Few have given as much to Kilmarnock as Ray Montgomerie. Few feel as much for the Ayrshire club as the man who arrived as a player 28 years ago, and still goes to work there every day. The 55-year-old’s passion for his team brims over and his emotions threaten to get the better of him as he contemplates what will go on the line for the club he lives and breathes in the Premiership play-offs.
As head of the club’s commercial operations, Montgomerie considers any footballing input out of bounds. However, if Lee Clark sought an inspirational speaker before sending his players out at Falkirk on Thursday, he wouldn’t need to look far within the club’s set-up.
There is no place for losers. People want success. I want success and it hurts me when it doesn’t happen. It’s written all over my faceRay Montgomerie
Montgomerie is best remembered for captaining Kilmarnock to the Scottish Cup in 1997 – against Falkirk, of all teams. Yet, it is what befell the club in the year he joined the then First Division team from Dumbarton for a £12,000 fee in the summer of 1988 that resonates as Kilmarnock now seek to retain top-flight status that Montgomerie was central to them earning 23 years ago. That promotion success meant all the more because wearying struggles for the club on the pitch and in the boardroom across 1988-89 meant Kilmarnock headed in to the last day of the season needing a miracle to avoid going down to the lowest tier in Scottish football.
In the event of Clyde winning, they required to better their result by five goals. Astonishingly, they looked to have pulled that off with a 6-0 victory away to Queen of the South – only for the efforts of Jim Fleeting’s side to count for nothing when Clyde netted a 94th-minute penalty to win 2-0 at home to St Johnstone.
“I can still see the Kilmarnock scarves lying on the road coming back up that fans had chucked away,” Montgomerie said. “You don’t want to go back to those days. I also remember going to Hibs on the final day of the season when Tommy Burns and Billy Stark were in charge [in May 1994] and going into training one day and Tommy saying to us: ‘Look, if you don’t stay in the Premier League, there will be no full-time football next season’. I know exactly what’s at stake. I wouldn’t like to think it wouldn’t go back to as bad as that, but who knows?
“You hear people saying this is the biggest game, or that’s the biggest game. But the people involved this week have to realise it’ll be the biggest game they’ll be involved in. The ones on the coalface have to realise that. It is imperative we stay in the top division, there is no doubt. You look at the teams who have gone down and have found it hard to come back up, some of them with more resources than us. Look how long it could take Hibs [with a third year outside the top flight to come]. It took Rangers two seasons, and Dundee United are there now. We just want to maintain our position in the Premiership.
“There are livelihoods at stake. But you can only cut so much and we have a professional club to run.
“We have an ambitious manager who has a club to run and the players are ambitious, too. We just need to see what happens and take it from there. At the moment, I don’t want to contemplate what it would be like in the Championship.
“You need a positive mindset and I’m looking for Kilmarnock to be playing in the Premiership next season. It still very much is within our own hands. We have two cup finals and it’s up to the lads.”
Never mind being in the second tier, it pains Montgomerie that Kilmarnock are such a tough sell even when lodged among the country’s footballing elite.
None of the old grandees in Scottish football has witnessed a drop-off in attendances so dramatic as endured by the Rugby Park club since Montgomerie’s playing days.
“It’s hard just now. It’s written all over my face some match days,” he said.
“I remember playing Cowdenbeath at Rugby Park and there being 9,500 there. When you see it now with average crowds of 4,000 or 4,500, it’s heartbreaking. It’s heartbreaking seeing a lot of things around the club right now. It is what it is, I’m not in a position to do anything about it.
“It’s influenced by the people on the pitch and those responsible for putting them on the pitch. I don’t know [how you get the fans back]. I don’t have a magic wand. But a lot of it has to do with being successful and we have not been successful.
“We are where we are for a reason. You can dress it up and say what you want, but we are where we are because we haven’t been good enough.
“Now we’re getting a chance and it’s up to our players, management team, supporters, directors, sponsors and everyone to get behind it and muck it together. To face what is in front of us and have a positive mindset that I know is there.
“There were just under 6,000 at the match against Partick Thistle recently and, had we won, I can guarantee there would have been 7,000 or 8,000 at Rugby Park for the Dundee United game last weekend. That’s because the fans are there, but they want the product on the park to be right. The only way you rectify that is by winning games and being consistent.
“There is no place for losers. People want success. I want success and it hurts me when it doesn’t happen. It’s written all over my face. A lot of people put a lot of effort into getting where we are. I don’t want that just to disappear in two games. There are two games and it would sadden me if it disappears.”