The Fight to Save and Protect Our Sporting Heritage

There is a threat to Scotland’s sporting heritage. It is one that has no beginning and will have no end. Where there is an old stadium, there is probably a desire from somebody to knock it down and build something anew. Sadly, this does not mean a new stadium. As I write this, in April 2024, Sports historians are waiting to see when Shawfield Stadium is demolished; Shawfield, the place most famous for being for eighty-eight years the home of Clyde FC.  

But if there is no-one able now to argue for Shawfield, but there are hundreds who wish to campaign to protect a second iconic site under threat, the Second Cathkin Park, the one-time home of the Third Lanark AC. But first, some context. 

From a utilitarian point of view, I can understand why people want to get rid of old things. They are generally less efficient than the new. They require more maintenance and they might not be as comfortable as watching a game in a five-year-old stadium. I lived the first 18 years of my life in Milton Road, Southampton. At the other end of the street was my primary school: Springhill and, on the opposite side of the road: The Dell. My young life was defined by that eccentric, ad hoc, and frankly unsuitable stadium. When it was gone, Southampton FC moved into a modern stadium with no terracing, no pillars, and no dangerous corners.

Furthermore the reality is that the football world does not like history. But therein lies a paradox. In no way does the distant past get you three points every weekend. Nor in any way does a ramshackle stadium help you maximise your income in the difficult quest to build a team of the well-paid world-beaters. Yet we support our clubs, because of love handed down to us by our communities. The tales of groups of men and women in a room, a pub, or a church hall, groups that decided, one day, to create teams for their own amusement, were and remain our heritage.

In the last two years this paradox has hit me full in the face, with the tale of two of the four Hampdens. Let me start with a story that has no happy ending. The Queens Park FC of Glasgow were founded in 1867. They ended up as one of the world’s most influential football teams. Over the past 150 years, they built the world’s first purpose-built international football ground then in 1883 moved out and built another one and, in 1903, taking nothing but the name, they moved to their third home. However, the story does not end there. In 1925, they opened a fourth Hampden Park, to the west of number three. They called it ‘Lesser’. In fact, if you wish to be pedantic, it was actually ‘New’ Lesser Hampden. Old Lesser Hampden existed where the South East corner of the presnt Hampden car park now sits. In some of the old photos of Queen’s Park teams from the 1900s, you can see Old Lesser Hampden’s pavilion with ‘New’ Lesser Hampden where they now play a consequence of having been forced out and of their own ground. 

On that fourth Hampden Park there stood a pavilion. A very eccentric pavilion, because it had been the already old farmhouse of the previous, agricultural users until 1923 of the land of Clincart. But little did we know the move to Queen’s Park becoming a professional team would sound the death knell for the world’s oldest football-related building. One day, in December 2022, "Clincart Farm" was demolished. It was done with indecent haste. Sports historians and the local community had belatedly discovered what was about to occur. I tried to phone someone close to QPFC for help but got nowhere.  I doubt if I would have had the smallest of influence anyway. I also contacted the Council Planning Department. Their answer was that, as it was not listed, as a building worthy of saving, they had no reason to even make a comment on the demolition. I note, with a large dollop of cynicism, how the Planning Department seems to be at its most ineffective, when something is getting in the way of development. And the result; Clincart was gone.

Now if you had told me, five years ago, that Queen’s Park Football Club would destroy, I repeat, the world’s oldest, surviving football related building, I would have laughed at your over-emotional attitude. I’m not laughing now. I learnt a savage lesson that December. Circumstances change. People change. Organisations change. In the move from amateurism to professionalism Queen’s Park FC became an entirely different beast. Understandable, really. At some point, they decided that a building of which they had been extremely proud, had become a burden. What they needed was its replacement with a jet black box for Directors and guests. In fact, my book ‘Played in Glasgow’, is mute testimony to the fact that our sporting heritage is becoming more and more ephemeral. Page after page of photos of bowling clubs, now gone. Good luck finding much evidence of Farme or Kings Park, Govan or Pollokshields. With some, they are temporarily used as wee gardens. Others have disappeared. Moreover, the theme extends. Whilst the old Strathclyde Police Sports Ground in the Park, is now used by Queen’s Park FC, on the face of it a movement of sports, something which has happened over the centuries and is therefore acceptable, on 31st March 2023 Poloc Cricket Club was dissolved. Why? The club's lease at Shawholm in Pollok Park was terminated and the ground taken over but against opposition not least from Jock Maxwell Macdonald, who is great grandson of Sir John Stirling Maxwell, ironically one of the founders of the Scottish National Trust. But it was to no avail. Pollok and Corrour, who manage the land at Shawholm, refused to engage even with the BBC and, whilst the new occupier is the commercial football training company: ‘The W Academy’. (Ex-Mearns United), the real bottom-line was that a savage blow had been dealt to the viability of Scottish Cricket.

Which brings us to ‘New’ Cathkin Park, the former venue for League games, Cup Finals, crowds of forty thousand and even internationals. Taken over by the Third Lanark AC, when they were thrown out of the First Cathkin to the east of Dixon Halls when tenements needed to be built, the 2nd Cathkin was gradually placed largely over the top of the Second Hampden, of which nothing now remains. The latter's pitch was about eleven metres north of the former's but, when QPFC left for the Third Hampden, they pretty much demolished what they had built, so that Thirds couldn’t utilise it, for free. And when Thirds were dissolved in 1967 Cathkin became a public park, which is now being encroached upon by a planning application from the Jimmy Johnstone Academy that involved the cordoning off with a substantial fence of the Cathkin Park pitch, so that in future they and only they can decide who uses it. In other words a private organisation has tried to take a chunk of a public park and close it off. Hundreds of comments have been made, the large majority of them against the application. And the result thus far? Passed unanimously. So much for listening to the local community.  

There are, however, small shafts of light in the gloom. The South Boathouse on Glasgow Green has been restored under the leadership of Ingrid Shearer of the Glasgow Building Preservation Trust.  At Poloc CC the former cricket pavilion is now repurposed and will stay as it is, for now,. But the needs of a football academy for youngsters raises, for example, the constant possibility of major internal restructuring or  knocking down and rebuilding, which in turn makes pressing both here and elsewhere a co-ordinated approach to the problem of protecting, preserving and publicising our sporting heritage. The price is eternal vigilance, but the authorities have shown they are not on the side of history, leaving the task to others. The Scots Football Historians’ Group is one such organisation, whose reason for existing is to protect and promote our footballing heritage. The principles which drive us to restore graves such as those of Andrew Watson and Joseph Taylor are the same ones which lead us to work with those who just now want to ensure a future in the for New Cathkin Park but in the community and to keep eyes open in and for the future. 

So what might be next for threat? The West of Scotland Cricket ground? Glasgow Green? A few remaining Senior and any number of ancient Junior grounds? Ice rinks? Shinty fields? It is hard to know unless you are in a community, which is watching keenly. Mount Florida Bowling Club lies emptied and unused. The locals fight on to prevent flats being built on the greens. Their CCTV cameras have already frightened off attempts to break into the Club House. I, ever the cynic or is it realist, assume this would be to start one of those unfortunate fires which often seem to engulf old Glasgow buildings, which stand in the way of the developer.

And one last thought! High up on the terracing at Cathkin Park there is a stone slab with a quote from Hippocrates: 

Life is Short.

Art Long.

Opportunity Fleeting.

Experience Treacherous. 

Judgement Difficult.

It could be the rallying cry for those of us who want to save what is left, so that future generations may take pride in the the places where Scots perfected the game they gave to the world.

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