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 Leith was the foremost expert in the design of football grounds and this was the man Ayr United consulted. Leith 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.

Neil McBain

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.

Phil McCloy

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.

1924/25 Team Photo

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.

Danny Tolland

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.

Click here for the years 1930 – 1940