Our tale begins in the summer of 1877. Glasgow is the Second City of the British Empire: an industrial melting pot with a burgeoning population. Victorian gentlemen are keen to find some healthy recreation far from the grime of work. Football has become an increasingly popular sport and hundreds of clubs are forming and just as quickly folding.
A Glasgow team called 'Clyde' had existed for one season in 1872-73 but they have no link to the current Clyde FC. Another team called Eastern Athletic similarly lasted one season in 1875-76 and it's thought their members went on to form the club we know today.
The Clyde Football Club was founded and played on the banks of the river Clyde at Barrowfield. We don't know the exact date or circumstances in 1877 as most of Clyde's historical material was destroyed in fires at Shawfield. However, documentary evidence from the SFA and indeed match reports in the Glasgow press clearly show it all began in 1877, and the thread continues unbroken to this day.
Here's how the SFA recorded Clyde's origins:
"Clyde:- Founded 1877; Membership 50; Grounds (private), Barrowfield Park, on the banks of the Clyde; ten minutes walk from Bridgeton Cross; Club House on grounds; Colours, White & Blue. Hon. Secretary, John D. Graham, 24 Monteith Row."
Sitting on the edge of Bridgeton, Barrowfield Park lay in a triangle of land enclosed by Carstairs Street, Colvend Street and the river Clyde. The area was an intense mix of chemical, engineering and textile works with a high population density to provide the labour. Although no stadium photographs have emerged it appears the ground consisted of a grand stand running north-south, a pavilion and tennis courts at the southern end and a bicycle track surrounding the pitch.
Today this area is dotted with industrial units, but also contains a large grassed area. So it may be possible to stand upon a corner of the original Barrowfield pitch. Given Clyde's history of ground-sharing, it's ironic that Barrowfield was originally shared with a short-lived team called, Albatross.
The club founded then has no resemblance to a modern professional football club. Clyde FC was a private members club more akin to a present-day golf or bowling club. Clyde's Secretary, John Graham, was also a noted rower and it seems the club had other sporting and cultural activities besides football.
The first mention of Clyde was in Monday's Evening Times of 17th September 1877:
This very short report was common at the time as sport was of little significance and football competed with racing, bowling and quoiting for the limited column space available.
"Clyde v T. Lanark
Clyde opened their season at Barrowfield with a match against the 3rd Lanark Volunteers. In the end the 3rd were victors by 3 goals to 1."
Although most fixtures were informal, the Scottish Cup had existed since 1873. Soon there would also be the Glasgow Merchants' & Charity Cup and the Glasgow Cup that in their time were hotly contested major competitions. Clyde entered the 1st Round of the Scottish Cup on 29th September 1877 along with one hundred and one other teams. Third Lanark were the visitors once again and they triumphed 1-0.
Football had an interesting advantage over other sports. People would gladly pay to watch the spectacle and this forced football into becoming a business rather than a mere healthy pastime. Gradually as Secretaries became more efficient various local leagues sprang into existence. The game in England was developing rapidly and professionalism was adopted in 1885 with a national League structure soon to follow. With the threat of the best Scottish talent being lured south, the prominent Scottish clubs decided to act and circulated a proposal to form a national League in the spring of 1890. Clyde were invited to join but saw the whole exercise as an affront to their amateur pastime.
The press also took the moral high ground and showed distaste for anything as vulgar as a League. The Scottish Sport stated:
"Our first and last objection is that they exist. The entire rules stink of finance - money making and money grabbing."
Unsurprisingly the League proved to be a success and Clyde's objections lasted all of twelve months as they applied to join the very next year in 1891. Following acceptance, Vale of Leven provided the opposition for Clyde's first League fixture on Saturday, 15th August 1891. In a dream introduction to League football Clyde triumphed 10-3.
Monday's Glasgow Herald praised them highly:
"SPECIAL NOTES ON SUMMER PASTIMES
The League championship competition opened on Saturday, and, judging from the attendances at various matches, football continues to be as popular as ever. The newly admitted clubs to the League - the Clyde and the Leith Athletic - proved themselves worthy of inclusion by defeating their opponents, the Vale of Leven and Third Lanark respectively. The Clyde were strengthened by several prominent players returned from England, and with some practice, and assuming they keep together, should prove about the most powerful combination in Scotland. On Saturday they did pretty much as they liked against the Vale of Leven, when they defeated them by ten goals to three. The forward play of the incomers was magnificent, and could hardly be improved, while their defence was sound and reliable. The Vale's team was composed mainly of juniors, and while no real fault could be found with their forwards, who are smart and active on the ball, their half-backs and full-backs were weak. In the second half they had to play without D. Sharpe, their best half-back, who had the misfortune to get his collar bone broken, and to some extent disorganised the team."
A mid-table finish saw Clyde complete a confident season in League football and the table shows watching Clyde would guarantee goals at both ends.
The League expanded to encompass Division 2 in 1893-94 and following a poor season Clyde were in it, but thankfully only for one season. Professionalism had been adopted after a fierce debate and the path of modern football was set. Clyde's seven League seasons up until 1898 were largely mediocre but a Glasgow Cup final was reached in 1892. Celtic were the opponents and hammered Clyde 7-1.
With League football an undoubted success, Barrowfield revealed its limitations and simply couldn't cope with the crowds as many gained illegal entry. Opposition teams complained about the facilities and it was clear that Clyde would have to do something to appease the League.
The solution lay directly across the Clyde on some open ground known as Shawfield. Clyde endured a terrible final season at Barrowfield finishing bottom of Division 1. The final action at Barrowfield was a friendly against crack opposition in the form of Sunderland on 30th April 1898 ending in a 3-3 draw. At a stroke Clyde transformed from Brigtonians to Shawfielders.
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As nicknames go, "The Bully Wee" is quirky and affectionate. It's not clear when it was first coined, or by whom, but it has been synonymous with Clyde.
There appear to be three main theories how the name originated. The first refers to the fact that Clyde's support and possibly players were drawn from the Bridgeton area. Renowned for their pugnacious character the support were 'wee bullies' and hence the Bully Wee.
The second theory takes a European dimension. Apparently some Frenchmen were at Barrowfield around 1900. Upon a disputed goal they cried: "But il'y, oui?" This translates as: "Their goal, yes", but sounds very like "Bully Wee".
Our third and by far the most credible theory is that "Bully" was a Victorian synonym for first-rate/good/worthy. As Clyde were a small club it seems obvious that "Bully Wee Clyde" must have rolled off the tongue.