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 character, whose time at Ayr almost exactly matched MacLeod’s, except for a short spell at then high-flying Nottingham Forest.
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.
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 League Two 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.
The field of dreams – and the stands around 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 for 2015-16 were in the 1,000 range, closer to 2,000 for 2016-17 one league higher.
Now that Ayr are in the Scottish Championship visiting supporters are allocated the Railway End, home fans occupying the Somerset Road end.
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 10-15min. 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 Nos.3, 6, 43, 43A, as well as the X4, run to Whitletts Road.
Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much
Ayr have a simple pay-on-the-day policy at £17 everywhere in the ground, £10 for OAPs and students, £5 for under-16s.
what to buy
Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts
The Ayr United Club Shop (Mon-Fri noon-4pm, match-day midweek 4pm-kick off, final whistle-9.30pm, match-day Sat 10am- kick off, final whistle-5.15pm) is in the main car park. Curiosities include afro-wigs, glengarry headgear, name tags for your cat, birthday badges and bathrobes – all in black and white, of course.
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. Nearby, the splendid River Cottage has its own Ayr supporters’ club – fans gather pre- and post-matches, and coaches head off to away games on alternate Saturdays. It’s real communal spot, with poker nights, quizzes and live music.
In the same vicinity, the Black Bull claims to be the oldest pub in Ayr (how many are there?) – it’s certainly 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.
Even closer to Somerset Park, the Horseshoe on George Street is another popular gathering place, with a separate area for pool tables and TVs mounted for live sport.