The Sound of Football: Ayr United (Andrew)

Every fortnight we cover the best and worst football songs from every club in the UK from our book ‘The Sound Of Football: Every Club, Every Song’. You can buy it here

Ayr United

Nickname: The Honest Men

Ground: Somerset Park

Stadium Capacity: 10,185

Song: Back In Black

Before Lionel Messi, there was Jimmy Smith.

World-famous ex-Barcelona striker Lionel Messi holds the record for most goals scored in La Liga. However, less well-known Ayr United striker, Jimmy Smith, has the UK record for most goals scored in a single season. In 1927/1928, he scored 66 times in just 38 games. To put this into perspective, this is more goals in one season than most Ayr United squads have managed in the last 25 years. Two decades of underachievement has meant that Ayr is now a solid if unspectacular side that has found its level in the first and second division. Yet, 25 years ago, the future of the club could have taken a very different path.

In 1988 Edinburgh businessman, David Murray offered to buy the team. Murray was a rugby man, but he wanted to use his wealth to own and run a football club. Controversially his bid was rejected by a vote of Ayr’s shareholders. It was said that the shareholders had been influenced by Ayr United’s then-current manager, Ally McLeod, who had threatened to quit if Murray was successful.

Ally was an Ayr legend. He’d led the club into the First Division and the inaugural Premier League. His side had defeated Rangers in front of Somerset Park’s record crowd, and he’d led the club to the semi-finals of both the League and Scottish Cup. A feat that saw him voted Ayr’s Citizen of the Year in 1973.

But, for most football fans, Ally is remembered for only one thing: Scotland’s ill-fated 1978 World Cup campaign.

Ally was a naturally animated character, so his confidence and enthusiasm proved infectious. After Scotland defeated England 2 – 1 at Wembley in 1977, the nation believed that not only would World Cup success follow, so would the trophy itself. Scotland was going to win the World Cup!

This self-belief was so strong even the official World Cup single, ‘Ally’s Tartan Army,’ sings of the team’s triumph. When Ally was asked what he would do after the World Cup, he said, “retain it.“. The song was just as optimistic. Its chorus sang: “we’ll shake ’em up when we win the World Cup.” Note: it doesn’t say “if” the team won it. Instead, it sang of “when” Scotland would win it.

The tournament was a disaster. An opening draw with Iran followed an opening defeat to Peru. To qualify, Scotland needed to win by at least four goals against its final opponents, Holland, but, despite scoring one of the World Cup’s greatest goals – Archie Gemmell’s celebrated individual strike – they could only win 3 – 2. It was not enough, and Ally’s tournament was over.

By 1985 Ally Macleod was on his third spell as manager of Ayr. His voice carried a lot of weight. When Ally said “no” to David Murray, the shareholders listened and rejected the offer.

After his bid was rejected, David Murray invested in Rangers instead, helping them win nine titles in a row, and coming within one game of the European Cup final.

Ayr, on the other hand, struggled. Ally managed to win the second division title before leaving the club for the last time in 1989, but subsequent managers have not managed to reach the same heights. A recent highlight was reaching the semi-finals of the League Cup in 2012. However, a 1 – 0 defeat to local rivals Kilmarnock and subsequent relegation from the first division later that year meant that the campaign was unsuccessful.

Ayr does have a musical claim to fame. Scottish rock band Biffy Clyro has claimed that it is named after a footballer who played for Ayr United. However, as Somerset Park has never seen a Mr. Biffy Clyro, the band has also claimed they got their name after a Finnish footballer from the 17th century and a Welsh astronaut who had tried to become the first man on the moon, this may be another tall tale. 

Ayr United walk out to ‘Back In Black’ by AC/DC. This is not a reference to its financial position: it’s always been in the red ever since rejecting David Murray.

AC/DC in Argentina

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