The home of Ayr United Football club has not always looked the way it does today.
In fact in the days preceeding the formation of Ayr United in 1910 it was owned by Ayr FC one of the teams who amalgamated to form Ayr United.
The park in those days was almost perpendicular to the current park, (see picture, left, of Somerset Park in 1896). In 1896, between the months of March and April Somerset Park was closed for a transformation which would provide much needed improvments to the ground. Most of it was to improve athletics provision at Somerset.
The result was the larger football ground and tarmacadam running track around it. This change placed the park at an angle to Tryfield Place, (below). Completed in 1897, this alignment remained until 1924 when the park was again re-aligned in 1924 to run parallel to Tryfield Place.
Parts of the turf were re-laid and the new stand was built. On completion, the stand extended 187 feet with 600 ‘tip up’ chairs in the centre section with a further 745 between the two wings of the structure.
The biggest crowd ever to attend a match at Somerset Park was on 13th September 1969 when 25,225 people watched a match against Rangers.
The ground remained almost unchanged until 1970 when floodlights were installed giving the club much needed flexibility in staging evening matches. Funding was raised when supporters raised £12,201:14s:11d towards the £18,000 that was required.
The first floodlight game at Somerset Park was a Second XI match against Partick Thistle although they were not officially opened until 18 November 1970, when Ayr United beat Newcastle United 2-0 in a ceremonial match for the occasion.
In 1971, Ayr United F.C. erected a roof to cover the Somerset Road End terrace at the cost Â£12,000. To celebrate the construction of the new roof, Ayr United invited English club, Sunderland, the final result was a 1-1 draw.The terracing, itself remained much as it was until the Somerset Road end of the ground was covered in 1970.
In the early 1990’s an extension to the main stand was made at the corner of Tryfield Place and Somerset Road. This stand became a family stand and incorporated at the lower level, an adequate place for wheelchair supporters to be housed.
The Taylor report and the coming of Bill Barr, (property developer) as owner enhanced speculation about re-furbishment of Somerset Park or indeed a move to a new all seater stadium. Additional makeshify VIp boxes were erected across from the main Tryfield Place stand. The ground capacity at Somerset Park at this stage was reduced to 12,128
Scottish Premier League rules dictated that clubs entering that league had to have at least 10,000 seats. Somerset Park contains only 3,500 seats. United owner, Bill Barr, put forward a planning proposal to build such a stadium in Ayr.
However, South Ayrshire District Council raised objections to the proposed development because it included an out of town shopping complex. The local council finally gave in to the proposal and approved in late 2001.
However, Ayr’s joy was short-lived as the Scottish Executive called the planning project in and after many months – and years of deliberation – vetoed Ayr’s stadium plans.
In June 2004 the situation was eased with the Scottish Premier League reducing the ground restrictions to only 6,000 seats and even gave the green light to ground sharing agreements for clubs that did not have a stadium to that standard.
With the intransigence of the local Council and the club changing owners even these changes were too late for progress at that time.
Since 2005 some progress has been made with in 2008, South Ayrshire Council at last approving plans for a new stadium in Ayr. Alas the package that the club had put in place with a house builder buying Somerset Park to fund the project fell apart due to the uncertainty at that time in the housing market.
In November 2006, Ayr United publicised plans to sell Somerset Park to housing developer Barratt Homes and move to a new purpose built stadium in the Heathfield area of Ayr. The new ground was planned to consist of a single stand of 3,650 seats, with the potential to add another 3,000-seat stand and a 1,000-capacity terrace, giving a total potential capacity of 7,650.
South Ayrshire Council gave outline planning permission in January 2008 but Barratt Homes then pulled out of the deal to purchase Somerset Park in August 2008, with the developer claiming that the planning rules were “unworkable”. The credit crunch, which depressed housing values, also affected the proposal’s viability. In 2011, the original lights had to be replaced, which caused a Challenge Cup match against Raith Rovers to be switched to Greenock Morton’s Cappielow Park, Ayr United won 3-0.
The Main Stand roof was then damaged by Hurricane Bawbag in December 2011, forcing Ayr United to postpone a First Division match against Ross County.
In 2018, it was confirmed that under revised league requirements, Ayr United would now be allowed to play matches at Somerset Park with minimal improvements to its facilities should they gain promotion to the SPFL Premiership, as the more stringent seating capacity regulations had been removed some years earlier.
The North Terrace is an open terrace, for both home and away supporters, with a segregation fence erected in 1980.
There is currently a hospitality suite standing on the north terrace that opened in 1996 and is currently named the “Ally MacLeodÂ Hospitality Suite sponsored by the Ayrshire Post “, which replaced the traditional score board in its place. Each box is named after a club great from either the 1960s, 1970’s or 1980’s, they are: Quinton ‘Cutty’ Young Stan Quinn, Henry Templeton, Davie Stewart and John ‘Spud’ Murphy.
For now Ayr United have now decided to stay at Somerset Park and invest in maintaining the ground instead of moving.
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