AIRDRIEONIANS began life as Excelsior Football Club in 1878 spending three years with that name before changing to identify themselves closer with the North Lanarkshire mining town that is their home.
In 1885 they had their first trophy success, winning a charity tournament run by the local cricket club. The following year they visited Glasgow Rangers and beat them 10-2 (still Rangers’ worst-ever home defeat) and they gradually built up their playing strength and fan base over the next decade
In 1891 the club took a place in the record books they will never lose when they were awarded the first ever penalty kick (with another penalty first to come much later) and the following year they moved into Broomfield, close to Airdrie town centre. Two years after that they applied for a place in the Scottish League and were accepted, starting life in the second division.
In 1907 the club added the corner pavilion and it remained there until the team moved out, becoming Brookfield’s most distinctive feature.
In the fullness of time the club became famous for the red ‘V’ adorning their white shirt but they started off wearing blue and white hoops. They switched to red and white hoops in the mid 1880s and it wasn’t until 1912 that they changed to the kit that earned them the nickname ‘The Diamonds’.
The 1920s really was the golden era for Airdrieonians although it started with the loss of their manager. John Chapman what been in charge at the club for 16 years, moved south to take over as the sixth boss of Manchester United. Former player Willie Orr took over the job but five years later he too moved to England after being offered the job at Leicester City.
On the playing side the decade was dominated by Hughie Gallacher and the club’s only major trophy.
Having witnessed Gallacher’s prowess in a challenge match, directors of the club went and visited him while he was in hospital recovering from pneumonia and persuaded the then 18-year-old Bellshill lad to move from Queen Of The South and join a club closer to his hometown.
The 1921-22 campaign was Gallacher‘ s first with the Diamonds and it brought him 7 goals in 15 appearances with Airdrie finishing 16th of 22. The following year they had their best-ever campaign finishing runners-up, five points behind champions Rangers and they occupied the same position behind the same team the following year, whilst also managing to bring the first major silverware to Broomfield.
In the 1923-24 Scottish Cup the Diamonds overcame Morton, St Johnstone and Motherwell to set up a quarter-final clash with Ayr United. It took them four tries to overcome ‘The Honest Men’ but they eventually prevailed setting up a last-four clash with Falkirk where a 2-1 win sent them to their first final.
A crowd of 59,218 were on hand at Ibrox to see The Diamonds take on Hibernian in the final. Although it was Willie Russell who scored both goals in a 2-0 Airdrie win, it really was the Gallacher show. Bob McPhail – fellow future ‘Wembley Wizard’ said after the win; “Hughie Gallacher caused havoc with the Hibs defenders”.
The following season brought a fabulous 35 goal-haul for Gallacher, who was by now heralded as the best goalgetter in Scottish football, and a third successive second-place finish to Rangers.
Gallacher‘ s talents were attracting more and more attention and it became clear that his time at Broomfield was coming to an end. In December 1925 Airdrie accepted a £6,500 offer for their tiny front man from Newcastle United. Even without Gallacher’s goals for the second half of the campaign they managed a fourth runners-up spot in four years, this time to Celtic.
In 1927 The Diamonds cashed in in their other star man with a £5,000 cheque sending McPhail to Rangers where he went on to score 230 goals – a club record that would stand until bettered by Ally McCoist 50 years later.
The run of successes had led the club to build a new grandstand at Broomfield in 1924 but the sale of their two star men brought about a downturn in performances on the pitch.
The loss of Gallacher and McPhail really did mark the end of the glory days at the club and they spent the next decade gradually slipping down the table and fighting relegation, a fate they eventually succumbed to in 1935-36.
Airdrieonians made it back to the top flight in the first full season of football after World War Two but were relegated again the following season. The yo-yoing continued when they came back up two years later but every season was a struggle to survive at the highest level.
The end of the 1950-51 campaign saw Airdrie go into their final match against Falkirk at Broomfield needing to win and then rely on results elsewhere to survive. Airdrie did their part, racking up an amazing 11-1 victory over their already-relegated opponents. Clyde’s loss against Celtic saw The Diamonds survive by a point.
It was a boom-time for football crowds. In the 1951-52 season The Diamonds made it to the Scottish Cup quarter-final where they were drawn against Hearts. A record 24,000 packed out Broomfield and saw Dave Shankland and Ian McMillan give Airdrie a two-goal lead. But Willie Bauld and Alfie Conn scored as the Edinburgh giants hit back for a 2-2 draw. Hearts went on to win the replay 6-4.
The following season saw another last-day escape act, when victory over Third Lanark saw them survive at the expense of Motherwell. But finally Airdrie fell through the relegated trap-door in 1953-54 although they came back up as champions the following season.
There followed a period of mostly on-field stability although it included a fifth-place finish in 1958-59, then another relegation and a return in the middle of the 1960s. There were some improvements made off the pitch during this period with floodlights added in 1956 and a roof placed over the enclosure opposite the main stand in 1959.
If the 1950s at Broomfield belonged to one player it was local boy made good Ian McMillan.
‘The Wee Prime Minister’
John Livingstone McMillan, known as Ian, was born within a corner kick of Broomfield and joined the club he supported in 1948, aged 17 having been in the Airdrie Academy. The man who earned the marvellous nickname of ‘The Wee Prime Minister’ quickly became the star of the team, his wonderful incisive passing instigating attacks and providing assists for Jimmy Welsh and Hughie Baird.
Such was McMillan’s ability that he was picked to make his national team debut against England in April 1952. In front of 132,000 fans, Scotland were on the receiving end of a 2-1 defeat but later the same month he scored twice for his country in a 6-0 win over the USA.
In 1954 McMillan was chosen as part of the 22-Man squad that Scotland submitted officially to play in the World Cup in Switzerland. Somewhat bizarrely however, the Scots decided to take just 13 players to the tournament and he remained at home, in reserve.
McMillan would go on to make six appearances for his country and his consistent form led to interest from other clubs in both England and Scotland. It was Rangers who won the battle for his services, paying The Diamonds £10,300 for his services. He had scored 102 goals in 249 games for Airdrie.
Further success followed for McMillan at Ibrox with three titles, three Scottish Cup and two League Cup winners medals in seven years before a return to Broomfield for £5,000 where injury reduced his playing time and brought his career to an early end.
The late 1960s were mostly about stability for the club. Then in 1970 McMillan returned as manager, and so did the good times.
A Second Penalty First
The 1970-71 season saw the launch of the Texaco Cup, a tournament pitching teams from England, Scotland and Northern Ireland against each other. One of the innovations of the new event was the introduction of the penalty shootout for teams that had finished level after the two legs.
Airdrie met Nottingham Forest in the first round and both matches finished as 2-2 draws. This led to the first penalty shootout in British football and it was The Diamonds who prevailed 5-4 making penalty history for a second time. They were dumped out by Hearts in the next round but the following year saw a tremendous run take them past Manchester City, Huddersfield Town and Ballymena United to reach the Final where they took on Brian Clough and Derby County.
A goalless draw at Broomfield was followed by postponement due to a waterlogged pitch at the Baseball Ground. Due to a fixture backlog they had to wait three months to play the return leg, losing 2-1 due to a hotly-disputed penalty put away by Alan Hinton. Still it was a fine effort for a team mostly made up of part-timers.
In 1974-75 the club confirmed their cup credentials yet again, in both domestic knockout competitions. In the League Cup they made it to the semi-finals before Celtic got the better of them by a single goal.
Back to Hampden
In the Scottish Cup they went one step further. Wins against Morton, Falkirk and Arbroath set up a semi final clash with Motherwell. A 1-1 draw in the first clash was followed by a 1-0 win in the replay four days later so Airdrie were off to Hampden again, to meet Celtic again.
On 3 May 1975 over 75,000 were present to see The Diamonds take on the Glasgow giants. Derek Whiteford led Airdrie out for their first final in 51 years, opposite Billy McNeill, playing his last game for Celtic.
Whiteford and his teammates played a full part in an entertaining game but Celtic, with Kenny Dalglish running the show, proved too strong, running out 3-1 winners. Celtic led through Paul Wilson but Kevin McCann’s 42nd minute equaliser gave The Diamonds hope. However, it was snatched away minutes later when Wilson added a second. A second-half penalty left Airdrie with a mountain to climb and it was one they couldn’t surmount.
One of the major catalysts for the Diamonds improved displays during the 70s was midfield man and skipper Whiteford who earned a place among the best-loved players to play for the club.
Between 1967 and 1977 Whiteford made close to 450 appearances for Airdrie, netting 116 times. Having left for Dumbarton he returned to manage the club for one season in the 80s but sadly passed away in 2002 aged just 54.
Meanwhile in 1976 McMillan stood down from the manager’s role and joined the board as vice-chairman. In 2002 he was made Honorary President of the club, a fitting reward.
Airdrie spent the remainder of the 1970s competing without notable success but the 1979-80 season saw Bobby Watson lead them to the Scottish Premier Division as Division One runners-up to Hearts. Two years later they were back in the second tier where they would reside for the remainder of the decade.
The 1990s brought a fresh start however and in 1990-91 they returned to the Premier after the goals of Owen Coyle played a big part in their finishing runners-up to Falkirk.
The following year saw another trip to Hampden Park for the Scottish Cup Final where, after overcoming Hearts via a penalty shootout in the semis, this time the opposition was double-seeking Rangers.
Mark Hateley and Ally McCoist gave Rangers a 2-goal cushion and a late strike from Andy Smith proved only a consolation so The Diamonds had to settle for runners-up medals once again.
Rangers completing the double left a spot open in the European Cup Winners Cup and Airdrie, as beaten finalists, claimed that place. The draw brought a big European name to Broomfield with a tie against Czechs Sparta Prague. A crowd of 7,000 were at Broomfield and they were treated to a fighting performance from their heroes who fell to a 1-0 defeat, Sparta’s Sopko scoring the only goal in the 89th minute. The second leg was lost 2-1 so the European experience was brief.
Coyle was signed for £175,000 from Clydebank in 1990 and immediately started to repay that fee with a debut hat-trick, finishing his first season at Broomfield as the Scottish League’s leading scorer. In 1995 he was sold to Bolton Wanderers for £250,000. He would return in 2001 and play a major part in that season’s Scottish Challenge Cup success.
Another Final – Another Defeat
In 1992-93 The Diamonds dropped out of the top flight again. Whilst continuing at the second level they again proved their cup credentials in 1994-95 with another stirring run to the final.
Stirling Albion, Dunfermline and Raith Rovers were eliminated setting up a semi-final clash with Hearts that was won by a Steve Cooper goal.
So it was back to Hampden and another clash with old rivals Celtic. Again Airdrie failed to overcome their rivals, a Pierre van Hooijdonk goal giving the Glasgow club the cup yet again.
The club started exploring the possibility of a move away from Broomfield in 1989 but the initial planning application was refused. They were, however given permission to develop a supermarket following which the site was sold to Safeway. However the sale was agreed without any plans in place for an alternative do the club were forced to ground-share with Clyde at the Broadwood stadium in Cumbernauld.
The last game at Broomfield was in May 1994 and it’s closure brought to an end 102 years of history and just that one major trophy 70 years before.
A number of proposals for new sites were rejected until the club were given permission to build the Shyberry Excelsior Stadium which opened in 1998. Financial troubles forced the club into liquidation in 2002 but a new club, Airdrie United was born from the ashes and they successfully applied to change their name to Airdrieonians in 2013.
So, in many ways they are back to where they started, called Airdrieonians and playing at the Excelsior in Airdrie. Over a century of memories at Broomfield will never go away. Now they’ll be hoping to create some more.