Sunday, June 01, 2008

Ghosts of Glasgow Football

I wrote last year about visiting the Estadio Nacional Jamor, just outside Lisbon, where Celtic defeated Inter Milan in May 1967 to lift the European Cup for the first, and only time. The stadium is a beautiful old arena in a charming woodland setting, and though it's rarely used for anything other than the Portuguese Cup final or national team training sessions these days, it still imparts the same breezy meridional exoticism that so marked the colour television images of the final that memorable day. The same week their cross-town rivals Rangers were being defeated 1-0 by Bayern Munich in their second Cup-Winners' Cup final; but back in Glasgow another club, Third Lanark, was being wound up only five years after finishing third in the old Scottish first division. The club was the victim of mismanagement though many supporters claim that the board of directors deliberately ran it into the ground.

I remember first seeing references to the club in an old News of the World football annual that my uncle had retained from his schooldays, and the ghostliness of their history would even colour my reading, years later, of Alasdair Gray's mighty apocalyptic novel Lanark. I used to think that the club got their name from being Glasgow's third club (though Partick Thistle or even Clyde might dispute that classification) but it was actually from the Third Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers, out of which the club originally sprang. The club's old ground Cathkin Park, which was itself formerly the second of the three Hampden Parks, still stands as a municipal park, and a new incarnation of the club plays junior football there. Two of the terraces also stand, going back to nature as trees and vegetation grow on them; this collection of photographs of the ground illustrates this and, if the sight of the ruined terraces were not haunting enough, they are also strikingly reminiscent of the sylvan setting of the Lisbon stadium where Celtic were making Scottish football history just as another chapter of that history was coming to a sad end.

Though Thirds disappeared from Scottish football while the country was still a force in European football - and would continue to be for another twenty-five years, their fate sadly mirrors the decline in Scotland's own footballing prestige. Though the national team have made great strides in the last couple of years, despite limited resources, and Celtic and Rangers have made decent dents in European football after years of underachieving, beyond the Old Firm there are few clubs capable of competing consistently, a far cry from the 1980s when Dundee United and Aberdeen were teams feared by some of the giants of European football. Meanwhile, Gretna, a club with a far lesser pedigree than Third Lanark, may also go the same way having gone into administration.

For more on Thirds - or the Hi-Hi, as their fans knew them - here is a clip from a Channel 4 documentary commemorating the 40th anniversary of their folding: