As a supporter of a Scottish club that has been around for only 116 years, I acknowledge the achievement of Kilmarnock in reaching its 150th anniversary and for marking it by enjoying a season to remember— albeit that, as an Aberdeen fan, I hope that the season will end with the Dons finishing ahead of Killie, which they currently are.
Football is Scotland’s national game. It is in our DNA and can be a source of great banter. The fortunes of our club can have a major impact on our weekend. On and off-field activity dominates media and social media, as well as discussion in communities. It has, on occasion, been known to feature in Facebook interaction between myself and Mr Coffey.
On the friendly rivalry and banter that John Finnie referenced, it was great to hear substantial contributions from supporters of St Mirren, Hearts, Queen of the South and Celtic. However, the passing mentions secured for Albion Rovers, Dunfermline and Stranraer bordered on the shameless. I also note Brian Whittle’s diplomatic contribution, in which he described his loyalties as “diluted”, and Kenny Gibson’s getting through four minutes without showing his hand.
Scottish football has its challenges, which we are working with clubs, the football authorities and other stakeholders to address, but it remains a hugely important and generally positive influence on the day-to-day lives of Scots. Although our men’s national team may not be as successful as it once was and our club sides are no longer feared across Europe, our game remains strong. Scotland’s women reached the Euros two years ago, and this year they will contest the world cup finals, which is a remarkable achievement. Domestically, our game remains strong, with a top flight that sees just 11 points separating the top four sides and the championship being even more keenly contested. There is a competitiveness afoot that can only be good for the sport. Attendances remain high—the highest per capita in Europe—and interest is as powerful as ever. There is much to celebrate and discuss, and we have heard that reflected in members’ speeches this afternoon.
As I and others have noted, this debate to mark the 150th anniversary of Kilmarnock FC could not be better timed, given the fantastic progress that has been achieved under the leadership of Steve Clarke. Despite having relatively modest resources, the club is performing magnificently near the top of the table and is involved in an exciting tussle for the title. It has been a thrilling season so far, and I hope that Killie can continue to keep up the pace for the remainder of its campaign.
However, as a Government minister, I am required to not knowingly mislead Parliament. Therefore, let me say that my personal hope is pretty much the same as that of Graham Simpson, which is to see Killie finish runners-up in the league behind Aberdeen, however unlikely that scenario might be—especially after last night.
I recognise, as other members have, the history and standing of the Rugby Park side in the Scottish game.
It is the oldest professional football club in Scotland, one of the founding members of the SFA, and it took part in what is thought to have been the first ever Scottish cup fixture, in 1873.
I was half expecting Stewart Stevenson to be in the chamber to tell us that a relative of his took part in that game or to claim to have been there.
The club joined the Scottish League in 1895 and was elected to the top flight for the first time in 1899. As Willie Coffey said, Kilmarnock won the Scottish cup in 1920. That success was soon followed by a second success, in 1929, when Rangers were memorably beaten at Hampden in front of a 114,708-strong crowd, as Colin Smyth said. The club won the Scottish cup for a third time in 1997, and its most recent honour was the league cup in 2012, when Celtic were defeated.
However, the greatest moment in Killie’s history—I apologise to John Finnie; I do not want to intrude on his personal grief—was when the club won the top-flight title in the 1964-65 season. It was a dramatic title race, as we heard, with Hearts three points clear—those were the days of two points for a win—with two games remaining. The two clubs went head to head on the final day of the season, and Kilmarnock won 2-0 to claim the championship.
The club has also made its mark in Europe, qualifying for European competition on nine occasions. Its finest hour was when it reached the semi-finals of the 1966-67 Fairs cup only to be defeated by Leeds United. Killie is, of course, one of only a few Scottish clubs to have played in all three European competitions.
Like all SPFL clubs and many other football sides in Scotland, Kilmarnock is associated with a trust that fulfils an important community role. The Scottish Government greatly values the work that is undertaken in communities, using the power of football to inspire the delivery of wider outcomes. Such work is the main focus of our engagement with football through individual organisations as well as through representative or national bodies such as the Scottish Professional Football League Trust and the Scottish Football Association.
The Kilmarnock Community Sports Trust, which was established in 2015, is a charitable organisation that aims to support the local community. It works with local people from the age of three and offers a wide variety of programmes to develop younger players and help them to aspire to get active and involved in football.