Taken from the 1973 Bonnet Guild
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
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 -
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
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
United under 11's