Ayr United aiming for League Cup glory on derby day

Brian Reid is ready to defy the odds, as he tells Moira Gordon that his troops can scale the final hurdle

THE shirts are sponsored by an online gambling site but, when it comes to the odds, Ayr United have upset them several times already this season. Despite being drawn against Premier League sides Hearts, Inverness Caledonian Thistle and St Mirren in the previous rounds of the Scottish Communities League Cup, the First Division part-timers have continued to progress and are now just one step away from only the second major domestic final in the club’s history.

“It is a remarkable achievement,” states manager Brian Reid. “I know that, back in time, Ayr United were in semis galore but they were throwing money about a bit back then and were full-time during the Bill Barr era so I do think it is a bigger achievement this time because of the budget we have got and the fact we are part-time. Beating the teams we have to get here is already a good achievement but now we know exactly what is at stake.”

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The thought of getting to the cup final would normally be reward enough but the draw for the last four has thrown up an even more mouth-watering prospect. With the showdown at the national stadium on Saturday being against Kilmarnock, the semi-final will also be an Ayrshire derby.

That excites Reid, who knows that his side are the underdogs again. He loves the idea of meeting their derby opponents on such a big stage and in such a massive match. He was at the helm the last time the pair met, in the Scottish Cup in 2009. After a thrilling 2-2 draw at Somerset Park, the tie eventually swung Killie’s way in the replay but that outcome detracts little from the Ayr performance in the first match, according to Reid.

“That was an incredible game considering the night it was. It was wind and rain and it was a great occasion, not just for Kilmarnock and Ayr but it was a good night for Scottish football and shows what can be done. That’s one thing that would be great about bringing back bigger leagues. There would be more derbies and it would give a bigger interest to games. A lot of people in charge are missing the point. This playing each other four or even five times a season is getting monotonous and boring and I know clubs are trying to look after themselves and keep the top league a closed shop so they can have more money but I think derbies are a good way of exciting the fans and we could have a few of them in a bigger league.

“I played in England and it was refreshing to know that you’re only playing teams twice a season unless you meet them in a cup. Playing teams twice a season would mean everyone looked forward to them, especially the derbies.

“There are games out there that would catch the public eye but, at the moment, I’m just not sure that there are enough of them. This is one that does and, if it wasn’t for the cup, we would be missing out on it. Even the likes of Morton v St Mirren, I’m sure the crowds would come back for these kind of games.”

With league reconstruction chatter stalling, Kilmarnock unlikely to be relegated this term and Ayr simply focusing on survival in the First Division, the cups remain the only outlet for the derby fervour in Ayrshire. Reid would love to see that change, whether through an unlikely rethink over the league set-up or through one day guiding his team towards promotion. But he knows that is unlikely to happen any time soon. Despite impressive scalpings and the bonus of some financial backing from Calvin Ayre, the owner of shirt sponsor Bodog, there will be no mass spending spree.

Ayre, below, is a colourful character and has shown more than a passing interest since his first cheques were cashed. But while one-off gestures, such as flying fans in from abroad for the Hearts tie, and donating money to Reid to strengthen the squad, the extent of his generosity has been exaggerated, apparently.

“I met him at our match against Manchester United and yeah, he sponsored the strips and he has kindly put a bit of money in to help us get a player in but there is danger that people get carried away and think he might be getting me a premiership player but that’s not the case, unfortunately. But we appreciate anybody putting any money into Scottish football. It all helps. Even if it allows me to bring a player in between now and the end of the season and he covers his wages then that’s a big help. But it’s not like I can go and buy Messi or Tevez. I think some people honestly thought it might be a big name because he is a billionaire but that’s the danger, people get carried away when in truth it’s nothing like that.” So Reid remains constrained by circumstance.

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A man who never had the opportunity to sample cup final success as a player in Scotland, as a manager he will have to find a pathway to the final the hard way. He has two one-and-a-half hour sessions with his first team players each week compared to the daily sessions his opponents benefit from. They have video analysis, gym sessions, time to work on set pieces. Ayr, though, seem to have the ability to rise to the occasion and Reid believes Ayr’s largely youthful squad, with a smattering of experience, have it in them to extend the current fairytale by a few more chapters.

“I have said to the boys that, if we were to stay up and get to a cup final, then the season would go down as one of Ayr’s best overall. It’s not just that we are no longer full-time, back in the Bill Barr era, relatively speaking, there was a lot of money being thrown about so it would be a big, big achievement for the players and the club and I’m sure the supporters would look on it the same way.”

It may be just ten years since they last made it to a cup final but the Honest Men would love it to be a silver anniversary.