Welcome to volume two of my blog paying homage to the football clubs I've visited all over the world and the wonderful people responsible for keeping them going and looking after the stadiums, and in some cases basic grounds.

Since I was a little lad I've been fascinated in football and more so where games are played. With my love of travel and curiosity of the game I wanted to visit as many grounds and see games wherever possible. I was lucky that my Dad also loved the game and spent so much of his spare time taking me to matches. As I got older the boundaries widened owing to my location and increased wages to Europe and indeed the world. The sight of a stand or a floodlight pylon in the distance immediately hightens my senses and eagerness for a closer look.

I hope this site gives you the chance to share in my pleasure and experiences and maybe one day set you on the road to adventure. If you get half as much out of the hobby as I've done I can guarantee some great memories, good friends and stories to pass on to future generations.

Give your local club a go today. They'll be pleased to see you!

Everlasting thanks primarily to my late and very much missed and dearly loved parents; my Dad Bob Bernard and my Mum; Ann, who put up with endless years of football chat and my brothers Nick and Paul who gave me the chance and encouragement to do what I have. Thanks to all my friends who offer encouragement and Sally and Stan who inspire and give me great pride. Young Stan is showing a keen interest in my hobby!

Please feel free to post any comments (please use sensible language - I want everyone to be able to enjoy reading) or ask any questions relating to visiting grounds or events. If you want to see any ground reviewed please let me know. It will take quite some time for everywhere to appear, but make sure you keep having a look as the site is continually updated.

If you click on a lot of the pictures you will get a larger version on your screen.

I have also added links to video clips on youtube where appropriate for those of you who are bored of reading or are filling in time at work. I haven't always gone for the most obvious choices, but items that will be in some cases unusual but always historically interesting.

Click to see volume one of HAOTW.

Rob Bernard


September 2015

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Ayr United

Ayr United FC is a professional football club from the town of the same name which is located on the west coast of Scotland. United were formed in 1910 following the merger of Ayr FC and Ayr Parkhouse FC.

Ayr United have the nickname 'The Honest Men', which was taken from the poetry of Scotland's National Bard, Robert Burns, who came from Alloway, near Ayr. He wrote about “Auld Ayr, wham ne'er a toon surpasses, for honest men and bonnie lasses”.

United became members of Division Two, of which they were champions of 1912-13 winning promotion to Division One. Herbert Dainty was appointed as the first club manager in 1914, before several others had their go.

Ayr were relegated under Jimmy Hay in 1924-25 and they remained in Division Two until 1927-28 when the side led by Archie Buchanan went back up. Former Northern Irish international Frank Thompson was appointed as manager in 1937-38, but he and the side failed to retain the club’s top flight status.

However, he took the side to the Division Two title at the first time of asking, as he remained at the club in the top tier until the league was suspended during to the outbreak of World War Two. Once peacetime had resumed Ayr found themselves in Division Two under Bob Ferrier.

The Honest Men would remain at the second level of Scottish football until Neil McBain led the side to promotion in 1955-56. However, McBain left at the end of the triumphant season and the team were relegated after just one season.

Before the end of the decade United would be relegated twice, but on both occasions the team led by Jackie Cox won instant promotion. Bobby Flavell’s 1960-61 season in charge saw Ayr demoted once again.

Tom McCreath took United back to Division One in 1965-66 before he gave way to winger Ally McLeod who was completing his successful playing career. United were relegated in his first season, but recovered their status two years later.

McLeod was a popular manager who from 1971-72 to 1974-75 took the team to sixth and seventh place finishes as well as the semi-finals of the League Cup in 1969-70 and the Scottish Cup in 1973, before he was tempted away by the managers post at Aberdeen, from where he later found real fame as Scotland manager.

Scottish football was re-organised for the 1975-76 season and Ayr found themselves in the Premier League under the stewardship of Alex Stuart. A ninth place finish in 1978-79 saw United relegated with Stuart departing to be replaced by Willie McLean.

George Caldwell stepped into the managers seat in 1983 before McLeod returned from his adventures in 1985, with the club being relegated to the third tier Division Two in his first campaign back in charge.

United lifted the Division Two title in 1987-88 to return to Division One. McLeod retired to be replaced by George Burley for the 1990-91 campaign, where he remained for a couple of seasons before Simon Stainrod became the new United boss.

Ayr were relegated in 1994-95 with Gordon Dalziel being given the task of restoring United’s second tier status, which was achieved in 1996-97 as the club were crowned as Division Two champions. In 2000 the team reached the semi-final of the Scottish Cup but were defeated by Rangers.

United reached the semi-finals once again in 2002, but this time Celtic proved too strong for the men of Somerset Park. Dalziel moved on at the end of the season to be replaced by Campbell Money. The 2003-04 season saw the team relegated to Division Two with Money being replaced for a season by Mark Shanks.

Bobby Connor was appointed as manager in the summer of 2005 but after three mid table finishes the board turned to Brian Reid for the 2007-08 campaign. Reid’s spell saw promotions in 2008-09 and 2010-11. Unfortunately the 2009-10 and 2011-12 seasons culminated in relegation. Reid was replaced by striker Mark Roberts in the player managers role.

Division Two became Scottish League One in the 2013-14 season following rebranding. A fourth place finish saw Ayr reach the play-offs, but any hope of promotion were dashed by Cowdenbeath. After a poor 2014-15 season, Ian McCall was appointed as the new manager.

McCall led the side to a second place finish in 2015-16 before the side defeated Peterhead and then Stranraer in the play-offs to be promoted to the second tier Scottish Championship. However, United failed to consolidate and were relegated in May 2017.

Ayr United will play in Scottish League Two in the 2017-18 season

My visit

Ayr United 4 Dumbarton 4 (Saturday 24th December 2016) Scottish Championship (att: 1,441)

It was my long weekend off work and this happily coincided with the Christmas holiday. The fixtures worked out perfectly for me to do a couple of new grounds and still be back in London at 9.30pm on Christmas Eve.

If I thought it was cold,wet and windy the previous evening at the Kilmarnock v St Johnstone, I was in for a real shock when I headed out of Glasgow Central towards the coast. Storm Margaret was doing its best to freeze and soak all pedestrians when I alighted at Ayr station.

A shocking pint, a look at the Robert Burns statue and a drenching on the visit in the howling conditions taking a look at the Dam Park Stadium home of Whitletts Victoria home hadn’t massively cheered me. I made my way through the warren of terraced housing to reach the corner entrance to Somerset Park.

I followed the locals into the club shop. I don’t think many purchased were made, and most went in for a warm. It turned out to be a handy move as I picked up a free teamsheet. Outside I purchased a programme for a couple of quid. I decided on going in the home end terrace, which cost £17.

Having grabbed a Bovril, which was most welcome, along with a local Boaby Pie I headed to the shelter to take in the surroundings. I was most impressed.

Somerset Park was very much old school and much like several grounds I used to head to with Hull City in the 1980’s. Both ends had no frills covered terracing. The Main Stand was raised seating with a few steps in front and an extension on one end. Opposite was a large open terracing backed by a modern building offering hospitality for sponsors and members.

My ticket also allowed access down the open side. The far end was closed with the vocal Dumbarton fans being located in the far end of the raised Main Stand. I really liked the old school nature of Somerset Park. The Boaby's Pie was good but not quite up to Killie's offering the previous evening.

The game was a slow burner. Ayr kicked with a fierce wind at their backs but didn't capitalise until Scott McKenna headed home from a corner on the half hour mark, before man of the match Gary Harkins doubled the lead eleven minutes later.

However 'Sons' were back in it as Robert Thomson glanced home a header with referee Craig Charleston ending the additional two minutes of stoppage time as soon as Ayr kicked off.  Some hardy souls stood on the open terrace. I was doing my best but struggling to keep warm under the roof. The action in the second half gave me lots to keep my mind off the weather.

Daniel Harvie levelled things up six minutes after the break when his cross carried in the wind and dropped in off the far post. Both keepers were earning their keep, as both sides went for it, attempting to secure a vital win at the wrong end of the Championship table.

I was admiring the quality of abuse and vitriol, with the Main Stand side linesman getting absolute pelters from those stood in the paddock. Although I could just about pick out the F word, the rest was just a really angry noise.

On sixty eight minutes Sons Andy Stirling and United's Paul Cairney got into a tangle in the box. Referee Charleston pointed to the spot and harshly sent the visitor for an early bath. Alan Forrest sent Alan Martin the wrong way from the spot to make it 3-2. With six minutes remaining Dumbarton were back level again as Greg Fleming flapped about in the home net as Joe Thomson finished off a real scramble.

The downcast Ayr fans were joyous once again just a minute later when Cairney was first to react to a shot off the post to poke home. Yet, I sensed a real feeling of dread and not 100% confidence in their custodian as Dumbarton won another corner in the last minute of normal time. Sure enough their former favourite and boyhood Ayr fan Ryan Stevenson headed home to round off the scoring.

It had been an excellent game for the neutral. The conditions were not easy but both sides stuck at it. If it had been a boxing match I would have awarded the contest to Dumbarton on a split decision.

I wandered back to Newton-on-Ayr station to thaw out on the train back to Glasgow where I did a bit of shopping buying some excellent square sausage for Christmas Day breakfast and grabbing a pint of Bitter & Twisted in the busy Horseshoe. My 4.40 train arrived fifteen minutes early back at Watford Junction and I was enjoying some fine ale in Kingsbury by 10pm.

It had been a tremendous overnighter once again up north and a great prelude to a really happy Christmas.

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