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.