With the football season over prematurely due to the Coronavirus Pandemic I’m in the unusual position of actually having this blog up to date! So to keep the content coming, and for something to do, I’ll do some old grounds and games where there’s a story to tell.
Saturday 23rd February 2008 ko 15.00
Scottish League Division Two
AYR UNITED 0
Lowing sent off 45 (dangerous play)
Williams missed penalty 57
BRECHIN CITY 3 (Weaver 11og Paton 19 N Walker 90)
Entry (seat in main stand) £14
On occasion I get asked which Scottish League grounds I’d recommend, and my answer is always the same two clubs, Greenock Morton, and Ayr United. That’s no disrespect to any other clubs and their stadia, and I’d recommend a trip round the Leitch stand at Ibrox too, but I’d argue that if you love traditional Scottish football grounds, then you really do need to visit Cappielow and Somerset Park. This is all about the latter.
Perhaps its no surprise that Ibrox, Cappielow and Somerset Park all feature Leitch stands. Somerset Park is way older than the club dating from 1888, with original tenants Ayr FC merging with Ayr Parkhouse in 1910 to form the Ayr United of today. Even then the only reason the original Ayr FC moved their was that their normal ground Beresford Park was needed for a cattle show, and they had a prestigious friendly lined up against Aston Villa. Beresford Park’s stand was transported to Somerset Park and little physically changed until 1920.
After an abortive attempt to lease Dam Park now home to Whitletts Victoria, “The Honest Men” (named after a line in Burns’ “Tam O’Shanter) bought Somerset Park for £2,500 and employed the doyen of stadium architects Archibald Leitch to redesign the ground. In 1924 the pitch was rotated through 90 degrees and the main stand was designed so that it could be extended at the wings if needed- which it was in 1989! Incidentally Ayr United did play at Dam Park; they played 2 played two sectional League Cup games there at the start of the 1972-73 season whilst the pitch at Somerset Park was being re-turfed
The ground was late in installing floodlights, some say due to the proximity of Prestwick Airport’s flight path, but 1970 was early enough for those lights to be mounted on towers- yet another reason to visit!
But the reason for 4 of us to blast up the M6 and M74 one Saturday in 2008 was that Barr Construction had agreed to buy Somerset Park for housing and the club gained planning permission to build a new stadium in the Heathfield district of town. Now in the end those plans fell through not least due to the credit crunch and banking crisis over the next couple of years. At present the plans to move have been dropped.
But the pressure to move must still be there, even if ground gradings for the SPFL’s top flight have been relaxed these days, although the football romantic would love to see the ground modernised in much the same way as another iconic Leitch ground Fulham’s Craven Cottage has. The club finished the last 2 seasons 4th in the Scottish Championship so Premier football does look possible. The club are on an upward tragectory not seen since the days of Ally McLeod. Could we sit back and watch Ayr get promoted?
Ayr certainly weren’t this upwardly mobile 12 years ago, although they were perfectly charming. I’d phoned secretary Tracy McTrusty and organised teamsheets and programmes to be put aside for us in case we were running late. Typically we arrived 90 minutes early….. Tracy and her staff were very kind and allowed us a tour of ground before the gates opened, and I remember four groundhoppers rather amusing the stewards; I think they were a little surprised that 3 out of us were married!
Some of us went on the terrace, I opted to explore the stand and sample that most Scottish of delicacies- the chicken and haggis pie. I watched Ayr featuring journeyman full back Neil McGowan (does anyone else have Ayr United, Oxford United and Knattspyrnufélag Akureyrar of Iceland on their CV?) have a bad day at the office. I’m not sure 3-0 was a fair reflection on the run of play, but when you miss a penalty and have a man sent off, you are rather swimming against the tide aren’t you?
Certainly Ayr United are swimming with the tide these days, and after the welcome we got I can only wish them all the best. But please Ayr, don’t move from Somerset Park, it is a classic of the Scottish game.