Change, Decline & On The Road – Shawfield, Firhill & Douglas Park – 1970-1993
Clyde began the 1970s as they had previous decades with the spectre of relegation hanging around. In a dramatic move Clyde attempted to quit the city and merge with Hamilton Accies. Hamilton had been in dire financial trouble and had resigned from the League. The move floundered as quickly as it arose and Hamilton quickly rejoined the League.
Barely twelve months later the shoe was on the other foot as Division 2 Dumbarton made an audacious bid to merge with Division 1 Clyde in return for a cash settlement. The Scottish League viewed this as Dumbarton trying to gain first-class status by the back door and quashed the move.
Many fine servants such as Harry Glasgow, Sam Hastings, Tommy McCulloch, Graham McFarlane and Eddie Mulheron moved on in 1972 as relegation called once more at Shawfield. Yet amazingly, Clyde recovered straight away and won Division 2 the very next season. The spell from 1973-75 would be Clyde’s last in the top flight to date.
With Celtic dominating the domestic game the bigger clubs were once again agitating for change. During season 1974-75 the League decided to introduce the Premier Division the following season, and inclusion would be based upon League position. Clyde were never in contention and finished a poor 16th in Division 1. So the following season Clyde would play in the middle tier of Scottish football (still called Division 1).
With hindsight the advent of the Premier Division was a disaster for clubs like Clyde. At a stroke the ability to generate money was restricted to a small elite. In the old format with a large top tier Clyde could have a poor season but still survive. There was breathing space to consolidate and sometimes even prosper. Being denied that opportunity, Clyde haven’t graced the top flight ever since.
Clyde’s role was now to discover and develop talent before selling it on. Shawfield was the starting point for internationalists such as Steve Archibald, Ian Ferguson and Pat Nevin.
Disarray on and off the pitch saw Clyde in freefall as they finished bottom of the new Division 1. Clyde would now be in the bottom tier (Division 2) of Scottish football in 1976-77. Unusually there was to be no immediate bounce back as they could only muster a 7th place finish. It’s galling to think that in the course of a decade Clyde had gone from 3rd in the land to a very depressing spot just off the very bottom of Scottish football.
A ray of light appeared at this time as former Celtic captain, Billy McNeil, took charge towards the end of 1976-77 season. Sadly he was destined for greater things as Aberdeen snapped him up after only a few months at the helm. Facing a bleak future Clyde turned to the relatively unknown, Craig Brown, to revive the Bully Wee’s fortunes. His success was immediate as Clyde won the new Division 2 in 1977-78.
However, the die had been cast and Clyde were destined to be also-rans in the bright new future of Scottish football. Problems were arising at Shawfield too. The stadium was falling into a state of disrepair and the grounds clearly weren’t being maintained. By the late 1970’s Shawfield came into the hands of the Greyhound Racing Association Ltd (GRA). The ‘dugs’ had been in decline since 1963 when off-course betting was allowed. To compensate for this the GRA had transformed itself into a property company and had a policy of acquiring and redeveloping dog tracks for commercial and residential uses. Very few appreciated that fact when Shawfield passed into their hands. Unsurprisingly Shawfield came on the open market in 1983 with a price tag of £½ million.
With the GRA set to cash in on their asset Clyde had to start looking for a new home. There were plenty of ideas but very few of them were practical. By 1986 Clyde were served with a notice to quit Shawfield. Alloa Athletic provided the final opposition at Shawfield on April 28th 1986 as the Bully Wee triumphed 4-2.
The only grain of consolation was that Shawfield proved very difficult to sell as planning restrictions and land contamination put off potential buyers. Eventually a consortium headed by the King bookmaking family took on Shawfield as a going concern.
Without a home how would Clyde survive? The unpopular but necessary decision was taken to ground-share with city rivals, Partick Thistle. Clyde spent five unhappy seasons at Firhill and the sense of relief when Clyde departed was audible. The club was grateful to its rival for granting use of Firhill, but there was an underlying sense of being barely tolerated as an inconvenient annoyance. Hence the ‘Gypsy Army’ came into being as Clyde fans sought pride and solace during the Club’s homeless years.
Next stop was Douglas Park, Hamilton. Clyde resided there for two and a half seasons as plans were developed and implemented to build a new home in Cumbernauld. Unable to make an impact nationally, the era from 1970-93 is more notable for some fine Club servants and unearthing some great talents that would leave Clyde all too quickly. Everyone will have there own list of favourites but Brian Ahern, Eddie Anderson, Jim Burns, Neil Hood, Keith Knox, Ross McFarlane would feature on most.