Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Say Hi-Hi To Your Mom

I thought I'd continue with my Caledonian theme, what with the Scottish League starting this weekend and everything. The plight of East Stirlingshire to follow tomorrow (or maybe later tonight), but tonight I'd thought I'd focus on Glasgow's long-forgotten "third" club (and I say this in full knowledge of the existence of Partick Thistle): Third Lanark.

Third Lanark were formed before either Celtic or Rangers. 1872, to be precise. As you may have gathered from the name, they were initially connected to the military, but the link soon ended, and the Hi-His (so nicknamed because their ground was an altitude which meant that it overlooked the rest of Glasgow) became one of the powerhouses of early Scottish football. They won the Scottish League in 1904 and the Scottish Cup twice. As Celtic and Rangers cemented their stranglehold on the Scottish League, though, Lanark struggled. They yo-yoed between the two divisions of the Scottish League in the 1920s and 1930s, but settled again in Division One in the mid-1950s, and reached the final of the Scottish League Cup as recently as 1959.

During their last great period, a number of (relatively) well-known players played for them. Bobby Craig, who would go on to star for Newcastle and Celtic, was one. Ally McLeod (best known for his magnificently deluded management of Scotland at the 1978 World Cup) both started and finished career playing for them. A total of of eight years. It wasn't enough. In the early 60s, they took the financially ruinous decision to build a new stand at a time when their crowds were tumbling. By April 1967, just 297 people turned up to see one of their last matches, a home match against the newly-formed Clydebank. They went into liquidation that summer. A subsequent Board Of Trade report showed considerable financial mis-management on the part of the club's directors, including a rumour that the club's final chairman had attempted to manipulate the club's difficulties in order to personally profit from any sale of the ground.

There was a certain irony that it was development of their ground that turned out to sound their death knell, because it is the ground itself that they are now probably most famous for. Initially known as Hampden Park, it was passed to them from Queens Park, who even now play at the current Hampden Park ground. They soon changed its name to Cathkin Park, and it was one of Scotland's biggest grounds, with a capacity of 50,000. After the club folded in 1967, Glasgow City Council took it over, and it is still used for schools football matches today. Somewhat remarkably, they didn't landscape the area, and it makes for quite an eerie sight. The supporters largely preferred to transfer their support to a Scottish Junior League side Pollok, who even now get by far the biggest attendances in their league (and, at around 600, considerably more than many lower division Scottish League clubs).

Pollok's best days could yet be ahead of them. The Scottish League is currently debating whether to introduce re-election or promotion and relegation from the bottom of Division Three, and they would surely be amongst the favourites to make the step up. Might I suggest that, should they ever manage this, they change their name to Third Lanark and their colours to red and white? Either tonight or tomorrow, I'll be taking a look at the team that they'd be most likely to replace.


colin said...

I've played at Cathkin Park. It looked fully worse then than it does in those pictures. I seem to remember the ball getting held up in some dandelions.

A bit of a coincidence, given your Accrington Stanley mention the other day, was that Third Lanark had a player called Joe McInnes who scored 88 goals in one season in the early 60s. He also played for Stanley, who also promptly folded. The big fucking jinx.

(By the way, my old man assures me that the fans who switched alliegance to Pollock Juniors mostly lasted about a fortnight.)

Anyway, that's not what I was meaning to say when I clicked ...

The problem with promotion and relegation from the third division is that it doesn't make any sense in the wider context of the Scottish game.

We've got no nationwide subordinate league, as with the Conference.

For example, the Highland League is significantly higher than the Juniors in the north and there's also a Senior league in the East and South (with Juniors below them), but the Junior leagues are the next step down elsewhere, such as in Ayrshire.

To complicate matters further, there's a bewildering array of Junior leagues arranged into various districts within three different regions - North, East and West. They only meet each other in the cup.

By the time you take into account the requirement for a certain level of facilities prior to full league membership, you wouldn't be promoting people on merit, so much as on the basis that they did okay and happened to come from the same part of the country as the worst team in the senior leagues.

If East Stirlingshire were to be hoofed, you would have to ignore the Senior leagues to even think of taking someone from the Juniors. Even then, they would be heading for the Whyte & Mackay East Region Super League (I'm not making these up) while someone like Pollok (ignoring the fact that Auchinleck Talbot more often than not give them a paddling, anyway) would play in the West.

twohundredpercent said...

As is my understanding, the Scottish League is being asked to consider re-election rather than automatic promotion and relegation - presumably because of the bewildering array of leagues that sit "under" Division Three.

For those of you reading these comments that don't know what I'm talking about, this means that the bottom couple of clubs in the Scottish League and, say, the winners of each of the Scottish Junior Leagues and the Highland League would be put before a vote by all the other clubs on the Scottish League, and the one with the highest number of votes would play in the Scottish League the year afterwards.

The system was finally abandonned in England in 1987 in favour of automatic promotion and relegation from the Conference in 1987. Most of the time, the adage that "turkeys don't vote for Christmas" held true, but occasionally the League got it gloriously wrong. In 1960, Gateshead had to apply for re-election for the first time having finished third bottom on the League and were replaced by Peterborough. In 1977, Workington were (perhaps rightfully) voted out, but their replacements, Wigan, had only finished 6th in the Northern Premier League the season before.

In this day and age, introducing such a system seems somewhat anachronistic. Play-offs would seem to be the obvious solution to this problem, but whether the Scottish League clubs would vote for it is obviously questionable.

colin said...

Ah, I see.

We've had election to the SFL relatively recently, but it has always been expansion (Inverness CT, Ross County, Peterhead, Elgin) or replacing a defunct former member (Gretna, Airdie Utd) rather than throwing an existing SFL club in for eviction.

To be perfectly honest, I suspect we've just got too many clubs for a country of this size.

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