It's that time again. The players have been back in for pre-season training, we've played our first friendly at the weekend against Ardley United and now the club jet off on their pre-season tour. Recent years have seen the club head off to America, but this year they're staying a little closer to home with friendlies arranged against Alloa Athletic and Berwick Rangers in Scotland. This will come as good news to those who have been sceptical as to the benefits of the American tours, but somehow a tour of Scotland just doesn't have the same sense of adventure about it.
However, it still offers the opportunity to play against some unfamiliar opposition and offers more fans the chance to travel to the games, so as in previous years, here is our guide to the opposition we will face over the next week.
Alloa Athletic were formed in 1878, winning the Scottish Football Union in 1907 and the Central Football League in 1913 before being accepted into the Scottish Football League in 1921. They won promotion to the top flight in their debut season but were immediately relegated and remained in the Second Division until winning promotion in 1939. Unfortunately, the outbreak of World War Two resulted in the cancellation of football and when the SFL resumed in 1946 the Wasps were placed back in Division Two.
They remained there until the Scottish Football League was reorganised into three divisions in 1975, with Alloa being placed in Division Three. They became something of a yo-yo club, bouncing around between the Second and Third divisions until further league reorganisation placed them in the new Fourth Division in 1994. Alloa won the fourth-tier Division Three title in 1998, adding to that the Scottish Challenge Cup in 2000 (one of just four clubs from outside the top tier of the competition to win it) and have spent most of their time since then in the third tier, until their relegation in 2011.
Since then two successive promotions have lifted the club to their highest point in a decade, with the Wasps winning promotion as Division Three champions in 2012. They won promotion from Division Two as play-off winners last season after finishing second in the league, beating Dunfermline in a two-legged final. They are currently preparing for life in the new SPFL second tier.
Alloa play at the 3,400-capacity Recreation Park, which has been their home since 1895. Floodlights weren't installed until 1979, making it one of the last grounds in Scotland to be lighted. A record 15,467 squeezed into the Recs for a Scottish Cup tie against Celtic in 1955, but these days the Wasps are watched by a rather more modest crowd of around 600-700. They began their pre-season schedule with a 1-1 draw against East Fife in a friendly and beat Airdrieonians 3-2 on Monday evening.
Berwick RangersBerwick Rangers are perhaps most famous for being the only English club to play their football in the Scottish leagues. Based in the border town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, the club was formed in 1884 and first became affiliated to the Scottish FA in 1905 when it joined the Scottish Border League, having been refused entry to the North Northumberland league because it was too remote.
They joined the Scottish Football League in 1951, remaining in the Second Division until the creation of the Third Division in 1975 when, along with Alloa, they were placed in the new third tier. They remained at this level for several years until their relegation to the fourth tier in 1997 and though the club has had forays back into the third tier, they have mostly remained a basement division club ever since.
The club has seen more success in the cups, reaching the final of the 2012 Scottish Challenge Cup, losing to Queen's Park on penalties. Berwick also have an impressive history in the Scottish Cup, reaching the quarter-final in 1954 and famously beating Rangers in 1967. The Wee Gers recorded another famous result against their Glasgow counterparts at the beginning of last season, with a 1-1 draw at Shielfield Park. Berwick finished last season midtable in Division Three, ending the season with a 1-0 defeat away at Ibrox.
Shielfield Park has been Berwick's home since 1954, shared with speedway team Berwick Bandits. Its capacity is 4,100, though the ground rarely sees crowds higher than 550. Interestingly, the Main Stand when the ground opened had been purchased from Bradford City's Valley Parade, though the roof was removed in 1990 due to safety reasons after ownership of the ground passed to a greyhound promoter when the club got into financial trouble.
These days the ground is owned by the Berwick Supporters' Club and the club appears to be a model of stability. They finished fifth last season, after recent finishes of seventh, sixth and sixth (out of ten), so will be hoping for an improvement on midtable this season! They began their pre-season with a 1-1 draw against Northern League side Ashington on Sunday.