A scenic if somewhat soggy drive through Dumfries and Galloway and into Ayrshire brings forth rolling hills and pastoral land nicely portrayed in a wall mural on a house not far from Kilmarnock. The countryside eventually gives way to not unpleasant suburbia and soon into view comes Rugby Park, its blue roof supports and squat floodlights peeking almost nervously over residential rooftops.
A truly ancient club, Killie can date their formation to 1869 initially playing rugby before adopting the football code four years later when they became founder members of the Scottish Football Association. After a somewhat hermetic period playing at borrowed pitches at Wards Park, The Grange and Holm Quarry, the club moved into the original Rugby Park (on the current Charles Street) in November 1878. This ground would stage a Scotland international in March 1894 but by 1899 election to Division One meant a rebuild was necessary. The pitch was moved slightly and new stands erected. It still must have been a surprise when 11,000 attended the first game against Celtic. The Second World War was a testing time for the ground having been requisitioned by the army. Its proximity to key railway lines saw large storage tanks sunk into the pitch with fire trenches dug around them. The pitch took some considerable and costly restoration for which the club did not receive any compensation.
Nowadays the ground has a very much modern flavour to it, though retaining its quirky roof mounted pylons. Redevelopment to an all seater stadium with an 18,000 capacity came in 1994/95. Gone are the wide open spaces, Italian prisoner of war built terracing and the tiny Johnny Walker corner stand. In their place are three modern cantilevered stands, shiny, functional and in the case of the Moffat Stand (South Stand) where my ticket finds me, some what breezy and open to the elements. It does, however, afford excellent views of the action. The only nod to the past is the magnificent main stand which was erected in 1962 has been in recent time been sympathetically re-clad and looks stunning with its four roof mounted floodlight pylons. Outside of this stand a somewhat incongruous modern entrance hides a really classy reception, trophies proudly showcased to either side. Killie are one of those great clubs that embrace their history and promote it with pride and dignity.
The home side have not had the greatest of starts to a season but still covert a top six placing when the League splits into two halves for the final quarter of the season. In monsoon conditions not helping an already sodden pitch, Killie were patently shocked to be two down to Highland visitors RossCounty before the break. Neatly taken goals by Arquin and Songo’o were, however, just reward for honest endeavour in the treacherous conditions.
It would be somewhat rude to visit Rugby Park and not sample their lauded Killie Pie, and half time allows this most experienced of football cuisine consumers to sample the wares. Needless to say that “saying ay to a Killie Pie” is heartily recommended.
Kilmarnock’s club motto is “Confidemus”, translating from the Latin this essentially means “We Trust” and in their veteran warhorse forward, Kris Boyd, Killie trust and back their main man to rescue them. The clubs’ readable programme shows Boyd is now in their all time top ten goalscorers list, no mean feat given the breadth of their history. Boyd doesn’t let his employers down, reducing the arrears moments into the restart. However an equaliser looks increasingly unlikely as the elements take full control, the pitch deteriorating rapidly in the final ten minutes. A minute into the allocated four stoppage time minutes and the burly striker has a glimmer of a chance in the County box. His proficiency in front of goal has been a hallmark of his career, and he lashes home the sodden ball with some venom to the unbridled delight of a small but hardy Rugby Park crowd.
Scottish Premiership – Saturday February 1st 2014
Kilmarnock (0) 2 (Boyd 48, 90)
RossCounty (2) 2 (Arquin 30, Songo’o 36)
Attendance: 3,372 (at RugbyPark)
1. Craig Sansom, 5. Jackson Irvine, 2. Jeroen Tesselaar, 8. Sammy Clingan, 30. Lee Ashcroft, 29. Manuel Pascali, 36.Greg Kiltie, 28. Craig Slater, 33. Robbie Muirhead, 9. Kris Boyd, 18. Rory McKenzie.
Subs: 7. Barry Nicholson, 10. Chris Johnston (for 2,83 mins), 12. Antonio Reguero, 20. Alexei Eremenko (for 36,68 mins), 22. Vitalijs Maksimenko, 25. Michael Gardyne, 26. Mark O’Hara.
20. Michael Fraser, 3. Ben Gordon, 28. Yann Songo’o, 8. Richard Brittain, 21. Brian McLean, 26. Evangelos Oikonomou, 7. Filip Kiss, 12. Michael Tidser, 25. Jordan Slew, 27. Yoann Arquin, 23. Graham Carey.
Subs: 1. Mark Brown, 2. Erik Cikos, 5. Scott Boyd, 10. Rocco Quinn (for 27,88 mins), 11. Melvin De Leeuw (for 25,73 mins), 15. Gary Glen, 16. Alex Cooper (for 12,65 mins)
Yellow Cards: Clingan (Kilmarnock), Kiss (Ross)
Red Cards: Kiss (Ross)