“Look at you son, you’re all arms and legs, you’re like a spider” – little could Mick Stanton, one of the coaches of Edina Hibs Boys Club in the late 1970’s know what was he starting – but his words were to give a lasting nickname to a young footballer who went on to become a legend with Alloa.
Steve ‘Spider’ Ramsay was born in Germiston in South Africa in 1967 and Steve spent the first 10 years of his life in that country. On his return to Scotland he was quickly identified as a promising footballer and his fine form as a teenager with Easthouses attracted the attention of senior clubs. In the summer of 1988 it was obvious that Spider was going to make the step up – and it was the persuasive powers of manager Gregor Abel that ensured his senior career would begin at Alloa.
“I had signing talks with Cowdenbeath”, says Spider. “My best mate, Davie Watt, who ended up going to Cowdenbeath, he only had the chance to sign with them, and I had the chance to sign for two, Alloa or Cowdenbeath.
“When I spoke to Gregor, I just liked what he had to say and I decided to go for Alloa, much to my wee pal’s annoyance at the time. He was convinced the two of us were going to Cowdenbeath, but there was just something”.
Cowden’s loss was very much Alloa’s gain. The young Ramsay rapidly established himself as a key member of one of the finest Alloa teams of all time, his drive in midfield bringing a perfect balance alongside Iain Lee and John Gibson. The new team took a little time to gel – but when it did Alloa stormed up the league table and eventually clinched promotion to the First Division.
The team also progressed through the Scottish Cup to that memorable quarter final against Hibs at Easter Road. Speaking to ‘The Wasp’ earlier this season, fellow Alloa legend Keith McCulloch pinned the blame for Paul Kane’s winning goal that day on his friend Spider. This is something Steve now disputes!
“I always believed that I sold the goal, but I’ve actually seen it recently on youtube, and Ronnie Lowrie could have done better with the cross. Paul Kane scored, and he was my man, and all these years I’ve been convinced it was my fault, but maybe it wasn’t”. Perhaps best that we leave this one to Alloa fans to check out the youtube footage to decide.
The following season in Division 1 Alloa competed well and Steve feels that with a bit more strength in depth that relegation could have been avoided.
It wasn’t to be and Alloa returned to Division 2, now under the management of Hugh McCann. “Hugh was another good manager, really good at bringing on the young players”, says Steve. The new Wasps team flourished and season 1991/92 ended with a winner takes all clash with Cowdenbeath and a Division 1 place at stake. More than 5000 fans packed the Recs but this time Alloa fell just short. “Unfortunately we didn’t quite do enough – my wee mate Watty was the happier of the two that day”.
Hugh McCann moved on to Hearts and was replaced at Alloa by Billy Lamont. For Spider, perhaps the most memorable game of Lamont’s reign was the Scottish Cup tie at Ibrox in 1994. Fans will remember this as the occasion that Lamont hired the services of psychologist Jack Black to convince the Alloa players that they could win the match.
“He actually had us believing we were going to beat Rangers”, says Steve. “It did make a difference – until the game started! It doesn’t work, the headshrink stuff”. Indeed, it seemed like the psychology worked against the Wasps as their form deteriorated following the 6-0 defeat at Ibrox. The team tumbled down the table and ended up 7th in Division 2, meaning they were founder members of the newly formed Division 3.
That relegation also marked the end of Spider’s first spell at Alloa. “The club were in decline”, he says. “The team was going downhill and Queen of the South came in for me. I really enjoyed Queen of the South, I liked Billy McLaren’s style of play”.
A spell at East Stirlingshire followed before Ramsay returned to the Recs for a second time in 1997, a spell which will be covered in the next edition of ‘The Wasp’.
Steve ‘Spider’ Ramsay signed for Alloa for a second time in 1997, following spells with QoS and East Stirlingshire. Spider admits, however, that he didn’t expect the offer from Wasps manager Tom Hendrie.
“I actually had a big argument with Tam when I was at East Stirling. We ended up nose to nose arguing and John Coughlin came flying in. I was really surprised when he came in for me”.
Echoing what had happened almost a decade earlier before Spider’s first spell at the Recs, Alloa actually almost missed out on their man. “I left the Shire because I couldn’t get on with John Brownlie. He didn’t like me and I didn’t like him. I got asked then to do pre-season with Albion Rovers where Vinnie Moore was the manager. I probably would have signed for them, but Tom Hendrie came on the phone and said we want you back, and I felt I would rather go back to Alloa than Albion Rovers”.
Going back for a second spell doesn’t always work out but Steve fitted as perfectly into Tom Hendrie’s team as he had in Gregor Abel’s 9 years before. The Wasps were a class above the competition in Division 3 in 1997/98 and were deserving champions – collecting Alloa’s first title since 1921/22.
“They were both good teams, the teams that Gregor Abel and Tom Hendrie had”, says Steve. “I actually think that first team was better, I think we had better players, but it would be a tight game”.
Back in Division 2 Alloa started well. A certain 7-0 win over Stirling stands out, as does a 3-0 success over Clyde which marked Steve’s 200th start for the Wasps, an occasion he marked with a superb goal from a diving header.
Alloa’s success didn’t go unnoticed and Hendrie was tempted away by St.Mirren. This move was, indirectly, to bring to an end Steve Ramsay’s time with the Wasps.
“There was a contract on the table – but there was only one thing that could stop that and that was if Terry Christie got the job. There had been history with me and Terry and his laddie and as soon as he got the job, I knew it was curtains for me. But, I have nothing against Terry because he was a good manager all his career. He won a lot of things and it was just one of these things in football, somebody comes in and your face doesn’t fit, so it was time to leave again. I actually got sent off in his first game in charge, and I knew his son Max would come in, and I just accepted it”.
Steve’s time with Alloa was over but he did go on to serve East Fife, Cowdenbeath and Berwick, before wrapping up his career in the juniors.
Spider’s service and commitment to Alloa over two spells means he retains a special place in the affections of Wasps supporters, to the extent that he was voted Alloa’s Cult Hero by the fans in a BBC poll.
“One of my neighbours gave me the book, Cult Heroes, and it’s nice to have that and for my son to see. I must admit, I was surprised but I think it was because I was a trier and a kicker, there were obviously better players than me, I think Willie Irvine will be a bit peeved! I pipped Keith McCulloch too, which I don’t think he was too happy about.”
It seems that Keith wasn’t the only one. One of Steve’s neighbours is Neil Martin, who started out with Alloa and went on to play for Hibs and Sunderland, as well as gaining international recognition. “He always says to me, how can you be the Cult Hero – I played for Scotland!”, says Steve.
Steve was a very good footballer, a good passer of the ball and capable of popping up with important goals, and he is doing himself a disservice by saying he was just a trier and kicker, but there is no denying that he was no stranger to the ref’s wee black book.
“It got a bit ridiculous in the end. I think my reputation went ahead of me with the refs. I remember Kevin Kane laughing and saying to the ref, you can’t book him for that, he didn’t do anything.
“I played for a lot of clubs though so I must have been half decent! I was also nominated for Division 2 player of the year in the Hugh McCann era and that was nice, to be nominated by opposition players, who supposedly don’t like you”.
These days Spider’s involvement in football is through his 8 year old son, and he often helps out with training sessions and on match day. They also attend Hibs and Tranent Juniors matches together, and were at the Recs last season for the match against Elgin City when the Wasps clinched the Third Division.
Steve’s football career might be over - but there remains one thing that he just can’t quite shake off.
“Spider - they’re still calling me that. I’ve tried to get rid of it - it was ok 20 or 30 years ago but I’ve tried to get rid of it - but everybody still knows me by it”.
I think I speak for all at Alloa in saying that ‘Spider’ will always be very welcome back at Recreation Park.