In the first of our six-part series on Peterhead’s 20 years in the Scottish football league, former manager Ian Wilson and his captain, Steve King, describe hitting the ground running in Division Three
Ian Wilson would have loved to have led Peterhead to their first promotion in the Scottish Leagues.
But he still takes great pride at being the manager when the Blue Toon made their step up from the Highland League 20 years ago.
The Buchan outfit started off their time in the Scottish League set-up with a 2-0 win over Montrose at Balmoor on August 5 2000.
Following fifth and fourth-placed finishes in their first two campaigns, 2002-03 looked like the time when Peterhead could achieve their first promotion.
It came down to a four-way shoot-out on the last day of the Third Division season between the Blue Toon, Morton, East Fife and Albion Rovers.
If Wilson’s men beat Morton at Cappielow they would have been one of the two sides who went up.
Unfortunately, the Greenock side triumphed 1-0 and East Fife’s victory over Queen’s Park earned them the other promotion place. Peterhead finished fourth as Albion Rovers also won against East Stirlingshire.
Reflecting on that near miss, Wilson said: “The way it panned out was difficult to take.
“We had Albion Rovers at home in the second last game of the season and drew 0-0 – if we’d won that it would have put us in a stronger position to play Morton at Cappielow.
“Unfortunately we lost our way in the second half and Alex Bone got sent off.
“We had chances to get a draw, which could have been enough for us. What made it more difficult was the scores in Albion Rovers’ and East Fife’s games were changing all the time, which meant what we needed was changing all the time.
“Who was going up changed a number of times that afternoon and it was a really exciting finish, but unfortunately we came out on the wrong side of it. It would have been fantastic if we could have got that first promotion.
“It was a wonderful time and we were a little bit unlucky, it would have been better if we’d been at home on the last day of the season, but we weren’t and we didn’t quite get the result we needed.
“It would have been nice to do it then because a lot of our side was still there from the Highland League days.”
In December 2003, Wilson’s third spell as Peterhead manager was brought to an end with the club just six points off a promotion spot.
Although he would have liked to remain in charge for longer, the 62-year-old looks back on his time at Balmoor with fond memories.
He added: “I’d had three years at it trying to get promoted and hadn’t done it, so maybe the time was right for a change and that’s what happened at the end of the year.
“It was still difficult to take and it wasn’t something I saw coming at that time.
“But in football the only surprise is when there are no surprises because things happen in football and you should never be surprised.
“The club made the decision to change and that was their call so I went, I’ve been back a few times since and don’t hold any grudges towards them.
“Of course, I would have liked to carry on for longer, but I had three good years and some managers get a lot less than that.”
Wilson still remembers the excitement surrounding Peterhead ahead of their inaugural campaign as a Scottish League outfit.
He still treasures being with the club at that time said: “It was an honour to take the club into the Scottish Leagues.
“We started well beating Montrose on the first day and having a decent start and finishing fifth in the first season.
It was a hugely exciting time and we got off to a great start. I think we had seven points out of nine in our first three games. The boys were all excited and up for the challenge, which was great.
“The whole place was buzzing with the start we made and it benefited the players in terms of confidence, because if we’d made a bad start it could have been a tough season.
“But we had very good players at that time who were all used to the Highland League and going into something that was completely different, but they showed they could handle it.”
“I understood the concerns, but from a player’s point of view, we were excited about it.”
Steve King was proud to lead out Peterhead as they made their bow in the Scottish League.
The defender played for the Blue Toon from 1992 to 2002 and wore the armband 20 years ago when the Buchan side made the step up to the Third Division from the Highland League.
He said: “I was club captain for my 10 years there and I was very proud of that to skipper Peterhead.
“To sign and represent the club as captain, I was really proud.
“It took time in the Highland League to have a bit of success, but everyone bought into it and we ended up being a really good team.
“It was a question of being patient and, even though we were finding our feet when I signed, I was optimistic and I think we grew into a good team and the success we had was testament to the board and the good decisions they made as well.”
The Blue Toon’s first game in Scottish League football came on Saturday August 5 2000 with Montrose defeated 2-0 at Balmoor courtesy of goals from Billy Herd and Martin Johnston.
Reflecting on the day, King added: “Everybody would have been nervous, but I think once the whistle went the players forgot about the hype and it was just a case of ‘we need to win.’
“We completely forgot about it being the first Scottish League game.
“It was amazing day for everyone at the club and the adrenaline kicked in that day and we went on and did the job.”
When Peterhead, along with Elgin City, were elected to the Scottish League, some were apprehensive about leaving the Highland League.
King recalled a mixture of excitement and nerves among the squad and believes the construction of Balmoor in 1997 as a replacement for Recreation Park was also critical to the Blue Toon.
The former Rothes, Montrose and Keith player said: “I understood the concerns, but from a player’s point of view, we were excited about it.
“I know it asked questions of certain players and some felt nervous about going into a new league.
“Having just played in the Highland League, they maybe weren’t sure if they were going to be able to step up.
“But we were fifth in the first season and fourth in the next two so everybody stepped up to the plate.
“Some new signings were brought in with Scottish League experience and that helped as well.
“I think the club responded really well to the step up and having what was a relatively new facility in Balmoor at the time made a big difference as well.
“The playing surface was also fantastic and that was superb for us and they’ve grown the facility over the years as well.
“From the board of directors, the backroom staff, the management and the players as a collective everyone did well and took things in their stride.
“It was a great time for the club and they’ve gone from strength to strength over the year.”
Balmoor made difference – chairman Rodger Morrison
Peterhead chairman Rodger Morrison believes moving to a new stadium helped their bid to get into the Scottish League.
The Blue Toon along with Elgin City left the Highland League 20 years ago after being elected to the Scottish League.
Three years prior to making the step up, the Buchan side had moved to a new stadium. They left Recreation Park for their current ground, Balmoor Stadium.
Peterhead still had to construct the East Stand at the ground as part of their bid to move into the national ranks, but Morrison believes having a new facility helped their case.
He said: “I think when you have a new facility as we had then it was something that was in our favour when trying to step up.
“But at that time it was just the bare bones of the stadium, we still had the East Stand to build and we had to finance the bulk of it ourselves, which was a hard task, but we managed to do it.
“But I do think having that great new premises was a positive for the club when we applied to join the league.”
Although the stadium helped with their application for Scottish League membership Morrison believes the Blue Toon’s on pitch performances prior to their election also helped.
In the 1998-99 season Peterhead won their fifth Highland League title, the Aberdeenshire Cup and the Aberdeenshire Shield as well as winning the Qualifying Cup a season earlier.
Morrison added: “The timing of moving to the new ground and riding high on some great triumphs we were in a great position to make the step-up.
“It would have been a much more difficult prospect had we still been at our previous ground Recreation Park.”