With a history only dating to 2002 but roots going back nearly 140 years, Airdrieonians are the modern-day reconfiguration of the venerable club that spent nearly 60 seasons in Scotland’s top flight, finishing runners-up four times.
With their golden days in the 1920s but still able to qualify for Europe in the 1990s, the Airdrie of old played at a revered little ground just off the main street of this former industrial town just east of Glasgow.
In the botched and drawn-out move following the sale of Broomfield Park, Airdrie were caught in a vicious circle of poor crowds, low takings and little budget for new players. In the spiral of diminishing returns, the club was forced to fold in May 2002 – shortly after finishing one place off Premiership promotion and four years after the opening of the new ground that caused so much hardship and upheaval.
With the Excelsior Stadium still spanking new, on the southern outskirts of town, Airdrie fans weren’t going to give up without a fight. Lifelong Diamonds supporter Jim Ballantyne rallied a few loyal fellow fans, formed a new club, Airdrie United, and applied to the Scottish League for permission to start 2002-03 afresh.
Knocked back in favour of then English Northern Premier League side Gretna, whose lifespan would prove to be rather short, Ballantyne and the boys cannily bought out ailing Clydebank to assume their status as a third-tier club.
With Ballantyne as chairman and former Airdrie defender Sandy Stewart as manager, the new outfit all missed promotion by one point in the first season, nearly 2,000 gathered at the Excelsior Stadium (aka New Broomfield) for the final home game against Hamilton.
There were nearer 6,000 celebrating as Airdrie beat Greenock Morton 2-0 to take the Division Two title in 2004, the last goal of the campaign fittingly coming from Owen Coyle, in his third and equally prolific stint with The Diamonds. Later assistant to Stewart, the Irish international would take his former boss with him when he went to manage Houston Dynamo in 2015, then Blackburn Rovers in 2016.
Airdrie soon struggled in the second tier, but were promoted back in 2008, ironically at the expense of Gretna, whose demise allowed The Diamonds, as losing play-off finalists, to take advantage of an extra berth. Bizarrely, one season later, Airdrie were again offered bureaucratic reprieve, this time to stay in Division One, thanks to doubts surrounding Livingston’s future.
Another play-off defeat in 2010 saw Airdrie tumble once more to the third tier – and the club go part-time.
Young players kept coming through, though, and a bright campaign in 2011-12 ended in a play-off final defeat to Dumbarton – but promotion nevertheless, this time due to the collapse and enforced demotion of Rangers.
Switching names back to Airdrieonians in 2013, Jim Ballantyne then sold the club to Tom Wotherspoon in 2015, serving as vice-chairman as The Diamonds battle to regain a spot in the second flight. A full-time playing staff might just get them there.
Opened in 1998, the Excelsior Stadium has an all-seated capacity of 10,101 – Broomfield Park would have required 10,000 seats for Premiership football, hence the sale, move and new-build. Also known as the New Broomfield, Airdrie’s ground installed an artificial 3G pitch in 2010.
Neat and functional, the Excelsior rarely fills to even a quarter capacity and more often that not, only two of this four one-tier stands are open on match days. The Jack Dalziel (West) Stand houses the 1,000 or so Airdrie fans, the East Stand the few visiting supporters, sometimes allocated a section under the same roof as the home crowd.
Drumgelloch station is slightly closer to the ground than Airdrie’s – both are on the same line and have regular, direct connections with Glasgow and Edinburgh.
From Drumgelloch, head to Forrest Street (left out of the car park, then left again at the junction), then left after 600 metres down main Carlisle Road. It’s also two stops on the infrequent Nos.16 and 212 bus routes, if one happens to come along. At Carlisle Road, walk down another 600 metes and the stadium is down Craigneuk Avenue, left after the park. Allow 15min.
Airdrie has a far more frequent and reliable bus service – plus the choice of 20 pubs. Veer left out of the station, and up 5-7min to main Alexander Street, and those pubs, then jump on a No.201 bus (every 10min, eve/Sun every 30min) by the West End Bar that takes you Howletnest Road (5min) beside the stadium. Alternatively, veer right out of Airdrie station, up left at the roundabout and Broomknoll Street, right onto main Graham Street, straight on as it becomes Clark Street, then right down S Biggar Road. Follow that right along until the end, and the junction with Carlisle Road – Craigneuk Avenue, and the ground are diagonally right, over the road. Allow 20-25min.
Tickets & shop
Airdrie have a simple, pay-on-the-day system of £16, £10 discounts, £7 for under-16s, and £20 for one adult and one under-16. Cash only.
A modest selection of souvenirs will be on sale on match days.
Nearly all the many pubs on Alexander/Stirling Streets in town are reasonably handy pre-match, but if you’re going to jump on a No.201 bus, then the modern Avenue bar/grill restaurant and football-focused West End Bar are right next to the stop.
If you’re walking from the station/Airdrie, then a couple of the pubs on the Clark Street section of the main road are partisan pre-match spots, close to the old Broomfield Park. Just by the roundabout, the Bluebell Bar is a Rangers stronghold, right near the Orange Lodge, while the Albert Bar has long been an Airdrie haunt.
From there, take the first major right down S Biggar Road to the Excelsior Stadium, where there’s a match-day bar behind the West Stand.