When being 8th seems special enough…

Date: 6th May 2022

The latest weekly blog provided to you by our Donald Stewart.

When being 8th seems special enough…

A night-time game under the lights is always special.

Way back when me and my daughter went to these games, we loved the atmosphere. Now and again the football lived up to the hype!

But the sense of occasion can be quite overwhelming. It adds to the tension.

People talk of the special place that European nights for the bigger cubs have for supporters and we in the lower leagues can but dream of finding out what that might feel like but the taste of the final game of the season being on a Friday night, with the same kick off for all and including one game live on BBC Scotland was well worth it.

I was forced to listen to the online commentary as I finished my work to late to travel down to sample the night, we retained our status in the league.

Going into the final game all we had to do was to win against a team trying to retain their status as fourth placed playoff quarter finalists, Partick Thistle. Ironically the team that were battling them for that place, Raith Rovers, were at home to our biggest rivals, Kilmarnock, and league champions – aye well done on that – and on the TV!

There was truly a sense of occasion with real jeopardy.

Once the third goal had gone in, we could perhaps take the oxygen mask off and relax a little, but it had been quite the fight all season. We had begun it with hope that an experienced hand in David Hopkins, would guide us to the top. At times we had flirted with the playoffs towards the top rather than the bottom of the league and as they say, it is the hope that kills you.

The last few games saw us drop into 9th, come close to falling into 10th and then rise to make the 8th spot our own. The highly experienced manager at the beginning of the season had been replaced by his assistant – another highly experienced manager in Jim Duffy, who had then been let go and a new manager had taken charge – Lee Bullen.

Bullen is in his first managerial job but comes with some pedigree. His final game of the season was against a team fashioned by a man who had a similar Ayr experience when we employed him after he had been out of the game for a few years.

Ian McCall, the Partick manager did not make the dugout for the final league game due to illness, but he was the man who brought promotion and joy to Ayr throughout his time with us. It is, however his first half season or so, as Ayr manager, where he got the win that, for me, was the most vital of his time with us.

We were languishing at the bottom of League One. We should never have been in that position, but we had taken a gamble on a player within the ranks having the ability to guide us out of League One. It did not happen, and we were all upset because Mark Roberts was one of the most popular players of that era. McCall came in and, in that season, we ended up at Forfar in the final game of the season needing to win to stay in the league.

It was not a game under the floodlights. It was not a pretty game to watch, and it was not a pretty game to follow.

But he won 3-0.

Our league status was assured. From there he built a team that win that league – his first league trophy in his career – and went on to top the Championship whilst giving redemption as a player to Lawrence Shankland before both of them left us to pursue what they thought, and were proved to be right, better opportunities.

But for us, that Friday night we found ourselves able to breath and hope the parallels of what McCall achieved is what Bullen can emulate. We hope.

And for all fans, the minutiae shall be used to debate and fall out. The next stage of the season is the playoffs where we wonder about the fate of Cowdenbeath – again – why Fort William fell out of the Highland League, what the SPFL really will do for the women’s game, whether the fairy-tale of Arbroath shall have a truly rainbow’s end style ending, or if winning two trophies in one season becomes the ultimate epitome of over achieving and just will there be a Scottish name in a European final to prove that the game truly is back at the level it ought and will the Auld Firm have a double/double debate for the season ahead?

And the once said that Scottish football was in the doldrums…

Aye Right…

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