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A Season In The Scottish Championship

Kilmarnock won the 2021-22 Scottish Championship title. Did a season in the second tier provide a glimpse of 'real' football, or a slightly unbearable version of the beautiful game?
Celebrations begin at Rugby Park as Kilmarnock are crowned champions.

Archie Willis

Archie Willis is the founding editor of FUTBOLISTA Magazine, and has written several cover features for the magazine. He is currently studying a BA Honours degree in Journalism, Media & Communication and Spanish at the University of Strathclyde. Archie has also written for The Herald and FTBL Cult. @_archiewillis

KIRKCALDY, SCOTLAND — Penalty. Zanatta scores, racing away to celebrate in front of the Stark’s Park main stand on a blustery day in Kirkcaldy. And with that, a bleak chapter in the history of Scotland’s second oldest professional football club – Kilmarnock F.C. – came to a welcome end, as the goal ultimately sealed the fate of manager Tommy Wright. A Scottish Cup winner with St Johnstone, the Northern Irishman had overseen Kilmarnock’s first relegation from Scotland’s top tier in 28 years, and later struggled to maintain promotion-worthy performances in the 2021-22 season as Killie battled for an immediate return to the Premiership.

Wright, known within Scottish football for his gruff persona and unattractive tactics, was officially relieved from his duties as Kilmarnock boss a week later in unexpected circumstances. The abandonment of the Ayrshire side’s home fixture against Dunfermline Athletic, due to some extreme fog after an hour played with the score at 1-1, prompted a sharply delivered statement from club officials to notify the media of Wright’s departure. And as such, social media was quickly awash with amusing takes on the Killie manager’s sacking – “not sure if he’d have seen that coming”, “he will be dearly mist”, “directors have clouded judgement” and “sacked due to fog is a new one” were just a few of the many comments on Twitter.

Yet, for all of the work of the fog in finally confirming Wright’s exit as his team’s stuttering form saw them drop to 5th place in the Championship, it was the previous Saturday’s events at the home of Raith Rovers which was purported within circles of Kilmarnock intelligentsia to have the greatest impact upon Tommy Wright’s favour with the Rugby Park club’s board members. It was also a moment which captured the dreariness of life in Scotland’s second tier, where ideals of the ‘beautiful game’ are a forgotten memory by and large.

That Dario Zanatta penalty brought cheers from the hundreds of Raith supporters at the south end of Stark’s Park, which were, however, quickly drowned out by prominent booing from the stadium’s opposite end which houses away fans. Any remaining goodwill granted to manager Tommy Wright had vanished amongst the Kilmarnock faithful high up in the ground’s McDermid Stand. A chant swiftly spread through the travelling support, which began in small groups and was eventually sung in unison to signal the collective discontent: “Tommy, get to fuck, Tommy, Tommy get to fuck.” If fan support for the manager was now lost, it was soon to be genuine anger raining down from the away end as Wright, hearing the chanting, turned to the Kilmarnock fans and appeared to cup his ear, enraging the hundreds of supporters behind the goal who had paid £20 (per adult ticket) to watch their beloved Killie lose yet another key game to a promotion rival.

The relationship between manager and supporters was sour. Sparked by numerous dreadful performances in the league campaign, Wright’s small action of retaliation in front of the fans, later upgraded from cupping an ear to a middle finger as fans shared rumours and speculated, doomed him to failure as the manager of Kilmarnock Football Club, and left me wondering whether this really was the very best professional football had to offer. It was this absurdity, intense passion and uncensored emotion which characterised a season following Kilmarnock in the 2021-22 Scottish Championship.

The trophy podium is set up on the infamous artificial turf in East Ayrshire.

Scotland’s second division leaves you at once sick of the sport and madly in love with it. For every inexplicable misplaced midfield pass there is also the odd moment of unbridled joy on outdated away end terracing, and for that we should be thankful. Or at the very least, pretend to be – it’s probably an easier option if your team escapes the division at the first time of asking.

Clyde 1-2 Kilmarnock: Kilmarnock travel to Clyde’s Broadwood Stadium for sunny Premier Sports Cup group stage action.
Kilmarnock 2-1 Stranraer: My first trip back to Rugby Park since March 2020, with a ticket ballot allowing for 2,000 season ticket holders to attend the Premier Sports Cup group stage fixture in accordance with Scottish Government COVID-19 restrictions.
Kilmarnock 2-0 Ayr United: Goals from Liam Polworth and Innes Cameron give Killie a subdued taste of victory in the first Ayrshire derby of the campaign, as away fans remain locked out prior to the easing of COVID-19 regulations.
Queen of the South 0-1 Kilmarnock: The teams prepare for kick-off at Palmerston Park in Dumfries – one of Scotland’s best ‘throwback’ football stadiums.
Partick Thistle 0-2 Kilmarnock: Pillars and pies at Firhill in Glasgow’s West End.
Arbroath 0-0 Kilmarnock: Warm-ups are underway at a soon-to-be packed out Gayfield on Scotland’s east coast.
Ayr United 0-1 Kilmarnock: Killie supporters in Somerset Park’s Railway End eagerly anticipate the start of another grudge match against The Honest Men.
Greenock Morton 0-2 Kilmarnock: The view from Greenock Morton’s ‘Cowshed’ stand on an autumnal November evening in Inverclyde.
Hamilton Academical 2-3 Kilmarnock: A crowd of just over 800 watch Killie centre half Jack Sanders net a late double to take the Ayrshire side into the semi-final of the Scottish Challenge Cup – a competition formerly known as the Irn Bru Cup, the B&Q Cup and the Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Cup.
Raith Rovers 1-0 Kilmarnock: Tense affairs in Kirkcaldy ultimately spell the end for Kilmarnock boss Tommy Wright, who’s side drop to 4th in the league table.
Kilmarnock 0-1 Ayr United: Flashes of optimism are quickly dashed once again as a crowd of 7,560 take in a shock victory for local rivals Ayr United at Rugby Park in new Killie gaffer Derek McInnes’ fifth game in charge.
Dunfermline Athletic 0-0 Kilmarnock: 90 minutes of football in Fife herald just three shots on target as a John Hughes-led Dunfermline battle relegation.
Ayr United 1-3 Kilmarnock: Rory McKenzie, Oli Shaw and Jack Sanders score within the opening 16 minutes to restore derby bragging rights to the blue and white half of Ayrhsire.
Greenock Morton 1-1 Kilmarnock: Friday night football at Cappielow keeps Kilmarnock in first position, while half-time guest and apparent Morton hero Neil Warnock (yes, Google it) riles up a sizeable visiting support in the Wee Dublin End.
Kilmarnock 2-1 Arbroath: The home side return to the Scottish Premiership at the first time of asking in dramatic fashion thanks to unlikely hero Blair Alston’s 90th minute league-winning strike, ending the prospect of Arbroath’s fairy tale automatic promotion hopes and prompting pitch invasions and pyro in front of Rugby Park’s East Stand.
Raith Rovers 1-1 Kilmarnock: Happier times at Raith’s Stark’s Park for Killie fans who celebrate winning the title with blow-up trophies, dinosaurs and flamingos as well as a cardboard cut-out of celebrity Rylan Clark – the face of league sponsor Cinch’s UK-wide TV advertising campaign.

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