Stranraer FC – A Journey

Travel back in the 1870’s was not as easy then as it is now.

Come to think of it travel to Stranraer even in 2024 is still a challenge and no easy undertaking.

When Stranraer Football Club were born in 1870 this part of Scotland was linked by the Caledonian Railway to Dumfries in the east. When an amalgamation of the town’s football clubs formed Stranraer FC history was made.

Stranraer became one of the first professional football clubs in the UK.

That year of foundation also makes the club the third oldest league club in Scotland – just behind Queens Park and Kilmarnock FC.

Losing Stranraer to the SPFL professional set up is unthinkable.

Since 1907, Stranraer has called Stair Park home – a picturesque little ground with two stands and a covered end in the east of the town. It is a ground that welcomes a few hundred fans each Saturday and visiting fans from as far away as Forfar.

Welcoming, comfortable and with an excellent surface, football in Scotland cannot afford to see Stair Park fall through its trap door.

The 2023-24 SPFL 2 season ended with Stranraer bottom of the table.

For the club from the Stair Park it was a catastrophically bad season leaving the club with only a two legged play off against East Kilbride to save itself from oblivion and a drop to the non league Lowland League.

Stranraer FC v East Kilbride

Stair Park, Stranraer

Saturday 18th May 2024

SPFL 2 Play off 2nd Leg

The journey to Stranraer sees you experience the landscapes that inspired the poet Robert Burns – with the chance to stop off for museum visits, Scottish ruins and castles at every corner.

This scenic journey takes you south along the west coast of Scotland with views over the Firth of Clyde to the rock of Ailsa Craig and the Isle of Arran.

Some of the stop off points were eye opening and an education in itself.

The village of Kirkoswald with a tiny population of 194 hosts a church ruin and a baptismal font said to have wetted the head of Robert the Bruce. A peaceful cemetery that is home to some of the real characters who inspired the fictional protagonists from the famous prose of Burns.

Girvan to the north is the home of another football club – Girvan FC which has its own peaceful football setting in the shadows of the nearby 300m high hills. Closer still is Ballantrae where the coastline starts to become one that consists of shingle, jagged rock and sand.

Views can be made out to sea where multiple oily seabirds (Shags and cormorants) sit as predatory teams on rocks awaiting the next catch.

Currently Scotland’s professional football clubs are dispersed from Ross County in the north to Peterhead in the North East to this the remotest corner of Dumfries and Galloway.

Just below them sits a host of new clubs awaiting the chance at breaking into the ranks of the SPFL at the expense of fallen fame and tradition.

Amongst them are East Kilbride whose badge features the oystercatcher.

Stranraer is a seafaring town that has struggled in recent years for a variety of reasons. Not so long ago it was from this town that you got the ferry to Northern Ireland until the decision was made to move the ferry service a few miles north to the settlement of Cairnryan.

Hotel trade was hit as was all means of local business.

If the ferry service struggled and eventually set sail for a few miles up the coast so likewise have fortunes dropped off on the field of play. Those at the club and fans have been aware of the predicament the club has been in for many years.

Some have called the predicament of Stranraer Football Club ‘circling the drain’. And in some ways its true. The club have been in a state of severe deterioration for at least three seasons and many fans feel that relegation to the Lowland league would bring inevitable ruin.

The decline since 2020 has been continuous and results make grim reading.

Players are hard to come by due to the location of the club in the extreme south west of the country. This alone makes it incredibly hard to attract and retain football players.

Average attendances have dropped to around 300 supporters for every home fixture.

Popular signings have been made season by season but the retention of any player is an impossibility where any talent is concerned.

In the lead up to this play off a call had gone up in the week leading up to the game for locals to support the club. Come along and ‘wear blue’ and many did come along eager to support the club in the recognition of the impact relegation to the Lowland League could have. By kick off on a warm, sunny afternoon about 1,800 locals had come to support the team in its efforts to retain league status.

Only a small pocket of 50 East Kilbride fans were intent on spoiling the survival party.

The emotion inside Stair Park as the game started was incredible. But I found the tone very respectful and at ease given the fears that were swirling around the tie. That tone was probably helped by the previous weeks draw.

A stalemate had occurred in East Kilbride with the 2-2 draw making Stranraer the favorites for the second leg showdown in Wigtownshire alleviating some of the pressure on the playing staff.

The Stranraer opener was a stunning effort by Grant Gallagher although eventually this was was cancelled out by former a former Stranraer man Keir Samson, which forced the game into a nervy period of extra time.

Angst, fear and trepidation could be felt amongst those supporting Stranraer. For East Kilbride the opposite was true with the club from the south of Glasgow looking as if they were going for the kill.

The two periods of Extra time was more than tense.

Looking around the ground nerves were frayed. As Balde knocked an effort past the post for East Kilbride there was a feeling this might just be Stranraer’s day.

As it turned out the miss (on top of an earlier miss) were personal disaster that will take some recovering from.

Still, things looked like they were heading for the lottery of a penalty shoot-out when with 117 minutes on the clock, Craig Ross rose highest to put the home side back in front.

Aiden Gilmartin then scored a third but by then East Kilbride knew that it was not to be – efforts were spent and the heads were down. Emotions ran high and the frustration of the loss spilled over to the touchline with an East Kilbride coach red carded for a pitch incursion along with Lewis Spence for two moments of indiscipline.

The final whistle saw the Stranraer fans pour onto the park after a rollercoaster of a game.

Like any pleasure park ride this was a ride full of ups and downs and in truth Stranraer are lucky to have survived. Only some poor finishing from East Kilbride prevented this from being a ghost train to the hell of the Lowland League from which there mat have been no way back.

Many of the players looked drained after giving what can only be called heroic defensive performances. Shots were blocked and bodies were put on the line. If there are bonus’s on offer for survival most of the Stranraer team deserve one.

The home goalkeeper remained calm at all times – unflustered and unmoved. And, as fans went back into the town for a welcome and well deserving drink, the journey was done until next season when Stranraer and its loyal fans can set off again happily for more adventures in SPFL 2.

Full Time: 3-1

Stranraer: Budinauckas, McIntosh, Ecrepont (Williamson 96), Forrest, Ross, McQueen, Grant (Gilmartin 73), Gallagher, Armour (Orr 51), Hawkshaw (Edgar 97), Dolan (Lang 14).
Not used: Girvan, Fleming and Downie.

East Kilbride: Truesdale, MacDonald, Lockie (McDonald 67), Spence, Fagan (Samson 68), Ferguson, Robertson, Brown (Montagu 56), Thomson, Balde, Flanagan.
Not used: Daramola, Biggar, McGrory, Stirling, Arnott and Avci.

Scorers: Stranraer – Gallagher (43), Ross (117) and Gilmartin (120+1); East Kilbride – Samson (76)

Referee: C. Napier

Attendance: 1,871