Season 1997-98: The Day Clyde Nearly Died
For all the recent problems faced by Clyde, from the years of homelessness, to the move to part-time status, flirting dangerously with administration, the upheaval of the Supporter’s Trust takeover and more recently the controversial end to the Roberts era, there is one day that could have proved more costly to the clubs survival – and for once it purely involved what was happening on the pitch. That day was May 9th, 1998.
As usual, in August 1997 Broadwood was filled with optimism as a new season dawned. Gardner Spiers, having taken over from Alex Smith during the previous campaign and led Clyde to a reasonable 4th place finish, had brought in experience to bolster his youthful squad. Well-known names like John McStay, Brian Rice and Crawford Baptie promised a serious push for promotion out of the 2nd Division. Even the loss of the ever-reliable Keith Knox and top goalscorer Eddie Annand couldn’t dampen the spirits. It soon became apparent however, that this wasn’t going to be the case, in fact it would be a lot worse.
An opening day 0-0 draw away at Stranraer, followed by heavy defeats in the cups to St. Johnstone and Raith Rovers (in those days both higher league opposition) and a 2-1 defeat at home to Forfar quickly killed any hopes that this Clyde team would run away with the championship. The loss of talented centre-half James Brown for the remainder of the season through injury was another blow. A draw with Clydebank and a 3-0 loss to East Fife and suddenly alarm bells were ringing. Patchy results followed for the rest of 1997, meaning Clyde remained mid-table, but still no Bully Wee fan could have foreseen how low we could go. Following a 2-1 loss away to Clydebank on December 27th, Clyde went on a run of 11 games without a win, culminating in a 6-1 capitulation to Caley Thistle on March 14th. That result left Clyde in the relegation zone, 6 points from safety and only 8 games in which to save the club from entering uncharted territory – the bottom tier of the Scottish league. Amazingly given the standards of modern football, the Clyde board stuck with manager Spiers throughout the season and gave him the chance to rectify the mess his team found themselves in.
The 6-1 reverse triggered a Clyde mini-revival. A match against bottom club Brechin the following week gave Clyde the opportunity to finally win 2-0 and the confidence from this win carried over to a fine 3-1 defeat of promotion chasing Queen of the South. 2 points from safety, 6 games to go. Clyde were still breathing. A 4-0 away defeat to promotion favourites Livingston halted the charge, but vital draws with mid-table East Fife and relegation rivals Stenhousemuir kept Clyde in the battle for safety. An unexpected 2-0 win away at promotion chasing Clydebank, on a day that could have seen Clyde relegated had they lost and Stenhousemuir won instead brought them level on points. 2 games to go.
A nervous group of Bully Wee fans made the trip north to Forfar to see Clyde squeeze out their other relegation rivals 1-0 in a tense afternoon. Goalkeeper Robert Balfour and striker Ally Graham, both brought in during the January transfer window, were the heroes that day as Balfour saved a penalty and Graham scored his 3rd goal in as many games to take Clyde out of the relegation zone for the first time since mid-February. Going into the last game of the season the bottom of the table looked like this:
7. Forfar Athletic 43 (-11)
8. Clyde 42 (-12)
9. Stenhousemuir 40 (-8)
10. Brechin 32 (-26)
Remarkably, Clyde’s destiny was back in their own hands, however, they faced the toughest fixture at home to Stranraer, who needed a win to be in with a shout of clinching the championship and promotion. Meanwhile, Forfar faced East Fife and Stenhousemuir were away at Queen of the South, both of whom had only pride to play for. In the end nerves and pressure got the better of quality football understandably on the day. Forfar won 1-0 to ensure their own safety. Clyde put in plenty of effort, but for the Bully Wee support it was to be a frustrating day. In-form Ally Graham was suspended and for all their efforts, Clyde lacked a cutting edge. Stranraer won 1-0, sealing the championship and sparking celebrations among the away players, one of whom was ironically ex-Clyde stalwart Keith Knox, and supporters. It was a tense finally few minutes for the Clyde faithful – was our worst nightmare about to become reality? Then word filtered through – Stenhousemuir had gone down 1-0 to Q.o.S. and Clyde had escaped by the skin of their teeth. The home support bizarrely began joining in the celebrations – it’s not often the Bully Wee lose 1-0 and send their supporters home happy! Clyde had survived.
It wasn’t enough to save Gardner Spiers his job as he was soon relieved of his position to make way for Ronnie McDonald and the ‘Juniors’ revolution. Virtually all the ’97-’98 squad were moved on to be replaced by players from the Junior League, who, within 2 years would completely reverse the fortunes of the club and win the 2nd Division championship. But we shouldn’t forget how perilously close Clyde came in their darkest hour to being consigned to the bottom Division in Scotland.