The Unification Of Ayr

Last updated : 11 January 2007 By Honestman
During the 1870's football took off in Ayr as a popular sport and many football clubs were formed, with limited degrees of success.

The two most successful clubs during this time were Ayr Thistle and Ayr Academicals. Thistle had previously reached the semi finals of the Scottish Cup in 1876, only to lose 9-0 to the eventual winners, Vale of Leven at Kinning Park, then the home of Rangers. In the previous round, Vale had become the first side ever to beat the masters of the game, Queen's Park.

In 1879, Thistle and Academicals amalgamated to form Ayr FC. The new clubs first home being Springvale Park, the previous home ground of Ayr Academicals.

Organised football in those days, other than Scottish Cup fixtures, consisted mainly of friendlies and in their early years, Ayr FC attracted clubs the stature of Scottish Cup holders Queen's Park and Aston Villa to Springvale Park.

In 1884, the club took up the offer of a lease on Beresford Park. The ground was situated in the town centre, running parallel to the current Beresford Terrace, from Burns Statue Square to the former coal yard. Ayr FC's first match on their new ground was a 3-1 win over Glasgow Pilgrims, followed up a couple of days later with a 4-1 Scottish Cup win over Lugar Boswell Thistle, a club in those days that had a big reputation in Ayrshire footballing circles.

1885 saw the club win its first piece of silverware, when they travelled to Kilmarnock and beat the Rugby Park side 3-2 in the final of the Kilmarnock Charity Cup. Ayr had actually trailed 2-0 at the interval but second half goals from Monaghan, Arthur and Cunningham won the day.

More success was to follow and the first ever Ayr Charity Cup was won by the club in June 1885. Again their opponents were Kilmarnock and again the visitors had led at half time but this time Ayr ran out 5-2 victors.

A prestigious friendly was arranged against Queen's Park at Beresford Park. The Glasgow side were to go on and win the Scottish Cup in that 1885/6 season and had recently thrashed FA Cup holders Blackburn Rovers 7-1. But Ayr proved to be more of a match for their illustrious opponents, earning a prestigious 2-2 draw.

The major tournament outside the Scottish Cup for local sides at this time was the Ayrshire Cup and in 1886, Ayr FC became the first club from the town to reach the final, only to lose out 2-1 to Kilmarnock in the Rugby Park final but the Ayr Charity Cup was retained with a 5-1 success over Annbank.

But at the end of that season there was a rebellion by some clubs members. The committee were accused of arrogance and of being overbearing and at a meeting in the Cattle Market Hotel; a group broke away and formed a club bearing the name of the former Ayr Thistle.

On the park, despite accusations made against the rebels of attempting to poach players, Ayr scored a spectacular 2-1 win over Rangers at Beresford Park.

In 1887, Ayr won the Kilmarnock Charity Cup for the second time. After two drawn matches, the organising committee ordered the second replay to be played in Ayr.

Kilmarnock refused and wanted the tie to be played at Hampden Park! In 1887, Hampden Park was not on the current sight of the national stadium but was the second Hampden that is today better known as Cathkin Park, the former home of the now defunct Third Lanark. Kilmarnock's refusal to play the match in Ayr resulted in the club being awarded the Cup on a walkover.

The Ayr Charity Cup was secured for the third successive year with a 7-0 victory over Kilbirnie at Beresford Park.

In 1887/8 Ayr FC recorded arguably their finest result in a competitive match when they defeated the legendary Vale of Leven 3-2 at Beresford Park in a Scottish Cup tie.
However hopes of going all the way in the ‘Scottish' were dashed in the next round by a heavy defeat in the mud at Cambuslang, who went all the way to final.

Top English side Sunderland was accounted for 4-1 in a challenge match but the real success came for the clubs' reserve side, Ayr Strollers. They won the Ayrshire 2nd XI Cup with a 4-0 win over Kilwinning Rangers but achieved national honours with a 3-1 win over Hearts at Easter Road in the final of the Scottish 2nd XI Cup. The Ayr side that day was: Glendinning, Ferguson, Tannock, Dickie, Christie, Dunnachie, Feggans, McMurtrie, McWhirter, Murray and McBurnie.

However problems were on the horizon. Every year, Beresford Park was requisitioned to host and annual Cattle Show. Normally this did not cause a problem with the clubs' fixtures but in 1888, it was requisitioned early, in April. Ayr FC had already arranged to play English giants Aston Villa on May 7th. The Birmingham club had won the FA Cup for the first time the previous season and would prove to be a big draw. A Special General Meeting was held on 17th April in the Carrick Street Halls. Two options were open to the meeting with regard to the site of a new ground. Newtown Park, or an expanse of land situated beside Walkers Chemical Works and adjacent to Somerset Road. The committee favoured the latter and a satisfactory lease was negotiated with the owners Walkers.

The clubhouse and stand were moved from Beresford Park to the new ground, with the stand backing onto the railway – and Somerset Park was born. All the work was completed in time for the match against Aston Villa who were defeated 3-0. The Ayr side that took the field on that occasion was: Fisher, McQuiston, Arthur, Jack, Gourlay, Campbell, Andrews, Feggans, A. Campbell, Ross and Cunningham.

The opening game of the 88/9 season saw Ayr thrash Beith 16-0, a scoreline they were to repeat the following season against the same opposition. However the clubs' record victory remained a 20-0 success over Dreghorn Black Watch in 1880.

While Rangers had failed to beat the touring Canada national side, Ayr had no such problems with a 4-0 victory but the silverware eluded them, losing to Kilbirnie in the final of the Ayr Charity Cup and 2-0 to Hurlford at Rugby Park in the final of the ‘Ayrshire'.

The Ayr Charity Cup became the first silverware won by the club following their move to Somerset Park in 1890 when they defeated Ayrshire Cup holders Annbank 5-2 in the final.

The Scottish Football League was formed in 1890. Ayr however were not original members and it was Hearts who had the honour of being the first League club to play at Somerset Park in a Scottish Cup tie. The Edinburgh side won 4-3 but there is an incident documented during the game that thankfully will never be repeated. The Hearts centre forward barged into Ayr keeper Steele and as Ayr fans swarmed onto the pitch and surround the Hearts forward, he had to be given an overcoat and hat to disguise himself from the angry crowd and spent the final 10 minutes of the game watching from the stand!

On 21st March 1891, Jimmy Logan became the first, and only, Ayr player to gain international recognition, scoring the opening goal for Scotland in a 4-3 win over Wales at The Racecourse, Wrexham. In those days it was common practice for the SFA to choose entirely different teams for the each match in the home international series and that proved to be his one and only cap.

That season the Ayr Charity Cup was ‘retained' with a 1-0 win over Hurlford. In 1891, Ayr joined the newly formed Scottish Alliance League but league football was still a new innovation and failed to attract the necessary interest of the local public and the club withdrew from the league after only one season.

In May 1892, the AGM of the SFA agreed to allow professionalism into the game. It was well documented that players were receiving ‘underhand' payments to play matches although the game was supposed to be strictly amateur and it was hoped that such a move would prevent the drain of Scottish talent signing for the English clubs who had adopted professionalism a number of years before.

On behalf of Ayr FC, Joseph Glendinning had argued against the introduction of professionalism but within two years, the club were to adopt the new code.

On the park, the club secured their second ‘treble' of successive Ayr Charity Cup wins, defeating Kilmarnock 6-3 in the final.

It was during the summer of 1893 that the talk of amalgamation between Ayr FC and local rivals Parkhouse first arose. But on this occasion Parkhouse rejected any idea of joining forces as they claimed that ‘they could well live without the patronage of the Somerset gatherings'.

1893/4 season saw Ayr play in the Ayrshire Combination League and at the end of that season, the club looked set to leave Somerset Park and move ‘home' to the Carrick Street Oval. A deal was agreed but financial problems prevented the move.

1895 saw Preston North End visit Somerset Park and earned a 1-1 draw. Ayr's goal coming courtesy of one of their guest players, Gulliland of Queen's Park.

Another attempt to seek a new ground was made in 1896/7 but the idea to move to Blackhouse, on the other side of the Whitletts Road, was never followed up.

Prior to this season, Ayr had made an application to join the Scottish Football League's Second Division that had been formed three years earlier but their application was rejected, leaving them to continue to play in the Ayrshire Combination. But following major upgrading work at Somerset Park, during which the ground was re-aligned, a further application to join the SFL was successful and in 1897/8, league football came to Ayr for the first time.

Their first league match took place at Somerset Park on 4th September 1897 with the following team suffering a 4-1 defeat at the hands of Linthouse: McDonald, Fullarton, Hamilton, Miller, Ballantyne, Wills, Dowdles, Aitken, Henderson, Anderson and Clifford.

That first season, Ayr held their own, winning seven of their eighteen matches to finish in sixth place in the ten team league. But with the bottom three clubs having to apply for re-election each season, Ayr fell into this category the following two seasons, finishing third from bottom on both occasions.

During the clubs half yearly meeting in 1899, the question of amalgamation was again brought up but found no support despite the clubs' poor form.

But fortunes on the park were to turn around and in 1901, after a 1-1 draw, Ayr beat Stevenston Thistle by 2-1 at Rugby Park to win the Ayrshire Cup for the first time. Not only was it Ayr FC's first success in the competition but also it was the first time that the magnificent trophy had come to the town, as no other Ayr club had been successful until that point. It was also Ayr's first trophy since their last success in the Ayr Charity Cup eight years earlier.

Home form was such that Somerset Park was turned into a fortress. Between December 1899 and March 1902, only ONE league point was dropped. In 1902, the Ayr Charity Cup was won with a 2-0 win over Annbank and the following year the reserves, Ayr Strollers, made their second appearance in the Scottish 2nd XI Cup Final. However the competition had diluted in importance from their previous success fifteen years earlier and they lost the Somerset Park final 3-1 to Queen's Park.

Manchester City came to Ayr as Second Division Champions and won a challenge match by 2-1 but locally, Ayr's rivalry with Parkhouse rose to new heights in 1904. By this time Parkhouse were also members of the Second Division but were forced to apply for re-election while Ayr had enjoyed their most successful season to date finishing in third place for the second successive season. But the Ayr committee decided not to support Parkhouse's re-election bid and wrote to all the other clubs entitled to vote expressing their views. As a result, Parkhouse's re-application was unsuccessful and the move led to the admission of Aberdeen as members of the SFL.

Relative success continued with the Ayrshire Cup being won in 1904/5 with a 1-0 win over Kilmarnock who by that time were an established First Division club. The trophy was won again in 1906 in a local ‘derby' win over Parkhouse by the same margin.

At this time it was usual for football clubs to hold athletics meetings during the close season and in 1907, Ayr made a profit of £460 from their event, with only Celtic's meeting at Parkhead proving more successful.

Ayr FC had become a registered company in August 1907, officially known as Ayr Football & Athletic Club Limited. But the public in Ayr continued to believe that First Division football could be brought to the town of Ayr if both Ayr and Parkhouse put aside their differences and amalgamated. At this time, their was no automatic promotion or relegation and clubs had to be voted into the top flight.

In April 1909, a meeting at the Cowan's Temperance Hotel drew up a draft agreement for amalgamation. Namely:
  • Both clubs go into voluntary liquidation
  • The new company have nominal capital of £3,000 and take the assets of both clubs
  • New club be called Ayr United
  • Both grounds be used alternatively for a period of five years by the new club

However the Ayr directors delayed in putting the plans before their shareholders and after four weeks passed without any response from the Somerset Park side, Parkhouse withdrew from any future negotiations.

But after another season where neither side had set the heather on fire, Ayr finishing 7th in a 12 team league and Parkhouse bottom, talks of amalgamation were re-opened and an Emergency General Meeting of both sets of shareholders was held. Ironically both clubs had qualified to meet each other in the final of the Ayrshire Cup and before the game; the Directors of Ayr FC stated their desire to join forces with their local rivals. The clubs' shareholders backed this view.

On 9th April 1910, Ayr beat Parkhouse by the only goal of the game at Somerset Park to win the Ayrshire Cup. It proved to be
the last match for both sides as independent clubs. On April 29th it was agreed in principle for the clubs to amalgamate and at the following meeting, with backing from both sets of shareholders, the amalgamation of the clubs to form Ayr United FC was completed. It was the first of only two occasions in the history of the Scottish league clubs where a new club was formed by the amalgamation of others - the latest being in the formation of Inverness Caledoinian Thistle.


Founded: 1879

Springvale Park (1879 – 1884)
Beresford Park (1884 – 1888)
Somerset Park (1888 – 1910)

Colours: Crimson & Gold

Nickname: The Honest Men

Ayrshire Cup Winners
1901; 1905; 1906

Ayr Charity Cup Winners
1885; 1886; 1887; 1890; 1891; 1892; 1902

Kilmarnock Charity Cup Winners
1885; 1887

Scottish 2nd XI Cup Winners

Membership of the Scottish Football League
(Second Division)
1897 - 1910