In what has been billed as the first all-access chronicle of a season with a Scottish football club, a long-time fan of a historic west of Scotland team has written an affectionate yet candid chronicle of events on and off the pitch.
A Season With The Honest Men charts the expletive-strewn trials and travails of the 2013-14 season at Scottish League One side Ayr United, lifting a lid on the anger, recriminations and celebrations in dressing rooms as well as on terraces.
Until now, such access at a football club was a luxury afforded to one writer, Hunter Davies. His book, The Glory Game, which followed Tottenham Hotspur for a season in 1972, is regarded as one of the most insightful football books ever written.
It is a privilege that has now been granted to Gerry Ferrara, a fan of Ayr for nearly five decades. After gaining the approval of the club’s US chairman, Lachlan Cameron, he was allowed to watch on as teammates nearly came to blows after bitter defeats, and travel alongside them on a cramped minibus to away games.
The experience turned up some memorable incidents, not least the furious rants delivered by manager Mark Roberts to his battle-hardened personnel when results did not go in Ayr’s favour.
Kitman Alan Kerr reveals how, on one occasion, Roberts lost his temper after the team conceded a late equaliser and hurled jam across the dressing room.
Another time, a bottle of milk was the manager’s projectile of choice after Ayr threw away three points to draw with Stenhousemuir.
Describing the incident in the away dressing room, Ferrara writes: “As he restarted his tirade his voice broke with emotion, as if he was about to have a total breakdown. ‘You deserve ******* nothing, the lot of you. That’s no’ defending I was watching out there. It’s naive as ****,’ he screamed.
“He momentarily looked to his right where a two-litre bottle of milk was sitting on a table. I saw the milk a split second before he lifted it and realised that it was certain to be taking flight if his eye had caught it. Unfortunately, he did see it and as he grabbed the plastic bottle, which was almost full, he shouted loudly ‘**** OFF before launching it towards the back of the room.
“The bottle exploded on the wall and its contents burst, covering the players in the vicinity with the white liquid, with the floor accommodating the remainder of its contents.”
Ferrara, a 59-year-old former amateur footballer who works at Ayrshire College, said the book allowed fans an unprecedented insight into the club.
“I thought there was no chance I’d get the access I did but I thought I’d ask, and the chairman and the manager were very eager to go ahead with it,” he said. The perception of fans can be quite different from what actually goes on, and Ayr United get a lot of criticism. You could probably apply that to any small town club – expectations are always that bit too high.
“I explained to the club I wasn’t there to dig dirt, I was there to allow the club to communicate with fans and show them what it’s really like.”
Other comic episodes captured during the season include a last-minute desperate dash by club officials to a Stranraer fishing tackle shop after the players are left without shinpads.
Ferrara added: “I used to be one of the fans on the terraces thinking at times that things were hopeless and the tactics were all wrong,” he added. “Now that I’ve seen it from the inside, I know how difficult a job it is.”
• A Season With The Honest Men, priced at £14.99, is published by Pitch Press.