Gretna Football Club
For centuries, Gretna has been known as the haven for fleeting lovers seeking matrimony in defiance of parents but, in recent years, something else has put this small Scottish town on the map.
Gretna Football Club’s phenomenal transformation over the past years has been like nothing seen before. In just five years the club has changed from a non-league English side to one fighting the finest in the Scottish Premier League.
Football first came to the town in the 19th century with amateur team Gretna Green F.C playing in the Scottish leagues. By the 1920s, the team had gone bankrupt and it wasn’t until 1946 that a replacement emerged.
Gretna Football Club was formed with the assistance and professional advice from Messrs McKinnell, senior and junior, of Queen of the South FC and under the chairmanship of former footballer Jock Kerr. The club played its inaugural season in the Dumfries Junior League before transferring south of the border to ply its trade in the Carlisle and District League.
The club remained in the league for 45 years – winning the title 28 times – with the exception of one season in the Cumberland League back in 1951-52. During this successful era, the club’s best known players were the likes of former skipper Billy Cross, strikers Dennis ‘Touchy’ Smith and the late Tommy McFarlane, who both hold the distinction of scoring over 100 goals each in a single season.
Moving in the right direction
After becoming too strong for the Carlisle and District League, the Weddingmakers – one of the side’s numerous nicknames – moved to the newly formed Second Division of the Northern League In 1982.
The club spent over £100,000 on upgrading their Raydale Park home and in their first season achieved promotion. The club enjoyed nine seasons in the First Division, with their finest achievement being back-to-back championships in 1990/91 and 1991/92.
The latter earned the side promotion to the Northern League Premier Division and in their first season finished they sixth whilst also reaching the semi-final of the League Cup.
Over the nineties the club failed to once again match their early accomplishments but they did hit the headlines. Runs in the FA Cup saw them become the first Scottish team since Rangers in 1887 to reach the first round proper.
The side put out valiant performances firstly during the 1991-92 season against Rochdale of the-then Fourth Division before facing Division One outfit Bolton Wanderers in 1993-94.
In both 1993 and 1999, the Celebrant – another nickname for the club – applied, and failed, for membership of the Scottish Football League. Despite the rejection, both applications were well received and the 2001-02 season proved to be Gretna’s last south of the border.
The Scottish move
The club’s third attempt to gain membership to the Scottish League was successful in June 2002, as the side took the place of the defunct Airdrieonians. Having finished seventh in the UniBond League First Division the previous season, the side’s first season in the Third Division finished with a respectable sixth place finish.
The 2003-04 campaign then saw the Black and Whites narrowly miss out on promotion, finishing in third spot behind Stanraer and Stirling Albion, but next season they achieved their goal.
Record-breaking promotion successes
Backed by multi-millionaire businessman Brooks Milseon – Gretna’s very own ‘mini-Abramovich’ – the side re-wrote the history books en route to the Third Division championship in 2004/05.
Under the tutorship of manager Rowan Alexander, the club broke Inverness Caledonian Thistle’s winning run of 11 by two victories and striker Kenny Deuchar – who would prove to be an integral player in side’s rise – hit an incredible 41 goals that season to smash the previous record.
Having scored 130 goals – just one short of the British league record – the side romped to the earliest promotion the League had witnessed, with a win against Cowdenbeath on 5th March. Thanks to the cash of Mr Mileson, players of Premier League quality strutted their stuff at Raydale Park as Gretna won the League at a canter with 98 points.
The following season, things just got better for the Black and Whites as they took the Second Division by storm. The side secured their second successive Championship and took more records, claiming the fastest promotion from the Division once more as they finished 18 points clear of second place Morton.
However, the 2005/06 season will be remembered most fondly for Gretna’s fantastic Tennent’s Scottish Cup run. The side who had been playing non-league football in England just four seasons earlier walked out in the Cup final in front of over 51,000 people at Hampden Park to face Premier League outfit Hearts.
The first ever Second Division side to reach the final equalised to level the score at 1-1 but the Edinburgh side eventually won 4-2 on penalties. But all was not lost for Gretna as Hearts’ Champions league qualification saw them through to the UEFA Cup.
The incredible journey for the Borders club saw their first ever European tie end in disappointment as Derry City went through in the Second Qualifying round 7-3 on aggregate. Nevertheless, the 2006/07 proved to be a landmark season for Gretna, as they became the first British club to achieve three successive promotions.
A fantastic season ended in joy as on the final day of the season Gretna edged out rivals St Johnstone to win the title. The Black and Whites injury-time winner against Ross County ensured a place in the SPL.
SPL and the future
The club’s promotion saw Gretna face a tough step-up as they faced the likes of Celtic and Rangers in the SPL. One thing that couldn’t make the huge jump was the side’s Raydale Park stadium. The ground failed to make SPL standards and, whilst construction works take place, Gretna are playing their home games 75 miles away at Motherwell’s Home Park. Once completed the new ground will host more than twice the population of Gretna. With a population of 2,705 the town is easily the smallest settlement in Europe with a top-flight club, beating the likes of Thun (Switzerland, 40,000 people), Molde (Norway, 24,000) and Paralimni (Cyprus, 11,000).
Several key personnel changes were made over the pre-season to strengthen the side but they have struggled in the SPL to date. Gretna’s first game in the top flight of Scottish football ended in a 4-0 defeat to Falkirk. Things didn’t improve and, after 12 games, the side were bottom of the table on just four points.
The Black and White’s first win in the SPL came on 22 September, beating Dundee United 3-2 at Fir Park. After smashing so many records over the previous five seasons Gretna achieved one they may not be shouting from the rooftops about.
Only 1020 people turned up to see Gretna’s game with Inverness Caledonian Thistle on 27 October making it the lowest ever attendance at an SPL match.
After seven years in charge, Gretna sacked manager Rowan Alexander in November and replaced him with Dave Irons. The new man in charge looks to have a big fight on his hands as the Black and Whites continue to struggle at the foot of the SPL.
However, while Mileson’s millions are key in that struggle, the club’s impact in the community should also be noted, being committed to several grass-root projects, such as free tickets for school children and youth coaching, with the desire that one day the club will become self sustaining.
- Scottish Cup – Runners-up (2005/2006)
- Scottish Football League First Division – Championa (2006/2007)
- Scottish Football League Second Division – Champions (2005/2006)
- Scottish Football League Third Division – Champions (2004/2005)
- Northern League First Division – Champions (1990/1991, 1991/1992) Runners-up (1989/1990)
- Northern League Second Division – Runners-up (1982/1983)
- Carlisle and District League – Champions (28 times)
- Record Attendance (at Raydale Park): 3,000, v Dundee United, Scottish Cup, Third Round, 17/01/05
- Record Victory: 20-0, v Silloth, Carlisle and District League, 1962
- Record Defeat: 2-9 v Ashton United, Northen Premier League First Division, 2000
- Most League Points in a season: 98, Scottish Third Division, 2004/05
- Most League Goals in a season: 130, Scottish Third Division, 2004/05
- Most League Goals in a season: 38, Kenny Deuchar, Scottish Third Division, 2004/05
- Most hat-tricks in a season: 6, Kenny Deuchar, Scottish Third Division, 2004/05
- Most Home Wins in a season: 18, Scottish Third Division, 2004/05
- Most Away Wins in a season: 14, Scottish Third Division, 2004/05
- Best Goal Difference in a season: 101, Scottish Third Division, 2004/05