TOTD: Jamie Longworth

TOTD: Jamie Longworth

WHERE do you start with Jamie Longworth’s time at Stranraer?

More than 40 goals for the Blues, including seven in one season in the Scottish Cup, a hat-trick against Ayr and ‘that’ goal against Rangers only scratches the surface of what he achieved over three seasons.

It was no surprise that he was a popular winner of the tenth vote to find Stranraer’s Team of the Decade.

The frontman won fans over quickly, with an incredible goal run in his first season.

However, Longworth remains humble about his success at the club and was delighted to be named in the team.

He took the time to praise his rivals and said: “It is an absolute honour to be named in the Stranraer Team of the Decade, especially when you look at some of the guys who have played up front over the last decade.

“I had a look online and there were a couple of comments where people said Michael Moore performed more in the decade prior to that but even then he was part of the team that kept Stranraer up the year before Rangers got promoted, which was a year where Stranraer were not expected to stay up.

“I think even Michael Moore did his bit this decade and to finish ahead of guys like him, Craig Malcolm, and I played up front with Martin Grehan as well, so it is an absolute honour to get this.

“I was absolutely delighted when I found out.”

Longworth had already spent three years with Queen’s Park before he joined the Blues.

Stevie Aitken, then boss at Stranraer, reached out and met the striker at a hotel in East Kilbride.

Aitken was preparing for his first full season in charge of the club having taken over from Keith Knox in October 2012.

The potential signing was won over by Aitken’s plans and the chance to move up to League One and take on rival sides including Dunfermline, Ayr and Rangers.

Fans first got a chance to see their new signing in the final pre-season friendly of the 2013/14 season when the Blues took on Shildon.

Stranraer had already showed their goalscoring abilities in the previous four friendlies, with a 1-0 win over East Stirlingshire, a 7-2 win over a Greenock Morton XI, a 5-1 win over Wigtown and Bladnoch and a 3-1 defeat to Albion Rovers.

Striking rivals Martin Grehan and Adam Forde had already found the net twice while fellow new signing David McKenna scored four against Morton and also found the net against Wigtown.

The gauntlet had been thrown down and Longworth responded in impressive fashion with a perfect hat-trick – a right foot strike, left foot strike and header – against the visitors from County Durham.

However, Longworth admitted he was not in the best of shape and said: “I think I had been on holiday.

“I had booked a holiday before signing – a holiday to Mexico with my partner – and I had not been back too long.

“I think I maybe came back the night before the bounce game against Shildon and I think I scored a hat-trick.

“There were points in the first half where I literally could not move.

“I was in absolute agony – the all inclusive bar was still sitting in my stomach – and I was thinking to myself that I really needed to get going.

“I had a good week just trying to train but the difference, no disrespect, between playing Shildon in a friendly and Dumbarton in the first game of the season, you could see the massive difference.

“I loved it but at that point I was thinking I need to get a bit of a finger out and get fit because I could see the step up in quality already.

“Not just from the opposition but from my team-mates as well.”

It actually took Longworth until the fourth game to get his first competitive goal in a Stranraer shirt, scoring against Ayr in a 1-1 draw.

Blanks then followed against Ross County, Dunfermline and Airdrie before the striker hit the goal trail.

From September 21 until December 27, he would find the net 18 times in 17 games.

Two Scottish Cup doubles against Auchinleck Talbot were immediately followed by a hat-trick against Ayr and then the famous goal at Ibrox.

He said: “I think in the second season at Queen’s Park I scored 22 goals overall but that was spread right across the season.

“I think I scored 22 for Stranraer in my first season but the disappointing thing was that after such a great start not to kick on in the second half of the season.

“I just went through a real drought and only scored maybe every five or six games, which was quite frustrating.

“But, certainly that first half of the season, I scored against Ayr, then after the East Fife game it was a real purple patch.

“I think I scored against East Fife away and it must have been within about 30 seconds.

“Grant Gallagher or Andy Stirling cut the ball back to me and I found myself in a good position.

“It just seemed to be a good spell for me and obviously we had the game away to Ayr on a Tuesday night which was just, still to this day, the most ridiculous game I’ve ever been involved in.

“I got a hat-trick there and I think it was the goal at Ibrox that is when it tailed off for a while.

“After that it went a wee bit quiet and I know I scored a few goals towards the end of the season but based on that start and 18 goals in 17 games it was quite frustrating that I did not kick on and maybe get to like 30 goals or something.”

The goal at Ibrox was not only enough to secure a 1-1 draw but also a little piece of history.

The Stair Park outfit had never scored a goal against the Glasgow side never mind achieving a point or a win.

Stranraer had lost in the first meeting of the campaign and would lose the other two meetings as Rangers scored five without reply.

Longworth said: “I think we had played Rangers at home earlier in the season and I think we lost 3-0.

“There must have been mention in the programme that Stranraer had never got a point or scored against Rangers.

“I remember reading it at the time and thinking how amazing that would be to score.

“I think when we first played them I cannot recall getting a chance or there being many chances.

“You are thinking to yourself it would be amazing to do but realistically you are not going to get many chances for it to happen.

“I think the game on Boxing Day, again, I thought we were excellent that day and worthy of the point in the end but you think about absolute clear cut chances and up to that one that Andy Stirling crossed over for me I don’t know if there were any gilt edged chances that if we had lost 1-0 you would think ‘what if we had scored that?’

“I remember Andy having a good effort from about 30 yards out and one or two other things bouncing about but not really a chance that you would be disappointed not to take.

“Firstly, for me, personally, the goal was just relief.

“It is a horrible one for a striker that you are five yards from goal and if you miss it you are done forever.

“It was just relief it going in and then instantly hearing the Stranraer fans and looking up and seeing all the boys making a beeline for the corner.

“I think I had asked the referee, Andrew Dallas, how long was left beforehand.

“That was maybe a minute or two before the goal and he said we were going into injury time.

“I think at that point you knew that it was done, that it was finished and so to score that goal and to get a point as well was great.

“It was not just a goal but to get something from the game, it all just came together.

“It probably did not filter through at that point.

“You are still on cloud nine and everybody was absolutely high as a kite in the dressing room afterwards.

“It probably took at least a couple of weeks and even, as I say, up to now, it has still not quite sunk in.

“It is amazing to think that I scored and as a team we got a point.

“I don’t know if it will ever set in proper.

“Maybe when I am old, I will sit back and appreciate it fully but it does not almost seem real talking about it.”

Stranraer would go on to finish in the play-offs in each of Longworth’s three years at the club.

Dunfermline, Forfar and Ayr would stop Stranraer’s bid to reach the Championship, while Livingston also knocked the Blues out of the League Challenge Cup at the semi-final stage.

The striker added: “I think it is quite surreal to think that we are disappointed in not going up when you consider some of the teams you were up against and obviously the League Challenge Cup semi-final too.

“Every season, we were in the play-offs.

“First season, Dunfermline, you maybe expected them given they were a full time team, but still, to be leading 2-1 after the first leg, to lose was disappointing.

“The second season, it was Forfar, who got beat off Alloa in the final.

“We just did not turn up in either game which was really disappointing.

“Arguably, the bigger disappointment from that season was not winning the league because we were so close.

“It was the second last game and we lost to Morton.

“I’ve not seen it – I’ve never watched it back – but I do remember a chance where Sean Winter hit it across the goal and me and Malky both threw ourselves at it and we both missed it.

“You just think if you were a toenail longer that could have been the goal that promoted us as champions.

“Disappointing not to do better in the play-offs but I think the tough thing was leading the season and topping the league and arguably being in pole position having to go into the play-offs, momentum was probably not with us in that sense.

“Disappointing not to turn up against Forfar but maybe just expected in being so disappointed in not seeing it through and winning the league.

“The last season against Ayr, leading in the first leg (it would finish 1-1) and probably my biggest disappointment is I missed a gilt edged chance in the second leg in extra time.

“That would have been us up.

“That’s probably, apart from not winning the league and letting Morton beat us to it, that chance, I will never forget that.

“The game went to penalties, I missed a penalty but a few guys did I suppose, but if I had taken that chance it would have been us.

“It was late on and we would surely have held out and got promoted.”

Longworth, like fellow Team of the Decade member Liam Dick, revealed he had never watched the game, which was shown on television, back.

The striker had scored in the play-off semi-final second leg against Livingston but was one of the unlucky players to miss from 12 yards at Somerset Park.

Longworth, who works in a school, said: “I think one of the kids at the school had it on the computer.

“He had loaded up the penalty shoot-out and shouted me over and it was my penalty.

“He showed me that but I walked away straight away.

“I can see the funny side of it but one of the worst things I do recall from Stranraer was that miss.

“I’ve not brought myself to watch it.

“I did not play very long in both legs.

“I think I came off the bench in the first leg and I remember watching that just to see Ross Docherty’s goal late on.

“I’ve genuinely not watched the second leg again.

“I don’t think I could bring myself to watch it either.”

It turned out to be Longworth’s last match in a Stranraer shirt before he moved on to Alloa, Stenhousemuir and East Kilbride before returning to Kilbirnie Ladeside.

Brian Reid met with the Stranraer squad days after the play-off final defeat to outline who he wanted to keep and who was free to find a new club.

However, it is off the field that Stranraer has had a lasting impact on Longworth.

The goal against Rangers, as well as that goalscoring run in his first season, has catapulted him into cult hero status among the Stair Park faithful.

Longworth said: “One thing for Stranraer that I loved was just how the fans take to you and the support that they give.

“I obviously follow Stranraer on the Facebook page and there’s obviously a lot of support on that and the messages are great.

“People write things like they are maybe not the biggest in numbers but certainly in support, vocal and just the relationship with the players.

“It is a great club for things that.

“The song [Jamie Longworth, he scores when he wants] is brilliant.

“It has probably haunted me because if I don’t score you seem like a bit of a diddy.

“Going through that spell and hearing it, George Frank that does the videos sent me the link to the video he did and the ending with the Ibrox goal and hearing that song… it’s an amazing song and it was amazing going through that spell.

“A great memory from my time at the club.

“Guys like George, Robert Rice, people around the club, it is such an amazing place to play just based on the people there.

“There are so many folk that I must have about 50 odd friends on Facebook who are Stranraer fans that I have met through the years.

“They still wish you a happy birthday, send you messages and they are great folk.

“One thing a lot of folk will say about Stranraer is that you do get friends for life.

“They are just a great bunch of people and that is one thing that I have always felt is that people make the club more than anything else.

“They are just a great bunch to be around.”