Well that was quick! The new nature of the Scottish league system, 18-team leagues, one cup competition, means I’ve absolutely fired through my first season in charge of Stirling Albion. Would we taste sweet success come the end of the season?
I’d mentioned in my last post, that introduced you a bit more to my specific thoughts around joining the club and what I’ll be aiming for, that we were outright favourites to win the league. The media installed us at 6/1, with Clyde and Cowdenbeath tipped to be our challengers. The board expects us to be promoted by winning the league. It’s pressure I could do without, but in all honesty, it’s my personal aim too. We’ve got to get this club up, and it’s got to be this season.
Scottish Division Two
Pretty much the perfect first half of the season as we went unbeaten and only conceded six goals. Delighted with that. At this stage, we were still only sitting two points ahead at the top of the table, with East Stirling (who we’d yet to play) and Cowdenbeath breathing down our necks in second and third, respectively. Despite us being not as convincing going forward as we were at the back, I was confident we’d be sitting top at the end of the season too.
A little January/February wobble had me worried. The gap at the top kept closing, and was down to a point after that 1-1 draw away at Elgin. We started to struggle on the road, and went five games without an away win until we beat East Kilbride 2-1 with an 81st minute goal from a corner that secured promotion for the club. One win from our final two matches would seal the title, but it wouldn’t need to be that nervy in the end. A ridiculous couple of matches finished off the season in style, 12 goals scored with none conceded, and brought the S2 title to Stirling.
Brora and Berwick join us in S1 next season. Cumbernauld Colts and Dalbeattie Star had shocking seasons down at the bottom, with Forres Mechanics unlucky to join them. Clyde’s controversial striker, David Goodwillie, finished Scotland’s top goalscorer, with 29 league goals in 32 games. He’ll join St Mirren on a free transfer for next season.
A run in one of association football’s oldest competitions would be great. It’d also be great because there’s financial rewards on offer by winning each round. The set up of the cup has been tweaked slightly. It now includes all teams across the 16 tiers of Scottish football (288 clubs), with the 1st round being a qualifier between teams towards the bottom tiers. From the 2nd round, the rest of the teams from the remaining leagues enter and it’s a free for all, knockout. That’s right. Celtic or Rangers could be randomly draw against each other in the 2nd round, or they could be drawn against a team from S15. For lower league teams, the chance of a payday is there. For top tier teams, there’s a genuine chance to win the old trophy.
For Stirling this season, we got neither. We were drawn Ross County in the 2nd round, a difficult tie. At half time, we were 1-0 up thanks to our only shot on goal. An FMing incoming for the Highlanders. They came out fighting in the second half however, and eventually ran out 3-1 winners. I’m hoping to progress through at least a couple of rounds next season.
Celtic and Rangers did face each other, but it wasn’t in the final. Rangers overcame their rivals at the quarter final stage, but came unstuck against an Inverness side in the final that had just been relegated from the SPL. Ouch.
Players of the Season
Going from managing international stars on one edition to lower league ones on the next can be a tough transition. It involves a complete mindset shift of what makes a decent player for your side. It doesn’t mean that players don’t stand out to make you sit up and take notice of their performances though. Who did that for me this season?
Caddis was instrumental in our success this season. Playing as a central midfielder on attack, he scored 10 goals across the season, finishing as second top scorer at the club. His 7.52 average rating was the highest in the division, and it saw the ex-St Johnstone man named Fans Player of the Season. In a rarity at this level, he’s signed a new contract that sees him stay at the club until the summer of 2020.
Someone else signed on until 2020 is Andy Little. I’d identified the former Rangers man as most likely to be one of our standouts at this level, and he did relatively well. He finished the season as our top goalscorer with 11 goals, as he led the line as our deep lying forward for the majority of the season. An injury to Little during the January/February struggle was probably one of the big reasons for the dip in form. It led me to be a bit indecisive on who his replacement should be, eventually snapping up Oli Shaw from Hibs in January on loan for the rest of the season. Little won’t be our long term main man up front, but over the next couple of seasons, he’ll be a good player to have around the squad.
Talking of players being signed on loan from Hibs, Ryan Porteous was a colossus at the back for us this season. We had the best defensive record in the division, by far, and this man contributed a lot to that. Despite only just turning 19 in January, he marshaled our back line superbly alongside the team captain, Ross Smith. I’ve spoken about this previously, but I’ll keep saying it. Loan moves are absolutely essential in Scotland. The right loan signing can truly make the difference between success and failure. It can bring you that little bit of extra quality that your opponents don’t have, and can’t deal with. Porteous even chipped in with four assists and three goals this season too, playing well enough to finish third in the Fans Player of the Season poll.
Growing the Club
First aim, achieved. We’re out of S2, and heading for S1. This is where the fun starts. The money we received for winning S2 (£500k) will go a long way when we look to improve the club. Scottish football’s rebrand and restructure has seen more money come into the game, £500k might seem like a lot when you compare it up against what clubs in a similar position got previously, but now, it’s a relative amount to what a mid-table S1 club receives for their final league position too. This windfall has to be spent smartly to enable us to firstly, sustain our position in S1, and then, see if we can push on towards the SPL.
Success on the pitch this season saw us have the highest average attendance in the league, 850. That’s only 21% of our capacity though, so plenty of room still to go there. As we move up a division, I’m expecting an increase in season ticket holders from our total of 250 this season. Our kit deal ahead of season two has already been improved thanks to our success this season, going from £30k to £45k. Moreover, we’re sitting in 28th position of Scotland’s most reputable clubs. Remember that. That’s the benchmark. I’m not planning on putting any requests in to the board just yet for increased facilities or even to go full time. We’re not quite ready for that. One step at a time.
The rebuild over the summer after a promotion is a tough one, but it’s a challenge I’m more than up for. Contracts have expired, players have left, while some have been offered new deals to see if they too are up for the S1 challenge. I hope you’ll join me for it too. Thanks for reading!