Glamour and Recreation Park rarely go hand in hand. Alloa’s modest home hosted average league crowds of just 876 last year and is one of Scotland’s less salubrious football venues.
The ground’s surrounding brick wall has been under severe public pressure this week, though. Lines of fans leaned up against it whilst queueing to buy season tickets for the biggest campaign in Alloa’s history. Season 2014/15 is eagerly awaited down in Clackmannanshire.
One of three part-time clubs in the SPFL Championship – the others being Cowdenbeath and Dumbarton – Alloa will be amongst the favourites for relegation in a league also containing Rangers, Hearts, Hibs, Falkirk, Queen of the South, Livingston and Raith Rovers. They are punching above their weight to an extent, but the season-ticket surge shows no shortage of appetite amongst the locals.
The unprecedented demand from supporters leaves Mike Mulraney, the Alloa chairman, wondering how he’ll cope. He needs to find more seats and more corporate facilities in a ground which holds just over 3000 at full capacity. Although last season’s average gate represents a 59 per cent increase on the previous year, when Alloa gained promotion from the old second division, it is nothing compared to what awaits.
“Our season tickets went on sale first thing on Monday morning and people were queued up long before the office opened,” explained Mulraney. “They were still queueing up at two o’clock in the afternoon trying to buy season tickets. There is loads of interest in the town. We aren’t normally in the same league as Rangers, Hearts and Hibs. Normally we do have a successful first morning when season tickets go on sale, but Monday was unprecedented. That’s an indication of what’s coming our way.
“We also have lots of interest in the corporate hospitality. Some businesses maybe have a fondness for Alloa and Hearts, or Alloa and Hibs, and they’re looking at what corporate opportunities are available to them. We’re obviously welcoming that.”
Mulraney has never known such frenzied activity around Recreation Park at this time of year. “You have one-off games where people are enthused, but to be enthused by the full season ahead? Never. This is an unprecedented time for all seven clubs who are still in the Championship. These are exceptional circumstances. For the three part-time teams, it’s an opportunity we have to make the absolute most of. It will be Alloa’s biggest-ever season, that goes without saying. You would need to go back decades and decades for crowds like we’re going to get this year. There are people in this area who support Alloa, but also have a fondness for Rangers, Hearts or Hibs. It’s great. Let them come.”
Alloa survived in the Championship last season after rising rapidly under former manager Paul Hartley. He is now preparing for the Premiership after moving to Dundee and winning the title. Mulraney acknowledges that the task faced by his successor, Barry Smith, is the toughest any Alloa manager has ever encountered.
“You’re looking at teams below us who might think they would normally sit in a higher position than us in the footballing world,” continued Mulraney. “For Cowdenbeath, Dumbarton and Alloa, we’re here on merit. We’re here because we should be. I’d like all three to stay up again for another year. Our club has been on a fantastic run for three years.
“We won a league and got promoted, then we won a play-off and got promoted again, and then managing to stay up was an incredible feat. We’ve had a lot of success but to stay up again come next May would be our biggest ever achievement, no question about that. We’ll certainly give it our best shot.”
You would be wrong to think there is any trepidation at Alloa ahead of next season. Quite the opposite, in fact. Although the prospect of having three of the traditionally biggest clubs in Scotland in beside them is daunting, they are relishing the opportunity to mix it with the big boys. The threat of relegation is no deterrent, nor is the fact their ground is restricted in terms of size and facilities.
“We started as favourites for relegation last year and we’re all still in the league,” said Mulraney. “I’m sure we’ll be favourites to go down again, but maybe we can stay up again. To do that, we have to take points off all the teams.
“We’re looking forward to welcoming every team to Alloa and showing that the town is growing and there is plenty interest in the local club. We want to make sure there’s as much space to accommodate our own fans as possible. We also want away fans to come and have a good experience of Alloa.
“Economically, the Championship is going to be as good as you could ever imagine. Firstly, we want our home fans out there and we want away fans from Edinburgh to see how easy it is to get to Alloa. There are two sides to it for us and it’s important to recognise that. We want home and away supporters to have a great day out.”
Alloa beat newly-promoted Hamilton twice last season so are entitled to feel confident about the forthcoming campaign. Accies now replace Hibs in the Premiership after the new play-off system produced its first major shock since being introduced last summer.
“We took six points from Hamilton last season,” Mulraney pointed out. “Now there’s a team coming down [Hibs] and it should be harder for us to take points off them. It’s our job to make sure the teams coming into this league face a stiff challenge and don’t find it a walkover.”
The only walk interesting Mulraney is the one Alloa’s fans will take along Clackmannan Road to Recreation Park next season. They are ready to turn out in their numbers for a campaign no-one is ever likely to witness again.
ALLOA hope to install extra seating to increase the capacity at Recreation Park next season.
With Falkirk and Dumbarton preparing to erect temporary stands to hold extra fans, the Clackmannanshire club are planning something similar.
They want to expand their corporate facilities and ensure there is sufficient room for home supporters who want to witness a historic campaign.
Chairman Mike Mulraney is also eager to welcome a good number of travelling fans from Rangers, Hearts and Hibs. He explained why the current capacity of just over 3000 would need to increase. “We need to increase the number of home seats just to deal with the corporate interest,” he told the Evening News. “We’re looking at all options at the moment but we also need to be sensible about it.
“We expect a large following from Hearts and Hibs but we also know there were games last season where the Edinburgh clubs went away from home and didn’t take too big a crowd. We won’t do anything rash.”
Mulraney, pictured, is hoping to entice lapsed fans back to Recreation Park but is also intent on luring more young families to watch Alloa.
“We want lapsed fans to come back but you also want new fans and new families to come along.
“Alloa is an expanding town and we want to bring people in who haven’t been through the gates before.
“We want them to have a great family experience and want to come back.
We’re offering special family season tickets and things like that because it’s important to us.
“There is an excitement and an interest in next season’s Championship, as we’ve seen with our season ticket sales, and that’s great to see.
“I can’t remember a time like this when there was so much interest in football outside the top flight.”