protest about something which was unapparent. Referee Humphrey then disallowed the goal after consulting both the linesmen. There was two theories. 1. The Airdrie goalkeeper had earlier kicked from hand when a goal kick should have been given. This would have been an advantage to Airdrie and the referee beckoned for play to continue anyway. 2. John McLean was deemed to be in an offside position before delivering the cross. This would have been an equal travesty since there was no doubt that McLean was onside. The replay at Ayr was tied and the teams met at Ibrox on consecutive days before a Hughie Gallacher goal put Airdrie through. Airdrie lifted the Scottish Cup that year and Ayr United did not pass the quarter-final stage until 1973.
At the outset of season 1924/25 home games were played at Beresford Park pending completion of the renovations at Somerset Park. Amidst much pomp and ceremony the ground was reopened on 13th September, 1924, on the occasion of a league visit from Rangers. However the campaign, ended in a crushing disappointment. In consequence of Motherwell losing at Aberdeen on the final league Saturday, Ayr United required at least a draw at Ibrox to save the club from relegation. Rangers won 1-0. Near the end a Jimmy McLeod header missed the goal by a foot. A team rich in individual talent therefore went down to the Second Division.
Two failed attempts at promotion created a lot of public concern. This was the catalyst for the formation of an Ayr United Supporter's Club. Public ire was soothed in 1927. In May of that year Jimmy Smith was signed upon his release from Rangers. The season ahead was to see a scoring frenzy of such proportions that his name and that of Ayr United would find a place in the Guinness Book of Records. With the able assistance of inside-forwards Danny Tolland and Billy Brae he scored sixty-six league goals as the club romped to the Second Division title. As a reward there was an end of season tour to Norway and Sweden. The sea crossing from Newcastle to Oslo was rough in the extreme but the players recovered to acquit themselves well, even beating the Swedish International team 3-1 in Stockholm.
The return to the top sphere was daunting but at least the threat of relegation was staved off. Sixteenth in the twenty-club First Division amounted to consolidation. Ninth in 1929/30 amounted to commendable progress. By this time Andy McCall was excelling in the half-back line whilst winger Tommy Robertson lived up to his nickname of The Patna Flyer.
In the 1950s many fans reminisced on the 1930s as if that decade comprised a golden age. There were some fond memories but overall it was not a halcyon period. In the seven seasons for 1929/30 through until the conclusion of 1935/36, Ayr United conceded an average of 95.8 league goals per season. In 1930/31 the club had no league wins away from home and compounding the misery was a Scottish cup defeat at Bo'ness against the team sitting in bottom position in the Second Division. The adverse league form meant that a point was required from the last match in order to escape relegation. That match was at home to Kilmarnock! On a sunny evening Danny Tolland got the only goal with the consequence that Hibs got relegated with the already doomed East Fife.
A significant signing in the summer of 1931 was Fally Rodger, an outside-left who would go on to become a club legend after an apprenticeship at reserve level. Yet 1931/32 was like a continuation of the season before. It was a flirtation with relegation. A 6-0 defeat at Motherwell in November prompted an Ayrshire Post headline of DRASTIC CHANGES NEEDED. At the time it could never have been guessed that Motherwell would finish the season as champions of Scotland. A 17th place finish was merely an improvement of one place. As if by some form of arithmetical progression there was an improvement of one further place to 16th at the conclusion of 1932/33.
Very early in 1933/34, Alex Merrie, top scorer for the previous two seasons, found himself dropped. The reason why can be answered in two words. Terry McGibbons. McGibbons was a centre-forward signed from Irvine Meadow. He adapted to senior football straight away. By New Year in his first season he had amassed twenty-seven First Division goals. Third Lanark in particular felt the brunt. In the two league games against them in 1933/34 Terry scored ten. Six came in a 7-3 win at Cathkin Park and he got four in a 5-1 win in the return match at Ayr. Despite being a first season senior he was a travelling reserve for Scotland in the 1934 Wembley international. He finished the season with thirty-five league goals to his credit and an eighth place finish was a much appreciated sign of progress. A most spectacular result was a 3-0 league win at Celtic Park in March.
The next campaign was blighted by goals being conceded on an appalling scale. 112 league goals got leaked. This brought the club to the brink of relegation in the Silver Jubilee year of 1935. At least a draw was needed at Airdrie in the final game in order to guarantee safety. The match was lost 3-2 after the home team scored in the 88th minute. There was a reprieve because St Mirren lost to Celtic. One year later there was no such reprieve. 1935/36 finished with Ayr United as the First Division's bottom club. The misery of relegation was soon forgotten in a spectacular season in the Second Division.
In 1936/37, the team scored 122 league goals and this remains a club record. Terry McGibbons is the club's second highest scorer of all time and he was simply rampant. With the season already underway, manager Frank Thompson made a swoop to sign Eddie Summers, Albert Smith and Jock Mayes from Clyde. In an earlier phase of his managerial career, Mr Thompson had acquired all three for Clyde. They made a quick impact. A draw at Airdrie preceded twelve consecutive league wins, this too comprising what remains a club record. Terry McGibbons struck form with a vengeance during that invincible run spanning 24th October, 1936, until 2nd January, 1937. Brechin City, Stenhousemuir and Montrose bore the brunt with each conceding eight goals at Ayr. These twelve games produced sixty-four goals for Ayr United. Five per match with four to spare! Only one home point was dropped in the entire season. The fabulous Hyam Dimmer excelled in the successful pursuit of the title. He was a flamboyant player who had the skill and willingness to entertain the crowd.
There was a definite impression that the First Division would hold no fears for a squad of players so rich in individual talent. The reality was different. When the final league Saturday was reached in 1937/38 it was known that Morton would be relegated. Since Queen of the South required to beat Rangers at Ibrox to escape it was reasonable to assume that Second Division football was destined for Dumfries. The assumption was wrong. They had a 3-0 lead at half-time causing a panic at the Ayr United versus Dundee game. People had turned up in the expectation of a relatively meaningless fixture but now it took on a different aspect. In the event of a Queen of the South win (they won 3-2) Ayr United needed at least a draw to avoid the drop and opponents Dundee required nothing less than a win. A relegation battle between the two clubs in peril! The tension was relieved when the whistle was blown on a 0-0 draw.
Football seldom has a sense of perspective but by the end of September 1938 the international situation became the major concern. War with Germany looked likely. Ayr Town Council now discussed such issues as first aid posts, gas masks and the distribution of food. Local papers gave information on how to build an air raid shelter. The threat receded with Neville Chamberlain's "peace in our time" declaration. 1938/39 then developed into a very chequered season. In January there was the embarrassment of getting knocked out of the Scottish Cup at Alloa. In March there was the elation of a 6-1 league win at home to Motherwell. Fourteenth place out of twenty at least staved off relegation fears.
On the resumption of pre-season training in July 1939 all twenty-two players reported to Somerset Park. Terry McGibbons, sold to Preston North End a year earlier, was an Ayr United player again. Jacky Cox, originally of Hamilton Accies, also departed Preston North End to sign for Ayr United. In 1956 he was to become the manager. High confidence in the summer of 1939 quickly proved to be a hoax. The initial league engagement was a 5-0 defeat away to Albion Rovers. In league fixture five, Jacky Clark scored a hat-trick when Hamilton Accies were beaten 6-1 at Ayr. His £4 a week contract was on the verge of becoming void. War was declared the next day and the league programme was abandoned. Being full-time, Ayr United's players were rendered unemployed, albeit that war work and military demands would ensure that they would be far from idle. Regional leagues got formed with Ayr United competing in the Southern and Western League. By now wages had been halved to £2 per week on a part-time basis. Finishing second from the foot was inglorious but the Scottish Second X1 Cup was won after beating Aberdeen in a two-legged final. It was an excellent achievement considering first teams played in that season's competition.
At the season's close, chairman Andrew Wright commented: "Football for next year is in the lap of the Gods". By the time this comment was reported there was another statement. "Ayr United is closed down until further notice." The decision to close down for the duration was contentious. Five decades later there were still Ayr United fans who would tell you that it was a wrong decision. The crux of the argument was that guest players were stationed in the area could have been used. An example given was Stanley Matthews who guested for Airdrie and Morton.
On 30th May, 1940, the Ayr United Annual General Meeting lasted for five minutes. It was reported that for the financial year ending 31st March, 1940, the loss was £2,674 : 11s :3d. Gate receipts for that period totalled £6,052 : 19s : 8d. This was less than half of the amount for the corresponding period the year before. It was quite simply down to the state of war and its consequent priority to the general public. With Ayr United now closed down for the duration Somerset Park fell into a state of neglect. Weeds grew out of control on the terracing. This was despite the two local junior clubs, Newton Rovers and S.S. and E. Athletic (Scottish Stamping and Engineering), using the ground on alternate Saturdays for their home fixtures in the Western League. The ground was also used for the occasional schools match in addition to some high profile representative matches. These were The RAF versus The Army in 1941 and Scottish Command versus Western Command in 1944, 1945 and even in 1946. All of these games took place on New Year's Day and included such illustrious players as Tommy Lawton and Billy Wright.
In March 1945 the directors began the process of signing players with a view to the club starting up again in 1945/46. Bob Ferrier quit his post as part time manager of Airdrie to become the full time manager of Ayr United. An earlier report that Matt Busby had been appointed was somewhat premature. The Scottish League structure for 1945/46 was a shameful carve-up driven by self interest. A new set-up was put in place comprising Divisions 'A' and 'B'. The completed First Division table for the last peacetime season was ignored. Ayr United got placed in 'B' Division despite having finished above three of the new 'A' Division clubs in 1938/39. There was also a phantom promotion for Morton. The set-up created a grudge which Ayr supporters of the time would harbour into old age.
Due to age there were players on the retained list who would never play for Ayr United again. Others such as Hugh McConnell, Albert Stewart and Lewis Thow had yet to be demobbed from the forces. The recruitment was rapid. Peter Smith became the club's first post war captain when he was recalled from Pollok Juniors. When the league season got underway Airdrie won 3-0 at Somerset Park in the opening match. There was a significant development before the next fixture. Centre-half Norrie McNeil was signed from Hurlford United, his local club. Norrie had already played alongside and against some of the greatest names in British football whilst competing in representative football in the army. He would proceed to become an Ayr United great.
With only fourteen clubs in the league the programme extended to a mere twenty-six figures which concluded in January with Ayr United finishing in a creditable third place. For Malky Morrison it was a season of goalscoring abandon with twenty-nine league goals. On 5th January, 1946, he netted six in a 10-1 victory at home to Stenhousemuir. This remains a club record league win. Malky had already scored four in our 6-0 rout of Stenhousemuir in October 1945. A personal haul of ten goals in the two league games against that club!
The new League Cup tournament got underway in February. Ayr United's first engagement in that competition saw a 1-0 win at Dumbarton. Our historic first League Cup goal was scored by Bert Harper. On progressing from the group stages Aberdeen were faced in the quarter-finals in front of a crowd of 18,128 at neutral Dens Park, Dundee. Aberdeen won 2-0 then went on to lift the trophy.
Upon his release from Rangers the great Alec Beattie was signed in the summer of 1946. He was an outside-left who was adept at scoring from tight angles and, in the present day, he holds the Ayr United record for scoring directly from corner-kicks. The post war gates boom was still thriving but the large crowds and wealth of individual talent did not count for much. Finishing eleventh in the fourteen-club 'B' Division was a major disappointment even allowing for the final fixture bringing a 6-1 home win over Cowdenbeath. The Scottish Cup also proved disastrous with an 8-0 defeat at Aberdeen who went on to lift the cup (echoes of the League Cup a year before). Compounding the severity of the Pittodrie defeat was the fact that goalkeeper Willie Barbour was described as "the hero of the side". The league placing in 1946/47 was replicated in 1947/48 but this time it was eleventh out of sixteen since the league had two more clubs.
Getting back into the top tier continued to be a forlorn hope. This was probably the mindset of Bob Ferrier who quit in December 1948. The process of appointing a new manager was tortuous. Eventually, in mid-March, Archie Anderson was named as the new boss. This was three days after beating Dundee United 8-0 in a 'B' Division fixture. Anderson had managed Arbroath when they reached the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup in 1947. Here in 1949 it proved difficult to extricate himself from the Arbroath job. By the time he was free to start work at Ayr the league season was over with ninth place being occupied. He took charge for the post season Highland tour. Mr Anderson would bring about improvement although none would be forthcoming in his first full season in charge. Fourth bottom of the lower tier and eliminated from the Scottish Cup with a 4-0 defeat away to Dundee United!
A new decade at least brought the hope of a fresh dawn.
Somerset Park was a very busy place during the summer of 1950. The trackside fencing had rotted and volunteers from the Supporters' Association set about dismantling it and building a wall in its place. This scheme was subsidised by allowing the public to buy a brick at the cost of a shilling. The wall remained until being replaced in 2019.
Season 1950/51 proved to be hugely exciting in comparison to the mediocrity endured since the return of peacetime football. For the first time in the club's history a national semi-final was reached. It was contested against Motherwell at Ibrox on 7th October, 1950. The final was tantalisingly close. Hugh Goldie and Ian Crawford (with two) were the scorers when the team had a 3-2 lead. Johnny Aitkenhead (83) and Jimmy Wilson (85) gave Motherwell a 4-3 win. Seven minutes away from a final that it would take more than half a century to reach! In the same season Motherwell blocked our route to the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup also. 22,152 watched a contentious 2-2 draw in a Somerset Park quarter-final. The midweek replay, witnessed by 27,000, was lost 2-1 to a goal in the last minute of extra time. League progress manifested itself in a third place finish in 'B' Division, one place short of a promotion spot. Particularly impressive in the run-in was an 8-0 victory at home to Dunfermline Athletic.
On 21st January, 1950, Cowdenbeath won 2-1 at Ayr. The next home league defeat came on 13th September, 1952, when Stenhousemuir won 4-2 at Somerset Park. Between those dates Ayr United were unbeaten in thirty-three consecutive home league games and this remains a club record. In the history of the club Ayr United have completed just five league campaigns unbeaten at home. Those seasons have been 1911/12, 1936/37, 1950/51, 1951/52 and 2008/09. You will note that the early 1950s is the only time it has happened consecutively.
An interesting diversion in May 1951 was a series of matches to commemorate the Festival Britain. The team journeyed south to play Luton Town (lost 4-2), Bedford Town (lost 1-0), Plymouth Argyle (lost 2-1) and Brighton and Hove Albion (lost 5-1). Once more a promotion push materialised but once more there was a third place finish. Confidence was high that 1952/53 would secure one of the two automatic promotion spots.
Ayr United 11 Dumbarton 1 - This annihilation took place in a League Cup sectional in the first home match of 1952/53. Jim Fraser (4), Willie Japp (3), Jacky Robertson (2), Mike McKenna and Joe Hutton were the scorers. By the season's end the fans could reflect on an 8-3 defeat away to Clyde in the Scottish Cup and a fifth place finish. Archie Anderson signaled his displeasure by resigning. Reuben Bennett took over as manager but the descent continued. A drop of four places in 1953/54 was bad enough but there was the ignominy of losing 5-1 at Berwick in the Scottish Cup. Berwick Rangers did not even have full league status at the time.
The Scottish Cup exit in 1955 was just as humiliating. A 1-1 draw away to Inverness Caledonian at least left the opportunity to atone in the midweek replay. Horrifyingly the Highland League club won 4-2 after extra time. Compounding the sense of crisis was a Somerset Park attendance of 4,217. Despite it being a Wednesday afternoon kick-off this was considered to be critically low based on typical Scottish Cup gates in the 1950s. 1954/55 was punctuated with some shocking league defeats thereby adding to the scale of desperation: 4-0 at home to Stenhousemuir, 9-0 away to Third Lanark, 5-1 away to Hamiton Accies, 6-1 away to Forfar Athletic and 5-1 away to Arbroath. Ironically Reuben Bennett tendered his resignation in the aftermath of victory at Cowdenbeath. This occurred with just four league games remaining, only one of which was managerless. The new boss was Neil McBain. A mid table finish might even have been considered flattering.
Signings in the summer of 1955 were hugely significant. Teenaged inside-forward Sam McMillan was acquired from Irvine Meadow and centre-forward Peter Price was signed from Gloucester City although there were reports that he had signed from Darlington. He was registered with Gloucester City and had merely guested for Darlington while posted in the area during National Service. Price is currently Ayr United's highest scorer of all time and the only player to break a double century for the club. McMillan is the club's second highest scorer of all time. With them both playing in the same team you will have correctly guessed that Ayr United were on the threshold of a boom time for scoring.
- Season 1955/56: 118 goals in all competitions.
- Season 1957/58: 114 goals in all competitions.
- Season 1958/59: 139 goals in all competitions (club record).
At his peak Peter Price scored 105 goals over the course of consecutive seasons (1957/58 and 1958/59).
Neil McBain succeeded in getting the club back to the top tier for the first time since the war. Entering the season's final fixture of 1955/56 one point was needed in order to go up with champions Queen's Park. It was a Monday evening visit from Brechin City. In front of a crowd variously estimated between 12,000 and 15,000 Johnny Trainer and Sam McMillan scored in a 2-0 win.
For season 1956/57 the 'A' and 'B' Divisions were rebranded as the First and Second Divisions. Days before the season was due to start Neil McBain quit in order to manage Watford. Jacky Cox was quickly appointed in his place. Alas the First Division was a step too far. A 6-1 home win over Falkirk on 2nd January, 1957, meant leapfrogging into second bottom place at the expense of that club. Quite remarkably Falkirk not only escaped relegation but they won that season's Scottish Cup. Also in January, Rangers were beaten 1-0 at Ayr. Such successes were fleeting. Finishing bottom compelled an instant return to the second tier.
At this time Alec Beattie was Ayr United's longest serving player. On the Sunday morning of 7th July, 1957, he set out to drive from his home in Glasgow's east end to Hillington in connection with his work as a scientific instrument maker. He suffered a fractured skull during a crash. After being in a coma for twenty-four days he died. It was simply devastating news.
Ayr United scored ninety-eight league goals in season 1957/58 yet contrived to finish fifth. How was this possible? The answer is simple. Eighty-one league goals got conceded. Results were crazy. There was a 7-4 win at home to Forfar Athletic, a 6-5 defeat at Cowdenbeath and a 5-4 win at Hamilton.
There was an apparent need for defensive stability. Goalkeeper Ian Hamilton was signed from Kirkintilloch Rob Roy and, following the failed attempt to sign Ian Ure from Ayr Albion, there was the consolation that centre-half Jim McLean was now available. He had been signed in March 1958 but had to remain at Baillieston Juniors because they were still in the Scottish Junior Cup. Jim 'Tottie' McGhee was another great signing. He was a winger acquired from Adrossan Winton Rovers.
At the halfway stage of 1958/59 there were fifteen league wins, two draws and one defeat. Sixty-two league goals had been netted by that point. At the season's end the league goals total was 115 but this number swelled to 139 when taking account of the League Cup and the Scottish Cup. It need hardly be added that the Second Division title was won in style.
The recent memory of promotion and immediate relegation became all the more haunting when the first two league games of 1959/60 were lost, more especially when game two was a 5-0 hammering away to Third Lanark. The next fixtures were daunting in the extreme. These were at home to a much vaunted Motherwell at home then Rangers away. Ayr United 5 Motherwell 2 and Rangers 0 Ayr United 3 - this was a superb run of form. Seven weeks after winning at Ibrox a visit to Celtic brought a 3-2 win. The Celtic victory was hardly a shock since the completed league table would show Ayr United in eight place to Celtic's ninth.
The club qualified for an Anglo Scottish French tournament comprising eight clubs from France and four each from Scotland and England. Qualification was made possible by the leading clubs qualifying for European competition and Kilmarnock having a clash of dates for the New York tournament. By use of a pun you may be told that it then came to light that Ayr United would have to withdraw because Somerset Park did not have floodlights. Lower-placed Celtic deputised and they were drawn to play Sedan home and away.
In the summer of 1960 relegation was considered to be an unlikely prospect for the season ahead. Realistically the expectation was to build on the relative success of 1959/60 or at the very least maintain it. Including League Cup ties it took until the thirteenth match to record the first win of 1960/61. It was a 1-0 league win at home to reigning champions Hearts. On Christmas Eve, Rangers, on course or the title, lost by the same scoreline at Ayr. Alas these great wins amounted to two of just five league victories. The outcome was the wooden spoon and relegation.
On 28th November, 1961, Jacky Cox resigned. Two days later he was replaced by Bobby Flavell who remained in the job for just seventeen days before quitting to manage St Mirren. Gerry Mays then became the next Ayr United manager but he was unable to inject life into a generally bleak season. Ninth in the Second Division seemed bad at the time but things were to get worse. Much worse!
On 4th December, 1962, Gerry Mays resigned. A promising start to the league campaign had disintegrated badly through October, November and into December. Neil McBain then began his second spell in charge at Somerset Park. Any notion he had of a revival got dashed by constant postponements in a seemingly eternal winter. On 8th December, Stranraer played a league game at Ayr. The club's next home league match took place on 2nd March, 1963. Between those dates Somerset Park had hosted a Scottish Cup tie with Dundee United. Between playing at Forfar on 22nd December, 1962, and facing East Fife at Methil on 23rd February, 1963, winter's grip was so strong that the Scottish Cup tie was the only game Ayr United took part in between these dates.
A comparative revival in the season's closing weeks of an elongated season could not prevent a thirteenth-place finish. Fourteen players were freed. This was a ringing endorsement that radical action was needed. It defied logic that full points were taken off champions St Johnstone. The generally dire form would get even more dire.
Were there any positives in the summer of 1963? Well there was the form of twin strikers Sandy Jones and Johnny Kilgannon, both of whom deserved to be playing in a better team. Apart from Peter Price, Kilgannon would finish season 1963/64 with the highest number of league goals scored by any Ayr player since Malky Morrison in 1945/46. It must have been demoralising for such a player to appear in six consecutive league defeats in September. Goalkeeper John Gallagher consistently put in star performances in a defence that was all too often beleaguered. Left-back John Murphy was signed from Darvel Juniors in the summer of 1963. He currently holds the record for career span and appearances. Ayr United 5 Berwick Rangers 1 - the opening league fixture bore no indication of the eventual misery in store. Neil McBain resigned at the end of October. Bobby Flavell then returned for his second spell of management at Ayr, albeit that the initial spell had been lamentably brief.
In February 1964, while fourth bottom of the Second Division, a third round Scottish Cup visit to Aberdeen seemed ominous. There was no historical precedent for an Ayr United team beating a team from a higher league away from home in the Scottish Cup. Not that victory was remotely contemplated. Aberdeen 1 Ayr United 2 - the supposedly impossible happened. The next round brought a quarter-final at Dunfermline. In reverting to the default form for 1964 the tie was lost 7-0. After finishing fourteenth in the Second Division merely seven players were retained, one of whom was Johnny Kilgannon who opted to sign for Dunfermline Athletic anyway.
During the 1964 close season, Bobby Flavell signed sixteen players including Ally MacLeod, then a veteran winger, who would become the most influential character in the history of Ayr United after his expertise at coaching and management became apparent. Other signings included future greats such as over-lapping full-back Dick Malone, towering centre-half Eddie Monan, hard tackling wing-half Alex McAnespie and Arthur Paterson, a winger who could be mesmeric on his day. Hard man Adam Thomson was another recruit that summer. Striker Eddie Moore had joined from Beith Juniors in late March 1964 and had already proven to be a dangerous predator, most especially in the air. What could possibly go wrong in 1964/65? A lot! It turned into the worst season in our history. In finishing second bottom of the Second Division the club had to apply for re-election. The issue was created by a recruitment process which took minimal cognisance of experience. Still, at least the club existed. On 22nd November, 1964, the backstage headline in the Sunday Express was: "AYR UNITED MAY QUIT". It was not mere sensationalism. The story was actually true. In early December, Bobby Flavell quit and he was replaced by Tom McCreath who had been coaching the reserves. Just after the turn of the year Tom McGawn bought the majority of Matt Pollock's shareholding. Bob McCall and John Paton joined the board then McGawn became chairman on the resignation of William Paterson. The vice-chairman became former player Lewis Thow, a recent addition to the board. A further new director was Malcolm McPhail. These rapid developments saved Ayr United from going defunct.
During the 1965 close season, Tom McCreath said: "We have one ambition and that is to get back into the First Division." This seemed like optimism on a psychotic scale. Having just come through the club's worst ever season, only two summer signing were made. They were outside-right Johnny Grant who had been released by Hibs and inside-forward Ian Hackshaw from St Johnstone. Quite sensationally Ayr United were Second Division champions at the end of 1965/66. Mr McCreath was inexperienced in the world of senior football but Ally MacLeod was now proving his worth as a coach and in May 1966 he took over as manager.
Mr MacLeod quickly identified his signing targets. Alex Ingram, Stan Quinn and Dougie Mitchell would all become club greats. Unfortunately the sudden propulsion from second bottom to top had repercussions. The club was simply not ready for First Division football. 1966/67 became synonymous with negative statistics. Just one league victory was registered and it occurred on 8th April, 1967, when St Johnstone were beaten 1-0 at Ayr. The threat of completing the season without a league win had been real.
A mass clearout did not occur. Mr MacLeod still had faith in his players. His faith would gradually prove to be justified. Recruitment was light. When 1967/68 got underway the goalkeeper was Davy Stewart, a signing from Kilsyth Rangers. To put it succinctly he was brilliant. At this time there was some supporters who feared an immediate return to the First Division in view of the chastening experience of 1966/67. By March 1968, promotion hopes were non-existent so Mr MacLeod announced an intention to field occasional junior trialists at league level. One of them was Davy McCulloch of Kilsyth Rangers, a left-sided attacking midfielder of supreme quality. It was the start of a ten-year career at Ayr. A fifth-placed finish had some people claiming that the club had purposely eased up in order to avoid promotion. It was a nonsensical theory. Ally MacLeod had too much drive and enthusiasm for this to have been true.
That summer, forwards Jacky Ferguson (released by Southend United) and Bobby Rough (released by Dundee) were signed. In the quest for promotion Motherwell stood to be a most formidable for and, as expected, that club was on course to win the 1968/69 Second Division title. Promotion via the runners-up spot did, however, remain a realistic possibility. A 2-0 win at Stranraer in November was the first of eleven consecutive league wins. The eventual points total of fifty-three had been enough to win the title in 1966. Here in 1969 the same haul secured second place only yet it sufficed for promotion.
The trauma of 1966/67 remained haunting but the fears were needless. At the start of 1969/70 Cutty Young stepped up from Kello Rovers and made an immediate impact on senior football. Ayr United 3 Hibs 0 - the opening First Division fixture saw a brilliant performance. A fortnight later Rangers were beaten at Ayr in front of Somerset Park's record crowd of 25,225. In October 1969 we had a 3-3 draw with Celtic in the semi-finals of the League Cup. The replay was lost 2-1 yet this Ayr team was forging a good reputation. It was the team that people today can still recite: Stewart, Malone, Murphy, Fleming, Quinn, Mitchell, Young, Ferguson, Ingram, McCulloch and Rough. An ultimate finish of fourteenth in the eighteen-club First Division at least allowed Ayr United to get consolidated at this level.
When season 1970/71 got underway Ally MacLeod was still fulfilling his job on a part time basis. In September 1970 he accepted a four year, full time contract.
Nonetheless the players' contracts would remain part time. It is a fact that Ayr United engaged solely part time players from 1939 until 1989. Significant summer signings in the close season of 1970 were fast-paced winger John Doyle from Viewpark Boys Guild and Davy Wells, a full-back from Auchinleck Talbot. Both were destined to wear the Ayr United shirt with distinction.
It was a handicap to lose Dick Malone to Sunderland in October. In November George McLean was bought from Dunfermline Athletic. Then, in the closing days of December, Alex Ingram was bought from Nottingham Forrest for £15,000. This was a year after he had gone in the opposite direction for £40,000. As the season progressed the club flirted with relegation but it was no more than a flirtation. Fourteenth out of eighteen - there was no change from the season before.
These were relatively safe times. 1971/72 brought a climb of two places but there was more to it than mere consolidation. The season was punctuated with some high profile wins. Rangers in particular felt the brunt. In the four seasons from 1969/70 until 1972/73 inclusive they lost all except one of their league fixtures at Somerset Park. Cutty Young was sold to Coventry City in the summer of 1971 and in early September part of the transfer proceeds got used to buy Johnny Graham from Hibs. Ground improvements were becoming visible too. A floodlighting system got installed in 1970 and the Somerset Road end was covered in 1971.
Season 1972/73 remains fondly remembered. In beating Partick Thistle 5-1 at Firhill the club reached the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup for the first time. At that stage a 2-0 defeat was suffered against Rangers on a waterlogged Hampden. Finishing sixth in the league was highly satisfactory. A negative aspect was the fear of transfer speculation. John Doyle was named in Willie Ormond's 22-man pool for the Home Internationals and Davy Wells was constantly having his name linked to other clubs. A summer tour to Newfoundland was a reward for what had been achieved. Four games brought four wins and twenty-seven Ayr United goals.
In September 1973 Davy Stewart sold to Leeds United at which club he was destined to play in the 1975 European Cup Final. An incomer in the same month was striker Alex Ferguson who had been released by Falkirk. No one then could have envisaged that Ferguson would one day receive a knighthood for his services to football. The momentum of 1972/73 continued into 1973/74. A win against Dundee at Dens Park on 27th October, 1973, would have put the club on top of the First Division after nine games. After taking a second half lead the match was lost 2-1 yet it was clear that Ally MacLeod's team of part-timers had the capability to challenge at the business end of the league. Somerset Park was proving to be a fortress. In the 1973 calendar year Rangers and Celtic were the only visiting teams to have league wins at Somerset Park. Even at that Rangers achieved their win with only two minutes to spare on the last Saturday of the year. In the Scottish Cup quarter-finals a midweek replay against Hearts attracted a Somerset Park crowd of 16,185. The match was lost 2-1 to a goal conceded five minutes before the end of extra time. At the conclusion of the league programme the club sat seventh, beaten for sixth place on goal difference only.
At the outset of 1974/75 it was known that league reconstruction would take place with effect from 1975/76. The plan was to convert from two leagues to three. To qualify for the new Premier Division it was required to finish in the First Division's top ten. Had the status quo been maintained Ayr United would have entered 1974/75 looking to finish sufficiently high to qualify for the Texaco Cup or, just maybe, Europe. It was a sobering thought that eight clubs would fall from the top sphere rather than the traditional two. Some patchy early season form indicated that Ayr United would not make the cut for the top ten. The fears were groundless. Seventh place was achieved.
Since promotion in 1969 the prospect of relegation had seldom been considered but in 1975/76 two were destined to go down from ten rather than eighteen. Rangers were routed 3-0 at Ayr in October 1975 but there was a feeling of depression in early November when it was announced that Ally MacLeod had accepted the manager's job at Aberdeen. His replacement was Alex Stuart whose first game in charge coincided with a visit of Mr MacLeod's Aberdeen. It resulted in a 1-0 Ayr win. In December 1975 John Doyle was in the starting line-up for Scotland against Romania. In common with the rest of the Ayr United squad he was still a part timer and the inevitable transfer interest came to fruition when he was sold to Celtic in March 1976. The completed table for 1975/76 showed Ayr United to be sitting sixth yet anything other than a last match win against Motherwell would have resulted in relegation.
After the first ten league matches of 1976/77 bottom place was occupied although the club was not hopelessly cut adrift. However our county neighbours did become hopelessly cut adrift and they got relegated along with Hearts. It was the first relegation for Hearts in their entire history. Particularly impressive was a run of fixtures spanning March and April 1977. It comprised Rangers (away), Aberdeen (away), Dundee United (away), Hearts (away) then Motherwell (home). The outcome was a 1-1 draw at Ibrox then four straight wins.
By now Hugh Sproat was performing heroics in the Ayr United goal. At the other end of the field Walker McCall and Danny Masterton comprised a potent strike force. In early November 1977 Brian McLaughlin was signed from Celtic in a deal taking Joe Filippi in the other direction. To this day McLaughlin is fondly remembered as an Ayr United great. In season 1977/78 Celtic were beaten in each of the league matches they played at Somerset Park. However as the season unfolded it became a battle between Ayr United and St. Mirren to determine who would get relegated with bottom club Clydebank. The battle was lost. There had been top tier football at Somerset Park for the past nine seasons.
In that summer of 1978 there was a general confidence that Ayr United would make an immediate return to the Premier Division. It soon became apparent that the quality of the First Division had been underestimated. Merely four points were taken from the first six games whereupon Alex Stuart resigned. The ensuing events were quite remarkable. Ally MacLeod quit his job as manager of Scotland and returned to Ayr United. An instant transformation breathed life into the club. Unexpectedly Mr MacLeod accepted the position of Motherwell manager in December. His replacement was Willie McLean. Finishing fourth was acceptable when weighed against the turmoil of the season's opening weeks. With managerial stability now restored there was reasonable hope that a promotion push could now be mounted.
When Stevie Nicol made his first team debut in October 1979 his defensive performance was solid but few would have anticipated is eventual elevation to the top level of the game. A run of sixteen consecutive league games without defeat came to an end at Clydebank on 12th January, 1980. This was one short of the club record from 1958/59. Unfortunately this run in 1979/80 was punctuated with too many draws. Third place was achieved rather than one of the two coveted automatic promotion slots.
Celtic 0 Ayr United 1 - 1980/81 began in headline grabbing fashion with this victory in the Drybrough Cup. Eight days later West Ham United, then the FA Cup holders, got a last minute goal to draw 1-1 in a friendly at Ayr.
The opening league fixture produced a 5-0 win at home to Motherwell. In a good League Cup run Premier League Hearts were beaten 7-2 on aggregate. Such performances augured well. A 4-3 aggregate defeat to Dundee in the semi-finals was a disappointment yet there was a realistic confidence that this team could kick on and get promotion. By November Ayr United sat just behind the top two of Raith Rovers and Hibs. In the run-in form degenerated. The season ended with a position of sixth and a 2-1 home defeat against Dumbarton played before 998 spectators.
Season 1981/82 ended in a similar manner to the preceding one. The last fixture was at home to Queen of the South and, although the game was won, merely 863 were there to see it. Again the final position was sixth and again the fans were unhappy. Stevie Nicol had been sold to Liverpool in October 1981 but the Ayr United squad was still rich in individual talent with such players as Robert Connor, Jim Fleeting, Ian McAllister, Derek Frye, Alan McInally and Gerry Christie. Losing at Alloa in the Scottish Cup was simply awful. Then, in February, a defeat away to East Stirling was the first of ten consecutive league fixtures without a win.
By late October 1982 promotion was no longer on the agenda. The prospect of relegation to the third tier was now real. In January 1983 Albion Rovers won at Somerset Park in the Scottish Cup. There was no organised boycott. Many fans simply drifted away of their own accord. The visit of Clydebank in March was won by a scrambled goal in the last minute but the crowd, if it could be called that, was a miserly 778. Relegation was avoided only because Dunfermline Athletic failed to win their final fixture. By this time Willie McLean had resigned. During the tense closing weeks of the run-in George Caldwell was in charge, his interim appointment eventually becoming a full appointment.
A last day escape tends to bring forth the response that such desperate scenarios should not be allowed to happen again. In 1983/84 the situation on the final day was even more desperate. The final league fixture was at Dumbarton. Anything less than a win would have sent Ayr United down with Alloa Athletic. Second-placed Dumbarton were already promoted but stood to win the league in the event of beating Ayr and Morton losing at home to Kilmarnock. Morton won anyway but the Dumbarton team was high on incentive. Dumbarton 0 Ayr United 3 - it was a miraculous escape from the brink.
1984/85 was embarked upon without Ally McInally (sold to Celtic) and Robert Connor (sold to Dundee). Then, on the eve of the season, Gerry Christie moved to Airdrie in a swap for Norrie Anderson. In general the public did not have a strong appetite for Scottish football. The malaise of poor crowds was suffered throughout the country. On the second Saturday of the league season our game against Kilmarnock drew a Rugby Park attendance of just 2,013. It could easily have been forgotten that this was a derby match in Scotland's second tier. A 0-0 draw did little to improve the situation. As the season developed both clubs were haunted by the fear of relegation. From February onwards Ayr United pulled off some conspicuous results to emphatically banish those fears. Four wins out of the last five ensured a mid-table position of seventh.
In the summer of 1985 promotion was not a word in the vocabulary of Ayr United fans. The aspiration was safety. There was glorious atonement for taking just one point from the first three fixtures of 1985/86. Fixture four brought a 3-0 win at home to Kilmarnock with Kenny Ashwood scoring twice on his debut. When the clubs next met (at Rugby Park on New Year's Day 1986) Ayr United won 2-1 yet this was a rare moment of cheer in an otherwise miserable winter. George Caldwell had quit in late October. His replacement was a man who was surely possessed of the ability to breathe life into a faltering campaign. Ally MacLeod was back. It is true that he would once more create a fondly remembered team but it did not happen in 1985/86. The fate was relegation along with bottom club Alloa Athletic.
In August 1986 John Sudden was brought from Airdrie for £5,000 having already been at Ayr on loan. This transaction might be described as a steal. Such as it was the money was more than recouped when David Irons was sold to Premier League Clydebank for £15,000 in September. Irons' subsequent transfer to Dunfermline Athletic triggered a sell-on fee to Ayr United of £19,000. Winning at Kilmarnock in the League Cup did little to generate interest in the season's opening weeks. League gates at Somerset Park were in three figures. The performances of young central defender Willie Furphy were conspicuously good but there were no redeeming features in a 3-1 defeat at Cowdenbeath in October. Mr MacLeod furiously accused his players of lacking enthusiasm. The team succeeded in rallying and on the final league Saturday some complex scenarios were faced. An Ayr win at home to Stirling Albion and a Meadowbank Thistle defeat at Alloa would bring the title to Ayr; An Ayr defeat together with a Raith Rovers win at Stranraer would promote Raith Rovers unless Stirling Albion were to win at Ayr by enough to overcome an adverse goal difference; A win for Stirling Albion would promote them in the event of a Raith Rovers defeat. Ayr United 2 Stirling Albion 3 - the outcome was fourth place. It was a crushing disappointment.
The signings of Tommy Walker and Henry Templeton were vastly more important than was realised at the time. The first thirteen league fixtures of 1987/88 saw eleven wins and two draws with thirty-nine goals scored for the loss of six. Walker, Templeton and Sludden were wreaking havoc. Crowd apathy had been a handicap in the recent past but that affliction was now cured. In early February 11,712 turned up at Somerset Park for a Scottish Cup replay against Dunfermline Athletic on a wet Wednesday night. A 2-0 defeat did nothing to derail the team from the aim of winning the league. The Second Division title was duly won with a club record points total (at two for a win) of sixty-one.
Could the attacking abandon of 1987/88 be replicated in the First Division in 1988/89? The hope failed to become a reality. A 3-1 win at home to Morton on 17th December, 1988, marked the end of a run of eleven consecutive games without a win. Beating Kilmarnock 4-1 at home on 3rd January, 1989, put the fans in joyous mood not just because of the margin of victory but also because of the manner in which it was achieved. Yet this highlighted an inconsistency. Safety from relegation was not achieved until the penultimate league Saturday. Our county neighbours got relegated with bottom club Queen of the South.
In the summer of 1989 the board displayed ambition when the announcement was made that players were being offered full time contracts with immediate effect. Since the declaration of war in September 1939 succeeding generations of Ayr United teams had been earning a living outside of football. A further sign of ambition was the construction of a stand extension on the Somerset Road end of the original structure. This took it a stage closer to Archibald Leitch's 1920 vision of a stand running the length of the ground.
Full time football failed to make the hoped impact. The opening league fixture resulted in a 3-1 defeat against Albion Rovers at Airdrie's Broomfield Park. Future results meant that it could not be written off as a blip. Defeats invariably brought complaints of bad pitches or controversial refereeing decisions. A 4-0 loss at Hamilton on 2nd January, 1990, was bad enough but it paled in comparison to a 6-0 demise at Airdrie on 10th February. Even with such adverse results the team managed to keep above the relegation area yet the tenth place finish in a fourteen-club league was considered unsatisfactory in view of the players no longer being part time.
In June 1990 Peter Weir was bought from St. Mirren at a cost of £66,000 (this figure includes the signing-on fee). He was followed in the door by giant striker Ally Graham who was purchased from Albion Rovers for £27,000. The prospect of him partnering Tommy Bryce (bought from Clydebank for £40,000 a year before) in attack was exciting. In early September another purchase was made when midfielder Sammy Johnston was acquired from St. Johnstone. To the club the total cost of the deal was £100,000. Together with the commitment to full time football a year earlier there was ambition in abundance. This expensively assembled squad reached the final of the Centenary Cup, a competition designed to commemorate the centenary of the Scottish League. After extra-time that final was lost 3-2 in front of an 11,506 crowd at Motherwell's Fir Park. That was in November. At the beginning of December the club sat fourth bottom of the First Division. After a 3-0 defeat away to Raith Rovers, Ally MacLeod was told that his contract would not be renewed in June so he decided to make the break straight away. His three terms of management at Ayr totalled marginally short of fifteen years and included 214 league wins. On both counts he had no close contenders. His next and last job in management was with Queen of the South. The interim managership of Davy Wells gave way to the permanent appointment of George Burley in January 1991. A bonus was that Burley came to the club as a player also. Beating Kilmarnock at Ayr in the last league fixture was tempered by a league placing of third bottom.
Mr Burley had all summer to work on rectifying the wrongs. When season 1991/92 got underway there were strong indications that he was reaping the fruits of his labour, most especially in terms of fitness. A sequence of victories occurred in which late goals were prominent. For the first time since 1958/59 full points were taken from the first four league games. Wavering form then ensured only to be corrected by a 7-0 win at home to Meadowbank Thistle. The competition formerly known as the Centenary Cup was known as the B & Q Cup. Once more the final was reached and again the venue was Fir Park, Motherwell. This time it was the occasion of a 1-0 defeat against Hamilton Accies. At the season's end we were left to reflect on the plain truth that the promise of the early weeks had not been fulfilled. More positively the sixth-placed finish at least banished even the remotest fears of the drop. Memories of life in the Premier League were gradually receding and would continue to do so.
Willie Murphy had a contractual dispute which could not be resolved and at the end of August 1992 it was announced that he had been released. This did not sit well with the fans but there was complete forgiveness when Malcolm Shotton was signed to replace him. He was hugely inspirational. Another central defender, Derek Allan, had a rapid rise to the top. Aged eighteen he made his first team debut for Ayr United in February 1993. Thirty-one days later he was sold to Premier League Southampton for £100,000. Only one defeat was suffered in the final thirteen league fixtures of 1992/93 yet the concluded table showed that Ayr United had the most draws in that season's First Division. Therein lay the explanation for landing in mid-table.
Scotland had thirty-eight league clubs and it was agreed that two more would be added in the summer of 1994. The forty clubs would then be divided into four leagues of ten. The reconstruction plan meant that five clubs would be relegated from the First Division at the end of 1993/94 in order to help create the additional league. Ayr United required a minimum place of seventh in order to stay on the right side of the cut. In the 1993 close season Colin Calderwood moved from Swindon Town to Spurs for a fee which was later set at £1.25 million by a tribunal. It was little known that he was a former Ayr United Boys Club player who would gladly have signed an Ayr United contract. It was of no avail to reflect on what might have been. Adverse results caused a slip below the relegation cut-off point. In December a 6-1 hammering at Dunfermline caused great discontent. Then, following a 3-0 defeat at home to Falkirk, George Burley was dismissed. He was immediately replaced by another player manager, Simon Stained. Seventh place was achieved, just enough to stay on the right side of the split. Champagne was opened in celebration. This was a clear indication of the extent to which aspirations had dropped.
The lack of success in season 1994/95 can be encapsulated in just one statistic. Ayr United's top league scorer was Justin Jackson with four, two of which were in the one match. The concept of the transfer window had not yet been imposed so there was no restraint on signing activity. Simon Stainrod was the first Ayr United manager to tap into the marker for foreign players. On each of the first two Saturdays in November, five foreign players were in the starting line-up. By the last game of the month the only one was Franck Rolling. The team by then had fallen into the relegation mire and there would be no rescue. On 2nd January, 1995, a 2-0 defeat at Stranraer was played to the accompaniment of demonstrations from fans. The situation was desperate. Relegation to the third tier took place along with bottom club Stranraer.
A decision was made that Ayr United would not operate a reserve team in 1995/96. It was also made known that full time contracts would be cut back. Bookmakers installed Ayr United as 7/2 favourites to win the Second Division title but it was not long before they revised their odds. On 2nd September, 1995, Berwick Rangers won 4-1 at Ayr. Then, on the Tuesday, Simon Stainrod resigned. In the summer of 1995 Gordon Dalziel had been signed as a striker. The departure of Mr Stainrod now left him in the position of interim manager, this appointment becoming permanent. When Stirling Albion won at Somerset Park in November the situation was perilous. However it was the last home defeat of the season and the danger receded. Signing activity remained relentless and there was a definite view that team building was already taking place for the following season. Sixth place in the third tier may not have looked appealing but there was optimism based on the momentum that had been building. In the season just finished forty-five players had been used in competitive action. This comprised a club record turnover although Mr Dalziel would eventually eclipse his own record.
The bookmakers misjudged Ayr United in 1995 and they did so again in 1996. From being overestimated we were now being underestimated. Ayr United, who would become champions, had longer odds to win the title than Berwick Rangers, the club destined to finish in bottom place. In 1996/97 big things were expected of twin strikers Stevie Kerrigan and Isaac English. Confidence was so high that there was even the expectation of victory in an early season League Cup tie at Kilmarnock despite the two-league gap. Surely enough the tie was won 1-0. Spanning September to November we had seven consecutive league wins in a title race now being shared with Livingston and Hamilton Accies. On 14th December, Isaac English suffered a broken leg at Livingston. In addition to a three-game suspension for Stevie Kerrigan in January there was a problem for striking options. To address this Robert Scott was signed from East Fife. The sparkling midfield performances of Alain Horace continued to enthral the supporters. On a day of joyous abandon the title was won at Berwick. The final points total of seventy-seven remains a club record but our previous title successes had been on the basis of two points for a win rather than three. There was only one defeat in the last nineteen league fixtures.
Promotion in 1988 had been followed by a season in which safety from relegation did not occur until the second last fixture. Promotion in 1997 was followed by a season in which the club went even closer to the precipice. It is perfectly logical that stepping up a league can be challenging and so it proved. There was a turnover of goalkeepers with Kevin Mcgeown, David Castilla, Henry Smith and Kristjan Finnbogason. Oddly enough David Castilla was a man of the match contender in a 6-0 home in against Airdrie in November. The match was more intensely fought than the result suggested. In February, Kilmarnock came to Ayr as Scottish Cup holders then went home beaten 2-0. On the same afternoon we dropped into the league's bottom two because Morton won. The climax to the season was fraught with worry. With Stirling Albion already assured of relegation the question was whether Partick Thistle 0r Ayr United would go down with them. Compounding the tension was the fact that the endangered teams met each other in the final game. Partick Thistle needed to win for safety and for Ayr United a draw would suffice. Partick Thistle 1 Ayr United 3 - relief!
With a strike force of Glynn Hurst and Andy Walker in 1998/99 there were credible hopes that a fear of the drop would not be a consideration. Other good signings were Craig Nelson and David Craig. In early October, Gary Teale was bought from Clydebank for £85,000. In December, Mickey Reynolds was bought from Glynn Hurst's former club Emley for £60,000. A 2-0 win at Airdrie in November comprised a sixth consecutive away win and put the club on top of the First Division. Another highlight of this season was beating Kilmarnock 3-0 at Ayr in the Scottish Cup. It was the third consecutive season in which we had put our county neighbours to the sword in cup competition. Again there was a sign of intent when Mark Campbell was bought from Stranraer for £90,000 in February 1999. It was impossible to stop Hibs from romping away with the league title. Ultimately we finished third.
The purchase of Alex Bone from Stirling Albion for £80,000 was the action of a club nursing hopes of progress. A planning application for the construction of a 10,000-seater stadium at Heathfield was another indication of a push for progress but the plan got choked in red tape until it became unworkable. Season 1999/00 was opened with an injury crisis. The irritation was compounded when a player was sent off in each of the first three league fixtures, neither of which were won. Four points were taken from the first five fixtures. Between October and December 1999 the team failed to score in four consecutive four home league games to equal a dubious record dating back to November until December 1917. A 1-1 draw at home to Falkirk in December 1999 marked ten consecutive games without a win (one League Cup tie and nine in the league). In the Scottish Cup, Premier League clubs Dundee then Motherwell were beaten in our path to a quarter-final in which the next victim was Partick Thistle. Our only previous Scottish Cup semi-final had been in 1973. Alas 1973 was replicated in a defeat to Rangers at Hampden. A league finish of seventh fell well short of expectations.
The summer signings in 2000 were beyond remarkable. Dundee had no shortage of interest for strikers James Grady and Eddie Annand but while other clubs pondered an 'either or' situation, Ayr United signed them both. From Hibs came John 'Yogi' Hughes, Pat McKinley, Paul Lovering and Michael Renwick. As in 1998 there was a pre-season tour to Sweden. Again there was an early season injury crisis but it did not prevent a credible promotion challenge. By the end of October sixteen points had been taken from a possible eighteen at home. In early December 2000 a 7-3 defeat at Inverness was concerning. This was redressed by a 6-0 win away to Morton on 2nd January, 2001. Glynn Hurst became the first Ayr United player to score five in a competitive fixture since Peter Price in 1955. Hurst responded by stating that he wished to return to England. He did not score for Ayr United again and was sold to Stockport County in mid-February. There was another 6-0 rout in March when Falkirk visited. It was a superb result against the third-placed club. Matches were being played in the knowledge that, even in the event of winning the league, promotion would not happen because Somerset Park was not compliant. Livingston won the league and therefore promotion. We were runners-up.
A defeat at Airdrie in August 2001 was only the club's second league defeat since Christmas. Unfortunately this was not a blip. When Arbroath won 1-0 at Ayr in November it was our seventh league defeat of the season. Second bottom place was then occupied in the First Division. Not even the most wildly optimistic fan could have predicted that the club was on the brink of a transformation so dramatic that it would take Ayr United into previously uncharted territory. At this time we had reached the quarter-finals of the League Cup having beaten Stranraer and Kilmarnock. Since 1996 Ayr United had now beaten Kilmarnock four times in cup competition and the fans knew it. Beating Inverness Caledonian Thistle 5-1 at Ayr ensured a safe passage to the semi-finals. On the historic date of 6th February, 2002, Hibs were beaten 1-0 after extra-time in a League Cup semi-final at Hampden. The scorer was Eddie Annand. There was no historical precedent for an Ayr United team reaching a major final. On St. Patrick's Day in 2002 we lost to Rangers in the final but six days later Ayr United returned to Hampden to contest a Scottish Cup semi-final against Celtic. Again it was defeat but there was a sense of the 'big time'. In First Division fare the team recovered to finish third in the First Division. The defeat against Arbroath in November had been dark literally and metaphorically but they do say that night is darkest just before the dawn.
At the end of 2001/02 fourteen players got released. That list included John Hughes, Neil Duffy, Marvyn Wilson, Pat McKinley and John Robertson all of whom were experienced. A July friendly at home to Stranraer gave a clue as to the future direction of the club. The Ayr United squad contained fourteen teenagers. After losing the first two league fixtures of 2002/03 fears was allayed when the three remaining fixtures in August were won. By early November the red card count was seven (two in the Challenge Cup and five in the league). That same month saw an outstanding 2-0 win away to St. Johnstone. Four days later Gordon Dalziel stepped down as manager whereupon he was quickly replaced by Campbell Money whose background in youth development made him an eminently sensible choice considering the number of young players in the squad. Finishing sixth in the league table represented a drop yet there were few dissenting voices.
In the summer of 2003 departures included James Grady, Eddie Annand, Paul Lovering, Craig Nelson and Nelson's goalkeeping understudy John Dodds. Ludovic Roy and John Hillcoat came in to fill the goalkeeping void. As anticipated 2003/04 was a season of struggle. The season's first win did not occur until the last Saturday of September when a stoppage time goal clinched the points at home to Brechin City. On the last Saturday of 2003 intense pressure had to be withstood to cling on to a 1-0 lead at home to Raith Rovers. It was a very important score. It brought the club level on points with third bottom Raith who still had the edge on goal difference. Ally MacLeod died on 1st February. 2004. The attitude was 'let us go on and achieve safety for Ally's sake.' Unfortunately the tough world of professional football pays little heed to sentiment. The outcome was relegation along with bottom club Brechin City.
In the summer of 2004 there was no broad opinion that Ayr United would make a quick return to the second tier. It transpired that five seasons were required. The third league fixture of the season was a 2-1 defeat at Stranraer. In the aftermath Campbell Money quit. It was still just in August. In time for the following Saturday, Mark Shanks was installed as manager. Gradually the team slipped out of promotion contention. On the first Saturday of December 2004 there was the ignominy of a 5-0 defeat at Brechin. It was striker Stewart Kean's last game pending his sale to St. Mirren. Ultimately we would end the season with the worst scoring record in the Second Division. On 1st March, 2005, Mark Shanks resigned. Three days later, Robert Connor took over, initially as interim manager. It was too late to create an appreciable impact. Eight out of ten in the third tier had an adverse effect on morale. Eleven players were released and attempts to keep Marc Smyth, Ludovic Roy, Willie Lyle all failed while Andrew Ferguson honoured his pre-season contract with Dundee.
Full time football had been running since 1989 but for the start of 2005/06 it was at an end, at least in the meantime. Summer recruitment was prolific. It included seven players from Junior clubs. Early season form was at odds with the trepidation. In fact a draw at Gretna broke the club's sequence of twenty-two consecutive home league wins. The midweek prior to this match saw a 2-1 away win against First Division Ross County in the League Cup. There was no league defeats until the eight fixture and even then it was merely 1-0 at home to a Morton team scoring in the 88th minute. By early November a run of three consecutive defeats (including 6-0 at Dumbarton) plunged Ayr United into third bottom place. A 4-0 win away to second-placed Morton on 25th March, impressive though it was, comprised the first win of 2006. This ended a thirteen-game winless run (eleven in the league and two in the Scottish Cup). Against a background of moderate expectations the fans seemed at ease with finishing sixth.
When the 2006/07 league season opened with a 3-1 win at Stirling there was elation amongst the fans. Contrasting emotions were in evidence the following Saturday when Cowdenbeath won 4-0 at Somerset Park. It was indicative of an early season pattern. On 23rd September, 2006, a 2-0 victory took the points total to thirteen, all of which had been won away from home. There were criticisms of a 4-5-1 formation being deployed, even in home matches. Then a player burst onto the scene who considerably enlivened matters. That player was Ryan Stevenson. Initially he was on loan from St. Johnstone and then he was purchased from that club. His debut was in a 1-1 draw at Cowdenbeath. His home debut was in a 5-0 win over Forfar Athletic. Yet the Forfar result created a false optimism. On 26th February, 2007, Robert Connor resigned. At this time we had only won one of the previous fourteen league games and even that was by courtesy of a stoppage time goal at home to Stranraer. A temporary management team was put in place comprising of goalkeeper Mark McGeown, central defender Brian Reid and director Alex Ingram. Within a month Neil Watt was named as the new boss. After sitting perilously close to the drop zone there was enough of a recovery to finish fifth.
During the close season of 2007 Mr Watt acquired a number of players whom he had formerly worked with at Stranraer. They were David Hamilton, Michael Moore, Murray Henderson, Barry John Corr, Stephen Swift and Craig Higgins. The re-acquaintainceship got severed when Mr Watt resigned on 22nd October, 2007. On the following day Brian Reid became the new manager. Two days before the resignation Ross County had won 4-1 at Somerset Park. It had been 4-0 by the 31st minute and the reaction by the fans was ample testimony to the prevailing mood. After losing 4-1 at home to Cowdenbeath on 1st December, Mr Reid pledged to enter the transfer market in the January transfer window. Losing 5-1 at Brechin on the last Saturday of the year reinforced that pledge. His signings were Iain Anderson, William Easton, Neil McGowan, Paul McLeod (loan) and Mark Staunton (loan). Six away league wins were gained from the last seven of the season. This was a close challenge to the club record of seven consecutive away league wins in 1958/59. In the context of 2007/08 it was a mercy that this run did not occur. There had been a danger of finishing second bottom then getting drawn into a play-off to avoid relegation. In the event fourth bottom was acceptable for now.
In opening league fixtures at home Ayr United have had a 0-0 draw three times - 1924, 1966 and 2008. Each time the gap has been forty-two years. Ayr United 0 Raith Rovers 0 could have been foretold at the beginning of 2008/09. However it was not foretold that Ayr United and Raith Rovers would be vying with each other for the Second Division title. A home win against Arbroath on 16th August was our first home league victory since 26th January. The placings at the top were tight. So much so that an away defeat to East Fife on 27th September meant dropping from top place to third. There was little margin for error. On 31st January, 2009, Raith Rovers visited Ayr for a game billed as a six-pointer. The visitors were 2-0 up by the ninth minute but a potentially catastrophic situation was avoided due to a fightback for a 2-2 draw. We therefore remained five points behind top-placed Raith with two games in hand. On 14th March the teams resumed hostilities at Stark's Park for another six-pointer. Raith Rovers 0 Ayr United 1 - we now had a three-point lead over second placed Raith. In the run-in a 1-0 defeat at Brechin meant that we dropped to second place. There was now a two-deficit with three games left. It proved insurmountable but on a memorable day at Airdrie promotion was achieved via the play-offs. Defeat in the play-off final would still have secured promotion due to Livingston's enforced relegation to the Third Division over financial misdealing. Ayr United were unbeaten at home in the league all season.
In preparation for season 2009/10 the Ayr United squad went to a training camp in Austria. Irrespective of the thoroughness of the preparations the First Division proved to be very testing. A 1-1 draw at home to Ross County in November was enough to lift Ayr United off the bottom. However any attempt at headway was soon thwarted by the severe winter. On 5th December, 2009, Dunfermline Athletic were beaten 1-0 at Ayr. The club's next home league match took place on 6th March 2010. Between those dates Somerset Park hosted a Scottish Cup tie with Brechin City. The January transfer window was extended to 1st February because the 31st was a Sunday. On that Monday Ryan Stevenson was sold to Hearts. Nonetheless the team rallied sufficiently to create hope of avoiding relegation. That hope was emphatically crushed when eight of the last nine league fixtures were lost. This run included a 7-0 loss at home to Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Bottom place meant straight relegation in the club's centenary year.
A wealth of interesting statistics may be used to prove that Season 2010/11 was anything but dull. Ayr United had nineteen penalty awards of which seventeen were scored and two saved. Sixteen penalties were conceded of which fourteen were scored and two saved. The club was the victim of nine red cards of which one was overturned. Opposition red cards amounted to ten. There were two own goals in our favour and three in favour of the opposition. Correctly the conclusion may be drawn that the season was littered with contentious games. On the first Saturday of October there was a key 3-1 win at home to Livingston who had been top before the game. Fourth place was now occupied even although we were just one point worse off than leaders Brechin City. On 13th October a 3-2 defeat away to bottom club Dumbarton left no chance for immediate atonement. The grip of the weather meant that our next match did not take place until 2nd January, 2011 (also against Dumbarton and a 2-0 Ayr win). In the same month Hibs were beaten 1-0 at Ayr in a Scottish Cup replay. It was the club's first ever Scottish Cup win against a club from two leagues above. Cup progress was halted when St. Mirren won at Ayr yet the main focus had to be on the league. Livingston were now stretching away at the top while Ayr United and Brechin City vyed for second place. Second place was achieved on goal difference over Forfar Athletic and Brechin City. An immediate return to the First Division occurred when the play-offs culminated in success at Brechin's Glebe Park.
Promoted in 2009 - relegated in 2010 - promoted in 2011 - could Ayr United make a shape at survival in the second tier? Form in the League Cup was exceptional. Inverness Caledonian Thistle (home), Hearts (home) and St. Mirren (away) were beaten on the way to the League Cup semi-finals. All of them were Premier League clubs. The semi-final was contested at Hampden and it was a 1-0 defeat from Kilmarnock after extra-time. In the Scottish Cup Montrose, Livingston and Falkirk were beaten on the way to a quarter-final at home to Hibs. A 2-0 loss dashed hopes of eliminating Hibs in consecutive seasons. League fare was predictably tough. Queen of the South gradually got a little detached at the foot therefore the aim was to stay out of the bottom two in order to avoid a play-off for survival. In the penultimate league fixture Dundee were beaten 3-2 at Ayr but elsewhere a Raith Rovers win over Queen of the South meant that we were consigned to the play-offs. At that stage an aggregate defeat against Airdrie United meant relegation whereupon Brian Reid quit and was immediately replaced by Mark Roberts.
Somerset Park's first competitive action of 2012/13 saw Clyde routed 6-1 in the League Cup. It was a 0-0 at half-time and the second half performance was devastating. When the league got underway the contrast was stark. One point got taken from the first five games. In comparative terms there was a revival in what was a tightly-packed Second Division. Beating East Fife at home in mid-December would have put Ayr United into third place. The 3-2 defeat left the club eighth. Losing 2-0 away to Albion Rovers on Boxing Day compounded the mood. On 2nd January, 2013, leaders Queen of the South won 5-1 at Somerset Park. This left us eighth out of ten and twenty-nine points behind our Dumfries counterparts. In the final analysis that gap was fifty-one points. Seventh place at least meant fighting off the threat of relegation but this was a little comfort. This was the season of the curse of the 2-0 lead due to the instances of failing to win from this position. A winning mentality was clearly needed.
The opening match of 2013/14 was a Challenge Cup tie away to Queen's Park and the outcome had some historical significance. When Alan Forrest struck a last minute winner he became the youngest ever player to score a competitive goal for Ayr United. He was aged 16 years 321 days. A fortnight later he scored at Arbroath to become the club's youngest ever scorer of a league goal. That match at Arbroath was won 3-0 and it comprised Ayr United's biggest away win in an opening league fixture since 1921. By now the leagues had been rebranded. The league formerly known as the Second Division was now branded League One. Regardless of the branding it was the third tier. After successful trials at reserve level, striker Kevin Kyle was signed. With Michael Moffat, Mark Roberts, Craig Malcolm, Michael Donald and Alan Forrest also possessing a scoring threat there was an injection of optimism. When Michael Moffat scored a hat-trick at home to Stranraer in November there was a clear example of Ayr United's attacking threat. Yet the match was lost 6-3 thereby highlighting that there were other issues to address. By the Saturday before Christmas, leaders Rangers were virtually uncatchable. The nine-point deficit with Dunfermline Athletic also comprised a yawning gap. We also trailed third-place Stranraer by three points. A run of four consecutive defeats between February and March 2014 ended in a most spectacular way with consecutive 5-0 wins (Stranraer at home and East Fife away). In finishing fourth the play-offs were reached at which stage a 5-2 aggregate defeat was suffered against Cowdenbeath.
2014/15 was faced with the loss of Michael Moffat to Dunfermline Athletic. The signings of defenders Nicky Devlin and Peter Murphy would prove to be shrewd business. Winning the first three league fixtures comprised a great start. This had not been achieved since 1991/92 when the first four were won. League win number three was at home to Forfar Athletic in 23rd August, 2014. Ayr United's next home league win did not occur until 28th February, 2015, also against Forfar Athletic. On 13th December a home defeat against Stenhousemuir left the club with a record of one win in the last eleven games (including the Scottish Cup). It would have been one in twelve had it not been for a home match against Peterhead being voided. Two days after the Stenhousemuir loss, Mark Roberts was dismissed. On 6th January, 2015, Ian McCall was appointed as the new boss. As January progressed we remained in the bottom two. Only on the final league Saturday was it guaranteed that there would be no involvement in the play0-offs to avoid relegation.
Significant signings in the 2015 close season were Paddy Boyle and Ross Docherty. Albion Rovers 3 Ayr United 0 - the result of the opening league fixture was a dreadful disappointment. The response was magnificent. We then had a run of fourteen consecutive league games unbeaten. The competition for top spot was being contested with Dunfermline Athletic. Ryan Stevenson returning to Ayr United was extremely welcome news. In December he joined from Partick Thistle on a 28-day loan but in the January transfer window it was confirmed that he would remain until the end of the season. Losing at Stranraer on 2nd January, 2016, signalled four defeats in five matches including a Scottish Cup tie. The lost momentum manifested itself in a drop from second place but this position was regained and kept after a 4-0 win at Peterhead in April. Peterhead had been popularly perceived as a bogey team but that status was further shattered when Ayr United beat them 6-2 on aggregate in the play-off semi-finals. In the play-off final Ayr United and Stranraer were level at 1-1 on aggregate after two matches and extra time. A shootout took place at the railway end and Greg Fleming made three saves. Andy Graham struck the deciding kick to confirm our promotion to the Championship.
It was sincerely hoped that there would be no repetition of the trend whereby the two most recent promotions were followed by straight relegation. Defeats in the first three league fixtures made the situation ominous. Mercifully an improvement occurred. A 1-0 home win against Queen of the South in October meant that Greg Fleming had four consecutive shutouts. It also meant that in our last six league matches, including this one, we had taken eleven more points than Dumbarton and St. Mirren, nine more than Dunfermline Athletic, six more than Raith Rovers, five more than Queen of the South, four more than Hibs and Morton and the same number of points as Dundee United and Falkirk. That run included a 2-1 win away to Hibs, the Scottish Cup holders. Such a level of consistency could not be maintained and in the ensuing weeks it was clear that the club was mired in a battle to avoid relegation. On 1st April, 2017, a six-pointer was lost 6-2 away to St. Mirren. Even after the match the hosts remained bottom but our one-point lead over them was rendered vulnerable by their game in hand and their resurgent form. Third-bottom Raith Rovers had two points more and only five games remained. The season concluded with Ayr United as the bottom club so it was an immediate return to League One.
Michael Moffat and Andy Geggan returned to Ayr United from Dunfermline Athletic in the summer of 2017. Craig Moore was also confirmed as a signed player rather than a loanee. Another stir was created when it was made known that the season would be opening with a home match against Kilmarnock in the League Cup. Following upon relegation this was an opportunity to make the fans happy. Kilmarnock had not won a competitive match at Ayr since 2nd January, 1993. In the seven League Cup ties they had played at Ayr they could only boast one win and even that was a far back as 25th August, 1951. True to form the result in 2017 was 1-0 to Ayr yet this did not divert from the main priority - the league. Striker Lawrence Shankland was signed as a free agent in time to make his debut away to Raith Rovers on 9th September. By this stage of the season Ayr United had scored thirty-four goals in the eleven matches played between cup and league. Acquiring Shankland would immediately prove to be an outstanding signing. The team's attacking style was ideally suited to his own style. Fifty-two goals were scored by the end of October. It was only our third season ever in which the fifty-goal barrier had been breached by this point of the season. The league title emerged as a straight battle between Ayr United and Raith Rovers. Both matches between the clubs at Ayr resulted in 3-0 home wins. With three league fixtures left we had a five-point lead and a vastly superior goal difference. With one game left it was a one-point deficit. The league programme concluded with results of Ayr United 2 Albion Rovers 0 and Raith Rovers 0 Alloa Athletic 0. We were champions by one point. It was a season in which 124 competitive goals were scored. This was the second highest in the club's history. Between league and cup, Lawrence Shankland netted twenty-nine goals in an incomplete season. Craig Moore netted twenty-seven.
Despite intense transfer speculation Lawrence Shankland remained at Ayr United for season 2018/19. Past experience caused an opinion that there would be a straight relegation. There was never the remotest possibility that this would happen. Full points in a League Cup section preceded a 3-0 knockout win away to Premier League Dundee. That tie at Dundee marked a seventh consecutive shutout for Ross Doohan. This was just one short of the club record. By the first Saturday in November twelve league fixtures had been played. We sat top of the league with a three-point gap over Ross County and a seven-point gap over third-placed Dundee United. On the Friday evening on 30th November there was quite a spectacular result - Dundee United 0 Ayr United 5. Lawrence Shankland only managed to score four.
Form wavered in January 2019 in which month there were four defeats out of five, including one in the Scottish Cup. Yet that one win was crucial, it being a six-pointer against Dundee United whom we had now taken nine points from to this point. As the season unfolded there was a drop to third place. Set against expectations in the summer of 2018 this was not totally calamitous. On the final league Saturday a 1-1 draw at home to Alloa Athletic saved the visitors from relegation and left Ayr United in a position of fourth.
Ian McCall said: "That was two teams who were tipped for ninth and tenth and we finished fourth." This ensured involvement in the promotion play-offs. Alas dreams of a long awaited return to the Premier League were dashed in a 4-2 aggregate defeat against Inverness Caledonian Thistle.