Crossing The River – Early Years at Shawfield – 1898-1919
Clyde said farewell to Barrowfield in the spring of 1898. Across the newly rebuilt Rutherglen Bridge lay a triangle of undeveloped land bounded by Glasgow Road, Rutherglen Road and Richmond Park (formally opened in 1899). This land, belonging to a farm, was known as Shawfield and was previously leased for popular summer sports meetings. At this time, Shawfield was probably better known for the betting offences that regularly accompanied these meetings.
In this period the competition for fans was desperate. Thistle had folded completely and Cambuslang joined the Junior ranks. The attractions of Shawfield were obvious. While support could be relied upon from the traditional heartland of Bridgeton, the move gave the Burgh of Rutherglen a Senior football team to adopt and support. In addition housing developments adjacent to Shawfield, such as Oatlands, were being built with the possibility of capturing more support.
The Rutherglen Burgh valuation rolls of 1915 show that Clyde leased the land for £75 per annum (equivalent to £7100 in 2012). It would later become apparent there was also an option to purchase. The land owner was Mrs Mary Morgan who inherited the Dixon family fortune (of Dixon’s Blazes fame) which included areas all over Glasgow’s south side.
It’s encouraging to note some entrepreneurial spirit, with the valuation rolls also revealing Clyde were trying to sub-let what were termed ‘advertising stations’ for £10 per annum. Shawfield, it should be remembered, at that time, sat beside some of Glasgow’s busiest major transport arteries.
With the lease agreed and a new League season only a matter of months away, the new company had the monumental task of enclosing and transforming the area into a venue suitable for first-class football.
By the eve of the new season, an area of about nine acres was enclosed. A grand stand seating 1500 was nearing completion and embankment works around the pitch were well under way. Clyde’s public relations exercise was in full swing as the new season loomed. Here’s how the Evening Telegraph previewed Clyde’s chances in their new surroundings:
Big changes have come over the Clyde since last season, but they have all been for the better, and the prospects of the Club are brighter this season than they have been for a considerable time. In the first place September will see them playing on a new field, which has been got up in good style with all the latest conveniences. The lease of Barrowfield, their old park, was up, and they have secured a good piece of ground about five minutes’ journey from their old pitch. The new home is 115 by 73½ yards, splendid surface, and a track suitable for cycling. A new covered stand is in the course of erection, which will seat 1500, with the pavilion underneath. There will also be a reserved enclosure in front of the stand capable of holding 3000 spectators, while altogether it is said that 40,000 people will be able to witness the game with freedom. As regards the team, a lot of likely players have been signed, and the Directors have strong hopes of the team being well up in the League table. The full list of players signed on to date are: – Goal, Sydney Ross (late 3rd Lanark) and William Donnelly (late Liverpool); backs, J. Watson, A. McDonald and S. Neil; half-backs, Coulter (who played amateur last season), Nash, Blair (late Sheffield United), Gardiner and Thomson (late Dumbarton); forwards, Campbell, McDonald, Crawford, Scully (late Fair City Athletic), Ferguson, Lambie (a Lanarkshire lad) and Gibb. Their first match will be a League one with Celtic next Saturday. During alterations the Celtic Directors gave the team the use of their field for training purposes two nights a week – a rather generous allowance in these days of professionalism. Negotiations, it may be added, are pending with several other well-known players.”
Celtic, the neighbours from up the road, provided the inaugural opposition at Shawfield on 27th August 1898. A healthy crowd of 10,000 turned up to see a goalless draw and return gate receipts of £203. The Dundee Courier described the action:
“Clyde v Celtic – At Shawfield Park, Glasgow, Clyde’s new ground was opened for play on Saturday, when the Celtic were the visitors. Provost Edmiston of Rutherglen, set the ball in motion. Pretty even play was the rule throughout the match. In the first period, Donnelly, Clyde’s defender, had a good bit of work to do keeping the ball out. Two corners fell to the lot of the Clyde towards the end of the first half, but both times the ball went behind. No scoring had taken place at half time. On resuming, the Celts gave more trouble to the Clyde defence, but Clyde also had a look in later, although without result. The game ended in a draw, no gaols being scored.”
The future looked bright but it soon became apparent that moving across the river was a step too far and too soon. If Clyde had a business plan, then it was badly off course. The grand stand’s builders and a former player sought payments and took the company to the Court of Session. Unable to pay, a liquidation order for the company was issued on 16th November 1899 and it emerged only £1100 of share capital had been raised.
It looked like the end of for Clyde. However, at a creditors’ meeting former members of Clyde (when it was a private members club) agreed to acquire the assets and players of the company and provide a modest payment to the creditors. Through the disincorporation process Clyde Football Club was saved and was once again a private members club. The shell left behind, Clyde Football and Athletic Club Limited, was formally liquidated in 1900.
With little money it’s no surprise that Clyde struggled badly in the first few years of the new century at Shawfield. Matters then took a turn for the better around 1904. Clyde finished 2nd in Division 2 but were not elected to Division 1 (automatic promotion/relegation didn’t appear until 1921). Clyde also won a supplementary competition called the Glasgow & West of Scotland League and repeated the feat the following season. Promotion was again denied in 1904-05, with Clyde the Division 2 champions, but was finally earned the following season.
With finances stable and improvements in performance on the pitch, the lure of incorporation (forming a limited company with shares) was calling again in 1907. All the other successful clubs were incorporating for reasons of making it easier to obtain finance. Clyde’s members couldn’t resist, despite the dismal failure of Clyde Football and Athletic Club Limited a mere seven years earlier.
The papers of 25th January 1908 reported the formation of another company:
“The Clyde Football Club Limited acquiring the property and rights of Clyde Football Club – capital £3000 in shares of £1.”
It’s unknown how well subscribed the issue was, but the evidence of Clyde’s upward progress from this point suggests it met with investor favour.
The years up to World War I proved successful and probably represent the most consistent period of success for the club. A 3rd place in Division 1 in 1908-09, only three points behind champions, Celtic, put Clyde firmly on the map of Scottish football. The semi-final of the Scottish Cup was also reached for the first time only to be thwarted by Celtic after a replay. International honours were also awarded to Clyde players for the first time this season. William ‘Shoogly’ Walker represented Scotland against Northern Ireland at Ibrox (5-0), while interestingly the opposition included his team-mate, John Kirkwan.
For five seasons until war began, Clyde were at the top end of Division 1 and reached the Scottish Cup final in 1909-10 and 1911-12. The former of these finals was especially disappointing. For eighty-three minutes Clyde (McTurk; Watson & Blair; Walker, McAteer & Robertson; Stirling & MacCartney; Chalmers; Jackson & Booth) held a 2-0 lead with goals from Chalmers and Booth, and looked certain to win. With the Cup in sight, nerves got the better of Clyde and Robertson fluffed a clearance off Blair and into his own net. Dogged Dundee fought all the way and salvaged the game in the last minute with an equaliser from Langlands. The replay was far more cagey an affair and ended goalless after extra time but with Dundee looking physically stronger. The third game was again a tight affair with Clyde scoring after only three minutes through Chalmers. Dundee equalised before the interval and with Clyde’s energy sapped, John “Sailor” Hunter blasted Dundee to victory.
The 1912 final saw Celtic trump the Bully Wee once again with a 2-0 victory. Another 3rd place finish in the League being the only consolation. Still undaunted, Clyde reached the semi-final again in 1912-13, but the jinx struck again and after a replay Raith Rovers squeezed into the final.
Clyde had something to cheer about during this period of near misses as they clinched the Glasgow & Merchants’ Charity Cup in 1910 and the Glasgow Cup in 1915. It’s easy to deride these competitions as second rate but they were fought just as hard as the Scottish Cup and indeed all six competitors (Celtic, Clyde, Partick Thistle, Queen’s Park, Rangers and Third Lanark) were more often that not resident in Division 1.
With Clyde performing well and profits being made, it seemed like good times. Under the surface it was a different matter in the boardroom though. The General Meeting of 19th May 1914 announced to a large audience a profit of £1204 19s 5d (£94500 in 2012). A motion was then presented to reduce the board from nine to seven members. On a show of hands the motion was rejected but a formal ballot was demanded. The ballot showed a majority of almost three to one in favour of the motion. Amid much bluster and procedure five of the board resigned with strong hints of forming a new club in Bridgeton.
Four months later in September 1914 a fire completely destroyed the grand stand, and with it much of the club’s early history. Celtic generously provided playing and training facilities as Clyde regrouped once more.
Officials, players and fans had little time to dwell upon the event, as war with Germany had already started. The Scottish League took the decision to continue playing even though there was strong moral pressure on every young man to sign up for ‘King & Country’. Besides, football crowds provided a fertile recruitment ground and the games themselves kept morale high. Many players joined up and teams, like Clyde, found it increasingly difficult to field competitive sides and the League eventually reduced back to a single division. Many Clyde players signed up and some unfortunately never returned such as C. Clunas (2nd Royal Fusiliers), T. Cranston (Black Watch) and W. Sharp (1st Battalion Royal Scots).
Conscription was introduced in 1917 and put further hardship upon League clubs. Many well-known clubs simply couldn’t function and had to retire from the League. Despite the difficulty, Clyde kept going. War ended in November 1918 and Clyde along with every other club faced an uncertain future as the Scottish League tried to reorganise in peacetime.