The trip to Somerset promises to be a tough encounter for the Light Blues; the ground will doubtless be full to capacity, Ayr’s players will be out to run themselves into the ground and the tight confines of the ground are not what Rangers are used to, although traditionally, the playing surface at Ayr’s ground is more often than not among the best in Britain. It is also a ground that has proven to be a tricky one for Rangers to negotiate successfully in the past and nothing less than a thoroughly professional and committed performance from all eleven Rangers players is required on the day.
Ayr United, are of course the result of a merger between Ayr FC and Ayr Parkhouse in 1910 and it is worth noting that Ayr FC share a distinction with Hibernian in that they both won the second division in two consecutive seasons; Hibs in 1894 and 1895, and Ayr in 1912 and 1913 as promotion and relegation was decided in those days by election rather than position. Incidentally, Falkirk, who have suffered in not being promoted despite winning the division recently, were elected to the first division in 1905 at the expense of Clyde who finished top of division two!
The links between Rangers and Ayr United in a playing sense have been something of a rarity in recent years; the last time the two met on league business was a whole 25 years ago and unless Ayr manage to get a ground together the same time may elapse before a league meeting again.
Be that as it may, there are some notable games between the two in years gone by and this article – while no means exhaustive – will examine a selection of them.
The first clash of note took place in Ayr on April 22nd, 1912 as a fundraiser for building of the Troon Navigation Masonic Lodge No. 86. A 7-2 victory in favour of the Glasgow men was the outcome and it is pleasing to note that the Masonic Lodge in question is still going strong and was featured in an article recently in a local paper. Sadly, it is hard to imagine any national papers giving coverage to such an event these days, and one is inclined to wonder just how hysterical a reaction such a fundraiser would provoke among Scotland’s journalists in this day and age!
The first league game between the pair took place in Ayr in January the following year and again Rangers emerged from South Ayrshire with a victory; this time by a two goals to one margin. In fact, they were to achieve the double over United in the League that year by virtue of a 5-2 win at Ibrox later on in the season. Revenge for Ayr, however, was not long in coming as they in turn achieved a League double over Rangers the following season with wins of 2-0 at their home ground and 3-1 at Ibrox.
Of course, Europe – and indeed the world – was witnessing war on a phenomenal scale during these years but football continued for the duration of the conflict and one game between Rangers and Ayr is worth a mention as in February 1917, Rangers beat Ayr 1-0 thanks to a rare goal from Rangers legend, Bert Manderson.
Between then and 1925 when Ayr United were relegated, Rangers ran up a few impressive scorelines when the two met, although the 2-0 Ayr win in the Scottish Cup at Somerset in 1923 should serve as a warning that complacency is not an option in any day and age. Rangers wins of 7-2, 5-0, and 4-0 were recorded although, then, as in recent times, games at Somerset were seldom one sided with the exception of Rangers’ 4-0 win there in the year Ayr were relegated.
Ayr gained promotion in 1928 with an impressive difference of nine points between them at second placed Third Lanark and also recorded a Scottish League record that season that probably will stand forever: Jimmy Smith scored 66 of Ayr’s 117 league goals that year which, in this day and age, is surely out of reach for anybody in Scotland.
The first game back in the top division between the pair resulted in a 3-1 win for Rangers at Somerset with Jimmy Fleming scoring a hat-trick, sounding a warning of what lay in store the following season. In 1929/30, Rangers’ all-conquering side hammered Ayr 9-0 at Ibrox in November with Fleming hitting the net on one more occasion than the last game mentioned. That 9-0 win, incidentally, remains to this day Ayr’s record defeat although Hearts equalled that score against them two years later.
The season 1931/32 is worth mentioning here as the great Sammy English, on his way to setting his own record of 44 goals in one league season, netted five against Ayr in 3-1 and 6-1 victories, scoring two and three goals in the respective games. Sadly, due to bigots in the Scottish game, Sammy left for pastures new due to circumstances that were not of his making and it remains open to question just how many goals he would have scored for his beloved Rangers.
To return to the topic at hand, though, and in the second game of 1933/34, Rangers again hit nine goals past Ayr at Ibrox, and, astonishingly, all nine goals were shared by two Rangers players! The legendary Jimmy Smith netted SIX, while Alex Stevenston – a Dubliner who won caps for his native Ireland, putting to bed a modern day myth that is given oxygen by the prejudiced and ignorant – found the net three times.
Moving on through the years, a steady stream of Rangers victories is recorded with a solitary 2-2 draw in 1935 being of scant consolation to Ayr who were then defeated 6-1 at Ibrox in the last game of 1935, with Jimmy Smith going easy on Ayr by limiting his tally to five this time. This season, incidentally, saw Ayr relegated.
They won promotion at the first time of asking and acquitted themselves well against their Glasgow opponents, drawing both league games although succumbed to two defeats the following season which was the last full season played before the lights went out all over Europe as the Free World battled against the evil of Nazism and its allies in the east.
When peace returned in 1945 Ayr found themselves in Division B and Rangers would not cross swords with them until the two-legged quarter final of the League Cup in 1953 where Rangers sneaked by their lower league opponents by an aggregate victory of 6-5, winning 4-2 at Ibrox and losing 3-2 on the west coast. Rangers, incidentally, lost 2-0 to Partick Thistle in the semi final, who in turn would go on to lose 3-2 to East Fife in the final who actually finished on the same points total – 34 – as Rangers that season, finishing a creditable 6th, two places behind the Ibrox men.
Rangers and Ayr next met on League business at Ibrox in September 1956 with Rangers recording a 3-1 win, but again the trip to Ayr saw them leaving empty handed, this time on the wrong end of a 1-0 scoreline. Ayr, by way of interest, were eliminated from the Scottish cup in an Ayrshire derby at Rugby Park where Kilmarnock emerged victorious with a 1-0 win.
AGAIN, in 1960, Rangers were to leave Somerset beaten after a 1-0 reverse on Christmas Eve that year but a happier event was recorded during the very last game of that season at Ibrox as an incredible 7-3 triumph for the Bears saw them clinch the League Flag in a season also notable for another certain four goal winning margin for Rangers at Celtic Park! Consolation would have been taken by the relegated Ayr, however, as Rangers’ victory ensured they finished one point above Ayr’s bitter rivals, Kilmarnock and thus denied – or delayed – the trophy heading to what is now East Ayrshire. The close season, incidentally, witnessed £11,000 heading from Ibrox to Somerset in exchange for the striker, Jim Christie, who is remembered most for two goals for Rangers in a 3-2 win at Ibrox over Monaco in the preliminary round of the European Cup.
That marked the last time Rangers and Ayr would meet until again they met at the quarter final stage of the League Cup in 1966/67 where Rangers recorded a 4-1 aggregate victory – although failing to win at Somerset again during the course of action when a 1-1 draw was the outcome. Sadly, Rangers were to succumb to Celtic in the final by a 1-0 loss.
Moving swiftly on, the next time Rangers visited Somerset was to prove highly significant from an historical point of view as on September 13th 1969, Somerset witnessed its biggest ever crowd as 25,225 paid to get in, with many eyewitness accounts from both Rangers and Ayr fans claiming at least 10,000 could be added to the official figure. Sadly for Rangers, though, they lost 2-1 with none other than Quinton ‘Cutty’ Young – who would eventually become something of a cult hero to the Rangers fans when he signed for them - opening the scoring. To stray slightly from the subject in order to settle an oft-heard argument in various establishments around the town of Ayr, YES – Jim Baxter did turn out in a Blue jersey that day.
Moving on through time until 1972/73 season we AGAIN find Rangers losing 2-1 at Somerset on league business – this time on the opening day – but prior to that Rangers had emerged from a League Cup group that also contained Ayr and saw Rangers win both home and away ties although the ‘away’ game was in fact played at Kilmarnock’s Rugby Park.
However, ask any Rangers fan what they remember most about playing Ayr United in the 1970s and a common answer will be the Scottish Cup semi final. Over 50,000 turned up at Hampden – including a sizeable contingent from Ayr – to see Rangers win 2-0 thanks to a Derek Parlane double that set up that monumental game against Celtic that will be remembered for ever thanks to Tom Forsyth’s legendary net buster from all of six inches! That game was a signal that Rangers were on the verge of reclaiming their rightful place as Kings of Scotland although the Ibrox fans did have to endure another season after that of Celtic winning the League.
As fate would have it, the season that DID see Rangers regain the Crown opened with a 1-1 draw at Somerset and Ayr also had something in common with Celtic that season as both were beaten 3-0 at Ibrox around the turn of the year as Rangers powered their way to their first title in eleven long years, culminating in the game at Easter Road where a Colin Stein header in front of an estimated Rangers support of 35,000 sparked off unforgettable celebrations both on and off the park.
Next season Rangers were to sweep the board domestically although not without a 3-0 defeat at Somerset on the way, proving again to be a ground where Rangers do not find it easy.
Celtic again appeared to be on the ascendancy in 1976/77 as Rangers slipped to second although it is interesting to note that Rangers’ 5-1 win at Somerset in April was the first of three successive trips to the west coast that would see Rangers go nap. Wins of 5-0 and 5-2 there both helped to relegate Ayr and simultaneously inspire Rangers to the second leg of their second Treble in three years.
Ayr United were relegated that season and as yet, have to find their way back to the top division so Rangers’ games against them have been somewhat sporadic since then. The only link therefore, was a speculated £300,000 bid that the Rangers manager, John Greig, is reputed to have made for Stevie Nicol in 1983 who, as it turns out, ended up a part of the all-conquering Liverpool team of the mid to late 80s.
2-1 and 4-1 wins prior to commencing seasons 1985/86 and 1988/89 respectively were what separated the last competitive business in 1978 to Rangers’ visit to the town of Honest Men in 1993. (Local rumour suggests, by way of interest, that an annual pre-season friendly between Rangers and Ayr at Somerset had been agreed until the plug was pulled on that proposal by a certain new owner of Rangers by the name of David Murray.)
The 1993 clash is still very much fresh in the memory and while Rangers emerged triumphant with a 2-0 win it must not be forgotten that they were made to fight for every inch and may well have gone behind were it not for a brilliant save from Andy Goram.
From then the two teams did not meet until in the League Cup at Ibrox in Rangers’ monumental Nine in a Row season. A blistering free kick from Jorg Albertz saw Rangers ahead shortly after half time only for United to equalise and give Rangers a few scary moments before two late goals gave the home team a 3-1 victory.
The League Cup was again the stage for a meeting on a night of torrential rain at Somerset in August 1998 which again saw Rangers win 2-0 on their way to their sixth Treble, this time under the guidance of Dick Advocaat.
To the surprise of many, Ayr had fought their way to the semi finals of the Scottish Cup the following season but ultimately could not compete with a Rangers team who, in blistering form, racked up a huge 7-0 win, which, in all honesty, should have been bettered in the final against a pitiful Aberdeen side who have no idea how luck they were to only be on the wrong end of a 4-0 deficit.
Of course, the most recent clash between the teams that will meet at Somerset on Saturday 22nd February came at the National Stadium last March as Rangers won their first trophy under the new manager in Alex McLeish. A game played on a dreadful pitch saw Rangers survive a few nervous moments before the much maligned Tore Andre Flo settle the nerves with a goal on the stroke of half time and Rangers eventually got into their stride to run out convincing 4-0 winners in a prologue to what would be one of the most magnificent days at Hampden for anybody connected with Rangers as they next played in a final against Celtic on May 4th. But that’s for another article!
So here ends a bit of a lengthy wander through the mists of time. It is to be hoped that anybody reading this has enjoyed it, possibly reliving some treasured moments or finding out something new although this isn’t in any way claimed to be an exhaustive record.
When all is said and done, Rangers will not by any stretch of the imagination find it easy at Somerset and a collective effort from Rangers players and fans alike is imperative to ensure the desired result.
Yours in Rangers,
Ayrshire Billy Boy.