Convoluted football story woven into the local fabric

Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game

On a plateau a few miles beyond Glasgow’s eastern edges stands Airdrie. Once a small settlement of weavers and farmers, it expanded rapidly alongside Coatbridge with the growth of iron making and mining – which is where football comes into the picture.

Workers formed amateur teams, either from the large Irish immigrant community or from the Protestant menfolk who founded the Orange Lodge still standing today just above the town centre.

Most prominent were Excelsior FC, created in 1878, renamed Airdrieonians in 1881, and, from 1892, based at quaint Broomfield Park, near Airdrie’s stately main street.

Harty's Guest House/Tony Dawber

This club, generally referred to as ‘Airdrie’, had its heyday in the 1920s, made the final of the Scottish Cup in 1995 and was one place off a top-tier return in 2002 – when it folded. A long-winded, mismanaged move from Broomfield Park, unsuitable for top-flight football, was the main cause.

In its place came Airdrie United, now also called Airdrieonians, wearing the same white-and-red diamond-patterned shirts. The only difference is that the revived club’s home ground is not Broomfield Park, now a supermarket, but the Excelsior Stadium, a new-build in Airdrie’s southern suburbs.

What remains is the bedrock of support that resuscitated the doomed club – and the age-old rivalry with neighbours Albion Rovers of Coatbridge. In September 2016, the Wee Rovers enjoyed a first win at Airdrie for 70 years, harking back to a time when both clubs were in the top flight and challenging the big boys from nearby Glasgow.

Airdrie, who had handed Rangers their record defeat of 10-2 in a friendly in 1886, came closest to breaking the Old Firm monopoly in the mid-1920s. For four seasons running, the Diamonds finished league runners-up, the first three to Rangers, whom they beat, at Ibrox, to win their one and only Scottish Cup in 1924.

The Robert Hamilton/Tony Dawber

In Airdrie’s ranks were two of the greatest Scottish players of the pre-war era – in the case of Hughie Gallacher, any era. Scoring nearly as many goals as games played in his 100-plus run-outs for the Diamonds, locally born Gallacher later became one of Scotland’s Wembley Wizards of 1928 and a star at Newcastle and Chelsea. Airdrie fans threatened to burn down Broomfield Park if their club sold him, but £6,500 took him south of the border, halfway through 1925-26. It was the last season the Diamonds finished in Scotland’s top two.

The other key name was Bob McPhail, only 18 when Airdrie won the cup, later to score a then record number of goals for Rangers after leaving Broomfield Park in 1927.

Set in a hollow, with a pavilion in one corner and the narrow pitch squeezed up tight to the stands, the ground had both character and atmosphere, helping the Diamonds stay in the top tier well into the 1970s.

Under former Rangers stalwart Alex Macdonald, Airdrie revived in the 1990s, making two Scottish Cup finals, each lost by the odd goal to the Old Firm. The first, a 2-1 loss to Rangers in 1992, gave the Diamonds a passage to Europe and a close tie with Sparta Prague. A young Pavel Nedvěd was one of a handful of Czech internationals who felt the noise at Broomfield Park as Sparta needed a single late goal to win the first leg. Also playing that day was Owen Coyle, prolific in each of his three stints with the club.

Stirrup Stane/Tony Dawber

His last, in 2004-05 was not at Airdrieonians but Airdrie United. The team who faced Sparta were a Premiership club, the Diamonds in the kind of form not seen at Broomfield Park for 70 years. Though relegated in 1993, Airdrie’s top-tier return looked probable – which would have required a stadium of at least 10,000 seats. Without any viable alternative, and with no planning permission once they found one in the Excelsior Stadium, the club sold Broomfield Park in 1994 to Safeways. In the long four-year interim, the Diamonds groundshared bleak, isolated Cumbernauld with Clyde.

This proved to be Airdrie’s undoing. Despite an ever-diminishing spiral of low crowds and no budget for players, MacDonald still managed to make the play-offs for at top-tier place in 1997. By 1999, the job he had carried out with such endeavour for a whole decade proved impossible. He left, never to return to management again.

Almost falling into the third tier, based at a newly opened Excelsior Stadium, Airdrie picked up under Ian McCall and looked set for a Premiership return in 2001-02. But the debts had become unworkable, spring form dipped and the whole house of cards that was Airdrieonians FC collapsed. In doing so, they became the first Scottish League club to fold since Third Lanark in 1967.

Dedicated efforts by fans, particularly local accountant and loyal supporter Jim Ballantyne, saw a new club created, a story told in the section on Airdrieonians.

Much as its club now runs out every Saturday under its old name and in its traditional kit, so town of Airdrie retains its traditional feel, with Scots Gaelic road signs – but also with a large Morrisons supermarket where Broomfield Park once stood.

Getting Around

Arriving in town, local transport and tips

The nearest airport to Airdrie is Glasgow, 39km (24 miles) away. The Glasgow Airport Express bus 500 (£9 cash/contactless on board) leaves from Stance 1 every 30mins and takes around 15-20mins to reach town, stopping at George Square for Queen Street station.

From there, frequent trains run to Airdrie 25-30mins away, £5 single. If you’re coming from Edinburgh, the regular train from Waverley to Airdrie (£14) is direct and takes 50mins.

Airdrie station is a 5min walk from the town centre. The Excelsior Stadium is slightly nearer to Drumgelloch station, one stop nearer to Edinburgh, one stop further down the same line from Glasgow. From Drumgelloch, you have to stroll up to the Airdrie side of the rails anyway, before crossing back over – it’s only a 5-7min difference in walking time (overall 10-15mins), and Airdrie has all the pubs.

Several bus companies serve Airdrie, the most prominent (and easiest for the stadium) being First, on the outer reaches of its Glasgow network, tickets £1.95-£2.85 on board, FirstDay pass £5.40.

Airdrie Taxis (01236 747 747) offer airport transfers. The fare from Glasgow Airport should be around £50-£55.

Where to Drink

The best pubs and bars for football fans

Pubs line Airdrie’s main street – by the time it becomes Clark Street, near the Morrisons supermarket that used to Broomfield Park, they’re partisan pre-match haunts.

In the heart of town at the busy junction where Graham/Stirling and Broomknoll/Bank Streets meet, up from Airdrie station, the Broomknowe is handy for TV football. The Treasury is a great place to watch the match, with decent food served until 8pm, a heated, covered patio and beer garden. 

TV sport is also the big draw at the friendly Staging Post, a small, modern lounge bar with a full menu and diverse range of entertainment. The Stirrup Stane is a real locals’ spot, with the match almost always on.

Back on the main drag, which becomes Stirling Street/Alexander Street around the Town Hall, you can’t move for bars. These are all a short walk from Airdrie station and on the bus route for the stadium. The Masons Arms is a typical little local, busy for big Rangers games – across the road, the more modern Yesterdays also shows TV football to a lively crowd of regulars.

The intimate Cellar Bar (79 Stirling Street) has a fine range of beers and friendly ambience. Plus TV sport, of course. A little louder in tone – maybe it’s the cocktail of the day – but equally welcoming, the Imperial Bar shows TV football and attracts a multi-generational mix of regulars.

Where to stay

The best hotels for the ground and around town

Visit Scotland has a limited amount of regional hotel information for Airdrie.

The nearest lodging to the stadium is right on main Clark Street, halfway between town and the ground. The Knight’s Rest Guest House is a respectable B&B set in a Victorian villa, rooms en-suite and guests given keys to come and go as they please. Free, off-street parking.

On the same main street, just the other side of Airdrie station, the Tudor Hotel is equally comfortable and welcoming, overseen by the Moylan family since 1997, its restaurant a destination in its own right. An attractive beer garden is another plus.

Also walkable (just!) to the Excelsior Stadium but in Chapelhall, about 3km south of Airdrie and 1.5km south of the ground, Shawlee Cottage offers cosy and affordable single and double rooms in a fully renovated 18th-century property that features quaint original features. Note that nearby Harty’s Guest House is now only a restaurant – but a decent one.

Near Chapelhall, on the main A8 linking Glasgow and Edinburgh, the sleek Dakota Eurocentral is by far the classiest hotel in the surrounding area, its rooms with Sky Sports on LCD TVs. The bar & grill are equally snazzy. It’s about 4.5km south of Airdrie. If you’re spending this much money, you won’t begrudge a taxi – it’s just over 3km to the stadium.

North of Airdrie in the hamlet of Stand, halfway to Cumbernauld, the Fairview is a homely little spot run by a friendly couple. Close to Airdrie Golf Club, it’s on the main road into town, just over 3km into Airdrie by taxi. A limited bus service comes back the other way.