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.
In Glasgow a team called ‘Clyde’ had existed for one season in 1872-73. Anecdotally they were formed at the same time in a similar fashion to Rangers FC by a crew of rowers at Glasgow Green. However this club has no direct link to the current Clyde FC. Another team called Eastern similarly lasted one season in 1875-76 and it’s thought their members went on to form the club we know today. Evidence for this comes from the unlikely source of the Sheffield Daily Telegraph of 12th October 1877:
“Perhaps the most important match in the first round was that between 3rd Lanark and the Clyde which ended in the defeat of the latter by one goal. The Clyde is mainly comprised of men who take a prominent part in the aquatics and formerly went under the name of the Eastern, a club which has produced some of the finest players of the Association game, including Mr P. Andrews now of Sheffield.”
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 was leased by the club and lay at the end of Martin Street 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. Maps of the time show 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. It remains to be discovered if Clyde developed the infrastructure and facilities at the site.
The 1895 Valuation Rolls include an entry for Clyde:
Description: Recreation Grounds at Martin Street
Proprietor: Joseph Monteith, Carstairs House, per J Frame, 40 Royal Exchange Square
Tenant: The Clyde Football Club, per James Mackie, 11 Allan Street
Yearly Rent: £50
Oddly, the name ‘Barrowfield’ is missing from the entry, despite being used in match reports since 1877. Joseph Monteith was a wealthy landowner and famous for powering his Carstairs mansion and private tramway with one of Scotland’s first hydroelectric systems. James Mackie was probably the club secretary of the time living in nearby Dalmarnock.
Today this area is dotted with industrial units, but it 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.
From the outset Clyde FC lay in very close proximity to other Senior clubs. Thistle (not related to Partick Thistle) were the nearest to Barrowfield and shuffled around Glasgow’s East End from park to park. Queen’s Park and Third Lanark were situated only about a mile from Barrowfield with Cambuslang (later to become Junior) also nearby, but crucially there was geographical distinction from these clubs provided by the River Clyde.
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 and its players were strictly amateur. Clyde’s Honorary Secretary, John D. Graham, was a champion rower and an active member of Queen’s Park FC where he occasionally played as goalkeeper. His dual memberships didn’t seem a problem until he became Clyde’s representative on the Glasgow Football Association which forced his resignation from Queen’s Park (although he later rejoined). Widely respected, and possessed with energy and enthusiasm, he was a major driving force in Clyde’s formation and consolidation. Sadly he met a premature death in 1895.
The first mention of Clyde in action was in The Evening Times of Monday 17th September 1877:
“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.”
This very short report was common at the time as sport was of little significance and football competed with racing, bowling and even quoiting or otter hunting for the limited column space available.
Although most fixtures were arranged informally, 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.
Clyde FC must have thought Glasgow’s East End was theirs to exploit until the emergence of Celtic FC in 1888. The original Celtic Park, situated a mile to the north of Barrowfield Park, lay on the junction of London Road and Dalmarnock Road (now Springfield Road). The obvious affiliations of Celtic and their roaring success from the outset stifled Clyde’s ambitions. Celtic were simply on a different scale in terms of crowds and success and remained so.
The effect of the emergence and immediate success of Celtic to the detriment of Clyde and others was reported in the Scottish Umpire in 1888:
“One or other of the East End clubs Clyde and Thistle perhaps both, will feel keenly the presence of another Richard in the field in the shape of Celtic F.C. There is no gainsaying the fact that this combination will prove most formidable opposition to the rival houses of Beechwood and Barrowfield. As a rule, the general public follow wherever they are provided with a good bill of fare, and if our Celtic brethren can retain the services of those players who did duty for them last week, the attendance at club matches at the grounds we have mentioned will show a perceptible falling off.”
Although Celtic had emerged on Clyde’s doorstep, there were benefits. Celtic’s first ever balance sheet of 31st May 1889 revealed that of 45 games played at Celtic Park, the three Clyde games accounted for a disproportionately large 11.5% of total gate receipts. At that time the football authorities wanted to foster competition and gates were shared between teams. Hence Clyde received £158 from the generous giant up the road.
As football became established and popular with paying customers, this forced clubs into becoming businesses rather than mere sporting concerns. Gradually as club secretaries became more efficient various local leagues sprang into existence. The game in England developed rapidly with professionalism adopted in 1885 and a national League structure soon followed. Threatened with 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.
DIVISION 1 1891-92
|Vale of Leven||22||0||5||17||24||99||5|
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 was also adopted in 1893 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.
One competition where Clyde excelled was the North Eastern Cup organised by the North Eastern FA in the city of Glasgow. This cup was open to all in the North and East areas of the city with the first final being played in 1882. Clyde eventually claimed the cup on 4th April 1891 with a 3-2 victory over Northern at Celtic Park in front of 10,000 spectators. Between1893-95 three more cups were won before the competition ended. The last cup victory, a 4-0 victory over Northern, was witnessed in front of only 1000.
Over their first twenty years of existence Clyde FC became part of the fabric of Bridgeton sporting culture. Formal club business meetings were held in Bridgeton and reported in the national press. A Dundee newspaper provided the following information on 18th May 1897:
CLYDE’S ANNUAL MEETING
The annual meeting of the Clyde Football Club was held in the Bridgeton Cross Public Hall, Canning Street, Glasgow, last night Mr J Blackadder, President, in the chair. Proceedings opened with the reading of the minutes of the last annual meeting, this being followed by the reading of the secretarial and financial reports, both of which, although anything but gratifying documents, were ultimately adopted. The Secretary stated that 38 matches had been played, 12 won, 25 lost and 1 drawn. The Treasurer’s report showed that the Club had incurred a loss on the season’s working of £724 odd. This however did not include the transactions of the Bazaar Committee, the Secretary of which stated that the bazaar had yielded something over £500; that the Committee had cleared off £333 of debt, and that they still had a surplus on hand of over £223. Taking these figures into consideration, the actual debt of the Club at the present time is £266 19s 6d, this amount being a good few pounds less than stood against the Club at the commencement of the season. Forty-four members intimated their resignation from the Club, which thus leaves the total membership at 112.
If nothing else, this detailed report shows how little circumstances have changed in the 115 years since it was written.
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 lease on Barrowfield was also due to expire which forced the club’s hand. With hindsight it seems obvious Barrowfield’s owners were keen to redevelop the area for industrial or commercial use.
The solution lay directly across the Clyde on some open ground known as Shawfield. The nearby Rutherglen Bridge had been rebuilt between 1893 and 1896, improving access between the sites. Another meeting in 1897 resulted in a proposal for the formation of Clyde Football and Athletic Company Limited. It was envisaged the incorporation of the club, with issuing of shares, would largely finance the move across the river. The proposal was adopted and the move to Shawfield was set in motion.
On 6th May 1898 the papers noted the formation of a new company:
“Clyde Football and Athletic Club Limited acquiring the whole property and rights of Clyde Football Club - capital £5000 in shares of £1.”
Clyde endured a terrible final season at Barrowfield finishing bottom of Division 1. However, as automatic relegation wasn’t yet adopted, Clyde’s allies decided to keep them in the top flight. 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.Back to Top
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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.