There can be few if any places in the World, never mind Scotland, where literally pivotal footballing history can be so concentrated, than Dunbartonshire's Renton. It was the village team, which, in 1875 by reaching the second ever Scottish Cup Final provided the first provincial challenge to Glasgow's place in the Scottish game. Admittedly that final was lost but it would only be two season's later that Vale of Leven, the club from neighbouring Alexandria, would complete the task and for a while itself be dominant. However, Renton would regroup and after a few fallow years from 1883 a new group of players would emerge from its working-class streets and change football forever. If Vale of Leven, The Vale, can be said to have been the first, successful working-man's team then Renton, astoundingly already one hundred and thirty-five years ago and then after a five year incubation, was the source of the modern game. Football might have been invented England but in and from 1888 both north and south of the border it would be changed irrevocably by a club that no longer exists and men and boys, who grew in terms of both life and football cheek by jowl.
So what was so special about 1888. Quite simply It was the year Renton, two years after it first success, won the Scottish Cup for the second time and then beat England's West Bromwich Albion and Preston North End, that and the next season's winners of the English FA Cup with Preston also in 1889 first League Champions. And they it did first of all by employing a new style of football developed, then refined and finally coached specifically at and by the club, and secondly with an initial group of fifteen or so young men, who had emerged from a collection of then teaming streets, which, with never a suspicion of what has gone before, may even today be walked down and through in a matter of minutes; total distance perhaps a mile. Moreover, many of those same young men would go South, the first of what would be not one by three Renton waves, over the next seven or so years, persuaded by those same two English clubs and others to earn a living from football that was officially denied them in their own land. And in doing so they took the new style, their collective style, on the first stage of its journey into an entire, wider World.
So now, if your curiosity is pricked, then here is the history to bring it all to life.
In many, indeed in most places, with Renton no exception, the railway was the key to the implantation of football in communities and its growth. It allowed home teams to travel away easily and away teams to arrive with equal facility. It enabled competition and rivalry produced crowds and revenue. So the village station seems an appropriate place to start all three of the rambles.
RAMBLE ONE -The First Wave 1888
Out of the station and to the T-junction is Back St., where Johnny Campbell and Jack McNee, both forwards in 1888, grew up, as did Duncan McLean, reserve full-back but soon to be a star in his own right. Campbell would later find his way to Sunderland and Newcastle, McNee to Bolton, McLean to Everton and Liverpool. Up Back St. and first on the right is King St. Take it down to Main St., cross into Burns St., following it to the river and to the left once more. James Kelly, the future pivot of the 1888 team at attacking centre-half, founder player at Celtic and Scottish international would live there at No. 14 as a small child. That was before his family moved into the next turning on the left, the remarkable Thimble St., perhaps the most capped hundred yards in the World.
There three of the 1888 eleven would be teenagers, Kelly himself at No. 15, goalkeeper, John Lindsay, later signed by Accrington and also an international three times over at No. 1 and one of Kelly's half-back partners, Bob Kelso, at No. 37, with his younger brother, James. Whilst the latter, also a half-back, would briefly join Liverpool, the former would, amongst other clubs, play for Preston, Everton and Dundee, winning seven caps to Kelly's nine. Moreover, Alex Brady would later stay at No. 11 and he too would play for Celtic before seven seasons at Sheffield Wednesday rendered him ineligible for caps.
Then turn back on yourselves and return to Burn's St. once more turning left to the next left, Stirling St, walking its length. Harry Campbell, another of the forwards and again a Scotland player, stayed at No. 14 as as a wean.
At the top of Stirling again go to your left. Now you are back on Main St., where south to north left full-back, Andrew Hannah, spent his entire childhood at No. 72 and at No. 70, so presumably next door. He too would head to Merseyside, to Everton first and then, on its formation, Liverpool. He would also win a cap. Then the same Harry Campbell was a teenager at No. 114 before Blackburn came calling, whilst Donald McKechnie, the team's third half-back, would live at No. 145 and also go to Sunderland, with between them at No. 129 Billy McKennie who went, seemingly from the reserves, first to Preston and then Darwen. And at No. 177, it seems somewhere near the top of Thimble St., there would be the McCall brothers, actually half-brothers, the exceptions. Archie from left back would be captain in 1888. James was the fourth of the five forwards. Both would win Scotland caps but neither leave the Vale. James is even buried in Renton's Milburn churchyard a few hundred yards north of where they had lived, as indeed is Duncan McLean.
And finally from the team was the one import, Neilly McCallum, and still on Main St. the man, whose place from 1885 he would take, Alick Barbour. Neilly would grow up in Bonhill across the river, Barbour lived as a child at 33, Back St. and as a teenager at 263, Main. And both would eventually find their ways to Nottingham. McCallum would first play for Forest and then Notts County, via Celtic with Kelly, and for Scotland once more. Alick would follow him at Forest having been first at Bolton alongside McNee for two seasons.
And then and there it is perhaps time for a coffee, a piece and a quick walk a quarter of a mile southward to Tontine Park, perhaps the centre of it all. The name survives as a street at the centre of a housing-estate, built in part by Archie McCall, a brickie to trade, on the very ground he and the others had once graced. That is before it is back for walkers at least to the starting point at Station St., the present and onward.
But the flow of schooled Renton talent did not stop there. Two more waves of young men would emerge each approximately four years apart over the next eight. Most were persuaded by English clubs to earn a living from football that was initially officially denied them in their own land but, as professionalism came to Scotland, other teams in our own game beyond Celtic came in to draw from the pool. And in doing so these younger products of Renton youth took the same new style now not only South but across our own land.
RAMBLE TWO -The Second Wave 1891
Out of the station to the T-junction you turn left into the upper part of Back St. Again Duncan McLean is noted as growing up there before now a season at full-back in Renton's first team and five more on Merseyside. He started at Everton but on the split remained at Anfield and newly-formed Liverpool. In fact he was a founder-member of the The Team of the Macs.
Up Back St. and first on the right is King St. Take it down to Main St., turn left once more, cross and cut through the alley into Thimble St.. There at No. 37 lived the Kelsos. Bob would be a member of Renton's greatest team but there was also James, his younger brother. Again a half-back he would also briefly join Liverpool, not be successful and return home. In fact his life would be tragically short. He would commit suicide. But there is some joy in the sadness. A decade later his widow would marry the then also widowed Duncan Mclean and their families would combine, joined by a further son.
Now retraced your steps back onto Main St., turn right and follow it through the centre of the village to its junction with Hall St. to right and Leven St. to the left.
Here there was once the village's public park, before the creation of Tontine Park, from 1878 Renton F.C.'s ground, and the present day one across the road. Here is Trinity Place, once Church Place and, it is thought, Park Buildings and Park Terrace. The first was the home of Billy Fleming, who would go on to Partick Thistle, Sheffield United and Dundee amongst other. Park Buildings was where David Hannah was a teenager. He would be another to join Sunderland and Liverpool but also Arsenal. And Park Terrace was where Alex Brady stayed at aged ten, as did John Harvey, newly arrived from Glasgow and going on to ply his trade again at Sunderland plus Clyde and Newcastle, where he became a trainer of its great team of the 1910s.
And then there it perhaps again time for a quick walk a quarter of a mile southward to Tontine Park. The name survives as a street at the centre of a housing-estate. That is before it is back for walkers at least to the starting point at the station and again the present and onward.
Yet, despite being twice stripped of first- and reserve-team players alike, being expelled in 1891 from the Scottish Football League for professionalism only to be reinstated and relegation in 1894, Renton was still able to regroup. It reached the Cup Final in 1895, only to lose once more, players again moving on before what was effectively to prove to be final decline.
RAMBLE THREE - The Third Wave 1895
Out of the station, to the T-junction you turn left into the upper part of Back St. There Andrew Mclean, brother of Duncan McLean, grew up, as did Johnny Murray and Jack Pryce. Andrew Mclean and Murray would stay with their village club. Murray and Pryce would be in the Renton team that lost the 1894 Scottish Cup Final along with a John, quite possibly the middle McLean brother. Pryce would go on to Hibernian and then South, notably Sheffield Wednesday.
Continue on to the second on the left, Red Row and take it to Main St., turning right, crossing and taking the first-left into Stirling St.. That will give you access to Cordale Ave. half-way up which, where Hannah Place, named for Andrew Hannah, now is, stood Cordale House and presumably Cottage. It was home to John Ritchie until his twenties, he being by then a Renton first-team stalwart, later a winner of a single Scotland cap.
Now backtrack to Main St. once more. There turn right and between Nos. 116 and you will pass the teenage homes of John Crawford, who went to Lincoln City and Nottingham Forest, then David Gilfillan (No. 90) to Partick and Darwen, James McBride (No.54) to Liverpool and Manchester City, Robert Duncan, who stayed at home, Donald Colman, to Motherwell, Aberdeen, four caps and grandfather to Rachel Corsie, and Robert Glen, to Hibernian once more and three internationals.
And then, before it is back for walkers at least to the starting point at the station, passing on Station St. itself the childhood home of Harry Gardiner, who went on to make eighty appearances for Bolton Wanderers there are two more stories. Firstly , there is that of Will McColl, who was neither born in Renton nor died there. Nor did he begin his footballing career with the club. That was up the valley at Vale of Leven, having spent his teenage years in Jamestown. But in 1895, the same year as he won his only cap, he was in that season's Renton Cup-losing side and at centre-half, so in footballing terms a direct descendent of James Kelly himself. Moreover, he was the great-grandfather of Alexandria-born, John McColl, better known as Ian, who would go on not just to played for Rangers and Scotland but be both one of the most successful and unluckiest of Scotland's international managers. And finally there is perhaps enough time for a quick walk a quarter of a mile there and back southward once more to Hall St. on the right as Main St. becomes Lennox St.. Perhaps the greatest Renton, perhaps Scottish footballer of them all, Alex Jackson, would in 1905 be born in the former and not just spend his childhood on the latter but there be surrounded by Renton and Vale greats with their wealth of know-how and experience. Archie McCall would live at No. 3, Hall, Alex Brady die at No. 18. Duncan McLean would stay at Nos. 40, 50 and 45 Lennox, plus ex. of Vale of Leven's Andy McIntyre at No. 25 and Joe Lindsay at No. 138. Imagine the wee laddie listening to the corner conversation.
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