The rise of East Stirlingshire Football Club from its beginnings until the end of the 19th Century can only be described as meteoric. By 1900 Shire had joined the Scottish Football League. They got in late on the act and had already rejected one invitation before accepting a second.
If anything characterised the club during this period it was crowd trouble and financial crises. Merchiston Park certainly had a reputation as a ‘volatile’ venue with referees having to be smuggled out lest they be set upon by an angry mob. There wasn’t enough money in the bank. The community rallied round, though, and the Falkirk Herald started a “Shilling For The Shire” campaign. The donations saved the day and Shire were back in the league. Just two years later the coffers were almost empty again. In 1937 the players were asked to accept big pay cuts or a free transfer. Most opted for the latter and a scratch team had to be found on the eve of a trip to Dundee United. They did well to lose only 6-1.
Shire were furious at being excluded from the wartime league in 1939 it paled in their fury at being deliberately blocked from SFL football when the leagues resumed in 1946. As a sop by the big clubs they were admitted into what was called the C Division. Along with some other ‘undesirables’ like Leith Athletic, Montrose and Brechin City they competed in a league made up of the top club’s reserve teams. They got their own back by claiming the C Division title in 1947/48 and along the way set a club record by winning 13 matches in a row. But life back in the ‘proper’ league was too much and Shire suffered instant relegation.
It took until the summer of 1974 to wake the club from its slumbers. Shire were on the lookout for a manager, the board of directors wanted someone young and go-ahead who was looking to make a name for himself. Chairman Willie Muirhead was in Germany watching Scotland in the World Cup finals when he asked a well-respected figure for a name he could recommend. The well-respected figure was Ally McLeod and the name he suggested was Alex Ferguson.
Sir Alex Ferguson, as he now is, was manager of East Stirlingshire for 117 days. In that time he galvanised the club, brought a new-found belief to the players, briefly took them to third league and, oh yes, led them to their first league victory over Falkirk in 70 years. English businessman, Spencer Fearn negotiated his way into the club, promising investment and the end of minimal wage payments. After protracted negotiations he won control of the football operations in a complex agreement with the previous major shareholder. The new millenium brought a bright spot for Shire. The team collected some silverware by winning the Stirlingshire Cup and they reached the semi-final of a national competition in 2000 before losing to Livingston in the Challenge Cup.
Financial problems have been the lot of many part-time teams in Scotland for many more years than they would care to admit. And in the summer of 2002 Shire were faced with a situation where money was really tight. It was a plight not unlike the one secretary Finlay Potterhad to deal with in November 1937. The deal, as far as the players were concerned was pretty much the same; wages were being cut and you could stay at the lower rate or find yourself a new club. But after five successive last place finishes, and Shire on a final warning about their performances from the league things couldn’t go wrong. At the start of the 2007/08 season Shire were a sensation, briefly top of the league, but things fell flat and when Jim McInally took over in March the club was last again. McInally revived things and on the last day a win over Montrose sealed ninth place. It was a bittersweet day though, because it was Shire’s last game at Firs Park. It was being sold for houses and a move to Stenhousemuir’s Ochilview went though.
Fearn’s backing allowed Shire to invest heavily in experienced players and in 2008/09 the bad days seemed over. The promotion play-offs were achieved but defeat to Cowdenbeath meant no party. The same happened the next term, with a third place finish but defeat in the play-offs against Forfar. In the summer of 2010 Mr Fearn left the club, requesting his shares be left to the supporters to turn Shire into a fan-run club.