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Kilmarnock is the story Scottish fitba needed

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22nd May, 2019
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Not many people rate Scottish football – or fitba, as the locals call it.

Tin pot and pub league are just a few names you hear whenever you mention that you support a club in Scotland.

But outside of the A-League, the Scottish Premiership is the competition that I watch and support the most.

The quality might not be as good as the EPL, Bundesliga or any of the big European leagues, but my attraction to the competition is its local, rough-around-the-edges feel. It’s tough football, too.

And amongst all of this, every now and then we have a story that arises in typical Scottish football fashion.

In 2019, the Kilmarnock Football Club is that story.

During the 2015/16 season, Killie was fighting off relegation, finishing 11th in the Premiership and triumphing in the play-offs over Falkirk to keep their top-flight status.

Fast forward three seasons and Kilmarnock defeated Rangers 2-1 on the final day to finish third, their highest finish since 1966 to secure European football for the first time in 18 years.

There were 12,248 fans packed into Rugby Park in what became Steve Clarke’s final game in charge – he was recently announced as the new Scotland gaffer – with a late penalty to secure third spot, which was met with rapturous scenes at the final whistle.

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Former Kilmarnock manager Steve Clarke.

Steve Clarke revived Kilmarnock’s fortunes before being awarded the Scotland job. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

I have written previously about the joys of what football in Scotland brings outside the Old Firm. While Celtic and Rangers might take the league each season, stories like Kilmarnock are what we love about the beautiful game.

The club hired a manager who was able to not only unite a team and supporters, but bring together the town of Kilmarnock to once again fall in love with their local team.

Killie would only open up one end for the traveling support in their final game, a show of faith for supporters, who would pack the remaining three stands in blue and white.

Thinking about what this moment means to Kilmarnock supporters is hard to gauge. We can never truly know what it has been like for those that take their spot on the Rugby Park terraces every week.

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As Kilmarnock ends the season with their biggest home crowd, we see what a club can do when it gets things right and inspires its supporters.

Low crowds in Scotland are offset by the population, clubs do OK, but bubbling below the surface is a fanatic fandom. Fans want a reason to get off their armchair and walk through the turnstiles of their local club, brushing off the bus convoys to Glasgow’s big two.

“Support your local team.”

It’s what we hear worldwide when it comes to football, in Scotland it is no different. Locals love their club but some need a reason other than generational loyalty to open their wallets.

Inside Rugby Park on Sunday, you could feel the love was back again. Kilmarnock have turned the corner.

Post-Clarke, that buzz created in 2018/19 needs to continue, bringing back what Scottish football has been missing: packed and passionate local terraces.

And if football in Scotland really is ‘pub league pish’, I’ll raise my pint to Kilmarnock and Steve Clarke.

Because it’s the story Scottish fitba needed.

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