Auchinleck Talbot are now over 100 years old but Talbot were not the first Junior club in Auchinleck that honour fell to the short lived Auchinleck Rangers who lasted a mere two years before disbanding
An attempt to resurrect the club in 1903 failed miserably and it wasn’t until 1907 when a public meeting at Kirklands Green saw some real interest to bring the Junior grade to the village. Auchinleck’s main problem was the lack of a decent football pitch and this soon ended when local landowner Lord Talbot de Malahide gifted Beechwood Park to the cause in 1908.
Beechwood had never been used as a football ground and had only hosted fetes and festivals usually put on by the local Silver Band. After this great gesture by Lord Talbot it is now easy to see where the club got its name, and to make it even more appealing Lord Talbot only asked for £5 annual rent which he never collected. By the summer of 1909 and under the guidance of secretary Robert Allan Talbot had joined the SJFA and Cumnock FA.
Talbot’s Beechwood Park was completed and opened in July 1909 with a fundraiser between the Old Players and Merchants. Talbot’s first ever match took place at Beechwood on the 5th August 1909 in a charity match for a stricken miner against juvenile club Highouse Rangers. Two days later they took on the reserve side of Scottish Cup holders Kilwinning Rangers in a bounce match which the Cumnock Chronicle labeled “The Debut”.
The early years were hard going for the fledgling club their first game came against Cronberry Eglington in the Cumnock & District league< the Talbot going down 3-1. The clubs first victory came in September at Patna where the Bot recorded a 3-2 win over the local Doon Athletic.
Up until the Great War Talbot struggled with league football showing more interest in the cup competitions and as history shows Talbot failed to complete a full league card until 1921 which resulted in many a fine by the aggrieved league committee. However cup football was a great draw to Talbot and by 1916 they had taken part in 10 cup finals winning five of them. Their first piece of silverware came in 1912 when they took the Cumnock & District Cup hammering Kello Rover 6-1 in the final.
After the war Talbot came of age in 1921 when they won the Ayrshire Cup for the first time, and their first league title in the shape of the South Ayrshire Championship. Once again it was cup football that was the big lure to Talbot and it was the local trophies that were a big draw to the club. However due to the closing of mines in the area and the loss of the miners row clubs like Glenbuck and Cronberry the football in the district was in decline. It hit Talbot hard and they went dormant during the 1928/29 season due to financial trouble.
The club bounced back the following season and by 1931 they had taken the Ayrshire Consolation Cup but by 1932 the South Ayrshire FA had collapsed due to falling membership leaving Talbot, Kello, Glenafton and Cumnock homeless. In 1932 the clubs went cap in hand to the North Ayrshire dominated Western League for admittence but were refused entry with complaints about travel. In 1933 the clubs were elected under a financial proviso that benefited the northern clubs.
Talbot had found a home in the Western League but up until 1968 after it was abolished by the Chester Report it was never a happy one. Talbot struggled badly in the opening few years of their Western campaign and by 1937 they were so bad that a prominent Ayrshire weekly labelled them as “A bunch of hams, and football imposters” Angered by the clubs exploits Talbot held a public meeting for help financially and this proved to be successful helping Talbot to reach the Ayrshire Cup final in 1938 and winning it a year later just before the close for a second world war.
Talbot came back in 1945 with an ash pitch which proved to be a disaster forcing them to ground share with Cumnock.
But this was little more than a slight setback as the club embarked on their greatest era so far when in the 1947/48 season they took five major trophies including the West of Scotland Cup and followed that up in 1949 when the Scottish was secured. The Scottish was the pinnacle for Talbot, they had battled to the semi stage way back in 1924 only to lose to Baillieston by the only goal of the game. 69,000 turned up at Hampden Park to see the Bot beat the mighty Petershill 3-2 in a match that football historian Bob Crampsey dubbed the greatest ever final.
Fast forward nine years and you find Auchinleck Talbot the Scottish Cup winners being involved in a vote to wind up the club’s affairs due to financial problems. However it wasn’t all doom and gloom in this hectic period. Talbot won the Ayrshire Cup again along with a few domestic trophies the last being the Western League Southern title in 1957 which was the last honour until 1977. Off the park Beechwood’s first covered enclosure was erected in 1959 and a ground attendance record of 9,500 was set in 1950 against Irvine Meadow.
By the 60’s Talbot were in dire straights with no money they could not entice players and they were fighting a losing battle against vandalism at Beechwood. It looked only a matter of time before the once proud club was heading for the wall.
The Glory Years
Auchinleck Talbot rose from the ashes in 1972 but this is no pun intended as in 1972 vandals had burned down the dressing rooms and to cap of horrendous time local rivals Cumnock Juniors inflicted Talbots biggest ever defeat when Talbot were sunk 11-0.
Enough was enough and the club held a public meeting at the Community Centre which was well attended. At last the public rallied round and new dressing and committee rooms were erected. In 1973 ex player Jimsy Kirkland was elected manager and the tide had turned for Talbot. Results improved to the extent that Talbot reached the final of the League Cup in 1974 but for some reason Kirkland resigned in 1976 to be replaced by Willie Knox in 1977. The man who is dubbed “God” in Auchinleck started to weave his spell and in his first season the League Cup and League title were captured. The following season he started Talbot’s domination of the West of Scotland Cup which saw the trophy sitting in the Beechwood trophy cabinet an amazing nine times between 1979 and 1989.
However Knox who was later to be awarded the British Empire Medal for his services to football and the local community had bigger fish to fry and his sights were set on the Scottish Cup. Semi final defeats in 1983 and 84 didn’t auger well but the die was cast in 1986 when Talbot won the Centenary Scottish Cup at Hampden against Pollok. They went on to become the first club to win the Scottish three times in a row defeating Kilbirnie in 87 and Petershill in 88. However Knox wasn’t finished and he added another two Scottish Cup wins in 1991 and 1992 making him the most successful manager in the Junior game. Knox left the club and Talbot went into a transitional period under the guidance of first John Minford and the Dennis Gray. Both managers kept up the honours collection but the Scottish and West eluded them. Talbot then appointed Tam McDonald the treble hero as manager and he took the club to the 2002 Scottish Cup final only to lose to Linlithgow Rose by the only goal of the game. McDonald was replaced by Tommy Sloan and Ian Jardine in 2003 with the pairing having to rescue Talbot from relegation from the newly formed Premier League.
Jardine soon left and was replaced by Sloan’s old team mate Alan McLuckie. The pairing was a success with the Scottish Cup won in 2006 after a 2-1 win over Bathgate, and the Premier League- title was added with a nail biting 2-1 win at Beechwood against Maryhill.
In July Talbot embarked on a two game tour of Northern Ireland with a 5-1 win over Ballyclare Comrades and a tough 0-0 draw with Carrick Rangers. This was a resounding success with just under 100 Talbot fans making the journey.
In 2009 Talbot added the Scottish Cup once more with a 2-1 win over Clydebank and two year later the trophy was back at Beechwood for the ninth time when Mussleburgh were defeated 2-1 at Rugby Park. Talbot reached the final again in 2012 but even though they were odds on favourites they lost out to Shotts 2-1 at Livingstone.
On the 7th January the club was to embark on its biggest day when after wins against Lossiemouth, Threave and Vale of Leithen in the senior Scottish Cup saw Talbot take on Hearts at Tynecastle. 2,500 Talbot fans turned up to roar their favourites on, but after a spirited display they lost out to an 84th minute goal going down 1-0. The actual game was to end in controversy when Gordon Pope saw his last minute equaliser chalked of by the linesman, another moment in Talbot folklore. In 2012 Talbot won the league title and a double by securing the West of Scotland Cup at Newlandsfield. However in 2013 Talbot got their hands on the famous old Scottish Junior Cup again defeating Linlithgow Rose 1-0 again at Livingston in front of an almost capacity crowd. Talbot secured the League title undefeated setting a record and securing the prestigious double for the second time, adding the Evening a Times Cup previously ineligible to clubs from Ayrshire. The West of Scotland and League title double was achieved the year after along with the Evening a Times Cup. Talbot achieved the League and Scottish double again in 2015 defeating Musselburgh 2-1 in a tight final at Rugby Park, whilst securing the league title with a convincing home win against their oldest and feircest rivals, Cumnock. In 2016 a strong challenge from Hurlford meant Talbot would win the West of Scotland Cup and League double again, beating Hurlord in the last league game to lift the title while defeating the same club to lift the west. The EveningTimes Trophy was added again to give Talbot another fine treble. The Sloan era almost replicating the glory years of the Knox teams.
Talbot during these successful decades were determined to have a home befitting their status. A Building Committee (created in 1989) added a covered enclosure and a 460 seat stand to Beechwood. The Building Committee ended it’s 24 year life in 2013 and a new vibrant group was established an emalgamation of the Building Committee and the Centenary Committee, they became the Beechwood Regeneration Committee. The new committee have in the three years since conception built a brand new enclosure to replace the old Main Street Side enclosure that had to be demolished in the 1990s, replaced the seating in the stand by procuring and transporting almost new seats from Bristol City and have upgraded the toilet facilities providing new male, female and disabled toilets truly bring Beechwood into the 21st century. The club also have invested heavily in new drainage and professional turf maintenance on the pitch over the past decade creating a surface akin to a bowling green. All these improvements making Beechwood one of the best stadiums in the Junior grade. Talbot intend facilitating an SFA club license part of which is a ground licence, the ground all but up to that standard, in fact in many regards well beyond the standard required. New catering facilities are next on the agenda, plans have been submitted to local authority and the club are hopeful the new building will be in place this season.