Winners of all three major Scottish honours and participants in the then three main European competitions, Kilmarnock FC are currently on a run of 24 straight seasons in Scotland’s top flight.
The club’s heyday came in the 1960s when Killie won the Scottish League, finished runners-up four times and reached the semi-finals of the Inter-City Fairs’ Cup.
Founded in 1869, making the club the oldest professional one in Scotland, Kilmarnock didn’t join the Scottish League until 1895 though it required two consecutive wins of the Second Division until they were elected to the First four years later.
Killie also took part in what is thought to be the first ever match in the Scottish Cup, a 2-0 defeat at Renton in 1873, but it took half a century for the club to win the trophy, twice, in the 1920s. In 1920, two 3-2 victories saw Kilmarnock beat Morton in the semi-final then Albion Rovers in the final. Scorer of the winning goal that day, Jack Smith, would then score three years later for Bolton in the so-called White Horse Final south of the border. In 1929, Kilmarnock surprised many by beating Celtic 1-0 in the semi-final then Rangers 2-0 at the showdown at Hampden, before nearly 115,000 people.
It was former Rangers winger Willie Waddell, a nine-time Scottish League and Cup winner, who took Kilmarnock to another level when he arrived as manager in 1957. Killie had just come out of a first spell in the second flight since 1899 and within three years were the second-best team in the land and runners-up in the Scottish Cup final. From then top Junior (ie non-league) side Lugar Boswell Thistle in Ayrshire, forwards Andy Kerr and Bertie Black flourished at Rugby Park under Waddell, though the real key was the new manager’s conversion of demotivated forward Frank Beattie into an influential half-back and team captain.
All came to fruition in 1964-65. Starting the campaign with a crowd-pleasing 5-1 second-leg win at home to Eintracht Frankfurt, reversing a 0-3 scoreline in their European debut, Killie maintained strong domestic league form. While Everton easily put paid to further Fairs’ Cup progress, Killie went into the last league game of the season needing to win 2-0 at leaders Hearts. Remarkably, they achieved it, winning their one and only league title – though it was their defensive record of conceding under a goal a game that kept Killie on top. Davie Sneddon and Brian McIlroy scored the two vital goals at Tynecastle but later West Ham regular Bobby Ferguson, a KFC youth product, was responsible for the title-winning save at the death.
Immediately afterwards, Waddell moved on – to newspapers. Killie embarked on another European odyssey, away in Tirana, for 17 Nëntori’s international debut. A late 1-0 win at Rugby Park led to a glamour tie with eventual European Cup winners Real Madrid, a 2-2 home draw followed by a 5-1 defeat in Spain.
The following year saw Killie’s best run in Europe, culminating in a semi-final defeat to Don Revie’s Leeds in the Fairs’ Cup.
In 1973, for the first time in 20 years, Kilmarnock lost top-flight status and even sank as low as the third before bouncing back in 1993. Bobby Williamson, whose goals helped take Killie up, was then in charge when the club reached another Scottish Cup final in 1997. The Killie team who won it, though, had been built by his managerial opponent Alex Totten, in the mid-1990s. A solitary, scuffed strike by Paul Wright sank Falkirk at Ibrox.
Now settled in the Scottish Premiership, Kilmarnock won further silverware in 2012 with a surprise League Cup victory over Celtic, the final decided with a late goal from Belgian substitute Dieter Van Turnhout. Hampden had also staged the semi-final, Killie eventually breaking down local rivals Ayr with a single strike in extra-time.
Current Killie manager Lee Clark has been in place since February 2016, steering the club to a Premiership play-off win over Falkirk in May despite the disappointment of a last-minute defeat in the first leg.
Completely revamped in the mid-1990s after Kilmarnock regained Premiership status, Rugby Park has been the club’s home since 1877. More accurately, this particular site has staged Killie matches since 1899 – the previous pitch was a short walk away on South Hamilton Street.
The ground saw record crowds in the glory years of the 1960s but the change to an all-seater stadium 30 years later reduced capacity to 18,000.
While there has been little change to the main stand – except in its name, Frank Beattie, after the 1965 title-winning captain – the three surroundings stands were all built in 1994-95. The Moffat Stand is the home end, with visiting supporters allocated the Chadwick Stand opposite. On the facing sideline to the main stand is the East Stand, two-tiered like the rest of the ground.
An artificial pitch was installed in 2014.
With no bus connections between Kilmarnock train station and stadium, the only choice is either to walk (15-20min, down John Finnie Street, turn right at Portland Road then left down South Hamilton Street) or take a taxi (about £7).
Services in the direction of Rugby Park set off from the bus station by the Burns shopping mall but require a longish walk afterwards – so almost not worth the bother in the first place. The most regular is the No.11, to the opposite Fullarton Street on Portland Road. The No.10 drops you closer, opposite Seaford Street on Dundonald Road, but only runs every hour, while the No.110 is even less frequent, although stops right by South Hamilton Street on Portland Road.
For most games, tickets are distributed from the Killie Shop (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, match days from 12.30am), over the phone (0845 194 1869) and online. Cash turnstiles also operate for some home matches.
With average attendances in the 4,000 range, availability is usually not a problem.
Prices are set at an across-the-board £20, £15 for over-65s and under-21s and £5 for under-16s.
For the visits of Celtic and Rangers, prices increase by around £5-£6, and there are no sales by phone, online or at the turnstiles.
The Killie Shop (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, Sat 10am-4pm, weekday match days 9am-kick-off, Sat match days 10am-5.30pm) stocks items such as logoe’d beach towels, cufflinks and bobble hats. You’ll find it in its own hut by the car park.
While pubs in the city centre are close enough to be patronised pre-match, a few venues nearer Rugby Park are more convenient.
By the junction with Portland Road on Grange Street, the Brass & Granite is popular with the Killie faithful, mainly thanks to its range of beers and ciders. Mack’s Bar next door is a small, lively local with a regular football clientele.
Also busy on match days although further away from Rugby Park, the Howard Arms on Glencairn Square is a large, traditional pub with its own Blue Room for home fans and buses laid on to away games.
Visiting fans are welcome at the nearby Burns Inn, another Killie stronghold with big-screen TV sports.
At Rugby Park itself, home and away fans are welcome at the adult-only Sports Bar behind the main stand, with framed shirts and TV screens over the counter. Along with a range of beers, on offer is the legendary Killie pie, a revered, meat-filled delicacy.