BY MARK GODFREY
Ever heard the story about the Glasgow based football club who ran into financial calamity and went bust? Of course you have, but this tale of woe isn’t about the collapse of Rangers, but a club whose name is woven into the fabric of Scottish football’s early days – Third Lanark.
The club who were based in the city’s south side were founded in 1872 by the 3rd Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers after the soldiers were inspired to create their own team by the first ever international match between Scotland and England at Hamilton Crescent, Glasgow.
After a thirty year association with the military there was a name change to Third Lanark Athletic Club in 1903 when the team were at the peak of their powers. Their connection to the Lanarkshire Rifles gave rise to nicknames The Redcoats and The Warriors and they also developed their unusual moniker of The Hi Hi.
As Association Football exploded in popularity as both a participation and spectator sport in Scotland and elsewhere around the world at the turn of the 20th century, Third Lanark were one of the Scottish game’s leading lights.
Having already won the Scottish Cup in 1889 and been runners-up on two other occasions, they repeated the feat in 1905 when defeating Rangers in front of a massive Hampden Park crowd. Just twelve months earlier The Hi Hi celebrated their greatest success when they were crowned champions for the one and only time in an era dominated, then like now, by their more illustrious neighbours from Ibrox and Celtic Park.
From those heady days of 1904 until their ultimate demise in 1967, Third Lanark’s home was Cathkin Park which was actually the site of the second Hampden Park before Queen’s Park sold up and moved on taking the Hampden name with them just down the road to Mount Florida.
Sadly for The Thirds, their time at the top table of the Scottish game matching the likes of Celtic, Rangers and Hearts didn’t last. And although they would never again to win any major silverware, they are still one of only 11 teams to have ever won the Scottish championship.
Fast forward to the 1960’s and Third Lanark’s downfall. The decade had started in superb fashion for followers of The Redcoats, when the end of the 1960-61 season brought a third place finish in the top division and a thrilling 100 goal haul. However, a mere four years after this great achievement the club were relegated off the back of only three wins all year.
Life in the old Second Division proved to be no less difficult and as attendances dwindled from the thousands of the early 60’s to a paltry but loyal few hundred, the situation was bleak to say the least.
Third Lanark entered its death throes in late 1966-67. They waved farewell to Cathkin Park with a 3-3 draw with Queen Of The South and played their final league fixture at Boghead Park, the home of Dumbarton. There would be no glorious end as they were trounced 5-1.
Matters off the pitch were in an even more terminal position. Boardroom turmoil ensued and the resultant Board Of Trade enquiry declared the club bankrupt. The same enquiry confirmed what many had feared and that financial shenanigans on the part of the Chairman and directors were to blame for the death of such a proud and historically rich football club.
The impropriety of the club’s former board members is still the stuff of debate and rumour amongst those associated with Third Lanark but many believe the sale and redevelopment of their Cathkin Park home were the motives for the grand scale corruption.
Sadly, because the decline was so long in coming, and without sufficient interest, there would be no consortium, benefactor or white knight to rescue The Thirds. No lifeline from the Scottish footballing authorities. It seems the desire or potential just wasn’t there, which is in stark contrast to events that have afflicted Rangers over the last 18 months. Third Lanark would not be saved. They were dead. Gone. Consigned to history.
Well, not in the memory of some. The determined few who were not ready to give up on the club they loved. Despite a gap of over 40 years, The Warriors march again. The cries of “Hi Hi Hi” come echoing from bygone days to inspire a new generation and a new club bearing the famous Third Lanark name.
In 2007, after many failed attempts to resurrect the club in various guises, there came a rebirth of sorts. An amateur club under the Third Lanark banner are once again taking to the playing fields of Glasgow and beyond.
But what are the aims and ambitions for this reincarnation? Could they recapture their long lost status amongst Scotland’s elite?
In 2008, after Gretna withdrew from the Scottish Football League, a surprise press release stated that Third Lanark, amongst several others, were interested in replacing them. Considering the other contenders to fill this vacancy were already well established clubs such as Annan Athletic, Cove Rangers and Spartans then the statement of intent from the new club was certainly a bold one.
Ultimately, no membership application was made to the SFL. Instead, the creation of a new first team competing in the Greater Glasgow Amateur League and an Under-17 side with the aim of developing youngsters able to grow the club and improve their overall standing.
Although the reborn Third Lanark have yet to realise a return to league status, they have at least been able to fulfil their dream of playing again at Cathkin Park.
The stadium as it was has long since gone but the remains of the terracing and crush barriers peek out from behind the trees as a resonant reminder of the park’s glorious past. After the club’s closure in 1967 the site fell into disrepair and is now owned and maintained by Glasgow council. The pitch itself has been in use for local amateur sides for many years, but it was the return of a side in the famous red shirts of Third Lanark that gave the old and new generation involved with The Hi Hi a sense of satisfaction unlikely felt by any other Cathkin Park users .
So what of this new club and its prospects for the future? They may be alive again but can they really make it back to the ranks of league football and can they find a home suitable to facilitate such a status?
Considering their current position, the likelihood of finding themselves in the SFL anytime soon is miniscule. Unless a generous benefactor steps in to give them a leg up then a new stadium can’t happen, especially as Cathkin Park is out of the question due to its municipal usage.
And then they face the task of having to rise through the Scottish system which is time consuming and convoluted, and even if they could confound all the odds and get to press their noses against the glass of the SFL, the almost perpetual turmoil in the national game could be the insurmountable hurdle.
For now, just to be alive and operating again is a massive achievement for a club who went belly up around the time the Beatles released the Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band album.
Should Third Lanark reach the Scottish Football League it would be the greatest comeback since Lazarus.