Football in Stevenston

By James Clements. Burgh Offices Stevenston, Scotland 1974

Organised football has been played in Stevenston since around 1880 and the principal team before the turn of the twentieth century was Stevenston Thistle and their playing-field was situated contiguous to the 'Piper's Plantin' on the road to Guest Mailing Farm (Ardeer Mains). In 1903, on the inauguration of the Irvine and District Football League being formed through the game being much better organised and clubs beginning to find their proper level in the newly-formed Junior grade (previously all had been classed as Seniors in Stevenston Thistle's time). We find a band of enthusiasts moving the Ardeer Thistle juvenile team into the Junior grade and their first ground was adjacent to the Stevenston Quarry and the railway lines, it was termed 'Wardhouse' Park after the house of that name in that area. After a short stay there they moved to Warner Park to a piece of ground in the south end of the town which had been gifted by the Warner Estate. The field was situated where Morris Moodie Avenue stands today. This arena, which was the scene of many a football battle, was their home, at least considered their home for well nigh 25 years. In 1903 their first season as a Junior combination they had a very successful run in the National Cup falling to Larkhall Thistle at Dechmont Park, Dalmarnock, in the semi-final round. The team which did duty that day was Montgomery, Robb, Aitken, McCulloch, Reid, Knox, Dunbar, Nicholl, Duff, Bingham and Vanes.

In 1908, Thistle also had a successful season, winning numerous County Cups and on 'Buffs' bringing honour to Ayrshire in that year by annexing the National Trophy, met Ardeer Thistle in the final match for the Irvine and District Cup on the Monday evening following their winning the Scottish Cup on the Saturday. They were defeated by the Thistle to the tune of 5 goals to 1. Thistle, the following Friday evening inflicted a similar defeat on 'Buffs', 5-0, in the final match for the Irvine Herald Cup, merely to let our Kilwinning friends know that the first game was no chance hit, no 'fluke'. (This episode is always told with relish) It is significant to note that a defeat of similar magnitude was suffered by Saltcoats Victoria, 6-1, at the hands of the Thistle on the Monday after they, the Victoria, brought honour to our county and great credit to themselves when the National Trophy landed in Saltcoats in 1925. This was the final match for the St. Vincent de Paul Charity Cup and this particular match is referred to as the 'Goofy' final.

Ardeer Thistle were in abeyance for some time during the first Great War and were re-formed around 1920. We find them in membership of the Western Junior League and during the twenties were undoubtedly one of the premier combinations in the Junior world, especially in 1924-25 when they won every trophy competed for with the exception of the Scottish Cup. The principal team fielded at that period was McQueen, James Crapnell, Taylor (McMaster) Strang, Joe Crapnell, Wilson, Mackie, Conn, Bryant (Lindsay) Curly Walters. A notable feature of 1926 was that Thistle had a drawn game with Dreghorn Juniors in the final of the Ayrshire Cup on 1st May and the General Strike of that year hit the country on 3rd May. The replay was ordered for Saturday, 8th May, and no transport was available to convey the Stevenston supporters to Rugby Park, Kilmarnock, as strike pickets were out all along the route and rightly so. However, a march was organised to Kilmarnock and the operation was tackled in military fashion with the local Temperance Pipe Band leading the way. Great was the multitude which turned out to watch and cheer as the army of supporters passed through each township en route. Needless to say, Thistle again returned with the Cup. But darker days were in store and the old club closed down in 1928 'owing to lack of funds' and was in abeyance until 1952. It was resuscitated principally through the efforts of Mr. Robert Paterson, a prominent business man, and the Editor. After a very hard uphill fight the old club is again established in the forefront of Ayrshire Junior football. For the first two years of their new life they played in School Field, kindly lent them by the local school authorities until their well-equipped and picturesque ground at Ardchoillie Hotel was completed. When they were reformed after the First World War they played for a short time on the foreshore as Stevenston United and Thistle shared Warner Park-with United having first call for a short period and games sometimes clashing. The performance of the old club in 1959-60 season reflected great credit on all connected with the club and brought distinction to the town. (A good football team being the best advertisement any town can have.) They were the proud winners of various County trophies, ran for 40 matches without defeat and only fell to Greenock after a replay in the semi-final round of the National Cup at Firhill Park, Glasgow. Their team that year, which could be rhymed off by any schoolboy in the town was Bishop, Sweene and Thompson, Hood, Andrews and Murray, Templeton, Brannan, Duffy: McLeod and Reilly. Tommy Duffy, the Ardeer centre, set up a record by having scored 96 goals during that season.

Ardeer Recreation Football Club was formed in 1928 as a works welfare club on Nobel's factory being incorporated in I.C.I. and had a rapid rise in the Junior world and for over 20 years filled the local niche long occupied by Ardeer Thistle. When the Recreation Club was formed the split or strike was raging and lasted for four years. Junior clubs broke away from the parent body, the Scottish Football Association, and formed their own Association to be known as the Intermediate Football Association. This position came about through Senior clubs taking away players from the Juniors without compensating the Junior clubs. The Western League and the Glasgow Junior League were the principals in the Intermediate split. Saltcoats Vics and Dreghorn Juniors were the only clubs in the Western League who refused to leave the parent Association and played in the Scottish Junior League along with clubs from Lanarkshire and Stirlingshire. Ardeer Rec. who were newly formed could not gain admission to the Western League and so for a time competed in the Scottish Junior League, finally gaining admission to the Western League in 1930, two years before the split was healed. Ardeer Rec. continued to function during the Second World War and in 1942 fell to Blantyre Victoria in the semi-final round of the Scottish Cup at Celtic Park Glasgow. Again in 194- they unsuccessfully contested the semi-final round of the premier cup falling to Cumnock Juniors at Rugby Park Kilmarnock. They fielded that day, Archibald, Hume, Ellingham, Smith Currie, McClymont, Curlett, Paterson, Barrie, Rodman and McGeachie

In the 1913-14 season a number of Stevenston football enthusiasts considered that the standard of football should and could be of the Senior standard in Stevenston and proceeded to form a new club-Stevenston United. They were admitted to the Scottish Reserve League and in the initial year covered themselves with credit, both in the League and the Scottish Cup proper. They also won the Ayrshire Senior Cup. Their most notable run was in the National Cup proper, reaching the last eight an only failing at Cathkin Park to Third Lanark after a marathon tie which went for three games, plus extra time after the second replay.

Stevenston United got over the first three rounds comfortably, Lanemark, Peebles Rovers and Kirkcaldy United away from home and they were drawn against Third Lanark in the fourth round-again away from home, at Cathkin Park, Glasgow, on 7th March, 1914. The game resulted in a draw-no scoring. The team that did duty that day for United was Montgomery, Thompson, Roxborough, Brown, Rae, Auld, T. Hamilton, Paton, McCurdy, Farrel and C. Hamilton. Montgomery, who was one of the prime movers in the formation of the club, had previous experience with Motherwell, Thompson (Everton), Brown (Rangers), Paton (Motherwell), McCurdy (Kilmarnock), Farrel {Clyde) and Carrick Hamilton (Queen's Park). It was generally considered that the 'Warriors', the Hi-Hi' were fortune's favourites when they drew Stevenston United in the fourth round of the Scottish Cup but their only luck came, it seems, when the final whistle blew and they were left with another chance to qualify for the semi-final round. As the game developed, cool confidence gave way to surprise and astonishment on the part of the home crowd through the brilliant display of the Stevenston team. The national papers of the day were unanimous in their reports of the game, that only the brilliance of Brownlie, the famous international goalkeeper, stood between Third Lanark and defeat. After the game Third Lanark officials offered to guarantee Stevenston United £300 if they would replay the match at Cathkin Park on Tuesday, 10th March. The United committee, led by James Innes, Secretary, were unanimously agreed not to entertain the offer. A more substantial offer was made on the Monday to have the game played in Glasgow and in the event of Stevenston agreeing, to admit all their supporters free to the game. The United officials were again unanimous that the replay should take place at Stevenston on Saturday, 14th March. Whilst all these offers were going on Third Lanark meantime applied to the Scottish Football Association to have the game postponed until 21st March and on 10th March the following telegram was received:

Innes, Carrick View, Stevenston
Third Lanark's application for extension until 21st March granted.
McDowall, Secretary, S.F.A.

The reason Third Lanark made application for an extension was because Brownlie, their international goalkeeper, was selected to play for Scotland versus Ireland on 14th March. It was ironic for the locals at that time when it is taken into consideration that United could not get a postponement of a previous tie with Peebles Rovers, at the time of a disastrous explosion at Nobel's works at Ardeer. United were informed at that time that an application should have been received from both clubs. It was the considered opinion of Ayrshire sportsmen at that time that Brownlie should have been given the choice of playing, either for his club or his country. A prominent national paper carried a cartoon which depicted the Third Lanark officials as a group of small boys with the caption, 'You were afraid to play because your team was in Ireland'.

United were conscious of the significance of the replay and extended the terracing around Warner Park to accommodate 16,000 spectators, plus the fact that if they got over this hurdle they would meet Celtic in the semi-final round at Ibrox Park, Glasgow. March 21st, 1914, saw a record crowd for North Ayrshire assembled at the Warner Park, over 14,000 being present. United fielded the same team as at Glasgow, and the Third Lanark team read Brownlie, Lennon and Orr , Steel, Swift and Hannah, Cranston, Ramsay, Smith, McTavish and Mountford. A press report of the game stated that Stevenston were again the more impressive side and really wondered how the Hi-Hi's would have fared without Scotland's premier custodian-the ever-popular J. Brownlie. At half-time the scores stood level-no goals being scored. Fifteen minutes after the resumption United forced a corner on the left. This was perfectly placed by Carrick Hamilton and Farrel cleverly caught the ball with his head and placed it well beyond the reach of Brownlie, in the net. This success was a signal for loud and prolonged cheering and it was some time before the local supporters regained a normal state of mind. Time was passing beautifully and lbrox was looming ahead. With the intention of helping his team, Montgomery, who was captain, endeavoured .to kick a bye-kick over the barricade (Kilbirnie Play). The ball was short and in the general mix-up which followed the throw-in the full backs left a loose ball, one to the other, with the result that the Third Lanark centre got his toe to the ball and brought the scores level. Time was called immediately and United retired with all the honours, but only with an equal score. The replay took place on Tuesday, 24th, at Cathkin Park, Glasgow, and it is claimed that this was one of the few days that all work stopped in the 'Dynamite' as did the pits, the blast furnaces and the Ardeer foundry and, again, after the statutory 90 minutes the teams were again level and it was only in the latter part of the second half of the extra time that Third Lanark managed the only goal of the game. The press felt regret that Stevenston United’s light should go out after such a gallant fight and were loud in their praise of Thompson, the United right back, claiming he was fit for any company, A pleasing feature of the composition of the team was the fact that Montgomery, Thompson, Auld, T. Hamilton, Farrel and C. Hamilton were Stevenston men.The Western Football League was formed in 1918 and Stevenston United were members until it ceased in 1922-23. Mr. J. W. lnnes was originally President and latterly Secretary of the League and during this (1921) United played a 1st Round Scottish Cup tie versus St. Mirren at Warner Park, falling by 2 goals to 1.

Ardeer Thistle, at this time, were again on the crest of the wave, commanding a major part of the local support, and the Western, Central and Eastern Leagues were being formed into the 2nd and 3rd Divisions of the Scottish League. Stevenston United would have been with them, but for the fact that Ardeer Thistle had re-formed after the First World War. Some old United supporters refer to the Thistle as the 'curse of Stevenston fitba',' claiming we could possibly have had 1st Division football here, in this populace area now. Latterly, Stevenston United carried the uncommon nick-name of 'The Lousies' believed to have been inflicted on them by a band of Thistle supporters at the period in the early twenties when both clubs were using Warner Park. The Thistle were known as the 'Fish- Supper' team, as that was the wholesome dish each player was treated to on signing the necessary forms.

During the 1914-18 war, a difference of opinion arose between certain members of the Ardeer Thistle committee and the difference was so acute that a complete break came and we find a new club being formed under the name Stevenston Thistle and their ground was at Auchenharvie Collieries. The playing pitch was on the site used today as the Granview Greyhound Racing Stadium. Their sojourn in the Irvine and District League (the forerunner of the Western Junior League) was short lived, but highly successful. In 1915 they reached the last sixteen in the Scottish Cup, falling to Parkhead in the seventh round and for the previous tie against Shawfield Ju. they had the use of Warner Park which was completely enclosed. That same year, 1915, their first, they went on to annex the Ayrshire Cup, disposing of Ardeer Thistle in the second round after a draw at Warner Park. The principal team they fielded then was Haggo, McMaster, Dorrian, McDonald, Elliot and Montgomery, Keenan, Cunningham, Fullerton, Gordon and Craig. Near the close of hostilities the first Great War and with Stevenston United in the ascendancy, we find Ardeer Thistle and Stevenston Thistle shutting shop, but Ardeer not for long. A band of enthusiasts got together and again re-formed the old band as United were in occupancy of Warner Park, Ardeer constructed a field on the foreshore, a temporary measure, as they claimed they were rightful tenants of Warner Park. Seaview Park was on that part of the foreshore on which today is situated the modern kiosk and children's swings, with the 'Jubilee Fountain' very close to the touchline; the changing rooms were at Ardeer Halls. In 1922 yet another attempt was made to oust Ardeer Thistle from the affection of the Stevenston football public by the formation of yet another Junior club, namely, Stevenston United Juniors, but the attempt was doomed to failure from the start as a playing field could not be got within the town. The one year they were existence all their home games had to be played at 'Rockyknowe', Victoria Park, Saltcoats, with kind permission of Saltcoats Victoria F .C. Although at one period, for three months, Ardeer had to play all their home games at Winton Park, Ardrossan, that being the punishment meted out to the club for a serious disturbance which occurred at Warner Park against Burnfoothill, the father and mother of all 'break-ins'. The park was closed for three months.

Another little recorded incident in the life of Ardeer Thistle was in 1924 when the then existing clubhouse or dressing-rooms were not considered adequate and being the 'waur o' the wear' it was decided to burn it down- it being insured for a small sum and with the receipts build a new structure. The fact of the matter is that it had to be set on fire twice as on the first occasion that late Saturday evening, it had caught alight and the culprits patriots moved to a vantage point to watch the fire. To their consternation, the alarm was raised by a resident of Redan Buildings, which looked on to the field and the Redan residents proceeded to put the fire out. After the passing of some time, the local patriots proceeded from their position on the 'Prince of Wales' pit-bing, re-lit the fire and stood guard until it was gutted. For bellicose patriotism, the average Stevenstonian is hard to beat. Whether stay at home or wanderer, he honestly believes that there is 'nae place like Stevenston' and I have seen a few put up their fists in their endeavour to prove it. Yet the contradictory fact is that there are more Stevenstonians abroad than there are in Stevenston.