There are reports of games played in Stranraer way back in 1865, mainly on a Wednesday – possibly because it was a half day in the town until the 1970s – but in 1870 an amalgamation of the town’s clubs formed Stranraer Football Club, making us the country’s third oldest league club.
Travel back then was not an easy undertaking, so naturally fixtures were few and far between, and took place for the most part in Wigtownshire, the Stewartry or occasionally Ayrshire.
Finding a home
The early days saw an almost nomadic search for a home, but it would seem that the east end of the town was always the preferred option.
Matches were played at Rephad, the bowling green, Sandmill area, Ladies’ Walk, the recreation ground and the trotting track – the latter giving the club its first nickname, ‘The Trotters’. Indeed, the club’s finances at times in the early years resembled that of the famous family of the same name from Peckham, South London.
A new home was found in 1907 – Stair Park – and bar a short stay in 1931/32 at the Transit Camp while the ground was remodelled and grandstand erected, the Blues have played there ever since.
The late 1940s saw a player sign for Stranraer whose name is still revered at Stair Park – John ‘Lolly’ McCutcheon.
Originally a defender, Lolly was converted to a left winger during a spell at Tarff Rovers, and soon excelled in his new found forward freedom. His fierce, swerving cannonball shots were the talk of the terraces for many years, as he scored an incredible 238 goals in 239 games for the Blues, before retiring in 1958.
Rangers come to town
The town went football crazy in 1948, as the mighty Glasgow Rangers with their ‘Iron Curtain’ defence came to Stranraer in the Scottish Cup First Round.
Exact spectator numbers are hard to judge (officially 6500), with every vantage point from tree to railway yard being utilised. It would be fair to say not many in the town missed out as the local heroes lost by the narrowest of margins.
The 1949/50 season saw Stranraer enter C Division – a league full of reserve teams from many of the country’s big boys.
The club finally achieved full league status in 1955/6. It was forced to fight for its place in the leagues in the early 1960s along with four other minnow clubs, due a motion put forward by Rangers which threatened their expulsion.
This was eventually defeated thanks to some legal wrangling, with Celtic stepping forward as a powerful ally, stating: “Stranraer are a small club which has done football a great deal of good” and “there should be no question of them being eliminated”.
Frye and McCabe
1975/76 saw a new two-league structure.
Strike partners Derek Frye and Jim McCabe excited the Blues faithful with their goalscoring heroics the following season, as Stranraer narrowly failed to gain promotion to the top flight. McCabe is still thought by many to have been Stranraer’s greatest ever player.
Sanny McAnespie (1987-1996)
The 1980s on the whole was a bad decade for the club – we had more wooden spoons than Delia Smith.
Halley’s Comet could be seen in 1986, but a much brighter phenomena was to walk through the Stair Park doors the following year when Alex ‘Sanny’ McAnespie was installed as manager.
His personality soon won over the fans. Results did not go our way but luck in cup draws – including a visit to Parkhead in 1988 with a narrow 1-0 defeat – financed Sanny’s plans.
After a near miss in 1992/93, promotion was finally achieved in 1993/94 – the first in the club’s history.
Campbell Money (1996-1999)
Relegation in 1994/95 and a slide down the table in 1995/96 saw Sanny leave and Campbell Money installed at the helm. National cup honour came in the shape of a Challenge Cup Final victory at a blustery Broadwood on 3 November 1996 over highly fancied St Johnstone.
A Second Division title win in 1997/98 secured promotion, but once again, our part time status hindered us in the higher league, with one of the few highlights coming in the form of a win over Hibernian at Easter Road.
Billy McLaren (1999-2003)
Billy McLaren was appointed as Campbell Money’s successor, and the Blues were a solid mid-table Second Division side until a season of mixed blessings in 2002/03, when promising early league form dipped dramatically during an epic run to the Scottish Cup Quarter finals.
Stranraer were defeated 4-0 in the cup by Motherwell, and it was relegation to the Third Division, not promotion, at the end of the season.
Neil Watt (2003-2006)
The Blues bounced back in 2003/04, as former player Neil Watt assisted by Stuart Millar took the club on a journey.
Back to back promotions saw Stranraer back in the First Division for 2005/06, but despite a best ever finish of 9th, yet again, the club could not retain that status.
Keith Knox (2009-2012)
After Watt and Millar departed, the Blues alternated between the Second and Third Divisons, as Gerry Britton and Derek Ferguson failed to revive the clubs fortunes on the pitch.
Fortunes off the pitch were now causing serious concern. When club legend and former captain Keith Knox stepped up as manager in January 2009, he was well aware of the predicament the club were in.
Although he couldn’t avoid relegation, he made popular signings including David Mitchell, Grant Gallagher, Scott Agnew, Stephen Stirling, Armand Oné and Michael Moore. With Stephen Aitken as his assistant, the Stair Park faithful were treated to an exciting brand of attacking football, and Stranraer finally made it back to the Second Division thanks to Rangers’ demotion in 2012.
Stranraer made a sluggish start to the 2012/13 season, which saw club legend Knox depart in October 2012.
Stephen Aitken (2012-2015)
Assistant manager Stephen Aitken secured the job after notching up some impressive results as caretaker boss. Aitken successfully avoided relegation, before leading the club to a third place finish in 2013/14 behind only Rangers and Dunfermline.
Along the way, Stranraer showed tremendous spirit and teamwork to put several big teams to the sword. This included knocking Ross County out of the League Cup, giving Hibs a scare at Easter Road, drawing with Rangers thanks to a dramatic last minute Jamie Longworth equaliser at Ibrox, and taking Inverness Caledonian Thistle to a Scottish Cup replay.
There was more to come in 2014/15, as Aitken’s men knocked out full-time Championship side Falkirk on the way to a heartbreaking Challenge Cup Semi Final defeat to Livingston on penalties.
The Blues were top of the League One table for most of the season, before finishing second to full-time Morton.
In both seasons, Stranraer were knocked out of the promotion playoffs at the semi final stage, but boss Aitken had impressed to the extent that he was recruited by Championship side Dumbarton.
Brian Reid (2015-2017)
Former Ayr United manager Brian Reid inherited a Stranraer squad missing several key players, with the rest still reeling from the disappointment of missing out on promotion yet again.
The signings brought in didn’t immediately deliver results, and by Christmas 2015 the Blues were bottom of the table.
A lucrative, televised Scottish Cup tie against Celtic helped finance a deal to bring game-changer Willie Gibson back to the club in January. The winger joined left back Liam Dick and larger than life goalkeeper Cameron Belford, who arrived on loan from Falkirk and Wrexham respectively to shore up the defence.
With Gibson, Cairney and Stirling creating chances in midfield, Stranraer charged up the table in 2016, completing a remarkable turnaround with a fourth place finish in League One.
In the first leg of the playoff semi finals , the Blues looked unstoppable in their 5-2 demolition of full-time Livingston at Stair Park. They survived a scare in the second leg to triumph 8-6 on aggregate with two goals in extra time.
It took more than extra time to separate Stranraer and Ayr United in the final, despite the Blues’ best efforts. A late Ross Docherty strike cancelled out Mark McGuigan’s goal in the home leg, and with the second leg at Somerset Park finishing goalless, Ayr keeper Greg Fleming broke Blues’ hearts by saving three penalties.
2016 mirrored 2015, with a decline in fortunes bringing about a managerial change in the new year.
Stevie Farrell (2017-present)
Former assistant manager Farrell took charge in January 2017 with Stranraer bottom of the league, and guided the team to survival in three successive seasons, before the coronavirus outbreak and resulting votes brought an end to the Blues’ eight-year spell in the third tier.