The Secret World of Cathkin Park and Third Lanark FC
Cathkin Park is one of the most moving and fascinating places in Glasgow: a tribute to a past age of a city, working class culture and football. It was the home of Third Lanark, or Third Lanark Rifle Volunteers to give their full name, Glasgow’s main ‘other’ team from their inception until they went out of business in 1967.
It is a magical, mysterious place. Forty two years after Thirds passed into folklore most of Cathkin Park still stands – the bowl of the concrete terrace with their barriers still remaining along with the pitch; all that is missing is the grandstand, which was tragically built a mere three years before the club closed forever. Amazingly the pitch is still used and the goalposts with their peeling paint look like those of old, although maybe that is just a romantic illusion!
I have only visited it a few times, and took my friend Dave on Saturday who is a Hibs fan; to anyone who loves football and a poignant story this is a place to visit. Literally the air hangs with the sense of history and a tangible feeling that great occasions and crowds gathered here.
Thirds were one of the original twelve of the Scottish League in 1890-91, won the League and Cup, and as late as 1960-61 finishing third, scoring 100 goals in 38 games (more than any other team). They were run into the ground by William G. Hiddleston, who became the main shareholder of the club, and literally stopped paying players wages, made the manager and trainer one job, stopped having a medical kit, and engaging in all sorts of scams. All for the purpose of selling Cathkin Park to property developers.
Hiddleston’s schemes came to nothing, but it closed Thirds, and he died only months later in November 1967, before the authorities charged him, as they did four other Thirds directors who were found guilty of contravening the Companies Act.
Archie Macpherson’s magnificent ‘Flower of Scotland’ beautifully opens with the counterposing of Third’s last game with ‘the summer of love’ of Scottish football in 1967. On April 29th 1967 Thirds went to play Dumbarton, not knowing it would be their last game, losing 5-1. Days before Celtic had become the first British team to reach the European Cup Final, while the week before Rangers played the first leg of the European Cup Winners Cup semi-final (eventually winning and getting to and losing the final); Kilmarnock were waiting to play in the Fair Cities Cup semis. This was a golden era for the game, and one that was to be all too brief.
Archie comments on the passing of Thirds at the time, ‘Hardly anybody cared in 1967’. This was because there was a widespread complacency (oh how surprising!) that the good times would last, and teams like Thirds were just an inconvenience. Archie puts it, ‘The feeling, in a way, was that they had it coming. That attitude helped bring about the most scandalous death in British football’.
Bob Crampsey (who used to live overlooking Cathkin Park in Myrtle Park), along with Archie, one of the great sages of our game, also wrote movingly about Thirds, but Archie’s revelation that this nostalgia and sense of regret came latter is telling.
Cathkin Park on the Southside of Glasgow – cheek to jowl by the national stadium – seems to encapsulate all of this in the body of the stadium. It seems to have this history in the air.
As an afterthought to Hidden Glasgow and others: shouldn’t Cathkin Park and other places (Shawfield Stadium, the West of Scotland Cricket Club ground – site of the first recognised Scotland v. England match) be part of a tour of the unknown side of football in this city?
Archie Macpherson, Flower of Scotland? A Scottish Football Odyssey, Highdown 2005.
Bob Crampsey, The Scottish Football League: The First 100 Years, Scottish Football League n.d 1991.