Stranraer - 150 Not Out | @Alexecky

As part of a series of Scottish football history articles written for us by radio presenter Alex Horsburgh, today he takes a Tardis from Stranraer's founding year of 1870 through, to 2020 and stops off at the occasional successes of the little team from Stair Park...

One of the three oldest clubs in Scottish football and one of the 20 oldest football clubs in the world. For most, Stranraer Football Club are no more than a name on a coupon or a team Jeff Stelling mentions with 200 others on Sky Sports on a Saturday afternoon; but with matches being organised in this outpost of British football since 1865, according to historians, the Wigtownshire blues can rightly lay claim to getting the game going north of the border, along with the Fitba' professors of Queens Park (1867) and the innovators of Kilmarnock (1869).

Stranraer Football Club will very shortly celebrate their 150th birthday, albeit locked down like the rest of us, and what a fine achievement that is for one of the lesser lights of UK football, who are based just a short ferry ride from Northern Ireland and 80 miles from the two giants of Scottish football in Glasgow.

Stranraer played in Southern Counties football in Scotland at non-league level until 1949, when they found themselves in Division C of a re-vamped league set-up after WW 2. Division C was a strange amalgamation of big club reserve teams and smaller established Scottish League sides, but it was a chance for Scottish football to expand geographically on a national level. This was the right time for progression for the South West of Scotland team.

The Scotsman, 14 September 1939 - Football is suspended for WW2

When the pre-war, two division set up finally returned to the Scottish League in 1955, the 'raer found themselves in Division B and went onto become a permanent fixture in the second tier without worrying promotion candidates too much in the next three decades. Although Stranraer were always a team that could cause a shock here and there, flattering to decieve at times, they also earned a reputation for promising much and delivering little in the way of titles.

Stranraer were destined, it seemed, to make up the numbers north of the border although, to be fair to them, having most of their playing staff in Glasgow and Ayrshire. Being at something of a geographical disadvantage, it was always going to make survival in the Scottish League something of an achievement in itself.

The 1960s and 1970s saw Stranraer dutifully carrying out their fixtures in the Scottish League without making a major dent, and they also celebrated their centenary in 1970 as Brazil claimed their third World Cup, but they continued very much as 'also rans' in the Scottish game. If the Old Firm were the shining stars of Scottish football and the best of the rest occasionally came close to their orbit, then Stranraer were firmly camped on the dark side of the sporting moon well into the era of the Space Shuttle.

1987 would be a turning point in the club's history, when ex-Ayr Utd player Alex McAnespie wound his way down to Dumfries and Galloway to take charge at Stair Park as manager after a distinguished playing career with Stranraer's big rivals up the road at Somerset Park.

Perthshire Advertiser, 18 December 1987 - The daunting task facing McAnespie

McAnespie stayed at Stranraer until 1996, but will be forever linked with the greatest cup shock that never was, when he took Stranraer to Celtic Park for a Scottish Cup tie in January 1988. Celtic were in their centenary year and laying claim to a Scottish League title, which they eventually won in the May of '88, but their season was almost marred by a Stranraer side who should have replaced the great Berwick team of 1967 who knocked Rangers out of the Scottish Cup in the Borders as the greatest cup giantkillers of Scottish, if not UK, football.

McAnespie put two of his players on Celtic playmaker Paul McStay in the historic tie and it turned out to be something of a master stroke, although nobody really knows why Celtic found it so hard to break down their Division Two visitors that day.

Frank McAvennie's opening goal didn't open the floodgates as expected and Stranraer dillegently stuck to their task in front of just one TV camera at the game. Only local Border TV bothered to send a reporter and cameraman from the television media of the day to the Cup tie in Glasgow, as other matches were rated more worthy of coverage elsewhere on the day by BBC Scotland and Scottish Television, and this was still 12 months before the birth of Sky remember.

Paul McStay was kept quiet by Stranraer in 1988

Border TV captured the action for a Monday evening sports feature on their news programme probably expecting a couple of minutes of footage, and a word or two on the plucky Stranraer team who kept their heads high despite shipping a 5-0 or 6-0 full time scoreline against the champions elect.

It didn't turn out that way and when Stranraer were awarded a penalty and a chance to make it 1-1, it was Bruce Clelland who stepped up to face Celtic goalie and Irish international Pat Bonner from the spot.

Clelland was set to emigrate to Australia the very next day and hadn't planned for a replay, and it was maybe thoughts of rearranging his flights that plagued him as he drove the ball against Bonner to keep Celtic 1-0 in the lead.

Amazingly, with seconds to go in the tie and the score still 1-0, Clelland was presented with a one on one chance against Bonnar from open play but slammed the ball off the crossbar to spare Celtic their biggest blushes outside any defeat by their famous city rivals from Ibrox.

Within seconds of the goal that nearly shook the football world, which actually became their greatest miss, Stranraer were out of time and Celtic were off the hook, before continuing their cup progress which ended with them claiming the league and Cup double in the Scottish Cup final v Dundee United at Hampden in May 1988 as the Stranraer team watched it on the telly.

The cash gained from the Celtic tie at least helped secure the Stair Park club's future and paid dividends for Stranraer on the pitch too with league progress followed by the club's first promotion from the basement of Scottish League football in May 1994.

Three years later, in 1997, Stranraer gained their very first national Cup trophy by winning the Challenge Cup (for league teams outside the Premier League) with a 1-0 final win over St Johnstone.

Stranraer lifted the Challenge Cup in 1997

Since the start of the 21st century Stranraer have developed into a good third and fourth tier side in Scotland and it looks like they'll have something to celebrate after all despite their 150th year coinciding with the coming of Covid 19.

Stranraer were due to be relegated to League Two a few weeks ago as it looked like the SPFL would  call their divisions as they were when football was suspended by the Lockdown, but now a three division 14/14/16 set-up in Scotland is set to appear in 2021 which will mean no promotions or relegations this year in the SPFL.

Stranraer FC will continue then as stoic as ever when the pandemic ends with their historic place in Scottish and world football intact so congratulations on 150 not out to the Blues of South West Scotland!

This piece was kindly written and given to @TFHBs by Alex Horsburgh - you can follow him on Twitter: @Alexecky

©The Football History Boys, 2020


Stuart M said…
Why is it incomplete? Great detail till first cup was won then seems to be in a hurry to finish it missing out the successful years from 2003-2006 and in recent years the great achievements of Aitken and Farrell! Ultimately a disappointing article ��

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