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Wednesday 25th January 2012

Connor happy to sit on an Ayrshire fence

Former Scotland midfielder Robert Connor can legitimately sit on the fence for this weekend's Scottish Communities League Cup Semi-Final between Ayr United and Kilmarnock as not only has he played for both sides, he has lived in both towns.

Former Scotland midfielder Robert Connor can legitimately sit on the fence for this weekend's Scottish Communities League Cup Semi-Final between Ayr United and Kilmarnock as not only has he played for both clubs, he has lived in both towns.

Robert ConnorConnor, who has now turned 51 said, "I was born and lived in Kilmarnock however Ayr signed me as a 15-year-old. I was at Somerset Park until 1984 and played in a few Ayrshire Derbies at that time."

"We were in the First Division throughout my time as a player there whereas Kilmarnock moved up and down between the Premier League and the First. These games were always some of the biggest of the season with big crowds and of course Somerset Park always had a great atmosphere for them."

Connor moved to the Premier Division himself when he joined Dundee in 1984 and 2 years later Alex Ferguson, as he was then, took him to Aberdeen, although the now knighted football manager was soon off to Old Trafford to manage Manchester United.

Fergie's replacement Ian Porterfield guided Aberdeen to a League Cup Final, the competition at that time was sponsored by Skol, in October 1987 and it was to go down as a classic as the Dons drew 3-3 with Rangers before losing on penalties.

Twelve months later the two sides met again in another pulsating game with Jim Bett missing a great chance for an Aberdeen team now managed by Alex Smith with the score tied at 2-2.

Robert Connor (left) is challenged by Ally McCoist (Skol Cup Final 1987)Ally McCoist made Aberdeen pay when he popped up with a late winner and Connor was facing a hat-trick of the wrong kind when the two sides battled back to Hampden again for a third final the following year.

"Those finals were all great games," said Connor before adding "And that was unusual when you consider it was the same teams that were involved. Graeme Souness had started to bring big named English based players to Ibrox then but we gave them a right good run."

"The first one went to penalties and Peter Nicholas missed one for us and that was it. I was not designated to take one of the first five so there was nothing I could do about it."

Connor added, "Similarly I was in the wall when Davie Cooper took that famous free kick but there was nothing much I could do about that one either."

Fans who remember the precise nature of Connor's play will be surprised to learn that he was not a spot kick taker, however present day Pittodrie assistant manager Archie Knox would appear to be the reason.

Connor explained, "I used to take them all the time at Ayr and Dundee but then I missed one in a Scottish Cup tie at Hamilton Accies. We were getting beat 1-0, up to our ankles in mud at the old Douglas Park and I had the chance to level with a couple of minutes left but their goalkeeper produced a good save."

"Archie was waiting for me as we walked off and I felt bad enough about things but he still let rip about how I had cost the club £50,000. I got out of the habit of taking them after that."

As for the second Final Connor said, "To be honest I don't remember too much about that one other than David Dodds scored a couple for us and it was another great game."The Aberdeen players celebrate winning the Scottish Cup (v Celtic 1990)

As for the third meeting Connor said, "Big Alex McLeish got a hold of all the players before the game and told us that if we did not win this one he would not be letting us walk off the park."

"We were a good side with Alex, Willie Miller, Charlie Nicholas and Paul Mason with Eoin Jess coming to the fore as well. Paul got the two goals and we won 2-1 in another final that was a right good game."

Connor added, "That was a good time at Aberdeen as we had a crop of good young players coming through. Eoin played in that final and then you had the likes of Steven Wright and Scott Booth also coming through. I have plenty of happy memories there, although losing the league to Rangers on the last day of the season in 1991 was a low point."

"I think we were runners up in 5 of the 8 years I was there and we also won the Scottish Cup in 1990 when we beat Celtic 9-8 on penalties. I scored the second one in that shoot out so I was back to taking penalties by then and of course big Brian Irvine scored the winner."

Connor left Aberdeen in 1994 and joined the other half of the Ayrshire sides that will compete for a Scottish Communities League Cup Final place this Saturday at Hampden.

Robert Connor in action for Kilmarnock"I joined Kilmarnock and played for them in a sitting role in the front of their back four," said Connor before adding, "And I am often reminded that I never scored for them."

"I put it down to never getting far enough up the park to score."

One thing that Connor did was haunt his former Pittodrie colleagues as he explained, "Kilmarnock defeated Aberdeen four times that season and we were the first ever side to do that to the Dons in a Premier League season."

After 2 years at Rugby Park Connor returned to Ayr United and fate saw the Second Division side meet Killie at Rugby Park just a few months after the 4 times Scotland capped Connor had switched sides.

Kilmarnock were a Premier League side at the time and they were stunned to go down 1-0 to the Honest Men on an August evening with their disbelief added to with the fact that Connor had finally graced Rugby Park with a goal.

Connor said, "All I can remember is getting a good hit on the ball after Dragoje Leković had made a save and the ball rebounded out to me. I must have had sharp reactions for a 37-year-old."

Ayr travelled to Rangers in the next stage with Connor saying, "We lost 3-1 but we played really well. Darren Henderson scored and we put up a good account of ourselves and had a few chances and they needed a couple of late goals to see us off."

Kilmarnock's season was far from ruined by Connor's goal as they went on to win the Scottish Cup by defeating Falkirk at Ibrox.

Connor left Ayr at the end of that season before calling time on his career after short spells at Partick Thistle and Queen of the South in 1998.

Ayr Utd manager Robert Connor (right) and assistant Robert Reilly (2005/06)He was enticed into football management by his first club in 2005, alongside Robert Reilly, and it has been a case of once bitten twice shy since then. Connor said, "I was not overly keen to get involved but the club were struggling financially and I kind of fell into it. It was a time of major change from a big spending era to one of austerity with a huge tax bill to pay."

"It was our job to get them through that and instead of a well-paid squad we had to sign 7 or 8 players from the Juniors and try and make it work. We did that for 18 months but that was enough for me."

Connor has undergone a fairly major career transition since his days in football as he is now the Commercial Director for drainage company West Siphonics which he runs with his brother in law in Ayrshire's Newmilns.

His love of the game has been overtaken by a love of golf as he explained, "I only occasionally go to games now and after playing for 20 years I have seen a lot of football. The game has changed a lot and not for the better as a lot of the passion and character has gone out of the game. At Ayr when I started there was a first team, a reserve side and a young side and now there is just a first team at a lot of clubs."

"There is a totally different atmosphere and everything is now determined by money and I am glad I played when I did."

One game that Connor will go to this weekend is the Semi-Final and a bit like his career in Ayrshire it will include a fusion of both sides.

Connor said, "I now live in Ayr but I am travelling up with supporters of both Ayr and Kilmarnock. I am fortunate to say that my team will win regardless of how it is. I would prefer if they had both got to the Final but it will be great for one of them to be there."

Scottish Communities League Cup