“Two football clubs, both alike in dignity, in the south of Glasgow, where we lay our scene. From ancient grudge to this New Year’s derby, where civil rivalry makes a game that must be seen.”*
I am off to a massive game this afternoon, the Junior equivalent of the Old Firm or El Classico; Pollok FC versus Arthurlie FC, both sides being SJFA West Region royalty who boast a grand total of five Scottish Junior Cups and a further five finals between them. Only 5.1 miles separate Pollok’s Newlandsfield Park and Dunterlie Park, Barrhead, home to Arthurlie, therefore a combination of mutual success and close geographical proximity has created a bitter rivalry through the decades the latest installment of which takes place today in in Glasgow’s Southside.
Today’s home side ‘The Lok‘ were formed in 1908 and as their Wikipedia page rather bluntly states they were ‘One of many average clubs in Junior football in Glasgow’, but the fate of one nearby senior club was to be the catalyst that lifted Pollok out of mediocrity and into the elite. In 1967 two time Scottish Cup winners and former league champions Third Lanark AC folded after a near decade of financial mismanagement. Scottish fitba’s loss was Pollok’s gain as many fans of ‘The Hi Hi’ transfered their loyalties from Cathkin Park to nearby Newlandsfield. Within 14 years and with attendances up The Lok had won their first Central League championship as well as the Scottish Junior Cup. Success continued steadily with two more Cup victories in 1985 and 1997 as well as a further seven Central League titles. League reconstruction in 2002 did Pollok no harm as they marched on to a record four titles in the SJFA West Region top flight (a record), playing in front of still bumper crowds that would make some senior SPFL sides jealous.
Many senior clubs would be envious too of the players that have graced the Newlandsfield pitch over the years. After a career that took him to Ibrox, Helles Verona in Italy and Malmo, midfielder Robert Prytz pulled on the black and white stripes of Pollok. Few Junior sides can boast a player with 56 caps for Sweden! Infamous Partick and Hibernian hard man Chic Charnley played for The Lok near the beginning of his career. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find out if he added to his record of 17 red cards in 20 senior seasons while in the Junior ranks. Add to the list seasoned pros like Dougie Arnott, Bobby Collins & Fraser Wishart and you begin to see why Pollok have enjoyed so much success in the modern era.
In contrast to the hosts today Arthurlie have had success peppered throughout their long existence. Founded way back in 1874 ‘The ‘Lie’ were a senior side for sixty six years before joining the Junior ranks, as senior team Arthurlie defeated the mighty Celtic 4-2 in the 1897 Scottish Cup, can any other Junior club say that? The side enjoyed two stints in the Scottish Football League winning the old Third Division championship in 1923 before becoming a Junior club in 1930. It didn’t take long for Arthurlie to make their mark in the SJFA by 1937 they lifted the Scottish Junior Cup, a feat that would not be repeated for fifty one years (when they crushed rivals Pollok 4-0 at Fir Park).
When it comes to former players of Arthurlie James Grady really stands out for me. Playing at clubs like Gretna, Ayr United and both Dundee sides, the striker had an excellent career picking up First Division titles with three different clubs and coming up short in three Hampden finals (twice in the Scottish Cup, once in the League Cup). Owen McNally might not be a name that means much to many fitba fans but the Arthurlie forward is the joint holder of the record for most goals scored in a SFL match. On October 1st 1927 McNally scored eight goals against Armadale, a feat only matched by Celtic’s Jimmy McGrory just a few months later against Dunfermline.
So these are today’s teams. With no Ladbrokes Premier League games this afternoon a large crowd is expected at Newlandsfield, so let’s get on with the day.
Today’s game is not the easiest for me to get to. I leave Tillicoultry at the back of nine to catch the 10am train from Stirling to Glasgow Queen Street. After a wander around the shops and the Glasgow Museum of Modern Art I get on the 11:45 from Glasgow Central to Pollokshaws East, catching my first look at Newlandsfield Park from the station platform just before noon. Five minutes later I’m in my first pub of the day enjoying my first pint.
The pub I’ve gone to is The Quaich on Coustonholm Road, suggested to me by numerous Pollok fans on Twitter. Behind a modern facade is a beautiful old school bar; wood paneling, brown studded leather seating and a chequerboard tiled floor. This is a real fitba pub with an abundance of memorabilia on the walls including framed Scotland programmes and an area dedicated to images of the aforementioned Third Lanark. In addition one wall is covered with angling stuff; auld rods, stuffed fish etc…
Beautiful pub, clean too but the best thing about it is the prices, a pint of Guinness is a mere £2.95 while a ‘Malt of the Month’, the Dalmore 12 year old, is just £2.40 for a 35ml nip! I enjoy both while taking in my surroundings as well as the start of the Fleetwood Town vs Leicester City FA Cup clash on the three big TVs. This pub is great, nice folk in it too but service is pretty slow. Should be more than just one woman serving drinks, especially as she is needed in the lounge as well as the bar.
My next stop is quite the contrast; Loks Bar & Kitchen right next to the ground is an ultra modern and fancy looking restaurant where a member of uniformed staff escorts me through the back to the bar. There is a load of different booze to choose from, including a tall fridge packed with craft beers but I go for half a St Mungos Lager and a nip of Maker’s Mark (which comes in a rather elaborate crystal tumbler). Sitting at the bar I flick through the pile of newspapers, continue to watch the Fleetwood game and observe quite the crowd coming in, the first evidence that today’s crowd will indeed be a big one. Classy place this might be but the staff are obviously used to a pre-match rush and handle the numbers well, no one waits too long for a drink.
I leave Loks and walk around the corner only forty yards or so to the turnstile. Six quid (a standard Juniors price it seems) gets me in to Newlandsfield Park and it is beautiful, I am in love. The pitch is closely surrounded on all sides by terracing made from slabs with the south side, across from where I’ve entered covered with a corrugated metal roof almost the full length of the pitch. Grabbing a bovril I head under the covering and take a spot at the back of the stand near the half way line, great view but not as good as the one locals in the flats across the way are getting.
The place is becoming busy and kick off is delayed by five minutes to let everyone in. The ground has an alleged capacity of 5000 but it feels pretty mobbed with a lot less than that in. The atmosphere is great, both groups of fans waving banners and some guys near me banging away at a big drum. Everything feels like this is a special game, some are tweeting that this is the biggest game in Scotland today and they may be right.
The match began as a high tempo affair with plenty of good passing and stayed that way throughout. Pollok were clearly the better side and it was little surprise they went in at half time two nil up. For me the large, bearded number 4 did a great job in defence sweeping up loose balls, getting in solid tackles and passing the ball about with flair. He particularly linked up well with the number 7 on the wing who put in a good shift covering a fair old distance.
Arthurlie usually play in blue and white stripes with black shorts just like Argentina but today channeled Brazil with a yellow shirt and blue shorts. It was a shame they couldn’t play anything like either South American nation however as they were quite poor today. Some players didn’t look too fit and were overwhelmed by a vastly superior Pollok side. In the end The Lok ran away with it, winning 5-0. A very good game it must be said and more competitive than the scoreline suggests. I was really impressed with the standard of football and the large crowd of Pollok and neutral fans would all have all left chuffed, a great way to welcome in 2018.
So it turns out that the crowd at Newlandsfield today was a really impressive 1125 fitba fans, by comparison Falkirk vs Dundee United drew 5300 supporters this afternoon. Judging by the standard of play on the field and the numbers in the stands it appears that Junior football in Glasgow’s southside is in a healthy state.
Today was the perfect day for a travelling football fan; the sun was out, the pubs were great, the atmosphere was terrific and the players played up to the bumper crowd. I really hope that some of the guys who gave Pollok a try today because their Premiership side were on winter break come back again, the club deserve a good support and I am sorely tempted to return soon too.
*Apologies to William Shakespeare but I felt the opening of this blog required some gravitas!