Jonny Eyres1 Comment

THE WASPS SEARCHING FOR THEIR STING

Jonny Eyres1 Comment

Alloa Athletic, from the ecstasy of 1999, to the trials of 2011 and beyond. 

It was November 21st, 1999. The setting for The Bell's Scottish Challenge Cup Final was Airdrie United's Excelsior Stadium, which was only opened a year before. The freezing cold North Lanarkshire air was spiced with anticipation. There was a slaughtering wind and a furious rain accompanying the night but Terry Christie's Alloa Athletic and Steve Paterson's Inverness Caledonian Thistle were in no mood to let the ghastly weather conditions ruin the momentous occasion.

In the 19th minute, midfielder Gary Clark opened the scoring for Alloa with a superb volley from 25 yards, before Caley equalised in the 28th minute, through midfielder Barry Wilson, with a deft chip over keeper Mark Cairns. Alloa went in 2-1 ahead at half time, through a terrific low drive from midfielder Mark Wilson, in the 38th minute. 

In the second half, Caley scored within in a minute, from the penalty spot, through former Alloa midfielder Paul Sheerin. Five minutes later, striker Martin Cameron, who was untouchable the whole game, put Alloa 3-2 ahead with a stunning 20 yard strike. In the 56th minute, Sheerin coolly dispatched another penalty for Caley, to make it 3-3.

The final 15 minutes were on a razor blade edge, as both sides looked for a winner. Defender David Beaton had a headed effort cleared off the line for Alloa, whilst Caley defender Mark McCulloch inexplicably missed from three yards out in the last minute.

In extra time, the pace of the game became even more frenetic. In the 104th minute, Cameron beautifully rounded keeper Les Fridge, before sliding the ball home to put Alloa 4-3 ahead. In the 112th minute, Paul Sheerin equalised for Caley, to claim his hat-trick, as he hit a hopeful shot through a crowd of players, to make it 4-4. 

Regrettably, the thoroughly absorbing, end to end, classic encounter had to be decided by penalties. Alloa's keeper Mark Cairn was the hero, as he scored in the shootout, before stupendously saving defender Mike Teasdale's penalty, to send Alloa supporters (who are affectionately known as The Hawaiian Army, due to their younger supporters wearing t-shirts and Bermuda shorts) into delirium.

The Alloa supporters will reel off that team in rapture. It contained a potent mixture of youth and experience and oozed determination and skill. 

That famous night goes alongside the ilk of deceased striker's Willie Crilley, who still holds The Scottish Football League record for goals scored in one season, by dazzling defenders, despite his 5 foot three frame and John White, who used to ghost past players for fun before being tragically killed by lightning at the age of 27. 

It was Alloa's first national trophy since the men of 'Wee County' Clackmannanshire were proudly established in 1878. Their glorious achievement was made sweeter, as they won away for the whole competition, including beating bitter rivals Stirling Albion in the semi- final. These heady memories will seem so far away to their staunch following right now.

The town of Alloa has suffered due to an industrial decline in the late 20th Century, which meant that many mines and breweries had to be closed down.

The club itself have also suffered a real melting pot of misfortune. A punishing 38 year wait had to be endured until they were appointed to The Scottish Football League, in 1921. They won the title in 1922 but were relegated the season after. When they finally got promoted, The Second World War put paid to all of that, as every league got re-arranged, putting them straight back into Division Two. 

The supporters' acute patience has been severely tested. They have been lamenting the fact that their long term status has virtually duplicated a yo-yo. 

They had been a permanent fixture in the Second Division since 2003 until the club took a dismal turn for the worse. Their untimely demise is compounded further by the reality, that the men in gold and black looked a stone wall certainty to be promoted a year ago. 

In the 2009/2010 season, Alloa Athletic catastrophically fell apart, blowing a 15 point lead, to narrowly miss out on the Scottish Second Division title to bitter rivals Stirling Albion. Under the stable and trusted guidance of Allan Maitland, it was understood that The Wasps were going to roll their socks back up, put the sour disappointment behind them and have another go at winning the title. 

Signings such as Darren Smith, who they hailed as the best part time player plying his trade in Scotland, Kevin McDonald, Stephen Robertson and Billy Gibson, were envisaged as bringing extra quality and steel to a side, which already had crucial experience in players such as Brown Ferguson and Scott Walker.

However, supporters could not hide the fact that their team were sinking into a deep mire, despite their hallmark ability of finding the back of the net, in the first quarter of the 2010/2011 season. Alloa's away form was severely woeful by this point. Their league position covered up the stark truth that they were punching above their weight. Mediocrity was setting in fast but shockingly, there were hardly any manoeuvre's in the January transfer market.

Relegation followed for the first time in 13 years. Not even an array of sterling performances from mercurial Michael McGowan could stop the rot. 

Maitland is no longer in charge and Mulraney has wasted no time in appointing Paul Hartley as their new manager. Hartley is a fascinating appointment. This will be his first opportunity to cut his managerial teeth. His assistant will be Paddy Connolly, who will bring a wealth of experience with him. New signings such as Ben Gordon, Darren Young and Armand One are highly promising, as Hartley looks to bolster the squad for the new season. Hartley made a name for himself in his playing days as a combative, robust and dynamic box to box midfielder.

Alloa supporters will be hoping he has the efficacy to put the sting back in The Wasps and pass on his vital experience to push them straight back up and even further in the future.

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