Ghost ground

Football’s reputation as the working man’s game runs deep in cities like Glasgow. From Ibrox, where games represented a diversion from the clanging of the Govan shipyards, to Parkhead and its colossal iron foundry, the big teams in town were intrinsically linked with the rise of Scotland’s industrial powerhouse.

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A game at Cathkin Park. Third Lanark (dark shirts) are taking a corner. The opposition could be Airdrie, judging by the distinctive ‘V’ on the jerseys.

However, a trip to remains of Cathkin Park raises more than one ghost. The visible spectre of a once-grand stadium is the obvious one; the hidden traces of Scottish football’s surprisingly middle-class roots would be the other. The Queen’s Park club was founded in these parts by ‘a number of gentlemen’ in 1867. It’s not fanciful to assume that these were part of the burgeoning middle class spreading into the newly-built suburbs. Five years earlier, the Queen’s Park itself was laid out as Glasgow’s third public park; the Mount Florida district, home to modern-day Hampden Park, was undergoing a transformation from farmland and country estate into sandstone tenement blocks. That transformation is now complete – there’s nothing bucolic about the surroundings these days – but it clearly took some time: photos from the early 1900s clearly show agricultural activity around the old farmhouse that still forms part of the facilities at Lesser Hampden.

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A cartoon depicting highlights from the first half of a game between Queen’s Park and Third Lanark, published in the Herald in April 1884. Image sourced from the excellent http://www.scotcities.com website.

Before that, in the 1880s, the Queen’s Park footballers were moving onto their second home – Cathkin Park – also in the Mount Florida area and a short stroll from the current Hampden Park. Opened in 1884, it was, albeit briefly, one of the biggest venues in town. Shortly after it opened, it staged a local derby between Queen’s Park and Third Lanark, the future owners of the ground. The Herald had a cartoonist at the game to capture some of the action, reckoned to be among the earliest images of an organised football game. The same cartoonist also depicted the second half; the middle class ambience captured by the bowler hats – rather than cloth caps – in the crowd.

Bigger occasions followed. In 1888, Cathkin Park hosted the second Football World Championship. This battle between the Scottish and English FA Cup winners went the way of Renton, convincing 4-1 winners over West Brom. In 1902, shortly before Queen’s Park left to establish the present day Hampden, it staged the final of the British League Cup, with 10,000 assembling to see Celtic beat Rangers in extra time thanks to a James Quinn hat-trick after the English contingent of Sunderland and Everton.

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A rare colour image of Cathkin Park from a 1966 game against Berwick Rangers. Image sourced from http://www.oldscottishfootball.blogspot.com

Even then, though, it was becoming too small for purpose. The establishment of a rail connection to central Glasgow, opened in 1886, made the ground more accessible to fans from across the city and the Victorian football boom meant demand was in danger of swamping the old ground. The Spiders moved on, Third Lanark moved in. It was the same time as the team ended its formal link with the Third Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers and setting out as a club in its own right. Their debut season at the new ground was a success, bringing the team its only Scottish Championship; the following year saw a second Scottish Cup win for the club. That was the highwater mark, but the club spent most of its life in the top flight before collapsing in the 1960s amid allegations of corruption and mismanagement. Just five seasons after finishing third in the top division, the club was liquidated.

That meant an end to the old grandstand, demolished after falling into dereliction. The terraces were left to the elements and are now overgrown. The club’s name was consigned to the history books, its fans left to find new allegiances. Anecdotal evidence talks of a boost in support for nearby Pollok in the junior leagues, others, doubtless, adopted one of the Old Firm.

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View of Cathkin Park, Glasgow, from the former covered terrace, looking towards the site of the main stand and pavilion.

But the ground is still there, its terraces visible in a natural bowl beneath Prospecthill Road. Once, this was the route that Mary, Queen of Scots’ army took to the Battle of Langdon; later it was home to a different, footballing regiment before falling into disuse. Today, it’s a council pitch. A 1990s reincarnation of Third Lanark, currently playing amateur football at the Toryglen Football Centre opposite Hampden, has ambitions to make Cathkin Park its permanent home. For now, though, the old park is an evocative shell of a once-famous ground, disturbed by dog-walkers and curious, camera-toting groundhoppers.

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Silent terraces at Cathkin Park, Glasgow.

Acknowledgements: the excellent local history website at scotcities.com has a wealth of information about the development of Glasgow’s South Side. The Mount Florida section is well worth a look for anyone interested in Cathkin Park and Hampden.

Disclaimer: the archive photos on this page are not my own work and have been sourced from other websites, as acknowledged in the captions. No infringement of copyright is intended. In the event of any query, please contact me via the about page on this website.

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