Fans fear for survival of historic football club

Stranraer FC fan Alan Hannah
Alan Hannah has watched the club he loves decline [BBC]

Fans of one of the world's oldest football clubs fear for its future if it slips out of the national leagues for the first time in its history.

Stranraer FC sit at the foot of the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) and, with just one game left in the regular season, look in serious danger of ending up in the play-offs to avoid relegation.

Just 10 years ago the Blues were battling with Rangers in League One and earning a draw at Ibrox in front of 45,000 fans.

But the glory days seem long gone with the country's third oldest club, founded in 1870, at real risk of losing its league status.

They must win this weekend against league winning Stenhousemuir to have any chance to avoid finishing bottom of the table and facing a play-off to survive.

Sitting at Scotland's south-west corner, Stranraer consistently have the SPFL's lowest attendances, and fans are pleading for more local people in Wigtownshire to support the club.

Alan Hannah, who has supported them for more than half a century, described his dismay. "Things have declined and declined for the past 15 or 20 years, and there's less and less fans coming through the gates."

The 57-year-old has strong connections to the club. His father played in the reserves, and his grandfather sat on the board.

But he feels Stranraer will continue to struggle until more local people support the club.

Stranraer's Slide Down the Standings. Club's league position for the past 10 seasons.  One game remaining in 2023/24 season.
Stranraer's Slide Down the Standings. Club's league position for the past 10 seasons. One game remaining in 2023/24 season.

"With barely any fans coming through the gates, there's no money to get better players," he said.

"Since dropping to League Two the last four years have been a downward slope. We've got a young squad, and that lack of experience isn't helping.

"But the attendances are not good enough, and we're unlikely to get big investors outside of the central belt".

While attendances at Stair Park have slid to as low as 273 when Elgin City visited in March, there remains a core of loyal fans.

One of those is Alex Smith, who has moved away from his native Wigtownshire to Durham, but travels more than 17,000 miles every season to attend all of Stranraer's fixtures - home and away.

The 73-year-old feels it would be "catastrophic" for the area if the team fall into the regional Lowland League.

He believes if that happened, Stranraer would struggle to get players to come down from the central belt - but it won't change his support

"My love for the club dates back to the 1960s," he said.

"They were the first professional side I ever watched as our local side, and it's just been under the skin ever since.

"It will be catastrophic if we get relegated to the Lowland league. But if it comes, it comes, I'll still be there, as it's not a week without seeing Stranraer on a Saturday."

Alex Smith
Alex Smith travels more than 17,000 miles a season to see Stranraer FC play [BBC]

Stranraer season ticket holder Rhuri Paton said the current plight was "tough to take. The 31-year-old feels that the lack of funding is to blame.

He said: "There's been a slow decline. We have one of the lowest crowds, and expenses like bus travel that others don't so this sadly isn't a surprise in the fan base".

He believes relegation is a one-way ticket for the Blues.

"This decline has happened to other clubs, Albion Rovers, Brechin, Cowdenbeath. None have come back to professional football. So it's worrying, but you could see it coming."

Mr Paton is adamant the club's committee structure is one of its positives, and that young players like using Stranraer "as a stepping stone because they get treated very well by the management".

But he feels that will change if they drop down and worries whether Stena Line - whose shirt sponsorship of the Blues is the longest-running in football - will continue.

Rhuri Paton in Stranraer
Lifelong fan Rhuri Paton feels this season has been "tough to take" [BBC]

Laurence Nelson hosts the "It’s No Easy" unofficial Stranraer FC weekly podcast.

The 61-year-old fears the club he's supported since the 1960s is set to go through "one of its darkest episodes".

He said: "My father used to drag me along to Stair Park to begin with, that's what got me started.

"He was the generation that saw Stranraer come out of the South of Scotland league and be a fully fledged SPFL club, and I'm possibly going to see them drop back out."

Laurence Nelson, host of the 'It’s no easy' unofficial Stranraer FC podcast
Laurence Nelson fears Stranraer FC is enduring some its its "darkest days" [BBC]

Mr Nelson also believes finance is the key issue, and there will be no coming back if Stranraer drop out of the national leagues.

He adds: "We've not seen a team come back from dropping down to the Lowland League, and if that happens then I feel for the younger fans.

"I've seen us win Second Division titles, win the Challenge Cup, cup shocks, a win at Easter Road against Hibs, a draw at Ibrox.

"But it feels like we're swilling the drain."

Like all the club's other fans he will hoping they can somehow leapfrog Clyde on the final day of the season - or else triumph in the play-offs if that's where they end up.

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