42 Grounds: Ground 5: Rugby Park

Travelling home from Annan last week I began to worry that attending all 42 grounds might not be possible.

The dreaded scenario of missing out by one ground due to poor planning played on my mind.

On Sunday, I sat down with a pen and paper and planned my football viewing for the season.

Two key rules I decided to follow were “double headers are good” and “always be flexible.”

With that in mind, when the opportunity to attend two games this weekend was presented to me, I had to investigate.

A last minute decision to visit a lower league ground is unlikely to present any challenges. You walk up to the gate, pay your money and you’re in.

I was aware that Kilmarnock v Rangers, my game of choice was unlikely to be as simple.

The key questions, was it possible with the transport available? Yes. Would I be able to buy a ticket? Yes, they would be on sale right up until kick off, I was told after a call to the Kilmarnock ticket line. Brilliant!

Fast forward 24 hours and I receive a tweet. Tickets will only be on sale until 6pm.

Transport planned, that left me up against it.

Was this accurate? Best check with the ticket office. No answer, several times.

At least they had some recorded match information available on the phone.

“The next home fixture is Partick Thistle on the 17th of May…”

Months out of date and frankly useless.

Despite having been assured that tickets would be available, I was left to make the long journey unsure of whether I would be able to watch or not.

This was frustrating.

A bit of luck was enough to get me to the ticket office a matter of minutes before closing time.

Those familiar with Scottish football will be all too aware of the civil war that has been unfolding at Kilmarnock FC in recent years.

I don’t know enough about the issues to take sides but looking in from the outside it seems the fans are desperate for change in the boardroom.

Attendances in recent years have fallen dramatically as people are priced out, put off or perhaps simply finding things they would rather do.

At £26 a ticket for the match tonight, who could blame them?

The board will have profited from the Rangers fans attending in their droves tonight, but what does this price do to attract the people of Kilmarnock that may attend every now and then?

The stadium itself is from a different era in Scottish football.

The stands are impressive but the capacity of close to 18,000 seems baffling.

Perhaps 20 years ago when the renovation was completed it seemed like a good idea.

Indeed, in the first season of the SPL (98-99), Kilmarnock’s average attendance was 11,184.

Tonight saw a crowd slightly greater than that, although the majority filled the two away stands behind the goals.

Football, like the world, has changed a lot Since 1998.

With an average crowd of 3993 last season, Killie don’t need a stadium this size.

It’s an impressive stadium in great condition, but it feels unnecessary.

Tonight the home end was fairly busy, and the atmosphere was boosted by the excitement on the pitch.

There was a buzz before kick off, largely created by the travelling support.

As the players warmed up the sun shone brightly in my eyes, those around me began to complain.

Would this be a regular complaint if summer football was ever embraced?

Would we be left longing for the bitter dark of winter?

As with Annan, the pitch at Rugby Park is made of artificial grass.

Last season there were frequent complaints about the quality of Kilmarnock’s pitch.

Beyond a couple of slips there are no obvious signs of a poor quality surface.

Perhaps you need to play on it to notice, or maybe only a defeated manager is able to spot the flaws in the surface.

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One of the away stands filled with Rangers fans.
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The main stand – complete with mood lighting.

Rangers have made the return to the top flight after four years spent working their way through the lower leagues.

For that reason they are extremely unpredictable.

Some say they will challenge for first, many think second would be a success and some even think a top half finish would be a decent season.

Kilmarnock, meanwhile have made a habit of flirting with relegation in recent seasons, with an appearance in the most  recent relegation playoff the closest they have come.

They survived the drop but there is pressure on Lee Clark to deliver more than simply staying up.

This made for an intriguing contest and early on the sides looked evenly matched.

As the game settled in to a rhythm, the home side perhaps found themselves having the better chances.

After a sublime through ball Kris Boyd rolled back the years in the 29th minute to slot a cool finish past Foderingham in the Rangers goal.

The best chance of the half for the away side fell to marauding wing back James Tavernier who could only balloon the ball over the bar after some good work saw him  one on one with Jamie MacDonald.

Those around me were content their team had started strongly, winning every tackle in midfield. Rangers were struggling.

The second half fairly quickly brought a moment of magic with Tavernier atoning for his earlier miss with a stunning free kick to level the scores at 1-1 on the hour mark.

Then a rush of blood to the head saw Kilmarnock reduced to 10 men after a wild sliding challenge on the disappointing Joey Barton.

As the end of the game approached Kilmarnock, led up front by (supreme athlete) Kris Boyd looked exhausted.

As the Rangers pressure grew Killie dropped deeper and deeper, defending desperately.

However they managed to hold on much to the delight of the Kilmarnock fans around me.

Although times may have been hard at Rugby Park in recent years, the chants of “Lee Clark’s Blue and White Army” ringing around the ground at the end of the game didn’t hint at a divided support.

Maybe, just maybe, they’ve got a man in charge that they can rally behind at last.

Kilmarnock 1 Rangers 1

Attendance: 11800

BBC Match Report

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