By 1900 Shire had joined the Scottish Football League. They got in late on the act and had already rejected one invitation before accepting a second.
Some blamed the club officials for not taking the leap earlier, claiming it allowed Falkirk FC to charge ahead as the number one team in the town at a time when Shire could still have stolen the crown as Falkirk’s ‘big’ team.
In any case, the advent of professionalism had meant Shire’s golden era was over by the time they played their first SFL match at home to Airdrieonians on 18th August 1900. They lost 3-2 at Merchiston Park in front of 2,500 people and the seasons thereafter were short on success.
They reached the promotion play-off in 1907, losing to Raith Rovers but by the time the First World War put a stop to league football there had been few high points.
In 1920 the club was forced to move premises. Merchiston Park, their home continuously since 1907, was wanted for a new railway line. A search for a new ground took them to Firs Street and a derelict factory site. The club’s own fans built a stand and shaped the cinders and ash on the ground as terracing. Hearts provided the opposition in Firs Park’s opening game.
It took Shire until 1921/22 season to get back into the SFL but by 1923 they had been relegated to the newly-created Division Three. Promotion was won back at the first attempt but sights were not aimed high.
That was until the start of the 1930’s when a mixture of young talent and old hands climbed out of the Second Division, winning the championship flag in 1931/32. But life in the top flight was too tough and Shire were relegated straight back down.
By 1939/40 Shire were just another average Second Division team. Then, four matches in to the new season, war caused the abandonment of the league.
A new wartime league was announced once the initial panic had subsided but Shire were not invited to join. Club officials were furious and vowed to keep the club going. They played friendly matches but, after a 12-0 defeat against Rangers reserves at Ibrox in November 1939, they mothballed the club until the war was over.
If anything characterised the club during this period it was crowd trouble and financial crises. Merchiston Park certainly had a reputation as a ‘volatile’ venue with referees having to be smuggled out lest they be set upon by an angry mob. And after the move to Firs Park, Shire were warned their ground might be closed following a series of pitch invasions during the early 1920’s.
But money, or the lack of it, dominated. In 1922 the club held a grand bazaar to raise funds, which kept the wolf from the door for a while.
However in 1935 there was a grave crisis when Shire were suspended indefinitely from the SFL for failure to provide Morton with a match guarantee.
There wasn’t enough money in the kitty. The community rallied round, though, and the Falkirk Herald started a “Shilling For The Shire” campaign. The donations saved the day and Shire were back in the league. Just two years later the coffers were almost empty again. In 1937 the players
were asked to accept big pay cuts or a free transfer. Most opted for the latter and a scratch team had to be found on the eve of a trip to Dundee United. They did well to lose only 6-1.