Shawfield – 1920-1945
Clyde FC managed to sustain football through the difficult war years and peacetime presented new challenges. The Scottish League continued through 1919-21 with only one division as financial difficulties hit football hard. Division 2 was restarted in 1921-22 with a very crucial difference. Automatic promotion and relegation had been adopted and while the benefits were obvious for ambitious teams, the financial penalties for falling out of the top tier were extremely severe.
Scotland’s economy was struggling with Divisions 1 and 2 finding it hard to attract fans. Against this background, in 1923, the League made the incredible decision to expand out to fifty-six teams spread over three divisions. Many of these were little more than village teams and how they expected to sustain Senior football is hard to believe.
Clyde, of course, couldn’t resist the twin temptations of automatic relegation and visiting new locations. Relegated in 1923-24, Clyde spent two seasons in Division 2 plying their trade with the likes of Armadale, Arthurlie, Bathgate, Boness, Broxburn, King’s Park, Nithsdale and St. Bernard’s. Escape via automatic promotion was achieved in 1925-26 and coincided with Division 3’s demise and many of the smaller teams returning to other leagues and Junior football.
This upswing in Clyde’s fortunes was demonstrated by winning the Glasgow Cup for the second time in 1926 with a 2-1 victory over Celtic. Now that Clyde were back in the top flight, could they stay there? Until the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the answer was a resounding “yes” as Clyde maintained a respectable mid-table status. Danny Blair was a prominent international full back of this era and Bill Boyd became Clyde’s top marksman with 32 goals in season 1932-33 and earned two international caps.
Yet despite Clyde’s success on the field, financial problems were never far away as acquiring sufficiently large crowds proved as elusive as ever. By the late 1920’s the world was heading into the Great Depression and Glasgow would be hit very hard. Clyde needed to find an answer to their money problems and it lay right in front of them.
Against a background of looming economic disaster, Greyhound racing boomed in the late 1920’s and many struggling football clubs saw this as a way to supplement their income. The Scotsman newspaper of April 1927 reported on the new sport and how Edinburgh’s Powderhall stadium was being redeveloped. It also stated Shawfield would be the Glasgow headquarters of the sport, although redevelopment would have to wait until the end of the season.
The financial benefits were obvious and needed, but Clyde fans were hardly universal in supporting the venture. A letter from a concerned Clyde fan appeared in the Sunday Post in the same month. The writer questioned the authority of the board to enter such an agreement as it violated the club’s own constitution (Clyde FC existed to promote football). He reasoned a shareholder’s meeting should have been held and a vote taken on whether to alter the club’s articles of association. Director, George Blair, officially responded stating the ground was leased and the terms prohibited animal racing. However as Clyde FC are to purchase the ground, this will wipe out the lease and its restrictive terms.
So, from struggling to make ends meet, Clyde FC were suddenly to purchase the ground they had leased for 29 years and then let it to a greyhound racing syndicate? This confused state of affairs lurched into the 1930’s before finding a resolution.
The League was firmly set against greyhound racing at football grounds from the beginning. They saw it as serious competition for spectators and betting as a malign influence that would corrupt the sport of football. Guidance was issued to the effect that if greyhound racing was already in place then it must not interfere in any way with football and football must always have priority. The League also inspected grounds using this guidance which led, in part, to the demise of Armadale. By 1932 the guidance had developed into hard rules which stated League members couldn’t allow greyhound racing at their grounds, and if it already existed, then it must stop. It was clear that Clyde FC would have to tread very carefully.
Clyde at that time had a very cunning and dogged Chairman called John McMahon. He wouldn’t let the idea go and after years of wrangling a solution was arrived at. Clyde as tenants of Shawfield couldn’t have greyhounds. Even if Clyde purchased Shawfield they still couldn’t have greyhounds. However, what if Clyde were to become tenants at a greyhound racing stadium? How would the League deal with that?
While greyhound racing flourished despite the League’s anti-greyhound agenda, the world was in the midst of the Great Depression. Football gates suffered and Clyde hit the headlines again for all the wrong reasons in late 1931.
The Courier and Advertiser painted a bleak future for Clyde FC:
DIRECTORS SAY OUTLOOK IS BLACK
Shareholders’ Meeting summoned
The directors of Clyde Football Club met last night to consider the serious financial position of the club. At the close of the meeting it was stated that the directors had decided to call a meeting of the shareholders to decide the question of whether or not the club is to carry on next season.
The directors further intimated that the outlook is black.
After two hours’ discussion, Manager Frank Thompson said that no official details were to be given.
The ‘Courier and Advertiser’ learns, however, that the position seems hopeless in view of the present conditions.
The questions of the shilling gate and the unemployment gate were discussed.
Both subjects, and others relating thereto, will be discussed at the meeting of the shareholders of the club which is to be called.
At a meeting of the Clyde Supporters’ Club, over which MR William Mitchell presided, it was decided to write to Clyde F.C. requesting statements regarding the position, and offering the whole-hearted support of the Supporters’ Club to any scheme that may be devised to carry on the football club.
This statement caused major concern in football circles. If Clyde fell, how many others would follow? However dire the situation looked, there is a hint that this may also have been a tactic to soften the League’s stance on greyhounds. Barely three months’ later the club issued a proposal on embracing greyhound racing.
The Scotsman of 1st March 1932 reported the proposal:
GREYHOUNDS FOR SHAWFIELD
CLYDE F.C.’S PROPOSAL
“The scheme appears to the Board to be the only feasible one to enable the club to continue its existence, and if the greyhound venture meets with the success anticipated, it will afford to the club a source of revenue which, it is hoped, will lead to prosperous times.”
This statement is taken from an important circular issued by Clyde Football Club to their shareholders, suggesting a way out of the financial crisis with which the club is confronted. A special meeting of the shareholders will be held on Monday, March 7, to consider the plan.
The directors report that they have been offered the ground at the price of £10,000 for the purpose of continuing in football and engaging in greyhound racing, and they propose to accept this offer if the scheme they submit is adopted. Stated briefly, the scheme is that, as Clyde Football Club cannot engage in greyhound racing, a syndicate, mainly composed of directors of the club, propose to form a company for the purpose of greyhound racing, with a capital of £20,000, provided the club agree to cancel the option of purchase which they hold over the ground at the moment, and to the purchase being made on behalf of the new company. In consideration of their cancelling the right to purchase, and for the use of stand and appurtenances belonging to the club during the remainder of the lease, and also for the right to alter stand and ground as might be necessary, the new company guarantee to the club one-third of the net stand drawings at all meetings held by the new company, with a maximum of £500 in any one year. The club would also be kept free of rent and taxes during the remainder of the lease. The stand would remain the property of the club; and, although there were mutual breaks in the lease at Whitsunday 1934 and 1936, the new company would agree not to terminate it at either of these dates. In the allotment of shares in the new company preference would be given to applications from shareholders of Clyde Football Club.
Given the attractive terms and lack of an alternative, the proposal was adopted by the club’s shareholders. In giving up their rights under a lease with a private land owner, Clyde FC would now be tenants under a greyhound racing company that had purchased the ground. The League may have felt disgruntled at this manoeuvre, but they had to admit they were outfoxed.
Eight weeks later the press reported the formation of a new company:
NEW SCOTTISH COMPANIES
16,809 – The Shawfield Greyhound Racing Company (Ltd.), Shawfield Park, Glasgow. Public prospectus company, to acquire by purchase Shawfield Park, Glasgow, with ground adjoining, to carry out into effect with or without modification an agreement between the Clyde Football Club (Ltd.) of the first part, and Thomas Galbraith, writer, Glasgow, as trustee therin mentioned of the second part, and to carry on the business of greyhound racing. Capital, £30,000 in £1 shares.
The Shawfield Greyhound Racing Company Limited started racing later in 1932 and proved a great success. Although it wouldn’t be appreciated until the 1980s, Clyde were tenants at the mercy of whoever owned Shawfield. However, in the short term at least, the financial benefit of embracing the dogs was reflected with stability on the pitch.
For the rest of the 1930’s Clyde settled into a mid-table position in the top flight. For such renowned cup fighters prior to WWI, Clyde made little impression in the competition during the 1920’s, but a semi-final was reached once again in 1932-33, but Motherwell put paid to any notions of grasping the ultimate prize. Still, Clyde hammered away and reached the semi-finals in 1935-36 and 1936-37 only to be denied by each half of the Old Firm. Would Clyde ever fulfil their Scottish Cup destiny?
January 1939 saw Clyde at home to St Johnstone in the 1st Round. A satisfactory 2-0 victory sent Clyde on their way. The next tie saw a very difficult trip to Dundee and a goalless draw ensued. Four days later Clyde squeezed past the Dens Park men with a 1-0 victory. Ibrox, and Rangers were the formidable 3rd Round opponents. Despite fourteen League titles and six Cup victories between 1920 and 1939, Rangers were no match for the Bully Wee as they crashed to a 4-1 defeat. Willie Martin, Clyde’s prolific centre forward, scored all four goals and surely set a record for an opposition forward at Ibrox. Returning to Shawfield for the 4th Round, Clyde narrowly defeated neighbours Third Lanark, 1-0. Suddenly it was semi-final time once again with Hibernian standing between Clyde and another final. Although disadvantaged by playing the tie in Edinburgh at Tyncastle, Clyde again triumphed with a 1-0 victory.
Motherwell provided Clyde’s opposition on April 22nd 1939. They had scored far more goals on the way to Hampden and were installed as favourites. Clyde (Brown; Kirk & Hickie; Beaton, Falloon & Weir; Robertson & Gillies; Martin; Noble & Wallace) had other ideas though. Winning the toss and with a strong wind behind them, Motherwell began very strongly and unsettled Clyde with Brown seeing plenty of action. Riding the storm, Clyde settled and scored the vital goal after thirty minutes. Robertson sped down the right and crossed to Wallace. The forward gathered the ball and smashed the ball into the roof of the net. Motherwell replied with more pressure but couldn’t find a goal before the interval. In the second period Martin quickly doubled Clyde’s advantage with an opportunist’s strike. The fight went from Motherwell and Clyde scored two more in the closing minutes. Motherwell’s keeper blocked Noble’s first strike at goal, but he swept home the rebound. Barely a minute later Noble supplied a cross for Martin to complete the scoring and seal a 4-0 victory. After so many attempts and so much heartache the Cup was finally won!
Although the joy of victory was unconfined it was tempered against a background of imminent war with Germany. The 1939-40 season had hardly begun when war was declared and the Scottish League was suspended and all players’ contracts declared void. After the initial panic leagues were restarted with an East/West regional split in which Clyde performed relatively well.
Those who thought the link up with the greyhounds was a win-win situation received a shock. Obviously night time greyhound meetings were out of the question as they would provide a beacon for German bombers. The greyhound company insisted they had the right to switch to Saturday afternoons, thus displacing football at Shawfield. For a time the club was faced with the very real threat of having to play elsewhere until an alternating Saturday usage was agreed.
Again Clyde had sustained football during very difficult times and had no idea what lay ahead in an economy shattered by war.
No history of the club would be complete without mention of Matthew Woodrow Gemmell (1874-1963). A Bridgeton resident, he became Clyde’s groundsman in 1898 and then part-time trainer. A vacancy for full-time trainer soon appeared and Gemmell filled that role until his retirement in 1945.
His expertise and reputation was such that he had offers to go to far bigger clubs, but he always stuck with his beloved Bully Wee. Respected by all in football, his sense of humour was legendary. From all the anecdotes it’s his humbleness and humanity that shine through.
Mattha is best summed up by his response to being offered a job at Queen’s Park. “Only if I goat away every Saturday tae watch the Clyde,” was his couthie answer.