Kilmarnock in History: Rugby Park redevelopment

Welcome to the sixth installment of our Kilmarnock In History series, by club historian John Livingston.

You can find the previous five parts through the Club History tab in the News section


The disappointment at not gaining election to Division 1 still lingered amongst the committee members, supporters and players at Rugby Park as the 1898-99 season got under way.

However, there was a real determination to prove the club would be a worthy addition to Division 1, and they went on to do it by winning the title again, remaining unbeaten in their 18 games played. They amassed 32 points, only dropping four points in four drawn away games, and like the previous season, scored in all 18 of their league games.

During the unbeaten campaign, on 5th November 1898, Jimmy Howie became the first player to score four goals in a League game for Kilmarnock, when they beat Linthouse 8-0 at Rugby Park. Kilmarnock also lifted the Ayrshire Cup and Kilmarnock Charity Cup as well, beating Galston in both of the Finals.

They won 6-3 in the Ayrshire Cup Final at Rugby Park on 1st April 1899, and seven weeks later beat the Irvine Valley club 2-0 in the Kilmarnock Charity Cup Final, which for the first ever time, was played outside of the town. It was actually played at Riverside Park in Galston on 20th May because major renovation and refurbishment work was being carried out at Rugby Park.

The work being carried out included a slight alteration to the actual position of the playing field at Rugby Park, as well as increasing its size. There was also new fencing round the front perimeter of the slightly enlarged terracing. A new grandstand was built close to the pavilion, and the dressing rooms within the pavilion were also refurbished.

Whilst Rugby Park was being re-developed, the club committee had another important meeting to attend in Glasgow. The Scottish League election process at the AGM was different from previous years, with only the bottom two clubs from Division 1, and the top two from Division 2 being involved.

Fortunately, Kilmarnock ran out top in the voting, gaining 15 votes, thus earning Division 1 status for the first ever time. They were joined in the top Division by Dundee (10 votes), with Partick Thistle (5 votes) and Leith Athletic (2 votes) missing out.

Kilmarnock made a great start to the 1899-1900 campaign, winning 1-0 in their opening Division 1 fixture away to St. Mirren on Saturday, 19th August, Bobby Findlay scoring the goal.

The following Saturday, 26th August, the newly renovated and re-designed Rugby Park, known officially as the “New Agricultural Show Grounds and Recreation Grounds”, was officially opened with the first ever Scottish League Division 1 game played in Ayrshire.

Our first match at the redeveloped Rugby Park v Celtic in 1899.

The Scottish Cup holders Celtic were the visitors, and a crowd of over 11,000 saw Kilmarnock fight back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2, thanks to a double from Jimmy Howie. This was the first time Kilmarnock had ever drawn at home in a Scottish League fixture, having never drawn any of their 36 home games played in Division 2 at Old Rugby Park.

On Saturday 11th November at Rugby Park, there was a major incident in the game with St. Mirren. A very strong blustery wind blew the roof off the new grandstand and on to the field of play. A few spectators were injured, but fortunately, not too seriously. The game was completed, and ended in a 2-2 draw.

On the penultimate day of 1899, William Young became the first player to score a hat-trick for Kilmarnock in Division 1, when he hit all three goals in a 3-2 away win over Clyde. This was only his second (and last) League appearance for the club, and having scored on his debut the previous year, he ended a brief, but notable Kilmarnock career with two appearances and four goals.

The first known benefit game for a Kilmarnock player was held at Rugby Park on Tuesday 2nd January 1900, and the recipient was James “Bummer” Campbell, who had been over 10 years with the club. He received £120 from the gate receipts of the game, which saw Kilmarnock beat Celtic 6-0.

On Saturday 27th January, David Maitland scored five goals for Kilmarnock in a 10-0 home win over Orion in the 2nd Round of the Scottish Cup. It was the first known time that a Kilmarnock player had achieved this in the competition.

Kilmarnock ended their first season in Division 1 in a very respectable fifth place, with 18 points from 18 games, and only the top clubs from Glasgow (Celtic and Rangers) and Edinburgh (Hearts and Hibernian) finished ahead of them.

They retained the Ayrshire Cup for the third successive season after a fine 4-0 win over Ayr Parkhouse in the Final at Somerset Park on 24th March, and also retained the Kilmarnock Charity Cup for a third season in a row, beating Galston 3-1 at Rugby Park on 26th May.

In the 1900-01 campaign, Kilmarnock made their first ever visit to 2nd Hampden Park on Scottish League duty, and the Division 1 fixture, played in gale force wind conditions, turned out be an eventful encounter against the once formidable Queen’s Park. It was the proverbial “game of two halves”, because it ended in a 5-5 draw, after Kilmarnock had led 5-0 at half-time.

The Oval in Belfast.

Kilmarnock’s emergence as a Division 1 club was acknowledged on Saturday 16th February 1901, when they had three players in the Scottish League team which beat the Irish League 2-1 in a League International played at The Oval in Belfast.

This was the first ever time Kilmarnock had players selected for the Scottish League team. George Anderson, John L. Graham and Jimmy Howie were the players on duty. The following month, George Anderson was in the Scotland team that beat Ireland 2-1 at Celtic Park in a Home International Championship fixture.

Kilmarnock ended the 1900-01 Scottish League Division 1 campaign in fifth place, a similar position to the previous season, taking 18 points from the 20 games played. As well as playing in the Scottish League, Kilmarnock had also entered a new competition known as the Glasgow and West of Scotland League, which also involved Clyde, Partick Thistle, St. Mirren, Morton and Port Glasgow Athletic. It proved a good decision, as they ended up as the first ever Champions.

They also won the Kilmarnock Charity Cup for the fourth successive season, beating Stevenston Thistle 2-0 in the Final, which was played in Stevenston – only the second ever (and last) occasion the Final of the competition had been played outside of Kilmarnock.