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.

1911/12 Team Photo

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.

1912/13 Team Photo

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.

Switcher McLaughlan

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.

Click here for the years 1920 – 1930