LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Airdrieonians

Promotion comes to those who wait – and change ownership

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

With a history only dating to 2002 but whose roots go back the best part of 150 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.

Excelsior Stadium/Tony Dawber

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.

Excelsior Stadium/Tony Dawber

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.

Excelsior Stadium/Tony Dawber

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 battled to regain a spot in the second flight. 

The demands of the full-time playing staff hired to get them there took their toll, however, and Wotherspoon passed the responsibility back to Ballantyne after Airdrie lost on penalties to Alloa in the Championship play-off of 2017.

Top scorer in League One Andy Ryan was duly sold to Dunfermline as a consortium of local businessmen mulled over purchase of the club, which went through in January 2018. Soundly beaten by Morton in the Championship play-off of 2021, Airdrie won through again the following year thanks to a hat-trick from young striker Callum Smith in the 6-4 win over Montrose after extra-time.

Key to a more dynamic Airdrie, however, was central midfielder Rhys McCabe, once of Rangers and Scotland U-21. Scoring in each leg of yet another play-off final, a late penalty at Queen’s Park and a early opener before 3,000 at Airdrie, McCabe took the club within eight minutes of a penalty shoot-out for a Championship place in 2022.

Excelsior Stadium/Tony Dawber

The Diamonds went one better a year later, this time with McCabe elevated to the role of player-manager. Not even 30 when the announcement was made, the Polbeth man rose to the occasion, steering the team and providing the chances on the pitch for his former Rangers teammate Calum Gallagher to top the divisional scoring charts. 

Not only that, but McCabe hit two in the 6-2 demolition of Falkirk to sweep Airdrie into yet another Championship play-off final. This time, though, the football gods were smiling on the Diamonds. Trailing Hamilton 0-2 at New Douglas Park and 1-2 on aggregate, Airdrie levelled the deficit thanks to a stoppage-time goal from young English striker Gabby McGill, before taking the tie to penalties.

Successful conversions from McCabe and Gallagher pushed the session into sudden death, sturdy defender Cammy Ballantyne hitting the vital spot-kick. Airdrie had reached the second tier after ten long years.

And then things really started looking up. Taking top-flight Ross County to the wire in the League Cup, a 3-4 defeat in extra-time, McCabe’s Airdrie battled to the Fifth Round of the Scottish Cup, where 6,555 at the Excelsior Stadium saw Hearts demolish the hosts in the first 20 minutes. 

To their credit, Airdrie’s heads never dropped in the 1-4 defeat, a valuable lesson for the bright young teenagers – Lewis McGregor, Dean McMaster, Liam McStravick – seeing so much action in a promising Championship season.

ground Guide

The field of dreams – and the story behind it

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. Once 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, away supporters allocated the south end under the same roof as the home crowd.or the East Stand if more numerous – as may be the case these days.

getting here

Going to the stadium – tips and timings

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 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 15mins.

Airdrieonians transport/Tony Dawber

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 201 bus (every 15mins, eve/Sun every 30mins) 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/Clark Street, then right down S Biggar Road. Follow that until the end, and the junction with Carlisle Road. Craigneuk Avenue, and the ground. are diagonally right, over the road. Allow 20-25mins.

The sat nav code for the Excelsior Stadium is ML6 8QZ. The car park at the ground (£2) is signposted from Petersburn Road. There is a limited amount of free on-street parking in the vicinity, for example off Petersburn Road (ML6 8DE).

tickets & shop

Buying tickets and snagging merchandise

Airdrie distribute tickets online or there’s otherwise a simple, pay-on-the-day system of £20, £15 for over-65s, £12 for students and 16-17s, E8 for under-16s. Cash only. Prices rise for attractive cup fixtures.

A modest selection of merchandise will be on sale on match days. The signature red chevron on white is repeated as black on red for the away shirt. Third-choice is a chevron-free purple.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

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 201 bus, then the football-focused West End Bar is right by 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. The Albert Bar at No.66 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 main Jack Dalziel/West Stand.