Airdrie legend Paul Lovering believes the Diamonds are a sleeping giant in Scottish football – and reckons former Hibs teammate Ian Murray will lead them to promotion next term.

The former skipper admits there has been a changing of the guard in the top flight over the past three decades that has left the Diamonds languishing in the third tier.

The retired left-back won the old Second Division as a player back in 2004 while wearing the Diamond, before they went on to solidify their position in the second tier.

During his time at the club, they also lifted the Challenge Cup.

 

Although they had the likes of Owen Coyle and Alan Gow in the squad, he believes it was the team spirit and the backing from fans that steered them to success.

And he reckons the hard work of former Hibees pal Murray can put the club “back where they belong” despite a blockbuster title race in store next season with the likes of Raith and Falkirk fighting it out.

“When I was playing we had strength right throughout the team,” he told the Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser.

“At the back we had Alan McManus, Neil McGowan and Kevin Christie, and Coyley was up front with Alan Gow, who was just coming through at the time.

Owen Coyle is congratulated by Neil McGowan (left) and Paul Lovering
Owen Coyle is congratulated by Neil McGowan (left) and Paul Lovering
 

“There was the likes of Mark Roberts and Willie McLaren coming through. You had strength throughout the team with Marvyn Wilson and Stephen Docherty.

“We had a great side with a mixture of everything. People look back at the goal scorers, but I think we were equally as strong at the back.

“We might not have had any standouts at the time, but we had guys who had played at a decent level.

“It’s a sign of the times that Airdrie are now struggling to get out of League One.

“When I was playing we had great players with experience.

“We had a mixture of youth and guys that had played at a decent level. They were there to prove a point and I think we did that.

“When we went up to the First Division we were competing against clubs who had spent a lot of money. We were high flyers at that time.

“At that point I think we had the whole package, but then the team got broken up and we had to chop and change a few things.

“Times change and we move on. I know the circumstances that Airdrie are in and I’m not stupid enough to think these things are going to last forever.

 
Ian Murray at Hibs back in 2000
Ian Murray at Hibs back in 2000

“It’s a sign of the times in football these days that a big club like Airdrie are in the league that they are in.

“I’m sure with the right people behind the club they will go on to get the club back to where they belong.

“That takes time and I’m sure the fans will give the backing to the people working hard behind the scenes.”

He continued: “I know Ian well and I’m sure his backroom team will be working hard to get the team challenging.

“It’s tough to get out of this league, and it can only get tougher when some teams start to throw money at it and the big teams come down.

“It’s a tough gig but I’m sure the guys will be looking to get the players in for a good start.

“Airdrie were always renowned for a bad start and getting better, but the guys will know how important it is to get off to a good start and carry on from there.

Ian Murray has been backed for success by Paul Lovering
Ian Murray has been backed for success by Paul Lovering
 

“Ian was a younger lad who was just coming through, but he’s a hard worker and he went on to play with Rangers and Norwich.

“He had a good career himself and I’m sure he can draw on that knowledge. If he puts in what he put on the park I’m sure it will pay off for him. He will be hoping to get back to the second tier as quickly as he can.”

Lovering will join a host of former Airdrie stars this Saturday as they compete in the All-Stars and Legends charity clash for the Airdrie Community Trust.

With former teammates lining up for both sides alongside the famous faces, the Broomfield Hall of Famer expects a hard fought clash for the fundraiser. He said: “I still love playing, and when I’m at Benburb I still try to get amongst it at training. I’m sure it will be a great afternoon and hopefully we can raise a few pounds for a good cause.

“I’m sure there will be a wee competitive edge with some of the players taking part, and I’m sure that I’ll be as competitive as ever.

“For me, it’s all about turning up and getting money for a great cause, but there will be that wee competitive element with some of the players
on there!”