LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Ayr United

Nearly half a century since Ayr graced the top tier

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

Delightfully nicknamed the Honest Men after a Robbie Burns’ poem, Ayr United haven’t seen top-tier action since 1978, a seminal year for the manager behind the club’s post-war revival. Ally MacLeod is best remembered for leading Scotland’s doomed foray that summer to the World Cup, but his achievements at Ayr were considerable.

Seeing out his playing days at Somerset Park, Ayr’s ground since the club’s formation in 1910, MacLeod was first in charge of The Honest Men for a decade. During that time, United twice finished in the top six of the First Division/Premiership, and reached the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup and League Cup.

It wasn’t all about results – club record attendances were set, popular characters donning Ayr’s white strip. In the case of cult keeper Hughie Sproat, a former window cleaner and razor-wearing punk rocker, it was always a blue shirt against Celtic and green one against Rangers. Up front, Alex ‘Dixie’ Ingram was another colourful figure, whose time at Ayr almost exactly matched MacLeod’s, except for a short spell at then high-flying Nottingham Forest.

Somerset Park/Rob Proud

Ayr had enjoyed prominence before, around the time of World War I, then in the 1920s with Jimmy Smith, who set a British record of 66 goals in 38 appearances. In the 1950s, Ayr again reached the top flight thanks to record scorer Peter Price.

But was there a better time to be an Ayr supporter than the 1970s? Perhaps, in fact, the 1980s, when MacLeod returned for another five years. Even though Ayr remained second-tier, even slipping to the third for two seasons, this was the era of inspired winger Henry Templeton, of an unforgettable Panenka penalty against local rivals Kilmarnock by Andy Walker, and of future Rangers chairman David Murray, an Ayr fan himself, trying to buy the club. It was MacLeod who put his foot down, giving a him-or-me ultimatum.

MacLeod bowed out in 1989 and it took a decade, and Gordon Dalziel as manager, before Ayr rekindled the spirit of the 1970s and 1980s. From the third tier to the second, the ex-Ayr striker took Ayr to within one place of the Premier in 2001, twice reaching the Scottish Cup semi-final before and after.

Somerset Park/Rob Proud

United even made a major final for the first and only time so far, a 4-0 defeat by Rangers in the League Cup final, Ayr just failing to go in at half-time with the scores level.

Dalziel was let go – and Ayr yo-yo’d in between second and third tiers. Crowds thinned at the revered but ageing Somerset Park until a young side under Ian McCall began to show promise from 2015 onwards. 

In May 2016, a late, fierce strike by Ross Docherty earned Ayr a draw to take home in the Championship play-offs – but Docherty was the culprit when it came to a penalty shoot-out in the second leg against Stranraer. Andy Graham then slotted in the vital spot-kick in front of 4,500 at Somerset Park.

With goals from the prolific Lawrence Shankland, Ayr earned a quick return to the second tier after swift relegation, then made the Premiership play-offs in 2019. While Caley Thistle showed too much know-how at Somerset Park, for Ayr, it was the first sniff of the big time since the 1970s.

Somerset Park/Rob Proud

The sale of Shankland to Dundee United left McCall struggling but improvements under former Aberdeen midfielder Mark Kerr pushed Ayr back into play-off contention – until the pandemic curtailed the season. 

At last reaching the same stage again in 2023, Lee Bullen’s Ayr were bereft of top goalscorer Dipo Akinyemi in the first leg at Partick, an easy 3-0 win for the hosts. Despite a bumper crowd of nearly 6,000 at Somerset Park, the Honest Men failed to reverse the aggregate, first conceding an early goal and then losing Akinyemi to a red card that made their task impossible. 

It proved a sad end to the Englishman’s stay in Ayr, whose boots a young Logan Chalmers had to fill during the tricky 2023-24 campaign.

ground Guide

The field of dreams – and the story behind it

We have the credit crunch to thank for Ayr not selling up and moving to a new build in 2008, property developers no longer able to make a killing. More recently, there have been noises about modernising Somerset Park, the ground Ayr United inherited from Ayr FC when the club was formed in 1910.

Somerset Park is a taste of how football used to be, with open terracing, covered terracing, classic floodlights and a main stand dating back to 1924. There’s where you’ll find the 1,500 seats, out of a total capacity of 10,000 – average gates are in the 2,000 range, though this figure would drop if Ayr do.

Now that Ayr are in the Scottish Championship. visiting supporters are allocated the Railway End, home fans occupying the Somerset Road end. Note also that development to the North Stand in 2023-24 should be completed before the 2024-25 campaign.

getting here

Going to the ground – tips and timings

The ground is slightly closer to Newton-on-Ayr rail station than it is to Ayr – every other train stops at Newton-on-Ayr and the main station is blessed with nearby pubs.

From Ayr, head for Station Road, over the river then, at the roundabout take the fork for Craigie Road diagonally opposite from the fire station. Keep going past Craigie Park, over Whitletts Road by the Western House Hotel, and up to the junction with Hawkhill Avenue – a quick left, a first right, and you’re there. Allow 10-15mins. Mon-Sat daytimes, the X4 bus runs from town, via the train station, to the nearest stop to the stadium at Whitletts Road.

Also close to the station but nearer to town, from Miller Road, the 3, 6, 43, 43A, as well as the X4, run to Whitletts Road.

The sat nav code for Somerset Park is 13 Tryfield Place, Ayr, KA8 9NB. There is no parking at the ground for non-pass holders but you should find parking places along nearby streets such as Walker Road (KA8 9LF) and Wilson Road (KA8 9LT).

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

Ayr have a simple pay-on-the-day policy at £17 everywhere in the ground, £11 for seniors, students and under-22s, £6 for under-18s. 

The club does have online sales but capacity is never close to being tested, and advance purchases are usually for visiting supporters in later rounds of the Scottish Cup.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

The Ayr United Club Shop (Mon-Tue, Thur 1pm-5pm, Fri 10am-4pm, match-day Sat noon- kick off) can be found in the main car park. 

The current iteration of the home shirt features black tyre-mark bands on a white background and black sleeves. The away top is shocking pink with black markings, third choice red with white pinstripes. Souvenirs include beer glasses, snoods, dog leads and coasters.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

Bars in town, particularly on South Harbour Street, are a fairly easy hike to Somerset Park – but on the north bank, you’re closer.

Immediately over the water, the Burns Bar (7 River Street) is a small, riverside boozer popular with home fans and noted for live music upstairs. In the same vicinity, the Black Bull has recently been redeveloped, with a beer garden overlooking the river – it remains homely and family-friendly, with food served daytimes.

These are a 10min walk to the ground – head for the roundabout via John Street or Garden Street, then take the right fork for Whitletts Road. Slightly further up, on Main Street, The Brig is a traditional alehouse with sport on TV. Across the street, the Harvest Bar is ideal pre- and post-match, with live action on TV and lively football chatter.

Even closer to Somerset Park, the Horseshoe on George Street still awaits new ownership, its many former regulars counting the days.