Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Cathkin Park Stands

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’Sixty-seven…in the heat of Lisbon, the fans came in their thousands, to see the Bhoys become Champions… sixty-seven’

Week in, week out, to the present day, these words echo around Celtic Park and away venues all across the country, keeping the spirit of Scotland’s greatest-ever football team alive. Whether it be through song, banners or the 67th minute light show, the Celtic support will forever keep the spirit of the Lions alive and raise tomorrow’s fans on the folklore that surrounds one of football’s greatest stories.

However, it is not only those of a green and white persuasion who remember 1967 fondly. This was a year in which the domestic game in Scotland was one of the strongest in Europe, whilst the national team and its ‘Tartan Army’ fanbase declared themselves the ‘Unofficial Champions of the World’ on the back of a 3-2 win over World Cup holders England in their own backyard. In addition to Celtic becoming the first team from northern Europe to win the European Cup, other Scottish sides also competed with great success and reached stages of European competition that any SPFL club could only dream of reaching in football’s current climate. On the same night as Celtic’s European Cup triumph, Kilmarnock fell just short of ensuring that there was a Scottish club in all three of that year’s European finals when Leeds eliminated them in the semi-final of the Fairs Cup, in what rather unsurprisingly remains Kilmarnock’s best showing in European competition.

Then, just one week on from Celtic’s glory in Lisbon, Rangers competed in the final of the Cup Winners’ Cup with the chance to bring a second European trophy back to Glasgow. However, after a 2-1 defeat in Nuremberg to German giants Bayern Munich the Gers returned to Glasgow empty-handed. Dundee United rounded off the impressive array of Scottish results in Europe that year as they registered a monumental giant-killing in their Fairs Cup debut, beating Barcelona home and away to set up a second-round tie with the Old Lady of Italian football, Juventus. Another historic win at Tannadice wasn’t enough to avenge the previous week’s defeat in Turin, so the Tangerines bowed out of the Fairs Cup in February, albeit after two of the greatest results in the club’s history. So, what could have possibly be going wrong within Scottish football in 1967?

Amongst the euphoria of Scottish football’s hey-day, the steady rot of Third Lanark Athletic Club pulled the once-great club under, assigning Glasgow’s third team to the history books forevermore, and ridding Scottish football of one of its most decorated competitors.

I’m not quite sure why I never really got told about Third Lanark, or why any of my friends know nothing about them either. In fact, if you were to ask most young football fans in Scotland what they know about Third Lanark I’m sure that few, if any, would be able to muster a response any more informed than ‘didn’t they die?’. I too was guilty of knowing next to nothing about the southside club.

As a young boy, I would spend many a night hunched over an Encyclopedia of British Football that my Granda had passed down to me. As I looked through the annals of results, laughing at the hammerings endured by Stirling Albion or getting frustrated that Dunblane had bent over and allowed Rangers an 11-0 at Duckburn Park (it’s now a Marks and Spencer’s…) I picked up on a few teams that I didn’t recognise.

My intrigue into the Third Lanarks and Clydebanks of this world extended no further than asking my dad if they were any good and that was that. That was all until March of this year when I literally stumbled into the mystical Cathkin Park. By total accident, I walked out onto the turf of the former national stadium and, surrounded on three sides by the Colosseum-esque terracing of yesteryear, felt as if I’d walked back in time. Yes, the trees sprawling up from the depths of the terraces may have been a giveaway that the ground had been long derelict, but the stadium remained an almost mystical place that was spookily befitting of the chill that had set in that eerie grey afternoon. If anything, the stone-cold abandonment of Cathkin Park was able to spark my intrigue in the story of Third Lanark, a story that far too many know nothing about.

On the 30th of November 1872, soldiers from the Third Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers travelled to the West of Scotland Cricket Club to take in the first-ever association football international match as Scotland and England played out a 0-0 draw. Inspired by what they had seen, the Third Lanark lads convened in the Regimental Orderly Room in Howard Street where they founded their very own football club by the very creative name of “Third Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers”.

In 1890 the club became one of the founding members of the Scottish League, with the late 19th and early 20th century being a fruitful era for the Southsiders. 1889 saw Thirds win the first of their two Scottish Cups following not one but two victories over the new bhoys of Scottish football, Celtic.

When the players arrived at the Second Hampden Park (that would eventually become Cathkin Park), the heavens began to open with snow piling down onto the field of play. Before long the pitch became buried under ankle-deep snow, forcing both team representatives to come to a decision on whether the day’s final should take place. Both sides came to an agreement that the final should be rearranged and a friendly match to entertain the crowds should be played in its place.

However, upon his arrival the afternoon’s referee Charles Campbell took a different view and declared that the match should be played for the sake of the fans who were braving the weather in expectation of watching a cup final. The match was duly played, and Third Lanark battled to a 3-0 win to register their first Scottish Cup… or so they thought. Just moments after the final whistle, the plot thickened further as Celtic disputed the legitimacy of the match due to the adverse conditions, and demanded the game be replayed. Discussions mumbled on for the next few days before a decision was finally taken to replay the game, much to the disgust of the furious Third Lanark players. However, the trophy still went home with the Thirds, as they managed to pick themselves up and dispatch Celtic once more, this time with a 2-1 victory.

The 1890’s is the period where much Third Lanark folklore originated, including picking up the nickname they would go on to become synonymous with: The Hi Hi. Rumour has it that during a Third Lanark match, a defender kicked the ball so high out of the ground that some crowd members responded by chanting ‘high high high’. From then on it was adopted as a battle cry for the Third Lanark support whose team would affectionately be known as ‘The Hi Hi’.

Plenty more silverware made its way back to Cathkin Park.  In 1903-04, the season after Thirds severed their military ties and changed their name to Third Lanark Athletic Club, the club won its historic first, and only, Scottish League Championship. That year also saw them win one of their four Glasgow Cups, whilst the following season brought them their second Scottish Cup, crowning an era where Third Lanark were undisputedly one of the best teams in the country.

Never again would the Hi Hi enjoy a spell of such success, but the rest of their existence still threw up many intriguing tales. In 1921 Third Lanark and a handful of other Scottish International players were granted permission by the SFA to tour Canada and the USA as representatives of Scotland. In two months, the Thirds team travelled from coast to coast playing a total of 25 games, winning 24 before drawing their final game. Before their departure, the Scottish contingent were presented by the US Football Association with a grand trophy displaying a Third Lanark and SFA crest either side of the US Football Association’s very own logo. Just two summers later, the Hi Hi were on the road again, this time with a sensational South American tour. Third Lanark won four and drew two of their eight matches against strong Argentine and Uruguayan opposition, including a 2-0 win against Montevideo’s Peñarol, a giant of Uruguayan football.

An artefact from Third Lanark’s North American tour

The following few decades were sparse in successes for Third Lanark with a Glasgow Charity Cup win over Rangers in 1952 being the highlight of Third Lanark’s triumphs between their travels in the 20’s and the opening season of the swinging sixties. The 1960-61 season was an incredible campaign for the free-flowing and expansive Hi Hi side. Inspired by the Real Madrid team that blew away Eintracht Frankfurt in the 1959-60 European Cup final at Hampden, Thirds manager George Young assembled an outfit with a daring emphasis on attack, and that’s exactly what he got.

Going into the last game of the season, the Thirds needed six goals to become the first Scottish team to ever tally 100 goals in a single season. With the visitors at Cathkin Park that day being a strong Hibs side, it looked as if Third Lanark would fall short of the historic century of goals. However, in what is arguably the most astonishing day in Third Lanark’s history, the Hi Hi dismantled Hibs in a 6-1 victory which ensured the fabled 100 goals record would be met. Despite being an incredible season nonetheless, the immensely talented Thirds team of 60/61 could have and probably should have won a whole lot more. The clinical Thirds attack spearheaded by some of the best Scottish players you have never heard of, such as Alex Harley, David Hilley, Matt Gray and Jimmy Goodfellow, were ultimately let down by an exceptionally leaky defence which conceded a catastrophic 80 goals in the same 34 games that the Thirds offence registered 100. A third-place finish was the reward for Thirds, who would never again compete at the top of Scottish football. A power struggle that saw crook Bill Hiddleston take control of the club in 1962 as good as sentenced the club to death row.

Hiddleston had history with Third Lanark, having been sacked from the board in the 50’s when he clearly made enough of an impression on the Third Lanark hierarchy that they knew his return to power was destined to be nothing short of an existential disaster. It was in December 1962 after an incredibly heated board meeting that Hiddleston’s proxy shares in the club managed to defeat the existing shareholders and give him full autonomy over Third Lanark. The club’s board members all resigned in response to his siege of power.

Resigning director Robert Martin’s parting words were ‘God help them – and God save them’, but a saving grace was not to be and within five years of Hiddleston gaining control of Third Lanark the club ceased to exist. Hiddleston moulded the club according to his own self-serving desires, estranging managers and sacking players as he pleased, plunging the institution further and further into a sinking hole of mediocrity. Amongst those to walk from Third Lanark during Hiddleston’s tenure were Old Firm greats Bobby Evans and Willie Young, who could not work under the notorious conman, as rumours of money being extorted from the club, sketchy backhanded deals and a desire to relocate the club to one of the new towns enveloped the halls of Cathkin Park.

David Hilley nets for the Thirds in their historic 6-1 victory over Hibs at a packed Cathkin Park in 1961

 

In 1964 Hiddleston took the decision to sack 19 of the club’s players, including the famous Ally MacLeod who was in his second spell at the club. The sacked players were replaced on the cheap and a squad composed of juniors and footballing veterans unsurprisingly failed miserably as the Thirds crashed to their worst season ever, amassing just 7 points and registering only 22 goals in a campaign in which they were rooted to the bottom of the table and lost their last 21 matches in a row. The club that had managed a record number of goals just years earlier had been turned into a laughingstock by the nefarious actions of a single man.

Instead of striving to establish itself as a serious contender for titles, Third Lanark was a club being brought soap and lightbulbs by its sorry opponents who knew they couldn’t afford their own. Thirds players would often train in the dark as electricity became sparse and were even said to have been instructed by Bill Hiddleston to chuck buckets of water over the Cathkin Park pitch, hoping that the imminent hard frost would freeze the surface and deem their next game unplayable; the depleted and injury-ravaged Thirds squad wouldn’t have been able to field a team. Hiddleston’s plan paid off and the game was cancelled.

The most infamous tale which symbolises the wretched nature of the club at that time, and moreover the nature of Bill Hiddleston on a human level, is former player John Kinnaird’s recounting of a serious injury he picked up against Clydebank at a frozen Kilbowie Park. After falling badly onto his left arm andfracturing it in three places, Kinnaird found himself looking at bone sticking out from his jersey, such was the extent of the break. Before being taken away in the ambulance, Hiddleston barked orders at substitute Mike Jackson who had been comforting the injured Kinnaird, telling him that when he accompanied Kinnaird to the hospital he had to tell the doctors that under no circumstances was the ‘fucking jersey to be pulled off’ because they were going to need it for next week. Hiddleston had more regard for the jerseys he owned than the people inside them.

Bill Hiddleston – the man who destroyed Third Lanark

Until 1967 Thirds performed abjectly in the second division, finishing in the lower half of the league amongst clubs which Thirds were historically far bigger than. The toxic state of affairs was turning fans away from Cathkin Park and on Saturday 15th April 1967 the Thirds played out a 1-0 win over Clydebank in front of 297 spectators, their lowest-ever attendance, in what proved to be the club’s final competitive victory.

In no statistic is the fall of Third Lanark more painstakingly clear than in the collapse of their attendance figures. In the aforementioned season of 1960/61 the high-flying Hi Hi drew in 555,489 paying customers to their games. In their final season that number had fallen to a pitiful 55,543. Third Lanark played their final game on the 28th April 1967 when they succumbed to an embarrassing 5-1 hammering away to Dumbarton. Just over two months later, they were ordered a wind-up petition from the Court of Sessions in Edinburgh and appointed a liquidator. The petition had been brought forward on the request of the Glaswegian building contractor who had built the new main stand at Cathkin Park in 1963 and claimed to still have been owed £2,000 for that job. After the liquidator presented figures to the judge which evidenced that Third Lanark’s liabilities exceeded the club’s assets by £40,000 the club was wound up and on June 26th 1967 it was announced that Third Lanark’s membership of the Scottish Football league was to be no more. Third Lanark were the first-ever Scottish football team to be liquidated.

Whether or not the club could have been saved or not can’t be ascertained for sure, but what is certain is that corruption was rife at the heart of this once-great club whose death was absolutely a criminal offence. The board of trade investigation into Third Lanark’s affairs opened up a can of worms on the club’s dealings which already looked conspicuous from the outside. It was uncovered that in-fighting at the club was rife, with players often being paid late, in coins instead of notes, with many theorising that it was undeclared gate money paying the wages. Additionally, players had to make their own way to away games and weren’t provided with any hot water after matches.

The extent of fraud at play from the board was so great that they were even found to be defrauding the club’s lottery, which very rarely paid out the £200 weekly prize. As a result of the investigation, four of the club’s former directors were found guilty of failing to keep proper books detailing the club’s affairs in the two years prior to their liquidation, and Bill Hiddleston was accused of ‘blatant corruption’ to the extent that ‘the circumstances merited police enquiry’. However, Hiddleston died of a heart attack in November of 1967, meaning that Third Lanark fans were never able to see the man whose actions destroyed their club be brought to justice.

But by no means did the Third Lanark story end with the death of the shady figure who brought them down. For years many of the Thirds’ former players and fans have worked tirelessly to bring their beloved club back from the dead. Numerous projects and exciting endeavours have been put forward to resurrect the Hi Hi of old and have the team restored to where they belong, competing in the Scottish Football League. Besides having a team which plays in the Greater Glasgow Amateur Leagues, the club also currently pioneer terrific community-focused projects in and around the neighbourhoods surrounding Cathkin Park which today make up the most diverse area in Scotland. Free street football sessions, coaching initiatives and ties with youth projects have ensured that the spirit of Third Lanark lives on in the community that the club once called home.

If you are interested in partaking in any of the community projects, volunteering to help out or even becoming a member of Third Lanark, then be sure to visit their website and learn more about the club.

 

 

THIS ARTICLE IS FROM THE 8TH EDITION OF THE CYNICAL, OUR FREE ONLINE MAGAZINE.

DOWNLOAD THE CYNICAL HERE:

EPUB FORMAT  (great for iBooks and other e-readers)

PDF FORMAT

 


Rory is a student and Celtic fan from Dunblane (yes he has met Andy Murray...twice). Since the age of 5, Rory has been a season ticket holder at his beloved Celtic, with his all time favourite player being the Aussie Zidane, Tom Rogic. In a fairytale story which saw Rory rise to fame through a few Mikael Lustig inspired questions he sent into the 90 Minute Cynic, Rory now writes for the journalistic wing of his favourite podcast, putting his Advanced Higher English credentials to the test. You can find Rory on twitter @RoryPrice6


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