In the fourth of our six-part series on Peterhead’s 20 years in the Scottish football league, former players Graeme Sharp and Martin Bavidge, as well as chairman Rodger Morrison, look back on the Blue Toon’s first-ever relegation in 2011.
For Graeme Sharp Peterhead’s first relegation combined with poor personal form meant he considered retiring from football.
The flying winger, who joined the Blue Toon from Montrose in 2005, had been a key player under Iain Stewart, Steve Paterson and Neale Cooper.
However, come Cooper’s last campaign as manager, work commitments had taken their toll on Sharp’s fitness and form.
Having finished fourth and fifth in the previous two seasons, the Buchan outfit started the 2010-11 term badly and won just three times in the Second Division before the turn of the year.
By March, Cooper had been sacked with John Sheran brought in as manager, however, he was unable to reverse the slide and Peterhead finished bottom 10 points adrift.
Sharp, who left the Blue Toon in October 2014 to work abroad, felt he let Cooper and Sheran down by not being able to perform to levels of previous years.
The 36-year-old, who now lives near Paris, said: “My only regret was Neale’s last season. I was working and travelling a lot with my job and I lost a lot of fitness.
“With that you start to lose confidence and then my game went downhill.
“That time and that season was the only time before my work took me abroad that I considered calling it a day and stopping playing.
“In football you win and lose and relegation is something you never want to go through.
“But, for me personally, it would have been easier to accept if I’d known I’d done my best and as a player and as a team we weren’t good enough that season.
“However, with my fitness and confidence issues I knew I was far from my best and it became a vicious cycle.
“So that was the closest I’ve been to calling it a day. I still had that determination to get back to better form and the levels I was used to.
“The following season under John Sheran (2011-12) I was still determined to turn it around, although I wasn’t enjoying it at all.”
Following relegation 14 summer signings, including Rory McAllister, were made and the hope and expectation was Peterhead would start the 2011-12 season strongly as they looked to return to the Second Division.
Unfortunately the Blue Toon won just one of their first six league fixtures, which led to the club parting company with Sheran in September 2011.
Sharp added: “It was a really difficult period because there was the disappointment of relegation and then the following season there was a lot of hype and probably too much hype about us going straight back up.
“There was a reasonable amount of investment that summer with experienced players coming in.
“Rory McAllister arrived, which proved to be the big signing for years to come, but there were plenty of others as well who were good players.
“For some reason things didn’t click. I would say the team spirit wasn’t quite there. It was in pre-season, but as soon as the season started and we were getting beat things went sour pretty quickly.
“It became a fairly toxic atmosphere and that time from the relegation and the start of the next season was the lowest period of my time with Peterhead.
“I don’t think there was one reason why things didn’t go well, there were a few factors.
“I think there was too much hype about what we could do and we were seen as a scalp for other teams as well, which I don’t think that helped us.
“But that was the low point of my time at Peterhead.”
Jim McInally was the man who replaced Sheran. As well as changing Peterhead’s fortunes he had a major impact on Sharp’s career with the club helping him get back to his best in the years before his departure in October 2014.
He said: “Probably if things hadn’t changed with Jim McInally coming in then I probably would have called it a day and retired.
“Jim coming in changed the fortunes of Peterhead as a club and for me personally he changed things for me and turned my career around.
“I would have carried on playing for him if it wasn’t for my personal work circumstances taking me abroad. I really enjoyed playing under Jim.
“I think he could see my personal frustrations about my fitness.
“He referred me to a sports nutritionist and we discovered I wasn’t fuelling my body enough for the exercise I was doing and soon after my fitness improved dramatically.
“Jim showed a personal interest in my career and helped me massively, so when that happens you want to do well for that person.
“He changed my position as well from being a winger and converted me into a wing-back. I went from playing left wing to right-back and I know a few eyebrows were raised when I started wearing the No 2 shirt.
“Jim helped me individually with that change because he’d played there as well and passed on a lot of advice.
“For me that time under Jim was the most I’ve ever enjoyed my football, which made it even harder when I decided to move abroad, because we’d won League Two the season before and it was a really good group of guys.”
‘Getting relegated stifled all the growth, positivity and optimism that had been around Peterhead at that time’ – Martin Bavidge
In a decade with Peterhead, being involved in relegation was Martin Bavidge’s lowest time.
After consistently challenging for the Second Division promotion play-off spots the Blue Toon found themselves stuck at the wrong end of the table in the 2010-11 season.
Despite a good run to the Challenge Cup semi-final, just three league wins before the turn of the year meant the Buchan side were bang in trouble.
The late Neale Cooper was dismissed as manager in March with John Sheran brought in to try to keep the club up.
In the end, it was a battle they didn’t win and Bavidge struggles to put his finger on why things went so wrong that season.
But he says dropping back to the Third Division stifled much of the growth the club had achieved since they made the step up from the Highland League in 2000.
The striker, who played for the Blue Toon from 2003-2013, said: “The relegation season was a huge disappointment and it’s the biggest regret of my time with Peterhead.
“By the time John Sheran came in, it was probably a big ask to get out of it. John was a nice guy and did his best, but it was tough situation.
“John signed Rory McAllister and brought in a number of other guys from the lower leagues and Highland League he was familiar with (in the summer of 2011 following relegation), it was just unfortunate it didn’t last very long and then into the following season it wasn’t long before there was another change of manager.
“That was a difficult time and getting relegated stifled all the growth, positivity and optimism that had been around Peterhead at that time.
“But for whatever reason that season we struggled and sadly it ended up with relegation.”
Despite a number of additions that summer, a poor start to the 2011-12 campaign meant Sheran was sacked in September 2011.
Following his departure, Bavidge and Barry Sellars were placed in interim charge along with youth coach and former Fraserburgh manager Charlie Duncan.
Bavidge says that period gave him an idea of just how difficult management is.
The former Inverness Caley Thistle player added: “After John left, I had a couple of weeks in interim charge and it opened my eyes to what is involved and I take my hat off to the guys that I do it regularly.
“It was a complete surprise to me because I was only 32. I got a phone call from Rodger Morrison and the club and John had gone their separate ways, so I was asked to look after the team and I agreed.
“Management is so demanding, you’re on the phone constantly organising training and trying to get players.”
Morrison’s ‘worst moment’ in charge
Relegation hurt Rodger Morrison, but the Peterhead chairman couldn’t allow the pain to linger.
The Blue Toon were relegated for the first time in their history when they finished bottom of the Second Division in 2011.
The Buchan outfit went from challenging for promotion play-off spots in previous seasons to falling through the trapdoor back to the Third Division.
Morrison, who has been with the club for 35 years, said: “Of course it was one of the worst moments if not the worst moment.
“It’s always going to hurt and my pride was hurt because I’ve always been ambitious and suddenly we were moving backwards.
“Unfortunately it’s what can happen in football and although we were all hurting we had to dust ourselves down and get on with things and try to bounce back the next season.”
Morrison made the call to replace manager Neale Cooper with John Sheran in March 2011 in a bid stop the rot.
Unfortunately the change in the dugout wasn’t enough to keep Peterhead in the Second Division.
Morrison added: “As chairman I couldn’t beat myself up about it really because you have to trust your manager and you back them with the best players you can give them.
“As a board, we have trusted every manager we’ve ever had at the club and supported them the best we can.
“Unfortunately sometimes things still don’t work out as you’d hope and that’s just what can happen in football, it’s how you deal with the set-backs that count.
“Of course we were very down at the time it happened, but a new season comes along and before you know it and you have to be ready to get on with things again.”