Promotion Gained at Ayr (2000)

(first published in the match programme for St. Mirren v Kilmarnock, 22nd April 2023)

Around 3,000 Buddies followed their side down to Somerset Park, Ayr on 22nd April 2000 in the hope that results that day would see St. Mirren gain promotion to the Premier League, perhaps even as Champions, after an absence of eight years. Manager Tom Hendrie was well aware of the significance of the match and decided that all 30 members of the St. Mirren playing staff would travel to Ayr to support the players on the pitch and participate in any subsequent celebrations.

Ayr U. v St.Mirren 2000

Ayr U. v St.Mirren 2000

The decision to enlarge the Premier League from ten to twelve teams for the following season meant that the criteria for deciding promotion and relegation had been revamped. The First Division champions would automatically gain entry to the top division and the remaining two places would be decided by a round robin play-off involving the second and third placed First Division teams and the bottom Premier League club.

St. Mirren had led the First Division for most of the season but, with three games remaining, they could still be caught by Dunfermline and Falkirk. However, the failure of Falkirk’s Brockville ground to meet the Membership Criteria of the SPL had denied them a promotion place and meant that if they held off the challenge of Raith Rovers for third place, there would be no need for the promotion play-offs. Saints and the Pars would be promoted and Premier League bottom side Aberdeen would avoid relegation.

Ayr United issued a 32-page full-colour programme, simply titled “United”, for the visit of St. Mirren. The front page carried the match details above a photo from Ayr’s last home match against Dunfermline. A short welcoming message from the home Chairman occupied page three and was followed by more photos from the Pars match.

Ayr Manager Gordon Dalziel shared his thoughts on page six, reflecting on their recent away victory over Morton. He welcomed Saints to Ayr, recognising their efforts thus far in the season and hoped that his side could delay the promotion party, but his players “would have to pit [sic] in a good performance”.

The squads of both sides were presented on page seven alongside the list of Ayr United Officials and above the current league table. Two pages were devoted to the visitors and contained detailed pen pictures of the St. Mirren squad. A kids’ page preceded the statistics page, listing all of Ayr’s results and line-ups for the season. The centre page spread featured South African-born defender Andy McMillan.

Club news items featured in “live on Ayr”, followed by a summary of league matches between Ayr and St. Mirren. A vividly colourful presentation on page twenty detailed where and how both sides had scored their goals during the season, together with their respective disciplinary records. “Blast from the past” covered Ayr’s matches from 10 and 20 years previously and “Chit Chat” looked back at recent Ayr matches.

“Reunited” gave a very informative account of a match between the sides in September 1967 and, to round up the reading matter, “Honest memories” focussed on former Ayr player Robert Connor.

This issue contained 13 pages of adverts and, like many Ayr issues of the period, can be a tricky one to obtain nowadays.

Ricky Gillies fires a shot in against Ayr

Ricky Gillies fires a shot in against Ayr

Before a crowd of 4,678, Saints showed their intent early on and Iain Nicolson sent a shot just over the bar. The same player was the victim of a late challenge by Neil Tarrant on 35 minutes and, after consulting with his linesman, referee Martin Clark red carded the Ayr United man. The same fate befell manager Gordon Dalziel for remonstrating with the officials about the incident.

Saints took the lead against the ten men shortly after the interval when Barry McLaughlin sent a ball through for Junior Mendes to fire home from 14 yards. But Ayr served notice that the game wasn’t finished when shortly afterwards David Craig sent a header against the bar. Saints didn’t heed the warning and when Iain Nicolson attempted to clear a Neil Duffy cross, his header fell to Craig and the ball was despatched into the net for the equaliser.

St. Mirren attacked in waves, but it was the home team who looked most likely to score and in the 89th minute, Ludovic Roy had to be at his best to keep out a 45-yarder from goalscorer Craig. Close to the end of the four minutes of added time, home ‘keeper Marius Rovde flapped at a cross and the ball fell to Paul McKnight. The substitute blasted the ball into the net to give Saints a 2-1 win, sparking wild celebrations on and off the pitch.

Raith Rovers’ defeat at home to Livingston ensured St. Mirren’s promotion and the fans looked forward to a possible Title celebration at Love Street the following week against the Kirkcaldy men.