Growing up I knew about Gretna for one main reason — The Cadbury shop. So it was quite the shock for little old Daniel to discover that there was a club all of 10 miles from his front door that had once played UEFA Cup Football and competed in the SPL.
Our story starts a long time before then, going all the way back to the 1800s. A club called Gretna Green, named after the village that lies next to the town, the one you’ll have heard of from all the weddings. Anyways, tiny club, out of business by the 1920s. Next.
The Gretna side that actually mattered were founded in 1946. One of the co-founders was former pro James Kerr, who played in the 1920s for Brentford.
After their maiden season, in which they played in the Dumfries & District Junior league, they moved to play across the Border in England, joining the Carlisle and District League. They stayed there until 1982, when they joined the newly created Northern League Second Division. They were instantly promoted, and after back to back Northern League titles, they began playing in the Northern Premier League Division 1, which at the time was tier 7. A decade of mid table mediocrity followed. The main highlights were a trip to the FA Cup first round, becoming the first Scottish side to play in the FA Cup Proper since Queen’s Park back in 1887.
A 7th place finish in the 2001/02 season was destined to be their final in English football, as they were elected to the Scottish Third Division for the 2002/03 season. In their maiden season North of the Border the Anvils (named so because of the blacksmiths who famously officiated Gretna weddings) finished 6th.
Soon after that, the club was subject of a takeover by football philanthropist Brooks Mileson, Under Mileson the club’s fortunes drastically increased. They achieved 3 promotions in a row, and reached the Scottish Cup final in 2006, when they were a second division side, making them the first Tier 3 Scottish Side to qualify for the UEFA Cup. Though their stint was short lived, losing in the 2nd qualifying round 7–3 on aggregate to Irish side Derry City, that was at least something.
There’s often a problem with rapid promotions — outgrowing the club’s facilities. Their stadium, Raydale Park, had a capacity of just 1,030 — and as such was deemed unsuitable for the Scottish Premiership. As a result, the club had to ground-share with Motherwell, who’s Fir Park stadium was 75.8 miles away. (The exact same distance my FM17 Barrow side had to travel after we outgrew 5,000 capacity Holker Street, so I understand their pain)
The club’s already somewhat slim fanbase were put off my such a distance, and it soon got into the history books. Just 431 people made the trip to see Gretna face Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
The club began to struggle as soon as they were promoted to the SPL, but their off pitch situation was far worse. The club had racked up debts of nearly £4m — and to make matters worse, Brooks Mileson fell ill shortly afterwards and stopped all financial backing he gave the club. After a season of points deductions and general uncertainty, the club finished the SPL season on just 13 points, earning them last place.
Shortly afterwards, the club was stripped of its assets, relegated to the Third Division for their financial woes, and shortly afterwards expelled from the football league, with local side Annan Athletic taking their place. The club had no players, no ground and no money — on the 8th August 2008, the club dissolved.
A month before that, however, a new club was born. Gretna 2008. The phoenix club successfully applied to the East of Scotland Football League, and after a season of playing in nearby Annan, moved back to Raydale Park in 2009. The club played there (despite not being at all in the East of Scotland) until 2013, when the new Lowland League was created. The new side has played there ever since, and have fallen into mid table mediocrity.