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Bonny Clyde

The following article was published in the ‘North of the Border’ section of the latest edition of Extra Time & Backpass magazine and is reproduced here with permission.

KEN GAUNT looks at the rollercoaster life of Clyde, one-time major rivals of Celtic and Rangers, but now battling to keep their heads above water.

CRAIG Brown went on to manage Scotland and lead them into the World Cup finals in 1998. Pat Nevin went on to win 28 Scotland caps and thrill the Tartan Army with his skills on the wing.

They come from different generations but Brown and Nevin have something in common. They both spent their formative years learning their craft at one of Scotland’s most famous football names, Clyde.

In their golden years in the 1950s at Shawfield Stadium (record attendance 52,000), Clyde made it difficult for Celtic and Rangers and won the Scottish Cup twice in the space of four years.

But recent years have not been kind to ‘The Bully Wee’, like many part-time clubs in Scotland, and they slipped down the divisions after relocating to Cumbernauld in 1994.

Now, though, after ten years of struggling to make ends meet after being a massive £1.5 million in debt, they believe the future is bright. The Scottish Professional League Two club are finally debt free after a decade of financial constraints which threatened their very existence.

Such were the conditions of the payments that if one was missed they could have gone out of business – like near neighbours Third Lanark. Simple as that. But now they have a clean slate which means they can concentrate on securing their status in Scotland’s senior leagues where a pyramid system is in place for the first time.

Should the bottom team in the fourth tier happen to be Clyde, they will face the winners of the Highland League-Lowland League play-off for the right to remain where they are.

Club historian and lifelong fan Gordon Sydney is convinced the club will prevail even if they are relegated. He says: “Clyde have always been survivors. We didn’t crumble when we left Shawfield in 1986 and became nomadic before settling in Cumbernauld. 

“Maybe I’m looking at matters through red, white and black tinted spectacles, but I’d like to think we’d adjust and life would go on, although maybe not the quality of life we’d all like. I don’t think it’ll happen though. I think we’ve got enough about us to not be looking downwards at the end of the season.” 

Sydney believes the promotion-winning side of 1977-78 with Brown part-time manager – he was a teacher by day – was the best he has seen in his lifetime. 

He says: “With veteran John Arrol providing a masterclass in goal, Eddie Anderson, John Brogan and Jim Boyd stopping most opponents and with the classy Mark Clougherty sweeping up the defence was solid. 

“The midfield had the classy and experienced penalty-kick expert Brian Ahern, the skilful Arthur Grant, the hard-working and very underestimated Tommy O’Neill, and possibly Scotland’s best uncapped player, Gerry McCabe. There was also Steve Archibald before he was sold to Aberdeen, while up front that chaser of lost causes, Neil Hood was ably assisted, supported and complemented by the majestic Joe Ward.

“Ward really came to the fore and played a dozen or so games in the following season, before Ron Saunders took him to Villa Park for £88,000.”

Brown left to join the Scottish FA’s coaching staff and worked his way up the ladder, replacing Andy Roxburgh as manager. Nevin, meanwhile, joined Clyde in 1981 after being rejected by Celtic as being too small and helped them win the Scottish Second Division title in his first season. It wasn’t long before the bigger clubs took note of his performances and he secured a move to Chelsea two years later for £95,000.

Clyde have always needed to sell to survive, even more so in 2015 with clubs all over Scotland feeling the pinch.

Yet it could not have not been more different in 1958 when a goal from John Coyle gave them a 1-0 victory against Hibernian in the Scottish Cup final in front of a massive 95,123 crowd. Compare that figure at Hampden Park to the club’s average of 500 last season and it is all the more astonishing. 

Clyde first won the trophy in 1939 (a 4-0 victory against Motherwell) but then had to wait another 16 years before getting their hands on it again by beating Celtic 1-0. The winner came from the club’s most capped player, Tommy Ring.

Tales of these legendary teams were passed on to ‘Syd’, as he likes to be known, by his dad and he started following the club in 1972.

Clyde enjoyed another day in the sun in January 2006, when on Roy Keane’s debut when they beat Celtic 2-1 in the Scottish Cup with 8,000 witnessing a giant-killing. Keane was baited mercilessly throughout the tie but Syd reckons the draw against Rangers in the competition 26 years earlier was more impressive. “Rangers were mid-table in the Scottish Premier League,” he says, and although struggling a bit under John Greig’s leadership should still have been far too strong for a Clyde team bottom of the First Division. 

“But we put up a tremendous fight, were denied a stonewall penalty in the first half, before Neil Hood put us ahead with a glorious shot after beating three defenders. Then we lost two goals, one to a very dubious penalty, then Arthur Grant’s high outswinging cross was headed home by Derek Hyslop to earn us an undeserved replay -undeserved in that consensus of opinion was that we did more than enough to win.” 

There have been some mad moments along the way and plenty of laughter. Syd recalls: “I remember Stevie ‘Snowy’ Morrison kicking the corner flag instead of the ball in a Challenge Cup match at Rugby Park, Kilmarnock. 

“And the time standing on the terracing at Firhill (Partick Thistle’s home ground) when the pie seller came up the terracing with a full baker’s tray of pies, tripped, scattered the pies all over the terracing. But he gathered himself up, collected all the pies, and proceeded on his way as if nothing had happened!” 

But Clyde have had little to smile about in the last few years as they lived a hand-to-mouth existence. Syd explains: “After being one game away from getting into the Premier League at the end of 2003-04 our financial plight became apparent, almost £1.5 million in debt. A voluntary CVA was entered, and that was paid off. However not all creditors were part of the CVA, and with the club unable to quickly adjust costs, spending was still outstripping our income. 

“As a consequence, a few years later the debt schedule was not met and our landlord, who was also the main creditor, threatened eviction. Thankfully, a final deal was negotiated, although still with the position being eviction if we defaulted on a single payment. 

“Thus we were paying the first £4,500 or so of income we generated every month to our landlords, a big “ask” given, for instance, last season’s average home league attendance was 531. We haven’t missed a payment since the deal was renegotiated and we are now debt free. Corporate governance, which has been practised over the last few years at the club, will continue to provide our mantra. The club will live within its means, regardless of circumstances. A hard lesson to be learned, but an important one.” 

Former Rangers and Scotland midfielder Barry Ferguson, who had a spell as Blackpool boss, took over as player-manager last June but the team’s form has been inconsistent. They were denied a possible financial windfall in the Scottish Cup when they were knocked out by reigning Lowland League champions Spartans. 

Now there is talk of Clyde, formed in 1877, relocating for the fourth time in their 137-year history to East Kilbride. Barrowfield was their original home. Syd adds: “The future might see a repeat of our move to Cumbernauld if the proposal to move to a purpose-built stadium in East Kilbride comes off. A move like that should offer us the opportunity to really build the club up again. 

“We would also have a stadium that we can use in a financial sense to generate significantly increased revenue, with the obvious benefits for the playing staff and footballing side of things in general.” 

Shawfield Stadium remains open for business – for greyhound racing alone – after speedway side Glasgow Tigers relocated across town to Ashfield. Many seasoned Scottish football watchers will be hoping a club of Clyde’s pedigree doesn’t go to the dogs …