Andy Aitken played for Queen of the South in two spells at a time that marked the resurrection of the club. Playing in three of Scotland´s senior cup finals for Queens and picking up a divisional winners medal, he is one of only two QoS players to have collected four medals from senior Scottish football while at Palmerston. Aitken´s game was marked by being naturally left sided with a useful turn of pace for any six foot plus defender. A local lad, he is a player who unashamedly bursts with pride at his achievements from his 337 games for Queen of the South F.C. Away from Queens he also won a further two divisional titles. In an interview conducted near the end of 2011, this is his story in his own words.
Road to Palmerston.
“I was born in Dumfries in 1978. My road to Palmerston started with Annan Athletic. I srarted with them, worked my way through all the youth teams. About ’95 I started playing in the Southern Counties team which was Annan’s reserve team at the time. And about ’96 I started getting involved with the East of Scotland team which was the first team. Then in the Summer of ’96 I signed a two year deal with Queens.”
“In the negotiations it was Rowan Alexander and Mark Shanks who were the joint managers at the time. Norman Blount who was the chairman then decided to go with a number of youngsters fielding them in with senior pros. I was fortunate to be one of the 12 that they selected, there was a number of us who joined at the time. Myself, Jamie McAllister, David Lilley, Jeff MacLean, Marc Cleeland, Steven Leslie for example, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Getting involved, I thoroughly enjoyed playing football, it was great as a few of the boys that I’d played with at regional level had gone away and then joined Rangers and stuff. Chris Jardine, Barry Nicholson, Ross Milligan, Mark Nichol. You kind of think at that age, it might have passed you by.“
“My debut for Queens was 18th January 1997, we got beat at Stranraer 3-1. I don’t really remember that much about it. About the only thing I remember about it, it was Davie Mathieson’s birthday that day I’m sure. I didn’t know I was going to get involved until just after 2 o’clock when the manager named the team, so I didn’t really have time to get nervous. Just time to get my boots sorted, and just get going really, I didn’t have time to think about the game.”
First spell highlights.
“The Challenge Cup Final, 1997, played at Fir Park against Falkirk. That was massive. I was only 19 years old, a massive, massive game for me as a youngster. Something you look back on. Probably at the time you think, ‘Ah, these things come along all the time’, but looking back obviously they don’t come along that often. Being involved at such an early age was great, I thoroughly enjoyed the day, I remember lots of things about the day.”
“The day before I was involved in a car crash, on the Saturday. Just a minor one but enough to give you a fright. We were staying at the Queens Hotel in Lockerbie and my dad took me through to Lockerbie to get involved, training and stuff. And a car pulled out in front of us and dad’s run straight into the side of it. So I had to make my way to Lockerbie and get checked out by the physio. I got the all clear and was able to carry on. We stayed at the Queens Hotel and we had a good laugh that night. All the boys together, we had a couple of quizzes that night, we watched a film together. Obviously the next day was the travelling up to the game and as you’re travelling up the motorway you’re seeing all the buses and the flags hanging out. It’s a great feeling knowing that so many people are going to support you. Then we got to the ground, you see a sea of blue and white in front of the stadium, its great knowing you’d be so well supported at a final. Its as much for the fans as anything else, not just the players.”
The final itself.
“Just how quickly it all went. I played left back and tried to get on the ball as much as possible. Des McKeown played in front of me, I was trying to get him on the ball and let him do his stuff hopefully. They scored. I think it was Kevin McAllister put a great ball in from the left hand side and David Hagen scored. After that we had a great, great chance at the death. Derek Townsley had a great chance and he put it over the bar from just outside the box to take it a draw. Tommy Bryce was man of the match. A great game, I’m sure there was around 10,000 at it. As a young pro it was just a great experience.”
The promotion campaign.
(A Brewers Cup win at Annan for Captain Aitken was a good omen for the season ahead)
“I’m sure we had a slow start that season [a league cup exit to Airdrie and two draws and a defeat from the first three league games had QoS second bottom of the table]. John Connolly was the manager at the time. That was his second year in charge. He’d done major surgery on the squad by then. I was quite fortunate at the time when John came in I’d previously signed a two year contract where as a lot of the boys had signed a one year contract. If I hadn’t had that two year contract I’d probably have been one of the boys who had left that year. That pre-season John brought a lot of new faces in and a lot of defenders. My work was kind of cut out and I was in and out the team that year at the start of the season. Then I think it was just before Christmas or the end of November, big Jimmy Thomson got a sore one on the cheek bone at Stenhousemuir [Nov 24, a 1-1 draw], and it allowed me to get back in at my favourite position which by now was centre half. I just took it on from there really, involved in most games from then until the end of the season. The biggest thing I really remember is the run we went on from January. We were fifth in the league over Christmas and then that run until the end of the season.”
Games that stand out.
“Not in the early part of that season. More towards the end of the season where the home games in particular you could sense that the local community were starting to get more and more excited because obviously the crowds were getting larger and larger. You could see it every week, the crowds were getting bigger and bigger and bigger. The games that I really remember that season were the last three games. After Hamilton at home [3-1, Sweeney o.g, Weatherson, Lyle] we were definitely getting promoted. Then it was Forfar away, we won that [3-0, Weatherson 2, O´Connor] and celebrated winning the championship there. And the last game at home against Morton [4-0, Weatherson 2, Moore, O´Neill], a full house and we were presented with the trophy which was another great day. Good memories, playing with some really good players; Jimmy Thomson, Steve Bowey, John O’Neill, Peter Weatherson to name but a few.”
(Weatherson and Aitken challenge in later years)
The season after and another medal. The semi final.
“St Mirren away? It was just an unbelievable night. I’m sure it was Robbie Neilson’s debut [27 Aug 2002]. It was great for the fans to watch, it was just one of those games to play in, you don’t know what’s going to happen. It was a great night. Colin Scott was good in goals and made some great saves. Peter Weatherson scored and I’m sure Bowser scored as well [Derek Lyle and Paul Shields also scored]. It was just end to end at the finish, they were pushing us and we were pushing them. It was just end to end, it was just one of those games that everybody wants to be involved in. Just a great game.”
And the final.
“Another Challenge Cup Final. 2002 we had won the league. Then that October [20th] we played in another Challenge Cup Final. Again we just had that belief about us at the start of that season, that we could do it, and do well in the league as we’d been promoted into the First Division, and we had a lot of confidence about us as a squad. We had quite a good squad then, it had a wee bit of depth in it. The club was doing really well as we had a good youth set up, there was more and more 19s coming through, they had a good set up and they had a decent team. We had a great bunch of boys and we all pulled together for one another. You couldn’t really ask for more, all working really, really hard for one another. The boys had that belief that they could do really well. We were adapting to that league, being part time, the first division still had full time teams. The start of that season was the year that Sean O’Connor got his first really bad knee injury, at home to Morton [13 Aug]. It was a shame for big Sean. Then we progressed through that cup run and went to the final and he got back involved. He only came on for the last 15 minutes against Brechin up at neutral Clyde. Again good memories. We stayed in a hotel up at Cumbernauld, the club looked after us. We had a good training session then again we had another couple of quizzes that night.”
“Memories of the game itself, I thought we completely dominated Brechin in that game. John O’Neill scored, it was definitely a goal. I know Brechin fans won’t see it that way but it was definitely a goal. And then in the second half I played the ball down the left hand side to wee Joe McAlpine who whipped in a great ball for Derek Lyle to nod home, it was a really good goal. Andy Goram was with us at that time and that night after the final we were back in Dumfries, and had a great night to be fair.”
(The Bells Cup winning side line up for a photo call on a bitterly cold night)
“I’d had eight years at Queens. It was getting to the stage where, I think I was 26 at the time and I just wanted to try and give full time football a go. I was getting to that stage where I didn’t think it was going to happen for me. To have that opportunity which was on my door step, I wouldn’t have to move my family anywhere, it was just too good. The only thing I had a problem with at that time was I had a really good job with the local council.”
“I was Emergency Planning Officer. Putting plans into place to deal with different things like Chapelcross Power Station being nuclear, the major gas line that runs through D&G, medical emergencies, major road crashes that would mean closed roads for days, stuff like that. It was a really interesting job. That was a thing that was holding me back. Also Gretna, the third division was a drop down in the standard that I was playing at that time but the opportunity to go full time, that was probably the biggest thing for me at that age.”
“But, I never really enjoyed it at Gretna. I knew after the first couple of weeks that it really wasn’t going to be for me, the club wasn’t right in terms of a couple of things. A couple of things never worked out for me personally. Coming from Queens where the squad was all pulling together, going to Gretna where the squad was probably a little bit fragmented at times. It just didn’t suit me personally. We had the pleasure of a couple of wins, we won the third division, we won the second division, but nah, it wasn’t really for me. By that time in my second year I’d damaged my knee up at Peterhead [15th Oct 2005]. I didn’t get back into the team nor into the manager’s plans. I had the opportunity to come back to Queens and by that time I would have walked back from Gretna to sign for Queens.”
“Obviously my confidence was a little bit down then. I can understand the reception I got from some fans, it wasn’t great at that time. From going to Gretna and coming back, you can understand that. I think overall I was pretty well received. Then looking at the time I was under no illusions that I could have a fight, we were in a wee bit of trouble, second bottom of the league 12 points behind. Looking at the squad I was under no illusions that it could be done to keep ourselves safe. I played in some massive games that year at home and away. A derby game against Stranraer at home which was a big game which we won [18 Mar, Bowey the scorer]. That’s one thing I’d say for Ian McCall, he was a great motivator to his players, that’s one thing you’d definitely say for him.”
(Andys Thomson and Aitken return to the fold)
Indeed Queens´ form was much improved following Aitken´s first game on his return on 28th January 2006, as a sub in a 2-0 home win against Airdrie with O´Neill and Burns scoring. Things at Stranraer were very different where after the January departure of Allan Jenkins to Gretna, results immediately collapsed so dramatically that Queens were eventually to finish four points above them.
“Gordon Chisholm. I’d joined in the January. Then we were away to Coleraine that pre-season, that’s where I done my cruciate in the Summer of 2006. The club paid for the operation so I was quite lucky in that respect, private with one of the top surgeon’s in Britain, Dr Derek Bickerstaff in Sheffield. Touch wood, I’ve had no such problems with my knee since. I’m thankful to the club for that, they didn’t have to do it. Two weeks after doing it I was down getting the first operation and back down a couple of weeks later to get the final one, it was a success. I’m really thankful to the club and the chairman and the physio John Kerr who worked me really, really hard. If it wasn’t for John I probably wouldn’t have got back to the standard that I was at before.”
Then came that crazy year in the history of Queen of the South.
“Before that we were kind of half and half, part time / full time, training a couple of nights a week, we were training a couple of days a week. And that year we went full time and moved training up to Glasgow Green. It was a slightly smaller squad but it was a good squad in terms of the quality that we had. Gordon decided I probably wasn’t suited to his tea cup every week. I was disappointed at the time but then I knew if I worked hard and kept my head down, because I wasn’t prepared to leave, I was quite happy to stay there and fight for my place, which I did do.”
“The first game was the Scottish Cup game up at Peterhead after maybe two months of not really getting involved. The club weren’t hitting the heights that we should have been at that time. It was good to get back involved playing again and going up to Peterhead and a convincing win that set us on our way really in the competition. My hamstring was tight and I needed that game to get back on my feet and get my confidence back. A good game away, because it’s a difficult place to go especially on a winter’s day in November [24th].”
“Linlithgow at home in the next round on a foggy day [12 Jan 08], it was one of those games when you don’t know what to expect. And to be fair to Linlithgow they brought a fantastic sound down that day. It was really foggy to start with. I’m sure Dobbs scored [16 mins] just to settle our nerves, they put us under a lot of early pressure. Then big Jimmy scored from a corner. 4-0 at the end [O´Connor and a MacArthur o.g.]. Their crowd had a great away support that day.”
“Morton away [2nd Feb]. The pitch is excellent. Sean scored. That day wee John Stewart came off the bench and scored a great goal, at 1-0. A great goal [86 mins], a really difficult one under pressure, he hit it first time, it was a great strike just to settle our nerves as we were kind of holding on at the end. He got that on the break and it was a great finish. It settled us down just to see the game out.”
“A pleasing thing about many games through that cup run from the defender’s point of view was the clean sheets. Clean sheets until the semi final. We were really lucky to get Jamie MacDonald. We got him on loan from Hearts, you never really know what you are going to get with a player on loan. Some of them maybe come and are a little bit disheartened that they’ve been sent on loan. Jamie threw himself into the club and done really, really well for us that year.
Next was 8th March against Dundee who were missing cup tied Colin McMenamin. In form Queens went into the game on a run of nine games unbeaten with the previous defeat having been against Billy Reid’s runaway leaders Hamilton, the Accies side of McCarthy and McArthur.
“It was absolutely peeing down and stopped raining just before the game started. It was wet but again the crowd was fantastic, both sets of fans were amazing that day. I remember the terracing behind the goal was full, it was packed to the absolute gunnels that day. Dundee at that time were a good side with a bit of experience through their team. It must have been a great game to watch. It was a goalless first half. Dobbs scored early in the second half. Jamie, great goalkeeper but he’s also got an assist; massive kick forward, Dobbs has had a fantastic first touch and he just hits the second touch in his stride. A great finish, he hit it early which he always did, that was one thing about Dobbs, he always hit his shots early.”
The Jean-Pierre Papin of Palmerston.
“Then obviously, they were coming back at us, and Ryan McCann’s scored a great goal from 84 yards. It was late on when they got that corner and the goalkeeper, Craig Samson’s came up. You’re thinking to yourself, just get it anywhere to clear it. From Burnsy’s 50-50 the ball goes out to Ryan McCann. It was just a great finish and that was more of less the game finished. Fantastic way to end a fantastic game.”
“Through out that time from the Peterhead game forward, we were playing more of less with the same team week in, week out. There wasn’t a lot of changes in the team and I think that’s a good thing.”
As Aitken says, the team were doing the business on the pitch and Chisholm seen no need to try to fix something that wasn´t broken. Its worth sparing a moment though for someone who played in the win at Peterhead but was the unluckiest player at Queens throughout all of the 2008 dream. Neil Scally had done well since joining Queens as a no nonsense, dependable, midfield ball winner. Scally was subbed in the 13th minute in the 2-0 defeat at Dunfermline on 22nd December 2007. Serious injury meant Scally never played first team football again until coming on in the 87th minute in the 2-2 draw at Morton, 3rd January 2009.
MacDonald has already been described. The rest of the team.
“McCann. Every sentence would have a swear word in it. Ryan came in and he done really well. When he came in he hadn’t played much as a right back but he read the game really well and he just always worked his socks off for 90 minutes. Up and down for 90 minutes and his use of the ball was fantastic, it was really was. He made himself a vital member of that squad that year.”
“Centre half, me and big Jimmy. Just a great partnership. We both had our strengths and we both had our weaknesses, I think we just complemented each other well. I’ve got a lot of time for Jimmy. One of my best friends out the game, away from football. Probably the fact that I’d played beside Jimmy for so long and we knew each other so well that probably really helped us that year, something we could really build on. Jimmy won more than his fair share of headers but I think I was just that wee bit quicker in behind Jimmy. As a partnership I don’t think there’s been many better centre half QoS partnerships, certainly in my time at Queens. Putting us together we played nearly 700 QoS games, I played over 300 [337 to be exact], he played over 300 [358 games for JT].”
“Bob Harris. Bob came into the club that Summer and he had a bit of a slow start. I always remember we were playing up at East Fife at the beginning of that season [8 Aug 07] and Bob came off the bench and he got sent off really early after he came on with a really rash challenge. I think he let himself down a bit and he went into his shell for a wee bit after that and it took him a wee bit of time to get back into the swing of things. But once he did, a young lad full of confidence, he went on to have a great year that year. Confident, he’d just get on the ball, pushing forward, his use of the ball, his passing from left back was really good. That’s something sticks in the mind with Bob, his crossing ability.”
“Paul Burns. I’ve a lot of time for wee Burnsy. I played beside Paul at the time of his break through at the end of the season in 2003. I remember his first tackle was against an experienced player. If you looked at him at the time he was quite lightweight, I’m not saying he’s built huge now but then he was even lighter, but just the heart of a lion. He would run through a brick wall for you, he would go into any tackle. Its just the way he’s always been. His enthusiasm for the game at that age was undeniable. He loved playing the game and he would work so hard for you. Again his use of the ball was excellent and he got us out of so many problems just with his work rate. Fair play to Paul he’s come along way, currently playing in the SPL.”
“Tosh and MacFarlane. A couple of experienced players that complemented each other really well. Tosh liked to get forward and create where as Neilly was just happy to sit in there and do the dirty side of things, just break up play. That let Tosh get forward and created a lot for us breaking forward and getting beyond the strikers. That’s difficult to deal with as a centre half. A really good partnership.”
“Jamie McQuilken. Again lots of experience at playing at a high level. You could probably see in a lot of players that year, especially the older players that, you could sense something was happening, great motivation and enthusiasm for that season. Jamie’s a great example. Jamie’s partnership with Bob is one of the reasons we done so well that year, they worked really well together. When Bob was bombing on, Jamie was quite happy to sit at left back for him, and vice versa. Jamie’s ability on the ball and crossing ability was great and we got a lot of joy from Jamie’s use of the ball down the left hand side. Again, we always seemed to work hard for each other as a team and Jamie was no different.”
“Sean and Dobbs. Yet another good partnership, Dobbs´ ability and Sean’s work rate. Again they complemented each other really, really well. At that time Dobbs would probably tell you that he was a wee bit lazy at closing down. Sean at that time was probably the best I’ve ever seen him, running past Dobbs to reach a left or a right back. And Sean’s ability in the air was a great out-ball for us if we were under pressure. His ability to hold it in and let us get up the park was great.”
“Dobbs’ finishing – probably in my whole career I’ve never played with a more natural finisher than Dobbs. You’d see him in training and every day you’d shake your head thinking, ‘How did he put that one away?’ Dobbs’ ability was frightening, honestly. I’m really pleased that he’s went down South and done so well, because he deserves it. He worked hard because, he’d been at Rangers, he went to Hibs, eventually he’s knuckled down and worked hard to got his ‘A’ game back on and he’s got himself a big move and done really well.”
The Aberdeen semi and contribution to the first goal.
“It was from the right, Cannso’s whipped a ball in. Its kind of dropped, the keeper’s fell and tumbled it. I was kind of in two minds to try and turn and shoot but being a centre half that’s not usually what I do. So I tried to play a smarter game and held the ball up for a second and looked to see if anyone’s coming for a run. Its Tosher’s run and I laid it away into his path and tried to step away to clear an area for him. Tosher’s put away a great finish into the top corner and it’s a great start for us.”
(Aitken rightly anticipates a possible opportunity before he sets up Tosh for the opening goal in the Cup semi-final)
“The second half. It was 1 all at half time. More frustrated than anything else cause we’d done so well up until that point. The second half, I’m sure it must have been a great game to be at to watch from the neutrals point of view. The second half to play in, you didn’t know what was going to happen next, end to end stuff. Its not a game I’ve actually sat down and watched simply because some of the goals we lost were schoolboy defending. We worked really hard to keep in the game but defences definitely not on top that day, a couple of slack goals. Then the celebrations at the end. I thought when we went 2-1 then at 2 each you’re wondering if that’s it done. But that year we were working so hard for each other and why not be confident that we could beat anybody. Burnsy’s scored then Sean’s scored then John Stewart’s scored with a wonderful finish at the back post. A great game, a great day and really good night out that night as well. We went out in Glasgow that night and seen a lot of Queens fans in Glasgow that night and obviously they’d enjoyed their day as well.”
An opponent from that game, Barry Nicholson.
“Me and Barry came through the same age groups at school and regional teams. Who’d have thought that two boys from Dumfries would pit their wits against each other in a Scottish Cup semi final. I’ve a lot of time for Barry even when I see him now. We were on a night out a couple of years ago in Liverpool, he was at Preston and straight over talking away no problem at all. And Barry was probably their man of the match that day, he was probably their best player. I thought he was good for them, head and shoulders above everybody else in the Aberdeen team that day. Maybe just playing against his home team he just wanted to show a wee bit extra but I thought he was excellent that day. Everything that Aberdeen did well that day he was involved in.”
“I was disappointed with that break in between the end of the league season and the final. Obviously its hurt us. There’s arguments both ways. Rangers played on the Thursday night before and that probably hurt them, and we’d hadn’t a game for four weeks. Our last game of the league season was away at Dunfermline in which we got beat. On the Sunday we were going to Spain. We had five days in the sun. Just a small village outside Marbella. It was just about team building and working hard but enjoying yourself as well in having a bit of team bonding. We came back and it was about trying to be at your peak ready for the final fitnesswise. We played a couple of friendly games, against St Mirren and against Hearts. The Hearts game was around the Tuesday before the cup final. With Rangers playing against Zenit St Petersburg in the UEFA Cup Final, it didn’t need any motivation for the players in terms of what we were playing up against.”
Fair comment by Aitken in recognising the commendable achievement by Rangers in reaching the UEFA Cup Final. However, playing a style of football in Europe described by one Spanish newspaper as, ´Catenaccio escandaloso por el Escocés,´ nor did it mean Queens were without a hope.
“The manager didn’t have to worry about motivating us to get us going. For the cup final itself we stayed at the Hilton on the Friday night in Glasgow. That morning we went for a walk into Glasgow, and a walk back and had our pre-match. All the families came to the hotel before the game then we travelled to Hampden when you see the fans. You don’t see that as a player because the night before you are at the hotel and you don’t see the people travelling until you get there and you see the blue and white of the Queens fans and it’s just an unbelievable site. You only see it for five minutes because you’re inside the concourse, underneath Hamden in the changing rooms and you never really see it. So you go on to the pitch, you’ve got your shirt and tie on to see what the pitch is like. Then you go and get changed then you come out and you see the fans start to build up. It’s a great feeling to see that. Being with Queens for so many years having those great times that we’ve had, two Challenge Cup finals and winning the league and you think to yourself, its more for the fans that deserve it than anything else. Hopefully their enjoying themselves, it’s a great spectacle.”
Pre match comment.
“It’s a one off and just go and enjoy yourself more than anything and appreciate it. One thing about the game, they’d been at Aberdeen on the Thursday night and they had a bit of a sluggish start. And I think were the same cause we’d had that lay off and were a bit apprehensive in the first half and we showed them too much respect.”
“We kind of held our own. Then around 30 – 35 minutes they started getting possession and hurting us a little bit more. Then they got their first goal which was a free kick awarded against Tosh at the edge of the box. It was just Tosher being Tosher, he was just that enthusiastic to get to the ball and he got there just a little bit too late. And then that strike. An unbelievable strike. What I remember about that strike is Bob Harris came out to close it down and the strike’s went right through his legs into the top corner. And there’s not a thing Jamie could have done about it.”
“As a player you hold your hand up and say it was a great strike, its not as if its an individual error. Its just a great strike.”
“Then the second. DaMarcus Beasley had a half chance from a ball over the top and he scooped it wide. Then obviously they’ve got their second goal just before the break. A high ball to the back post and the defence have got in each other’s way really and its fell to Beasley who’s just slotted it through Jamie’s legs. I’m sure Jamie would have been disappointed with the way he and we lost that goal. More frustrated with the way in that you are looking for your centre halves to clear your lines and just that little bit of mis-communication has hurt us. Its not a great time for us to concede just before half time. At 1-0 you’re thinking you’re capable, we can come back from that. 2-0 its backs up against the wall.”
“We had maybe 2 or 3 minutes of just silence between all the boys. And then, he’s not went mental, he just let us know in no uncertain terms that we’ve embarrassed ourselves in that first half, its not been a good enough standard for what we’d set ourselves, our families were at the game and not to let them down basically. That´s the only encouragement we needed at half time. We knew it ourselves, we hadn’t really competed or got in near the game. He hit the nail right on the head, his motivation at that time was absolutely perfect. It was all we needed, he got us really up for it and we were psyched up and we just wanted to get out as quickly as possible for the second half.”
“The first goal, Tosher. Dobbs has played Sean in. Sean has knocked it past Carlos Cuéllar. Sean was very honest and that was one of those times he could have slowed his run down, took the tackle and got a penalty for it. He’s jumped the tackle and knocked a great ball in and Tosher’s put it in the net with, I don’t know what you want to call it.”
A potent finish indeed from the penetrating Tosh.
“Obviously that gives you a lift. We competed really well after that and went straight up the park and scored the next goal. We were dominating. Even after we scored we got the ball back and we were putting them under pressure in their pitch. Bob’s whipped in an unbelievable ball from the free kick on the right hand side and Jimmy’s rose above three defenders and he’s headed a great goal past Alexander. That was one thing with Jimmy. He was unbelievable in the air with attacking the ball. It was an unbelievable header. Honestly, in all my time I’ve never seen Jimmy run quicker in my life than after he scored that goal. He nearly run the distance of the pitch. Fair play to him. Jimmy that year was 37. As that season progressed he was getting more and more motivated. In the back of his mind he’s maybe wondering if this is his last year and if next year he’s going to play or not. Fair play to the big man. As that season progressed he got more and more motivated by what was coming ahead and his enthusiasm for the game was increasing as well from the January onwards.”
“In a 10 minute spell after we scored the equaliser if we’d have scored again I think we’d have gone on to win that game. Then Boyd’s came along again and scored with a header. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great header but we’re disappointed that he’s got that time in the box. He’s good in the air, he’s always scored great goals with his head. From in the box he’s no different with his head. It deflated us a wee bit that third. We’d put an awful lot of effort in at that point, a hot day when you are tiring and we just didn’t have it in us. At the last minute though Bob has had a free kick, a great opportunity but it’s missed.”
(Cup final defence - Aitken, Thomson and MacDonald)
In the UEFA Cup Andy Aitken was an unused sub for both games but still able to provide his insight on events.
“Having been involved in the UEFA Cup, it was just a great experience. We didn’t have that much time after pre-season to get ourselves sorted for that game which was obviously a massive game for us. Its frustrating that the game wasn’t played at Palmerston because I think if the game had been played at Palmerston we’d have gave ourselves more of a chance. Going to Airdrie that night as well, it was a wet, wet, night. I thought the game might have been called off. We stayed at the Hilton at Coatbridge and with the heavy, heavy rain some of the roads were closed. We could see the UEFA officials at the time were kind of panicking. That was my abiding memory, the pitch was very wet. If it had been a domestic game like a league match that game would have been off.”
“Then we’ve lost an early goal from a corner and that’s put us on the back foot. After that we got ourselves back in the game when Sean scored from a free kick on the left. Nordsjaelland were a good side. They were a big physical team who could get the ball down and play. They caused us problems that night.” 2-1 win to the Danes.
“The away game a couple of weeks later was great to have that experience. We travelled to Copenhagen, just outside Copenhagen we stayed at, it was great facilities, great facilities that we stayed at. At Nordsjaelland, the pitch wasn’t great but the stadium that they had, the stadium was first class. It just goes to show what can be done for a small town. The travelling support was great as well that night. Bob scored that early goal with a great free kick. Bob was really confident at that point with the way he was striking the ball. I would take Bob from that kind of distance any day of the week. We played Falkirk that year and he hit a similar type of goal in the pouring rain and from that sort of distance I thought Bob was unstoppable. I’m sure others would have ideas about trying to place it in the corner but with Bob’s striking ability I fancied him to score. Great strike, great goal. You get confidence from that but I think we probably tired second half. It was disappointing at the end as we had come so far that season before and the UEFA Cup was like a wee extension of that, it was just a great season that we had. Who would have thought when I first went to Queens in ´96 that so many years later I’d be with them in the UEFA Cup. The way the club progressed over the years. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Queens, apart from my knee injury of course.”
I think I only scored four goals in my time at Queens [all in the first spell]. I scored a goal up at East Fife away at the old Methil ground. I made a run from the half way line and broke the offside trap and one on one with the goalkeeper I was kind of panicking, a team mate was screaming at me to square it to him. But I gave the goalkeeper the eyes and slotted it underneath him. I think I scored on my 100th appearance for the club as well, a header at home against Partick Thistle [20th Oct 99] at the back stick headed back across the other way. The most pleasing thing for me though as a defender was clean sheets rather than scoring ability.”
“At the end of that season it wasn’t a great season for me, in and out the team and I didn’t get a good run of form. I had the chance to go part time with Ayr and I thought it was a good time to do that and start looking for a decent job outside football. The only problem I had was Ayr was two hours away for me. The travelling was a killer. My wife had just given birth to my daughter. Pre season up at Ayr was Monday night, Wednesday night, all day Saturday and all day Sunday. The travelling was really difficult for me personally at that point. I was starting work at seven o’clock, finishing at three, travelling up to Ayr. Then training for an hour and a half, two hours, to then travel for two hours back home. Its not the best road up through Sanquhar and New Cumnock. To do all that three or four times a week was hard; hard for me and hard for my family as well since I wasn’t at home as much. That was my only gripe about Ayr United as I thoroughly enjoyed my time there.”
Injury at Palmerston.
“At home. Obviously you are always looking forward to coming back…”
Wait a minute. Let´s just wind that back. Andy Aitken is playting for Ayr against Queens at Palmerston and describes it as a home game. Where the heart is?
“Aye. Queens at home. Aye, that was away. Aye, I know.”
“I got a fantastic reception from the fans that day [29 Aug 2009], in the first half they were singing a song about me. In the first half I thought we competed really well that day. Then I went up for a header with Derek Holmes and I just felt my ankle go. I was out for probably 8 or 9 weeks after that [next game was 24 Oct]. It was frustrating. I got a good response when I went but obviously the injury curtailed me after that. I’d had a good start there and my form was good going into that game. I probably had something to prove to myself at the start of that season after the poor end to the previous season at Queens. After getting a good level of fitness, for that to happen was disappointing. But I still enjoyed my season at Ayr and I enjoyed playing beside the boys that were there. With the 8 – 9 weeks that I missed after that, then you’re trying to get back into the swing of things and get the level of fitness.
(A bad knock for Andy on his Ayr return to Palmerston)
In his season at Ayr Aitken scored once against each of Stirling and Inverness. Then full circle.
“Back to Annan. At the end of that season Ayr had been relegated and that was disappointing as it was the first relegation of my career. Ayr offered me another year but with the travelling and family it was just going to be too much for another year. Annan were in the third division by then and offered me a two year contract. On my doorstep, a five minute walk from my home. By that time I’d joined Loreburne Housing as Housing Officer and was enjoying working with them and learning new things. I joined Annan as a player firstly and then big Derek Townsley decided to leave and the club offered me the assistant manager’s job. Its been a great grounding for me at Annan getting involved in that coaching side and learning, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.”
“Last year we got to the play offs but were just that wee bit away in terms of our squad. The club’s been great and allowed the manager to go and strengthen the team in the areas we need to strengthen. A great start to the season, 8 wins out of 9 ahead of the Challenge Cup semi final [9th October]. I think there’s something there that we can build on at Annan. If we don’t get automatic promotion we could get to the play offs again. A lot of players at the club have had that experience and have had that disappointment of getting so far and they want to go that the little step further. That hopefully motivates them.”
(Aitken shepherds the ball back to Summersgill in the Division 3 play off final 2010/11)
Best player played against on the same pitch.
If I am being honest at the time in my first spell at Queens, we always played against Stranraer and it was quite a fierce rivalry we had. Ian Harty who is now at Annan. He always caused us problems and he was always on form and never stopped working. You knew you were in for a tough game and his ability to score, he always popped up with vital goals for Stranraer. There’s others that have come and gone over the years but he’s the one who sticks out most in my mind. He went to Clyde and he scored goals and done well wherever he went and we’ve picked him up and now he’s at Annan where he’s doing likewise, he’s scoring there as well.”
Best player played beside at Queens.
“John O’Neil in the time he was scoring goals and Peter Weatherson was great as well. But for me personally its got to be big Jimmy. When I first went to Queens, Jimmy joined in the January. I’d just made my debut but Jimmy took me under his wing. At that point I looked up to Jim and worked really hard, he was great beside at training and he would show me different things. I’ve just so much respect for Jimmy as an individual. And we complimented each other really, really well in our time there together. Aye, for me big Jimmy."
(Aitken and Thomson paired together in the Scottish Cup Semi-Final victory)
Aitken´s choice is somewhat poetic as it is Thomson who matches Aitken as being the only two players in QoS history to collect four senior medals playing for the club. Aitken´s 337 first team appearances place him 15th in the Queen of the South all time appearances list.
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