Annan Athletic

Black and Golds of Galabank move up a rung – for now

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

After 15 years as a Scottish League club, Annan Athletic lifted themselves from the mire of fourth-tier football to reach League One in 2023. A play-off win over Clyde elevated the Galabankies to the same status as local rivals Queen of the South, although the Dumfries side may yet revel in the schadenfreude of their neighbour’s demise.

Then again, back in 2008, it was Annan who usurped the team even closer to home. There were no play-offs involved – Gretna simply imploded, a sad tale of overambition and largesse. Annan showed little signs of either during their long stint in SFL 3/League Two.

Created out of the war-time Dumfries & District Youth Welfare League in 1942, Annan Athletic joined the short-time Junior (ie non-league) version in peacetime. With the league disbanded and already one season in without competitive football, Annan went south, to the Carlisle & District League.

Based south of the border, the league made sense for clubs such as Annan (and Gretna) as the standard was decent and distances doable. Once established, Annan also moved grounds, from Mafeking Park to their current home of Galabank, in 1953.

Galabank/Robert Proud

For 25 years, this somewhat incongruous situation remained in place until it was time for Annan to turn back towards their land of loch and heather.

In 1975, they had ditched a management committee for Sam Wallace, manager until 1993 and club president for many years afterwards, until his death in 2022.

First gaining membership of the South of Scotland League, which required an upgrading of Galabank, Athletic also entered the Scottish Cup, the 1979 visit of Stranraer bringing a record 1,250 to the banks of the Annan.

Switching to the East of Scotland League in 1987, the Galabankies won the title in 1990 and now aimed at full league status. Having achieved high-scoring draws at Berwick and Brechin in the Scottish Cup, only to lose tight replays at home, Annan were one of eight clubs to apply for two Scottish League places – and one of six to be rejected.

Galabank/Tony Dawber

Under player-manager Davie Irons, Annan won two consecutive East of Scotland titles, then another in 2007. Following the demise of Gretna, Annan now made a stronger case for Scottish League admission, accepted in 2008.

Quickly showing that they were not out of their depth with a 4-1 win over Cowdenbeath, Annan achieved a play-off place two seasons later. Overcoming Alloa in the semi-final, the Galabankies pushed Albion Rovers close in the final, both legs played before four-figure crowds. At Galabank, Bryan Gilfillan turned from hero to villain, scoring two goals to shorten the aggregate score, only to headbutt an opponent and receive a straight red card.

Soon play-offs were also introduced for league survival, meaning the status the club had sought for so long was no longer a given.

Despite beating fallen giants Rangers 2-1 at Ibrox in 2012-13, a memorable first win for manager Jim Chapman, Annan had to wait until 2014 for another play-off chance for promotion. Equally dramatic, the end-of-season showdown ended in an 8-4 aggregate victory for Stirling Albion, 5-3 winners at Galabank.

Galabank/Tony Dawber

With Chapman still in charge, there were memorable cup ties to savour at Galabank in 2015-16. First, a derby with Queen of the South in the League Cup entertained the 1,360 crowd with seven goals and two red cards, Athletic on the wrong side of both. In October, there were two more red cards, including an early one for Berwick, 4-1 losers to the Galabankies.

Two rounds later, the same score brought down Premiership side Hamilton Academical. Annan went out in the last 16.

The last of 15 goals from Peter Weatherson in the league campaign weren’t quite enough for Annan to better Queen’s Park for a play-off place, the Glasgow side holding the Black & Golds to a 1-0 win at Galabank and nudging through on goal difference.

Yet another high-scoring play-off kept Annan in the lowest league rung in 2017, though Forfar required two late goals at Galabank after the Black and Golds took an early 2-0 lead. The game at Station Park was a sad farewell for yellow-carded Weatherson. 

The veteran striker, approaching his 37th birthday, had come back to Galabank before the season run-in, hitting the first goal in the home leg against the Loons. 

Two years later, Annan’s play-off agony was made even more acute by their former player Ally Love. Now at Clyde, the striker had racially abused Annan’s Rabin Omar when making his debut for his new club in 2018. Now in 2019, it was Love who converted the Bully Wee’s late penalty with extra-time beckoning in the League One play-off.

Despite this, change was in the air. Former Carlisle stalwart and Ireland cap Peter Murphy had joined Annan as player-manager in 2017, finishing a distinguished playing career and learning his chops as a coach. Taking the Black and Golds to another play-off in 2022 – a narrow defeat to Edinburgh City – Murphy was nevertheless determined to take Annan up.

In the end, the spell was broken by a teenager from North Shields. Left-sided defender Max Kilsby had joined Annan on loan from Carlisle, his impressive performances convincing Murphy to extend the deal into the spring of 2023. This not only earned Kilsby the club’s Young Player of the Season award, but allowed the one-time Newcastle junior to score twice against Clyde in the League One play-off that May.

Taking a 3-1 lead to Clyde’s temporary home of New Douglas Park, Annan kept their heads to hang on for a famous victory, ending the club’s 15 years in the horse latitudes of League Two. 

Murphy then had his work cut out in League One, Annan only picking up two wins by Christmas in 2023-24. While a points deduction had all but guaranteed Edinburgh City the wooden spoon, a few Annan fans were relishing the prospect of play-offs as winter turned to spring in 2024.

ground Guide

The field of dreams – and the story behind it

Overlooks a picturesque riverside park, Galabank is one of Scotland’s most convivial football grounds, with a friendly club bar and easy access from town.

Current capacity is 2,500, with comfortable seating for 500 in the main stand, usually where home and away fans usually mingle. If it’s needed, visiting supporters can also be allocated the North End – opposite is also known as the Club House End for obvious reasons. The East Terrace isn’t used.

A 3G pitch was laid in 2012, shortly before the visit of demoted Rangers, which attracted a record crowd of 2,517.

getting here

Going to the ground – tips and timings

Those coming by train face a 15-20min walk, straight up from Annan station to the High Street and over, continuing in the same direction, passing The Shed pub.

Buses from Carlisle or Gretna arrive at Butts Street, close to High Street, the first main right being Lady Street that leads into North Street and the ground. Allow 10mins.

The sat nav code for Galabank is DG12 5DQ. There is very limited parking at the North End of th eground on match days. Next door, a campsite offers match-day parking for a nominal fee – but only operates from April 1 to October 31. The best bet might be the free spaces at Murray Street (DG12 6FD) in the town centre, handily close to the Café Royal chippie, and a 10min walk to the ground. 

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

The club now offers online sales but, apart from season-ticket holders, most of the few hundred spectators pay on the day. 

Admission is an across-the-board £16, the discounted rate of £12 offered to seniors, 17-21s, services personnel and veterans. Teenagers aged 12-16 are charged £6. Anyone younger gets in free, provided they’re with a paying adult.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

The club’s gold-coloured container-cum-shop operates behind the main stand on match days. The club continues to sport black sleeves and shoulders around the revered gold on the home kits, away red with black sleeves and collar. 

The club badge of a flaming torch flanked by two thistles is one of Scotland’s most distinctive, and also featured on towels, blankets and T-shirts celebrating the 2023 play-off win.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

Pubs dotted along the High Street are all reasonably convenient as pre-match pit-stops but the nearest and most suitable is The Shed. Set by the Corner House Hotel – which has its own fully licensed bar – at the junction of Lady Street that leads up to the ground, this welcoming hostelry is usually happy to serve visiting supporters. Framed shirts surround pool tables as plentiful TVs beam the action – you couldn’t wish for a more suitable pre-match watering hole.

At the river end of the High Street, the Blue Bell Inn is as homely as it gets, the courtyard thrown open to special events in summer, decent ales on tap all year round. Again, visiting supporters welcome.

At the ground, the match-day Clubhouse Bar, accessed by the main entrance, serves home and away fans from a massive Tennent’s tap, with Guinness, Magners cider and John Smith’s also available. Non-regulars may have to sign in, no fee involved. They would do well to follow the local advice and say ‘aye’ to a pie, steak perhaps the wisest choice.