42 Grounds: Ground 6: Stair Park

Last night’s game at Kilmarnock brought me close enough to Stranraer to make it worth continuing the journey after the game.

This is a journey I’m familiar with, Aberdeen to Stranraer, a 540 mile round trip.

The longest trip I will face this season, although gratefully I didn’t have to make the journey down this morning.

Having family in Stranraer meant a place to stay and the opportunity for a lie in.

Those that know me, or have followed my Twitter feed thus far, will know that Stranraer is my team.

This was one of the trips I was looking forward to, to a place I know very well.

My first game at Stair Park came late in the last Millenium.

I can’t claim to remember much of it, apart from the biting cold in the freezing stand.

Later, in the early noughties I remember playing in the park outside with friends, waiting for half time when we were allowed in for free.

I wasn’t too interested in the football at that point, but the wild shots being peppered over the bar gave us an opportunity to chase after it and throw it back to the ‘stars’ on the pitch.

Eventually, and with unfortunate timing, I began to take a real interest.

I missed the consecutive promotions under Neil Watt. One of the greatest periods in the clubs history.

My first season was the 2005/06 season, the last time that the club were in the second tier of Scottish football.

It was my first true experience of live football and I loved it.

It was angry and passionate in equal parts in the stands.

The tribal nature and the wild celebrations after a goal were hard to resist, I knew I wanted to go to Stair Park every week.

On the pitch there were heroes that I began to get to know.

As a part time team we were always up against it.

This was our wee town battling out with some of the biggest names in Scottish football. Dundee, St Mirren and St Johnstone among them.

The season ended in disappointment. A playoff defeat to Partick Thistle signalling the end of the Watt era.

It didn’t matter that we had been relegated, I was hooked.

The years that followed were fairly miserable.

Managers came and went, relegations and promotions followed.

Years of financial excess threatened the very existence of the club.

Stair Park became a place for rattling buckets at the weekends, literally holding out the begging bowl to ensure the survival of the club.

The football didn’t matter at that point.

Losing heavily in games was irrelevant, survival was all that mattered.

The club survived.

Costs were cut, wages slashed and limitations accepted.

The hard decisions taken then are paying off now, with the club in rude financial health and going from strength to strength.

We have been treated to some great players over the years.

There are names I could rattle off from over the years, Stephen Swift, BJ Corr, Allan Jenkins and of course, my old favourite, Michael Moore.

Stranraer is a reasonably sized town with a population of around 10,000.

Despite this, they have at times had the lowest average attendance of all Scottish clubs.

It is a shame that, with all the drama and joy that regular trips to watch Stranraer can bring, the crowds aren’t higher.

There are many reasons for this.

Two big ones which affect the potential support of every club in Scotland, for example.

Supporting Stranraer in Stranraer was once seen as the the pursuit of the strange.

For football fans, jumping on a bus elsewhere on a Saturday was the norm.

Success on the park recently means that is no longer the case.

A free season ticket given to all primary school children in the town is a positive step, the latest in a long line of community initiatives being undertaken by the club.

The club is in great shape.

That is reflected in the new and improved Stair Park.

Hospitality capacity has increased, the old Coo Shed (my old stance of choice) is no longer made up of rickety wood and full of ‘character’ but has been seated to increase capacity.

The ground is looking great, which hasn’t always been the case.

The view of the home terracing from high in the main stand.
The newly seated Coo Shed. My old stance.

Today’s visitors were Peterhead and the match was between two sides desperate to secure the first win of their respective seasons.

The first half was dominated by The Blues, with plenty of chances created.

It took 26 minutes for the home side to break the deadlock.

Striker Mark McGuigan did some good work in the box and was able to slot the ball past the Peterhead goalkeeper from the narrowest of angles.

There was a sense of relief in the stand, where a challenging start to the season has left some worried that this year won’t emulate the success of the last three seasons.

Good work between the attacking trio of Gibson, McGuigan and the rapidly returning to form Craig Malcolm caused enough problems for the Peterhead defence to put those fears to rest.

By half time Stranraer could have had more than a one goal lead.

Football fans of all colours say “we always do it the hard way”, almost as if that’s a characteristic unique to their club.

Of course, I’m no different.

Losing promotion playoffs in three consecutive seasons makes me feel it is justified in the case of Stranraer.

We all say that though.

The second half followed a familiar pattern, with Stranraer looking slightly nervy under attacks of increasing quality from the Blue Toon.

Doing it the hard way, I thought.

The prodigious plumber Rory McAlister posed a threat to the Stranraer goal on a couple of occasions and Cam Belford, the colourful character in Stranraer’s goal was kept busy.

His moment of the match came when he tipped a thunderbolt of a shot on to the post.

A game winning save.

The celebrations in the stand and on the pitch at full time were as enjoyable as they always are.

With no attempt at neutrality, I hope the three points today are three of many this season.

Stranraer 1 Peterhead 0

Attendance: 376

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