Taken from the 1973 Bonnet Guild Festival Guide

It could not be justifiably said that Stewarton is a famous football town. While certain teams in the past have done exceptionally well by winning various cups etc., it must be admitted that our town cannot compare with other places of similar size up and down the country.
Nevertheless, the Bunnet Toun has, on occasion, produced some excellent soccer talent and although most of our successful teams hung up their boots many years ago we've still had our moments of glory.
You've got to go back a century to the early days of organised football to discover that Stewarton had no fewer than three clubs, which wasn't bad for a population of 3,000. The names of those at that time were: Stewarton, Stewarton Cunninghame and Vale of Annick and all were members of the Ayrshire Football Association. Of all the towns in the County, only Kilmarnock with five clubs and Ayr with four, had a larger representation. And incidentally, one of the Kilmarnock clubs was Killie of Rugby Park fame.


Probably the best known local club was Stewarton Cunninghame which was formed in 1876. In this club's early years their headquarters or "club hoose" was situated in Lainshaw Street while their ground was one mile away at High Cross Farm which was quite a distance for the players to run out.
The Vale of Annick, formed in 1879, had their pitch at Causeyhead, Darlington with a club house in the vicinity. Perhaps I had better explain for the benefit of new Stewartonians that Darlington, or Daurlintoun as it was called — and still is by some - is that district of Stewarton now better known as Dean Street and the actual football park was situated where the Merrygreen houses now stand.
 The oldest club was Stewarton which came into existence in 1875 with a pitch at Standalane and a club house at the Railway hotel which no doubt was fully utilised for after-the-match refreshment.
Later Stewarton added the term "Juniors" to their title and, with the Cunninghame, played in the Ayrshire Junior League. In 1903, the Juniors opened a new ground at Hillhouse and celebrated the occasion that same year by winning the Ayrshire Junior Cup beating Darvel 2-1 in the final.
The Juniors eventually managed to get a pitch in the town, named Cochrane Park after their benefactor and greatest supporter, Mr. Gabriel Cochrane, who was a well-known celebrity and proprietor of the Railway Hotel, which used to stand at the Cross before "progress" intervened. This park was on the piece of ground behind what is now Carrick Precision Tools building. About the same period (pre-World War 1), the Cunninghame also secured a new ground at Rigghead where the High School now stands.


I'm informed by those who were about at the time that there was a tremendous local rivalry between the two teams which was not always confined to the field of play. The story goes that whenever the club funds of, say the Juniors, were getting a bit low, the wily officials used to approach prominent local business men with a view of securing a donation. First of all they might call on Gibby Cochrane and tell him that they had received a donation of£3 from Peter Welsh, the proprietor of a public house further down the street. Not to be outdone by his rival in the trade, Gibby would oblige with a fiver. Later the same approach would be made to the unsuspecting Mr. Welsh staling that Mr. Cochrane had donated £5; and so on ............
After the first world war, only the Juniors were reformed and for a short time they played under the new title of Stewarton Thistle before reverting to the more popular name of Stewarton Juniors and many older Stewartonians still recall some exciting matches at Bumside Park at Kirkford.


However, by the mid-twenties junior football had ceased to exist in the town and it has been said that the reason for this decline in football interest was directly connected with the decision of the majority of the townspeople at that time to vote Stewarton "dry." It seems that this not only discouraged visiting supporters from following their teams to Stewarton but it drove the home fans out of the town on a Saturday afternoon.
In 1930, the local branch of the Y.M.C.A. formed a team to play on the then new Strandhead Park and only three years later won the Scottish Churches Cup, a great feat indeed. Another notable achievement occurred in 1930 when the local school team won the Kilmarnock and District Schools Cup.

Stewarton Armatures - 1948


During and after the war, various teams continued to represent Stewarton including Stewarton and Dunlop Youth Club, Stewarton Amateurs, the British Legion and Strandhead Rovers. But the man who did more to put Stewarton on the football map in recent times was Rabbie Wilson who ran youth teams for twelve years.
Says Rabbie: "It all started when Bill Fleming and I organised a team to represent the United Free Church Youth Fellowship. After this, we were eventually talked into running a youth team which we entered in the local league."
Playing under the name of Stewarton United, Rabbie and Bill at one period had two teams under their control Under 16s and Under 18s, and they won several Ayrshire Cups and reached the semi final of the Scottish Cup and also did well in boys Club football.
"We got a lot of help from different people, " said Rabbie, including Jimmy Brown and Alec Rollo of Killie who took a keen interest."
Many of the Stewarton United players eventually signed for junior clubs and one or two made the grade as seniors including Andrew Porter who went to Watford and Davie Mitchell who signed for Stoke City and was unfortunate to incur a serious injury to his back; After a spell with St. Mirren, Davie is now playing great stuff with Clydebank.


Have any other Stewarton players reached the top in football? Well, although our town cannot match certain other towns and villages in parts of Ayrshire and Lanarkshire, some fine players have emerged from the shadows of Mackie's Lum and the Viaduct and the hum of hosiery machinery.
I suppose that Stewarton's brightest soccer star was the one and only Davie Russell who was one of the top names in English football long before Bobby Moore ever put a curler in his hair. Davie, who became something of a legend in his own time, played for Preston North End in 1888 when they won both the English League and the English (sorry F.A.) Cup in the same season.
In the 1920s, Willie McDonald and my father Tom Barclay played together for St. Mirren and won Scottish Cup medals. About the same period, Willie Maxwell was a Hibernian player. A decade later that flying winger, Willie (Sonny) Sim gained Scottish junior caps and a Scottish Junior Cup medal with the great Arthurlie team of the late thirties.
Wee Bobby Ferguson was a senior with Fulham and Teddy Craig also played in English football for some years. Two local men, Alex. Currie and James Ferguson played at different times for Queens Park and another amateur, Billy Neil was a 'keeper with Kilmamock before joining Rangers and although he never quite made the "big time'., he won two Amateur International caps for Scotland and finished up with Stirling Albion. And Stewart Brown had a good few seasons with Motherwell and then Stranraer. Of course, there's Stewarton's most famous football "import," the one and only Jimmy Brown, formerly of Hearts, then long-time Killie star who finished his career with St. Mirren. Another "import" was Bert Kinnell of Dunfermline and Partick Thistle and Jock "Pints" Smith was a Rangers player in the twenties.

Stewarton Armatures 1954 - 55


But we must not forget the ladies, who, it must be admitted, made Stewarton famous football-wise more than any male section of the community. It all started about twelve years ago when the Broadhurst family, and I include the family names of Bennett, Fleming and Stewart, formed a girls soccer team more or less for laughs. It wasn't long however, before it became a very serious matter indeed and under the names of Stewarton Ladies or Stewarton Thistle and with a few girls from other places, the team got better and better. Later it became Stewarton Lees Ladies and the success continued until the end of last season when it lost its Stewarton connection.
During their great run, the ladies won the Scottish Cup, the European Cup and were runners-up in the British Cup and several of the players, including Rose Reilly and Elsie Cook won representative honours. Just recently, the two girls made a tour of North Africa with a select team.



After Rabbie Wilson quit due to illness and to become a St. Mirren scout, Davie Moncur was in charge of the young players of the town for a spell and then for si; years until the early 'seventies, John Roy and Willie Gilliespie took over and eventually converted from Youth to Amateur football and changed the name to Stewarton Thistle.
John told me — "For the first few seasons we did quite well, but during the last two years, we had to pull the players oot o' the pubs wi' a long hook before the games - just like the old navy press gangs. It would have been comical if it hadn't been so serious," he laughed.
I must add that Jimmy Brown helped us a lot as he was not only a great coach but he ran raffles, etc. and helped financially."
Today, Rigghead, run by a committee headed by Michael Hughes and Andy Love, is the only official football team in the town and they are in the second division of the Ayrshire Amateur League. There are also teams of various ages representing Stewarton High School and two years ago the Under 15s reached the final of the Ayrshire Schools Cup.



What about the future?
Well, I hate to end on a pessimistic note but there's really not much hope that Stewarton will ever again attain anything in the football world until something is done to improve facilities and provide pitches. It is a sad fact but there were more football parks in the town fifty or a hundred years ago for a population of 3,000 than there are today with around double that number. And Strandhead is not, and never has been a good playing pitch.
The new Centre is providing wonderful INDOOR activities for the community. What is needed now is an outdoor sports complex with two good football fields, plus a few kick-about play areas in different parts of the town.
There is only one ray of hope. If Knockintiber (population 500) can win the Scottish Amateur Cup, maybe it could be Rigghead's turn next year.

Stewarton Soccer Girls

Stewarton United under 11's