The Rise, Fall and Rise of Clydebank FC
As a footballing metropolis, Glasgow and its environs more or less have it all. There is Celtic, Rangers, Partick Thistle, Hampden Park and Hamilton Crescent, where the first ever international match was played. Not far away are clubs like Motherwell, St.Mirren and Hamilton Academical. Glasgow has had its European champions, its fan tragedies, glories and financial disasters and, as we’ll look at today, clubs who have come, gone and returned again — such as Clydebank FC.
Clubs going bankrupt and disappearing are not exactly an every day occurrence in Scotland. But the rise and fall of Gretna from UEFA Cup football to liquidation in only a few seasons shows that the threat of disappearance is never too far away, especially in these economically woeful days.
And the name Third Lanark springs to mind when the words ‘out of business’, ‘liquidation’ and Scottish football come up. Today, Cathkin Park, the ground of the once League champions Third Lanark, still sits desolate, weed ridden and largely disused in Glasgow’s south-side — not 10 minutes from Hampden Park, the traditional home of Scottish Football. Despite being used by amateur footballers playing under the same club name today, Third Lanark are generally regarded as no more. The ground, which still has a terracing area visible, is mainly a field for dog walkers in a crumbling public park maintained by Glasgow City council parks department.
Similarly, Kilbowie Park was once home of another Scottish league club that is now no longer in existence in its original incarnation. Clydebank FC, Scottish FA cup quarter finalists as recently as 1990, were the resident team but the men from Clydeside went out of business in 2002. Unlike Third Lanark and Cathkin Park, though, Kilbowie Park — one of the first all seater grounds in Scotland — is no more, yet thanks to its supporters, the club does live on.
Clydebank FC were reborn in 2003 out of the ashes of the former league club of the same name and currently play games in Division One of the West Scotland Super League at a new ground, Holm Park in Clydebank. The club agreed a four year deal, beginning season 2008-09, to ground share at Holm Park with Yoker Athletic after a previous five year agreement with Drumchapel Amateurs to play at Glenhead Park came to an end. Despite these humble surroundings Clydebank FC today continue the town’s footballing history and place in the football community.
The town of Clydebank itself was founded during 1886. For the next hundred years Clydebank defied Luftwaffe bombers during the Second World War, survived the growth then closure of the huge Singer sewing machine factory and saw John Brown’s Shipyard become the birthplace of the Cunar shipping line, the Royal Yacht Britannia and HMS Vanguard.
Footballing-wise, the town of Clydebank has been represented by several previous incarnations of the football club in both senior professional and junior Scottish football. Clydebank FC can directly trace their development from Clydebank Juniors F.C., who were founded in 1899 with the town at its industrial height. After a short lived merger with East Stirlingshire they were reformed as a senior club in their own right in 1965 and went on to become members of the Scottish League from 1966 until liquidation in 2002. Clydebank achieved considerable success in their 35 years as a small Scottish League club. In the mid-1980’s they spent three seasons in the Premier Division, becoming the first club to play in all three Scottish League divisions after league reconstruction arose in 1975.
A number of famous players also played for the Bankies, including the now Burnley manager Owen Coyle. Other former players are current Scottish International winger Gary Teale; Republic of Ireland striker Tommy Coyne; and former Scottish International Davie Cooper.
Kilbowie Park, at the height of the clubs heyday in the 1980’s, was notable as one of the first all seater stadia in British football, albeit largely due to the installation of wooden benches across each area of terracing.
A Nearby Demise
But warning signs for Clydebank existed in the crises at other Scottish clubs. The similarities in the decline of Third Lanark and Clydebank are stark. The Hi Hi’s, as Third Lanark were known, had been declared bankrupt and were liquidated in 1967. Boardroom negligence allegedly played a role, with the club’s directors said to wish to gain personally from the sale of Cathkin Park for property developmental purposes. Cathkin Park was eventually sold for housing during the 1967 close season, but Glasgow City Council refused building permission — hence the existence of the ground in its debilitated state today.
Despite regular crowds of 10,000, another reason behind the disappearance of Third Lanark was the desire to move a reincarnation of the club to a new town nearby that was emerging at the time such as Cumbernauld or East Kilbride. Both of these towns are within the Glasgow commuter belt, but at that time had no senior side of their own. Another Scottish League club, Clyde FC, eventually moved from its inner Glasgow Shawfield Stadium to a newer ground in Cumbernauld but the move has never taken off in attracting new fans, only serving to inconvenience the club’s loyal fans base come matchday. Ironically, Livingston FC are also now based in a new town of the same name having moved in the hope of progress, but only encountering dwindling support and financial problems.
A report by The Board of Trade into Third Lanark’s activities in 1967 found that players were paid irregularly and solely at the will of a club owner Mr. Bill Hiddleston. It was also discovered that players had to make their own way to away matches; hot water was seldom available after matches for showers; and every facet of the club’s management was from a black personal appointment book of Hiddleston.
Despite a sponsorship deal with the famous Scottish band WET, WET, WET in the late 1990’s Clydebank suffered several periods of chronic financial difficulty and the decline and fall of Clydebank tells a sorry and similar tale to Third Lanark. The official end for Clydebank as a professional entity came when the club were bought out by the newly forged Airdrie United club in 2002. This club themselves were forged out of another bankrupt club Airdrieonians.
However, Clydebank’s fortunes began to decline after its New Kilbowie Ground was sold by the club’s ruling Steedman family in 1996 and a promised new stadium in the town failed to materialise. Clydebank FC then spent six years playing Scottish League home games at Boghead Park in Dumbarton and then in Greenock some 20 miles away. This movement of playing centres saw disenfranchisement with a base of the club’s support.
During this time at Boghead Park, the Steedman family also sold the club to Dr John Hall, a Bermudan based businessman. The proceeds from the sale of Kilbowie Park, meanwhile, were said to have been used to set up schools for the sport in America. In the years that followed a shopping mall development grew and now stands where Kilbowie Park used to be in Clydebank.
With no stadium, a dwindling fan base and poor league form Clydebank FC were, somehow, still around come 2000. Then came news that Clydebank were seeking to move to Dublin and play games across the Irish Sea, but still as part of the Scottish League. The combined efforts of a newly-formed United Clydebank Supporters group, the Football Association of Ireland, the Scottish Football Association and the Scottish Football League brought about the rejection of a move to Dublin largely due to the shear nonsensical logistics of the idea. The owners then made a number of attempts to relocate the club as a franchise to alternative locations, including Galashiels in the Scottish borders and Carlisle in England.
The sale of Kilbowie by the Steedmans family left the club homeless and vision-less. The club’s fans endured a disastrous few nomadic seasons without a ground and little of a strategic vision for the future. Under the ownership of Bahamas-based Dr John Hall, it all went belly-up, leaving an ever-loyal but dwindling band of fans to pick up the pieces and resurrect the club.
Clydebank’s league identity finally disappeared in 2002. On July 11th, Clydebank FC in name, identity and league membership was transferred over to a new club Airdrie United. For Clydebank fans it was a sting and they had been sold down the river in name and spirit to what was a new local rival. The move is a little like Wimbledon suddenly disappearing and being replaced by Milton Keynes Dons.
For the 2002-2003 season Clydebank supporters were left without a team to follow and no ground to follow the team in. The transformation into Airdrie United happened too close to the beginning of the season to make alternative plans and no fans of The Bankies wanted to follow Airdrie.
In the following months, members of the United Clydebank Supporters’ group met with the purpose of creating a new Clydebank F.C. from the ashes of the former club. Airdrie United agreed to voluntarily transfer their unwanted ownership of the name, brand and insignia of Clydebank F.C. to the UCS grouping, and a venue for matches in the Clydebank area was secured following an agreement to ground share with Drumchapel Amateurs in Duntocher.
It had become clear Clydebank fans were not going to allow the Bankies to disappear easily. The main driver of the movement was the Clydebank Supporters’ Trust, revived and established more firmly. In the autumn months of 2002, a Bankies Trust advanced under the stewardship of Bill Abraham and a number of supporters signed up.
In January 2003, at a Supporters Direct Scottish Conference in Edinburgh, the Trust gave a presentation on the implications of the demise of Clydebank from senior football and the desire to reestablish a new club. Fan representatives from many other teams in attendance expressed overwhelming support for what Clydebank fans were trying to achieve.
By the end of February 2003, the legality of the body was completed and the United Clydebank Supporters’ Football Trust was fully registered as United Clydebank Supporters Trust Ltd company and it formally began to take standing order contributions from sponsors and backers. The United Clydebank Supporters marketed itself as aiming to maintain football in the town and within a year Clydebank FC were back in business.
The Trust is a limited compnay incorporated as an Industrial and Provident Society. The Trust was established with the aim of providing a mechanism by which the people of Clydebank and beyond can have a say in the running of a rejuvenated Clydebank FC, playing once more in the town of Clydebank and free from corporate boardroom management.
It is expected that the Trust will always be the majority shareholder in Clydebank FC and as such will expect to have the deciding say in how the club is run. The rules by which the Trust has been incorporated are available for inspection on request to one of the Trust Board. All members are expected to abide by the model rules and to adhere to the principles upon which the Trust has been formed — as an organisation which will endeavour to strengthen the bonds between the Football Club and the town of Clydebank and to represent the interests of the community in the running of the club.
Clydebank Football Club entered the West Regional structure of the Scottish Junior Football Association. The club won the league in its first season, playing in front of up to 1,000 fans at home games.
In 2008, Clydebank and Drumchapel terminated their ground sharing agreement and Clydebank moved across town to share Holm Park with another local club, Yoker Athletic. Many ground improvements, thanks to many fans of the club, have already taken place at the long time established ground. Clydebank fans have played a large part in renovation and maintenance work at both their former lodgings and those at Holm Park. From the outset both parties agreed upon ambitious plans to refurbish the ground. Most of the key proposals were achieved in the first season and these included replacing the enclosure roof, installing railings, concreting under the enclosure to create terracing and clearance work on an overgrown hillside area.
On one recent Saturday, I went to see Clydebank play Ashfield at Holm Park. Around 350 fans were in attendance with Clydebank replica shirts from both the past and present worn amongst the fan base to see a 1-0 loss on a beautiful early autumn evening. Holm Park as a ground has one covered enclosure and there are plans to increase the capacity and numbers by recovering disused terraces. To signify when there are Clydebank matches on at the ground, the flag of Clydebank FC is raised on a flagpole.
The Bankies are continuing their fund-raising in an attempt to resurrect their club to former heights. Efforts are regularly being made to urge parties to build a new stadium in the West of Scotland town.
Since reformation by the club’s fans, it’s been onward and upward and after two promotions the club are in the First Division of the Stagecoach West of Scotland Super-league, one level below traditional junior giants such as Pollok. The core support of the senior days has kept the faith; for big games they regularly pull over 1,000 fans into Holm Park and even if the regular feasibility studies into a potential new stadium fail to pay off, Clydebank FC are testiment to the will of a group of clubs fans to keep the dream of your team alive.
Damon Main is the editor of Voices in Football