We might not break into a joint chorus of “Paper Roses”, but at a time of debates on Brexit and budgets and our fair share of disagreements, it is good to be taking part in a debate with such refreshing and unanimous cross-party support.
At the weekend, I was asked by a constituent what I would be speaking on in the chamber this week, and I explained the various statements and debates, including this one. He asked why I would be talking about Kilmarnock Football Club, and I told him, “This is roughly what I’m going to say—see what you think.”
Kilmarnock FC is not just any football club; it is Scotland’s oldest professional club and is celebrating its 150th anniversary. Back 1873, Kilmarnock were one of the first teams to take part in association football’s second oldest tournament, the Scottish cup, a tournament that they won in 1920. That was followed by a second success in 1929, when they beat Rangers 2-0 in front of more than 114,000 people at Hampden park, before completing a hat trick of Scottish cup wins in 1997. In 1965, Willie Waddle led Killie to the then top-tier first division championship. Just seven years ago, the club defied the pundits by winning the League cup against Celtic. Maybe most important of all, Kilmarnock have won the Ayrshire cup 42 times.
That is not to say that there have not been lean times. In the 1980s, I remember watching Killie play in division 2, but I have a confession to make—I was there as a Doonhamer, cheering on my local team, Queen of the South, who celebrate their centenary this year.
It is 26 years since Tommy Burns led Kilmarnock back into football’s top flight, where they have stayed ever since. Now they sit proudly near the top. Under Steve Clarke’s leadership, they have even flirted with the top spot recently, despite having a budget that is a fraction of the size of old firm budgets. There really is a buzz about the club today, and crowds are growing as more and more people head to Rugby park on a Saturday.
Bill Shankly once said:
“Football without fans is nothing”.
It is the growing number of Killie fans who are at the very heart of Kilmarnock Football Club as they celebrate their 150th anniversary, not least through the establishment in 2003 of the Killie trust to bring supporters closer to the club. In 2017, it launched the trust in Killie initiative and supporters from around the world pledged a remarkable £100,000 to buy unallocated shares in Killie and put a supporter on the board of the club as a full and equal director.
In May last year, that new director was appointed, giving fans a voice at the club’s decision-making table. That director will be familiar to members of this Parliament: Cathy Jamieson, the former MSP for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley and former member of Parliament for Kilmarnock and Loudoun. She is already making a huge impact, leading the way in improving communication between the club and fans and working with the other directors, Billy Bowie and Phyllis McLeish, to develop Kilmarnock as a true community club. The Killie trust is building on the success of the trust in Killie campaign, generating more funds for the club and looking at how those funds can be invested for the benefit of fans.
Kilmarnock FC is setting an example across football, with fans not just following but leading their club. That is fitting as Kilmarnock’s supporters celebrate 150 proud years.
Presiding Officer, I began my speech by saying that a constituent asked me why I would be talking about Kilmarnock FC in Parliament, and I have just told members roughly what I said to him. You are probably wondering what his reply was. Unfortunately, he said, “I still don't understand why you are debating Kilmarnock Football Club.” I made those comments to my constituent at an advice surgery in Ayr, and he confessed that he was an Ayr United fan.
I congratulate the players, directors, staff and supporters of Kilmarnock Football Club in their 150th year.