LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Stranraer FC

Sponsored by ferries, cheered on from the Coo Shed

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

As the crow flies, Stranraer FC are closer to Belfast than to Ayr United, the nearest fellow Scottish League club 50 miles up the coast. It’s a remote and unusual position. Stranraer’s history also has a touch of the unusual about it.

Remarkably, after Queen’s Park and Kilmarnock, Stranraer are the third oldest Scottish League club, being formed way back in 1870 when sailing ships still filled the town’s harbour.

But for many years, they ploughed a lonely, unheralded furrow in the regional leagues of Scotland’s south west – probably a wise option as travel back then was a slow, laborious task, even to the heavily populated central belt.

During those early years, Stranraer played at trotting tracks, recreation grounds and bowling greens until 1907 when they finally settled at their current home, Stair Park, on the eastern edges of the town.

While many football grounds bear the name ‘park’, Stranraer’s home is actually surrounded by public greenery. But it was a park that was still hosting regional football throughout the first half of the 20th century and beyond.

It was only after World War II that Stranraer began to stretch their legs, boosted by the exploits of legendary Lolly McCutcheon, whose fierce, swerving shots helped him notch an incredible 238 goals in 239 appearances for the Blues.

A narrow defeat in a 1948 cup clash at home to Rangers immediately preceded admission to the Scottish League C Division, where fixtures against the reserve teams of the big clubs were the norm.

In 1955, the Scottish League was restructured and Stranraer became a full member, joining the second flight B Division.

Stranraer failed to pull up many trees, bumping along in the lower reaches until 1976-77, when they narrowly failed to win promotion to the top tier.

Amazingly, Stair Park still had no floodlights at that time, and it was as late as 1981 that it became the last senior venue in England and Scotland to have them installed.

The football was no brighter though, and Stranraer fans had to wait until 1994 to celebrate the club’s first ever promotion.

Immediate relegation followed, but since then Stranraer have proved a durable outfit, seeing off financial problems and becoming something of a lower leagues yo-yo club.

They have even had a few sniffs of second-tier football and notably earned a draw at Ibrox in a third tier Boxing Day 2013 clash against a reformed Rangers.

Under former Stranraer midfielder Stephen Aitken, Stranraer surprised neutrals by developing into a reasonable force in the third tier, twice missing out on promotion after consecutive play-off defeats in 2014 and 2015.

Despite Aitken’s departure for Dumbarton, Stranraer all but matched his achievements in 2015-16, Brian Reid taking the Blues to another Championship play-off, a win over Livingston setting up the perfect decider with local rivals Ayr. Leading the visitors 1-0 in front of 1,600 in the first leg at Stair Park, Stranraer succumbed to a 95th-minute equaliser. 

Holding Ayr 0-0 over 120 minutes away,  the Blues then failed to convert their first three spot-kicks in the shoot-out. The chance of a lifetime, of reaching the second tier and getting one over Ayr, had gone. Reid left soon afterwards.

Stranraer trod water until the disastrous pandemic season of 2019-20, and two wins in 27 games. Failing to return to the third tier at the first attempt after a narrow play-off defeat to Dumbarton, the Blues seemed to have settled comfortably in the fourth flight for the duration. 

After player-coaching stints at Airdrieonians and Raith, ex-Stranraer midfielder Scott Agnew soon realised he had his work cut out when he arrived at Stair Park for his first full managerial role in April 2023.

Ground Guide

The field of dreams – and the story behind it

Set in parkland, bandstand, tennis courts and all, at the eastern edge of town, Stair Park has been Stranraer’s home since 1907.

Suitable for the regional football the club was playing in its first 50 years, the ground began to facilitate more spectators as Stranraer progressed. A stand was built in 1932 and in 1948, a record 6,500 watched the cup tie with Rangers – people were said to be clambering up trees and railway yards to watch the action.

With accession to the Scottish League in 1955, a terrace was installed, today’s wonderfully named Coo Shed, but floodlights didn’t arrive until 1981.

In 1995, an impressive, all-seater main stand was opened while the covered Coo Shed opposite received seating for an extra 300.

Capacity is 4,200, 1,830 seated. Home fans gather in the Town End but segregation is rarely required. Should Rangers or Celtic visit, then away fans access via their allocated Coo Shed, where they can also reach the East Terrace (aka Approach End). Exposed to the bitter winds whipping off the sea and immediately backdropped by foliage, it provides an authentic touch as footballs fly over into the undergrowth.

getting here

Going to the ground – tips and timings

Stagecoach buses sporadically trundle close to the waterfront close to the station, stopping at London Road across the park from the ground – but it’s just as easy to stroll to the match along the continuing thoroughfare of Bridge Street, Hanover Street and London Road, via a pub or two.

The sat nav code for Stair Park is DG9 8BS. The grassy area around it is a public park with plenty of free parking.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

Cash turnstiles operate from 2pm on match days. Prices are set at £15, £10 for seniors and £5 for 12s-16s. Under-12s are admitted free.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

A modest match-day outlet operates from a blue hut by the Town End. The current iteration of the home blue shirt features pin stripes of light blue at the top of the chest. Change strip is, quite wonderfully, tartan, with red and navy the predominant colours. Third choice is a tartan of light blue, white, red and navy.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

Your first port of call should be the Stranraer FC Fitba’ Bar in town on North Strand Street. A 15-minute walk from Stair Park, it opens through the week, welcoming visiting fans and generating a great atmosphere on match days. It also doubles up as a club shop, with replica shirts sold. A TV screen is permanently tuned to sports action.

Where Hanover Street meets London Road, the nearest pub to the ground is… The Pub. Small enough to be intimate but large enough to accommodate a pool table, The Pub is well laid out, offering fine food and a range of decent whiskies.

At the ground, home and away fans mingle in the match-day Pavilion Bar behind the Coo Shed, open from 1pm.