Diamonds ARE Forever
League football will be played in Airdrie next season
after all. Just two weeks after Airdrie United were rejected
by 16 votes to 11 as members of the third division by the Scottish Football
League, the club founded from the ashes of the defunct Airdrieonians
will start next season in the second! And with the League's blessing,
not to say connivance!
This astonishing turnaround came after the League's Management Committee
backed Airdrie United's proposed buy-out of Clydebank. The ailing
Bankies have been sold to the consortium behind Airdrie United who will
take over the club's name and will play Clydebank's fixtures at New
The move is not quite unprecedented. Meadowbank moved to Livingston
and changed their name to that of their new location but their move was
completed mid-season with the playing staff intact. The new Airdrie club,
as yet, have no players on their books.
Clydebank have not had a home of their own for six years and with crowds
dipping under the 200 mark on many occasions, clearly they were in a mess.
Proposals to hire playing staff on monthly contracts at wages far lower
than could be obtained in junior football demonstrated just how desperate
things were. Airdrie, on the other hand, have a much larger support with
far greater potential than Clydebank could ever have.
But it is still quite breathtaking cheek from the League. If Airdrie
United were not considered a sound enough risk for the third division,
how on earth can they possibly be allowed to play in the second? Surely,
if this move HAD to go ahead then the same rules which prevented
the relegation of Falkirk and Stenhousemuir should have
been applied. Morton, who have had to cope with similar problems
to both Clydebank and the old Airdrie but without folding, should have
had their relegation rescinded. Failing that, third-placed Albion Rovers
should have been elevated to the second division or entered into a
play-off with Morton for the vacant slot.
But the people who manage (and I use that word loosely) the Scottish
League have let a technicality win out over natural justice. Because Clydebank
have been bought, they are not regarded as having lost their membership
through insolvency. A non-league club - some would say a non-club - have
been allowed to buy their way into the second division ahead of all ten
existing clubs in the third.
How do League new boys Gretna feel? They were elated at joining
the League. Now, they must think that it would have been better to have
lost out to Airdrie United and subsequently bought out Clydebank. League
Secretary Peter Donald justified it thus: "The management
committee believes Airdrie United with their purpose-built stadium had
a lot more to offer than Clydebank in the longer term." Except
of course that it isn't their stadium. Large sums are owed to the
builder, Ayr United chairman Bill Barr who has had his own
well-documented financial problems recently. Barr was present at the meeting
which gave the move the nod. And although clearly an interested party,
there is no indication that he declared his interest or that he abstained
from taking part in the proceedings and/or voting.
While Donald is undoubtedly right about long-term potential, it makes
the situation even more bizarre. If Airdrie United have more to offer
than Clydebank, are we to assume that Gretna were a better replacement
for Airdrieonians than Airdrie United were? That is the crazy logic
behind this decision.
In England, the football authorities have given their blessing
to Wimbledon's move to Milton Keynes. The day when the Old
Firm might get their move south by buying up one of the smaller teams
may not be too far off. Let's say they buy two struggling Nationwide First
teams who in turn take over two in the second who then buy out two in
the third. A quick game of musical chairs and you get the Glasgow clubs
one step from the Premiership at the total loss of two small fry from
the Nationwide third.
Impossible? Not after what has happened to Wimbledon and Clydebank.
And with the well-known financial difficulties facing Nationwide League
clubs, who is to say what might happen over the next few months?
Welcome to the world of franchised football. Now that franchising
has been sanctioned on both sides of the border we will see more of this
ugly American beast which can deprive entire communities of League football
with a wave of the cheque book.
In the here and now League football has been restored to Airdrie. That
SHOULD be a cause for celebration. But what pleasure there is in
Airdrie's resurrection must be heavily tempered at the legal murder of
Bankies fans were desperately trying to organise a buy-out of their own
which would have created the first supporters and community owned and
managed League club in the UK. This potentially exciting development has
been stillborn. Or, if you take the view of the United Clydebank Supporters,
strangled at birth.
I see that Middlesbrough have signed a striker named
Maccarone. Should go down well at the Riverside. After Brian
Deane and Hamilton Ricard, they're obviously fed up with mince
If Martin O'Neill did leave Celtic it would
be a serious blow to both the Parkhead club and Scottish football as a
whole. But this Kilmarnock supporter can't keep a smile off his
face every time some Celtic spokesperson keeps telling us that O'Neill
has a year still left on his contract.
I can't remember Celtic being too respectful of the contracts Tommy
Burns and Billy Stark were under when they were poached out of Rugby Park
Tale of the Bank
The name of Clydebank looks likely to disappear from
the ranks of Scottish football clubs for the second time. Oscar Wilde
said about parents that the first loss may be misfortune, but the second
looked like carelessness. In this case only the first part of the playwright's
words are accurate.
The second departure of Clydebank FC looks more like an Agatha Christie
story. There is a victim - Clydebank. There is a murderer - Airdrie
United. And there are accomplices - the administrators of Clydebank
and the management committee of the Scottish Football League.
Clydebank has never been a favoured son of the League. The first team
to bear the town's name joined Division Two in August 1914 - hardly
the most propitious time. Life in the League started with a 3-1 home win
over East Stirling eleven days after Britain declared war on Germany.
At the end of the season, the Second Division was put into cold storage
for the duration of the war.
Two seasons later, Clydebank got a lucky break when the enforced withdrawal
of teams from the north and east left the single-division League with
an odd number of members. Clydebank made up the numbers.
At first they prospered, finishing mid-table in their first two seasons
then rising to an all-time high of 5th in 1919-20. They were third bottom
the year after that, then in 1921-22 - the first season of automatic promotion
and relegation - they finished rock bottom.
They came straight back up in 1923 only to go down again twelve months
later. Another immediate promotion was followed by an equally swift relegation.
The yo-yo sequence was broken in 1926-27 when they narrowly missed out
That was the beginning of the end. They slid down the table in each of
the next four seasons, finishing second bottom in 1931. With declining
gates amid the great depression, they were forced to resign from the League.
That looked like the end for Clydebank.
But there was another football club in the town - Clydebank Juniors.
And they were a success, winning prestigious titles like the Central
League and the West of Scotland Cup, then capturing the biggest
prize of them all - the Scottish Junior Cup- in 1942, a
year after the town suffered the greatest devastation ever inflicted on
any civilian population in Scotland - the Clydebank Blitz.
It was this team whch was taken over by the Steedman brothers who
brought East Stirling with them in 1964 to play at Kilbowie
as ES Clydebank. Back then, it was the East Stirling fans who cried
'murder' and they successfully took legal action to restore their club
to Firs Park after just one season under the new name. Perhaps
today's Bankies fans should consult the veterans of that campaign.
After a year in the Combined Reserve League, Clydebank were elected to
the Scottish League in 1966, again to make up the numbers. Ironically,
their chief rivals for League membership were Gala Fairydean -
a club which is still losing out today.
For nearly a decade they played in the old Second Division with varying
fortunes, but never threatening for promotion. They finished 7th in 1974-75
- one place below a berth in the new First Division in the revamped League.
It was the next season that saw Clydebank finally make their mark in Scottish
football. Manager Willie Munro put together a fine team with the
likes of Roddy McKenzie, Sam Goodwin, Gregor Abel, Jimmy Lumsden, Mike
Larnach and Jimmy Caskie. But the outstanding player was a
19-year old winger called Davie Cooper.
The finest talent Clydebank ever produced and one of the greatest players
to hail from Scotland in the past three decades, led the Bankies to the
Second Division title, top-scoring with 13 goals in the process. They
also reached the Final of that one-season wonder the Spring Cup
where they lost to, of all people, Airdrie.
If that was good, then the next season was simply sensational as Clydebank
recorded a second succesive promotion to take their place in the Premier
Division. They also drew three times with Rangers in the League
Cup Quarter-Finals before losing narrowly 2-1 at Firhill. But their
rapid climb couldn't be maintained. They had been forced to sell their
best players - Cooper had gone to Rangers - and they lasted just one season
in the top flight.
But even this brief spell had its moments such as winning and drawing
at home against Celtic. Unlike their predecessors of the 1920s there was
to be no quick return for the Bankies. They were pipped to promotion by
Kilmarnock in 1979. Had three points for a win applied,
Clydebank would have gone straight back up.
Two mediocre seasons followed before Bankies again became regular promotion
contenders, finishing 4th, 3rd and 4th before regaining a place in the
Premier in 1985. Again, they did it the hard way, going up AFTER selling
star players like Bobby Williamson and Tommy Coyne.
They finished rock bottom again but gave new Ibrox boss Graeme
Souness a fiery welcome to Scottish football by beating Rangers
near the end of the season. League reconstruction meant there was
no relegation at the end of the term so Clydebank again lined up in the
Premier in 1986-87.
This time they managed to finish second bottom but were two points behind
Falkirk and safety. For the next three seasons they finished 3rd
in the First Division but they were never to play in the top flight again.
In 1990 they reached the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup
where they lost to Celtic in front of over 35,000 spectators
at Hampden Park.
Their League form declined in the 1990s but they were still strong enough
to finish 5th in 1994 and claim a place in the First Division in Scottish
football's last major reconstruction into four leagues of ten.
But by now it was an increasing struggle both on and off the pitch. April
27th 1996 marked the end of an era when a crowd of 3665 saw
Bankies beaten 3-1 by Hamilton in the last match to be played at
Twelve months later, after a season at Boghead, they were relegated.
It had been more than 20 years since they had last played in the Second
Division. Many thought then that it was the end for Clydebank.
But they had reckoned without the spirit of the remaining supporters,
the players and the manager. Ian McCall led the Bankies back to
the First Division after just one season. Perhaps even more remarkably
he kept the, by now virtually bankrupt, club there.
But the McCall miracle couldn't last forever. In 1999-2000 the
club moved their temporary home from convenient Dumbarton to distant
(in Scottish terms) Greenock. Support, which had never been
high, even during the Premier years, fell drastically. A combination of
natural wastage and spectator boycott contrived to produce the lowest
recorded attendance for any first class British football match when just
29 fans paid at the gate for their first game at Cappielow
- a League Cup match against East Stirling.
The Bankies were entering both their twilight years and the twilight zone.
A succession of short-lived managers were now at the helm. Like the
last days of the Roman Empire each successor to the throne offered only
a temporary stay of execution.
Steve Morrison was in charge as the Bankies lost their First Division
place again in 2000, mustering a paltry ten points. A club legend - Tommy
Coyne - took over for the Second Division campaign. But by February
2001 he too had gone, temporarily replaced by Fraser Wishart, then
Tony Fitzpatrick, as Clydebank finished a respectable 5th.
Derek Ferguson was in charge for the 2001-02 season. He put together
a team that consisted of several experienced, and in some cases big-name,
players. Billy McKinlay, Joe Miller and Michael O'Neill all
wore Clydebank colours. As did Alex Burke, Brian Carrigan, Ally Graham,
Barry Lavety, Paul McGrillen, Rab McKinnon, Mark McNally and the venerable
Henry Smith, who, by a couple of days, is even older than the writer
of this article!
For a long time it looked like success would return to Clydebank as promotion
was a real possibility. But the team faded towards the end of the season
and ended up in 4th place.
Even as late as June 10th 2002, a future could be discerned for
Clydebank. The supporters were making hopeful noises about taking over
the club and the fixture list for 2002-03 showed Clydebank pencilled
in to take on Forfar Athletic at Cappielow or wherever they could
find a venue for the season.
Less than a month later their naked body lies cold on the mortuary
slab. And sloping off in the distance is Airdrie United's Jim Ballantyne
with a blood-soaked knife in one hand and the corpse's clothes in the
CLYDEBANK FOOTBALL CLUB. MURDERED 2002. R.I.P.