Airdrieonians’ story is widely known in Scottish football folklore. It begins back in 1878, when the original club was founded to satisfy the local craving for a team in Airdrie. Forty years passed, with Airdrie showcasing themselves as a real challenger for dominance. They finished runners-up in the Scottish topflight four years a row, a period which also brought the club’s first and only Scottish Cup trophy. Whilst that victory over Hibernian (typically) may be the jewel in the crown for Airdrie, they had always remained an ever-present figure in Lanarkshire and beyond. They excited their faithful with eons of local cup success, exciting individual talents and even a European adventure in Prague. However, the weight of financial instability proved too much for the club. Even with steady progress on the pitch under a fledging Ian McCall, Airdrieonians became only the second club after Third Lanark to be officially liquidated.
The second, and shorter chapter of this story starts in 2002. With the club looking to seek their way back into the professional leagues, different tactics would have to be attempted. A reincarnation of the original club; Airdrie United applied to fill the fresh gap. This failed, with a money-laden Gretna proving the preferable option. The club tried something different. With the horrific mismanagement of a struggling Clydebank, Airdrie sought an opportunity. The Bankies were sold, the club moved to North Lanarkshire and their identity changed forevermore to match that of the Airdrieonians of the past. It is interesting, as the current Airdrie are legally a continuation of Clydebank under a different name, the club are universally accepted to be a reincarnation. This was helped by the formation of a new Clydebank; currently plying their trade in the West of Scotland Premier Division. I hope they play each other soon, for some Clydebank v Clydebank action.
In the present day, Airdrieonians are pushing for the SPFL Championship. The team are flying, with their last league defeat coming at the start of December. However, their efforts have been outdone by today’s visitors Cove Rangers. A fresh addition thanks to the expansion of the pyramid, Aberdeen’s second side are a well deserved five points clear at the top of the table and are looking to seal their second consecutive SPFL promotion. The potential consequences of today’s match were massive. A win for Airdrie would close the gap to two points, with fifteen to play for. I expected a tasty encounter and was very excited to take it in.
The Excelsior Stadium (or Penny Cars Stadium for sponsorship reasons) has been associated with both forms of Airdrieonians. Having opened in 1998, the original club only played at the ground for a few years before the Clydebank/Airdrie United hybrid took over. With a 10,000+ capacity, the Excelsior hosts four similar looking single-tiered stands in a typical looking modern style. The club colours and symbols are dotted around the ground, making sure there is no confusion on who owns the stadium, despite the many teams who play their home games here.
This makes sense for the club, who have a decent looking artificial surface. If a club is to ground share, the shambles that is Firhill at the moment is the leading example of the benefits an artificial surface can bring. For the level Airdrie play at, it is no doubt one of the leading grounds to play football in. With the stands being close to the pitch, it would be a dream to feel the atmosphere with a full-house.
Overall, I like the Excelsior Stadium. It more than does the job and will suit Airdrie for years to come. It might be a bit out the way from the town centre itself, but once you reach the ground, it provides a good experience. 3.5/5.
For this top-of-the table clash, big interest would surely wait in the wings. Airdrie looked to promote the game by selling tickets at a reduced rate to entice supporters inside, on a weekend with no Premiership football. It worked, with almost double the attendance the club would normally get taking in the game. The crowd were in strong voice all game, with drums, chants and tension flying around the ground. It felt like a huge occasion, and fair play to the club for reducing prices for this game.
Cove also brought a healthy crowd down for the occasion. A few bus loads perched outside the East Stand made their way in and made noise throughout. It’s a long way to come for a game of football, but their spirits never dampened, always remaining high. I really enjoyed it. It got the crowd the game deserved, and the atmosphere showed. 4/5.
Quality of the Match
In a match with huge connotations for the rest of the season, The Diamonds could not have asked for a more explosive start. Callum Smith and Adam Frizzell combined well in a quick Airdrie attack. After the latter’s strike was saved by Cove ‘keeper Stuart McKenzie, Gabbie McGill reacted quickest to bundle the ball into the net, sending the large home support into early rapture.
Cove responded well and had the better of the next twenty minutes. Chances came and went for Scottish Cup winner Fraser Fyvie and former Aberdeen icon Shay Logan. Despite their respective strikes being saved and drilled over, Cove looked to make their own stamp on this tie in rapid fashion.
With the visitors chasing, Airdrie had a golden opportunity to double their lead. After good work down the left by Craig Watson, a returning header across goal found its way to Rhys McCabe. From six yards out though, his weak header nestled in the hands of McKenzie. There is no question on whether he should have scored.
The same can be said of Cove’s Harry Milne. After he and Connor Scully passed their way through the Airdrie defence, the latter crossed for the former. With plenty of time and space, Milne volleyed the ball goalwards, only for Airdrie stopper Max Currie to deny an equaliser.
A highly entertaining first half, with both sides heading into the break disappointed for different reasons.
Half Time: Airdrieonians 1-0 Cove Rangers
After an energetic first forty-five, the drama only heightened as the contest progressed. After a few blocked efforts from Fyvie and Milne, Cove continued to huff and puff with no reward immediately incoming.
Airdrie had a chance of their own, with the home faithful disappointed not to see a Callum Smith header nestle in the back of the net. Tension was building in the stadium from both ends, with the atmosphere growing evermore restless. A big moment felt certain.
It arrived three minutes into stoppage time. From a last-gasp corner kick, the ball bounced around and fell to Fyvie twenty yards from goal. From a slight acute angle, he rifled a sensational volley over Max Currie and into the back of the net. The Cove support went wild. Centre-back Morgyn Neill pounded his chest in front of the away faithful. They were now twenty-one games unbeaten. The Airdrie fans went silent. Their heroes fell to the ground in disbelief. Airdrie were two minutes away from closing the gap and instead find themselves back at square one.
What a game. 4/5.
As mentioned, Airdrie reduced their ticket prices to a measly £10 for todays encounter. For a top of the table game, on an international break, with so much at stake, it may have looked an easy option to keep the prices as they were, knowing an increased crowd would come anyway. However, their decision to reduce prices looked to have paid off. A healthy crowd of just over 1,600 were in full voice the entire game and added a wonderful atmosphere. 5/5.
Airdrieonians slide into third place in the TSFA League Table, funnily enough just ahead of Clydebank, with a score of 16.5/20. Despite their natural disappointment, I have every reason to believe that Airdrie will find themselves in the Championship next season, even if they fail to catch a rampant Cove side. Their day will come.