I’ve only been to Stair Park twice.
I hate when people describe places as ‘remote’ which probably just annoys the people who actually live there. However Stranraer is a bit of a trek from anywhere.
Going by Glasgow, you still have 50 miles to go when you pass Ayr, on a poor road with bottlenecks at Girvan and Maybole, which takes the best part of an hour and a half.
Going by Dumfries it’s still 72 miles further on the A75. This is part of the E18 ‘Euroroute’ which eventually reaches St Petersburg via Sweden and Finland. It also means that the traditional ‘Derby’ with Queen of the South is not really a local rivalry, more Dumfriesshire v Wigtownshire.
Stranraer have been going since 1870 although they were only admitted to the League in 1955, and they were the last League club in Scotland or England to get lights, in 1981.
The 1932 main stand was replaced by a more modern 1500 seater structure in 1995, and a cover for 1800 standing at the Town End.
So: 11th December 1993, and East of Scotland side Whitehill Welfare have been drawn away at Stranraer in the First Round of the Tennents Scottish Cup. I travel down on the Welfare bus with my mate Alan Jones. A ‘Scotsman’ reporter travels with us and there’s a feature in Monday’s paper.
It’s a big day for the Welfare and the players have their lunch at a hotel in Girvan.
It looks like a routine win for the homesters when Tommy ‘Tucker’ Sloan puts Stranraer in front after only 7 minutes. But on the half hour, Welfare win a penalty and Stuart Thorburn converts. Mike ‘Spike’ Sneddon scores again to give Welfare a 2-1 lead at the interval and they look good value for it.
The tie really begins to look all over 10 minutes after the break when home ‘keeper Barney Duffy is red-carded after rushing out to the edge of his area to foul Thorburn, who makes it 3-1 from the spot.
Many of the home fans have given up and begin to drift round behind the goal of Whitehill keeper Ramage on their way out. There’s a certain amount of intimidation and with 12 minutes to go Tucker reduces the deficit to 3-2. At one point a brick appears in the goalmouth. Then right at the end Darren Henderson equalises to force a replay.
The bus journey home is entertaining. Whitehill know how to have a sing-song on a bus, especially as a huge carry-out is brought aboard at Girvan. ‘Relaxed as a newt’, manager Mike Lawson falls over me as he tries to walk up the aisle, as the supporters and players belt out the club anthem ‘Saturday Night at the Movies’.
The replay is an anticlimax. Whitehill have Davie Millar sent off in the first half and Tucker scores 4 without reply.
Just over 20 years later and Inverness Caley Thistle are drawn away at Stranraer in the last 16 of what is now the William Hill Scottish Cup.
I take a bus to Peebles where I hook up with my buddy Rod McClean who drives us via Dumfries on an exceptionally sodden day.
We meet up with the hardy band of ICT fans in the Custom House bar in Stranraer.
Celtic v Aberdeen is on Sky and, to everybody’s delight, the holders are going out.
After a march of about a mile, we reach Stair Park, where the ICT fans have been given the old Coo Shed although a couple of dozen hardy souls stand behind the goals in the pouring rain.
In a decent cup-tie in front of 722 souls, Aaron Doran has ICT deservedly ahead but the teams go in level after a Grehan penalty on the stroke of half time. It looks bleak for ICT as Longworth scores on the break with 18 minutes to go, but Billy Mckay replies instantly and it’s 2-2 and a replay at Caledonian Stadium 10 days later, won 2-0 by ICT.
Now I should have had a tale of a 3rd visit to Stair Park. That was in April 1998. I went over to Belfast on Easter Monday, right after the Good Friday agreement, and spent a week cycling around the Antrim coast. I managed to get to games at Ards and Linfield during the week.
The plan was to go over from Larne to Cairnryan on the Saturday, bike the 4 miles to Stranraer, and watch ICT play at Stair Park in the old second division.
As it turned out, when I arrived at Larne on the Saturday morning, the ferry was full up, something I had never encountered as a foot passenger. I had to get a later ferry, and sit on the deck getting all the scores on the radio, and as I pedalled out of Cairnryan Terminal, I was just in time to see the ICT team bus drive past on their 254 mile run back north, having lost 3-1.