Raydale Cup: A profile of Ayr United
South Shields will kick-off their pre-season friendly schedule on Saturday when the Raydale Cup gets under way in Gretna.
The Mariners will play once on Saturday and once on Sunday, with Ayr United, Queen of the South and Gretna also taking part in the competition.
There is expected to be a strong contingent of travelling supporters from Shields, while advance weekend and day tickets are on sale from http://www.gretnafc2008shop.co.uk/raydale-tickets.html while they will also be available on the day.
Over the next three days, we will take a closer look at all three of Shields’ potential opponents on the weekend.
We start that with a profile of Ayr United, who Shields will face on Saturday at 3.30pm in the semi-final.
However, while the Mariners are still several divisions away from professional football, Ayr already are full-time – and are just one tier away from the likes of Celtic and Rangers.
After ‘The Honest Men’ won promotion via the play-offs in 2015-16, they will play in the Scottish Championship next time out, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Neil Lennon’s Hibernian, as well as clubs including Dundee United, Dunfermline, Falkirk and St Mirren.
They are far from out of their depth in that company, though, with Ayr’s Somerset Park the fifth biggest ground in the division, housing 10,185 spectators.
The club has a long history, having been formed in 1910, and has been champions of the second tier in Scotland six times, Scottish Cup semi-finalists three times and Scottish League Cup runners-up as recently as 2002, and semi-finalists four years ago. They have also spent 34 seasons in the top flight.
Ally MacLeod is the club’s most famous ever manager, having taken charge of Ayr from 1966 to 1975 at the start of his managerial career, before going on to boss Aberdeen and Scotland. He returned for two later spells at Somerset Park.
The club’s current manager is Ian McCall, who played for the likes of Rangers, Bradford City and Falkirk during his playing days. He took over in January 2015, first saving the club from relegation on the final day of the season before achieving promotion through the play-offs last time out.
Among Ayr’s players is defender Peter Murphy, who made well over 400 appearances for Carlisle United between 2001 and 2013 and won one full cap for the Republic of Ireland.
Ayr will certainly provide stern opposition for Shields, and go into the competition as defending champions, having beaten hosts Gretna 1-0 in last year’s final.
The winners of the game between Ayr and the Mariners will take part in the final on Sunday against the victors of the clash between Gretna and Queen of the South. The losers, meanwhile, will face each other in a third-place play-off.
Over the next two days, we’ll take a closer look at Gretna and Queen of the South.