It’s often said that youth is wasted on the young. Looking back I feel that I grew up in a golden age for football, with big crowds and great stadiums, before all the safety nonsense kicked in and everybody started building sterile, breeze block identikit grounds out on ring roads and industrial estates. I’m sure it used to be spelt brieze block too. I took it for granted. I wish I’d taken more photos. Even that cheap Kodak Instamatic, costing 12/6, that my folks bought me at Christmas in 1967 would have given me a lot of archive shots if I had bothered carrying it to the football.
So, I’m writing about Stirling this week. The Albion, The Binos. When I was a teenager they were managed by Bob Shankly and played at Annfield, while his brother Bill managed a slightly bigger club that played at Anfield. Albion were formed in 1945 out of the ashes of King’s Park FC, whose ground at Forthbank Park was destroyed in 1941 by the only Luftwaffe bomb to land on Stirling. The fathers of Craig Brown and Archie MacPherson reportedly played for King’s Park.
It took a bit of research to find out that my first trip to Anfield was in July 1974. I had a bit of email to-ing and fro-ing with Mickey Lawson (more of whom later) as he was mining his playing memories to come up with anecdotes of games against the Ugly Sisters of Glasgow. As Mickey will tell you, he scored against Celtic in Glasgow but elected to pass the ball when faced with Peter McCloy at Ibrox. This will be engraved on his headstone. Eventually I discovered that Albion had played Rangers in the Drybrough Cup that year but this was a sort of pre-season tournament and Rangers hadn’t bothered noting it in their official season records.
Drybrough & Co was an Edinburgh brewery based at Craigmillar, which is a posh name for Niddrie. Previously a respected brewer, they were taken over in 1965 by the dreaded Watney Mann and so in my youth their beer had a reputation as being pretty vile (though not as bad as Ushers). The brewery was closed in 1987, but not before they had associated themselves with Scottish Football in 1971 by starting the Drybrough Cup. The idea was that the four top scoring clubs from Div 1 and their counterparts in Div 2 took part in an 8-team knockout tournament, which is how Albion came to be facing Rangers at Annfield. In a further attempt to encourage goals, the tournament featured an extension of the 18 yard line right across the pitch. Nobody could be offside unless they were inside this line. I have to say that the best ever part of the Drybrough Cup was the goal scored at Hampden by Davie Cooper in the 1979 final.
Anyway, back to The Binos. Since the Scottish League went to 4 tiers in 1994, the club has yo-yo’d regularly between level 2 and 4 and are currently 1 point above basement club Montrose. They recorded their record 20-0 win at Annfield against Selkirk (not the current Lowland club) in 1984 and I can remember all the goals being shown on the awful ITV show Saint & Greavsie to great guffaws of laughter as Jimmy Greaves once more got to have a laugh at those poor guys up in ‘chilly Jockoland’. In modern times Albion lost 9-0 to Ross County in 2010 which is their record defeat, equalled by another 9-0 at Tannadice in 1967. Their highest league finish came in 58-59 when they were 12th in Division 1. Annfield once held 26400 for the visit of Celtic in 1958-9. A wee nostalgic movie.
The club went into decline during the 1980’s, so much so that Annfield was sold to Stirling Council for £250000 in 1981 and the club rented it at £3000/year. Later the East Stand was condemned and the council moved the stadium to community use. Scottish football history was made in 1987 when Albion played Ayr Utd at Annfield on astroturf. In May 1993 Albion played their final game at Annfield after 48 years and moved to the council-owned Forthbank Stadium.
After my 1974 visit I was lucky enough to see Annfield once more, in 1992, when Willie Watters rescued a point for the Binos with a last minute equaliser against Partick Thistle. The following two photos are from that game.
To compare with the photo above, here’s one I found on the internet from 1981 before the stand was demolished. Behind the stand, that might be Annfield House which was used as temporary dressing rooms.
So, my record watching Albion at Annfield was: P2, D1, L1. Would it get much better at Forthbank? Sadly not. My first visit was a league decider against Dumbarton in May 1995. The Binos only needed a draw to finish second, and a healthy crowd of 3003 was in attendance, but second half goals from Ward and Gibson meant that the Sons went up along with Morton to Div 1. Two days before Christmas, I saw the Albion beat Montrose 2-0 and this is remains the only time I ever saw them win apart from beating Whitehill away in a Scottish Cup replay in 2013.
Once ICT started climbing the leagues we met Stirling in promotion season 98-99, drawing one and winning 3, including a 5-1 win at Forthbank in February when manager John Philliben was playing at centre-half with Brian Martin. They did knock Hibs out of the Cup that season mind you.
It was to be eight years before ICT returned to Forthbank and in January 2007 they carried on where they left off with a 6-1 win in the Scottish Cup. At that time ICT had a rampant Wyness and Dargo in their team but this dream spell was soon to end as both picked up long term injuries. Then in January 2016 Albion and ICT were again paired in the Cup and The Binos gained a creditable goalless draw before going out in the replay.
However, a fair number of visits to Forthbank have been to watch Whitehill Welfare. In November 2000, the stadium hosted the Qualifying Cup Final against Spartans, which Whitehill won 3-2 after John Bird put them ahead in 3 minutes. Then Stirling University started groundsharing at the stadium so Whitehill had regular trips there.
In 2013 Whitehill were drawn away at Stirling in the Cup and put up a very good show, coming away with a 2-2 draw. Much was made of this tie locally as the Welfare manager was none other than Mickey Lawson, who had spent possibly the best five years of his career at Annfield, playing 169 games for Albion and scoring 92 goals (that’s in the League, Mickey says to tell you he scored about 128 in total), before going on to play for St Johnstone, Raith Rovers, Berwick and Meadowbank. Being involved with Whitehill meant we were entertained by the club and spent time in the boardroom where we met ex-owner Peter McKenzie who was a real gent. Meanwhile Mickey got to meet his 70s fan club. Whitehill were very unlucky to lose the replay at Ferguson Park when Sandy Cunningham scored the winner deep in stoppage time.