Mission to Maryhill

Football can be a cruel mistress sometimes, a club can play a major role in our game for decades, even over a century and then all of a sudden be liquidated out of existence in a heartbeat. In the senior grade Third Lanark were a prime example; not only were they one time Scottish Football League Champions and twice winners of the Scottish Cup, they even went to Buenos Aires in 1923 and faced the Argentinian national side. Then in 1967 after a decade of mismanagement The Hi-Hi were gone forever. The Junior grade is no stranger to such disappearances either with Ballieston providing a recent as well as unfortunate example. Formed in 1919 they won the Scottish Junior Cup in 1980, made four other finals and produced a number of players for Scotland including Bobby Main, Davie Wilson and Celtic‘s Andy Walker. Yet again however illustrious history counted for nothing when they were dissolved in 2005 after a search for a new ground consumed their assets.

As this current season dawned, one of the SJFA’s oldest sides was on the cusp of going bust after one hundred and thirty five years of playing the game; today’s hosts Maryhill. At the start of June they called an urgent meeting informing the footballing community that if money didn’t come from somewhere and important committee positions like Secretary & Treasurer weren’t filled ‘The Hill’ might close the gates of Lochburn Park permanently. Club official Jeff Holmes told the local press:

“No one wants to be in this position… but the reality is we cannot go on as we have been… the status quo is not an option.

At the emergency meeting vital committee posts were filled and a GoFundMe page was set up to raise funds (which this writer donated a meager ten quid to), but Maryhill were still far from safety. Then in late June help did arrive from a rather unlikely source, not from the fitba community but rather the pro-wrestling one. Enter Mark Dallas a Maryhill man and owner of Scotland’s biggest grappling group Insane Championship Wrestling, who decided to make The Hill the first side in Scotland to be sponsored by a wrestling promotion. Dallas told the Daily Record:

“The club was at rock bottom, with just a few quid in the bank and a couple of guys trying to run the whole show… I had to do something to help, I’m a local guy, it was my duty. I want to raise the profile of the club, smarten up the stadium… Lochburn has the potential to be one of the best grounds in Junior football”

With Dallas on board and a couple of fund raising friendlies played (firstly a Hill XI vs a team of ICW wrestlers, then Maryhill vs a Partick Thistle Legends side) the club are edging away from the brink. For now at least Maryhill have avoided the fate of Third Lanark, Bailleston, Parkhead or Gretna. At this point the club still has a future meaning that their century plus history can continued to be built upon.

That history began with the creation of Maryhill Football Club way back in 1884 as a Junior club who were perhaps the quickest ever to leave and then return to the grade. They reached the second ever Scottish Junior Cup final in 1888, losing 3-1 to Wishaw Thistle, and saw this as a sign to turn senior. The move was not a good one and consecutive senior Scottish Cup 2nd round pumpings from the aforementioned Third Lanark and Linthouse saw them back in the ranks of the SJFA by 1894. Between the last decade of the 19th century and the Second World War Maryhill were Junior giants reaching another four finals, winning ‘The Scottish’ twice; firstly in 1900 when they beat Kilmarnock Rugby XI by three goals to two and then in 1940 with a 1-0 victory over Morton Juniors.

During this time the biggest name to emerge from Lochburn Park was Scottish Football Hall of Famer Davie Meiklejohn. Meiklejohn was Govan born but played his youth football at The Hill before signing for Glasgow Rangers, where he was to become a legendary figure; playing 563 games at centre back, scoring forty six goals and winning twelve league titles between 1919 & 1936. Capped fifteen times for Scotland Mieklejohn retired from the game to take up a job with the Daily Record before a long spell as manager of nearby Partick Thistle from the late forties through the fifties.

After World War II Maryhill ceased to be a major force in Junior fitba but they did continue to play a part in the creation of top class footballers, including perhaps the greatest British right back in history; Danny McGrain MBE. After joining Celtic as a youth from Queen’s Park Strollers in 1967 he was loaned out to The Hill to gain experience of the adult game whilst attempting to attain an engineering qualification at a local college. He went on to make his debut for The Hoops on the 26th of August 1970, the start of a seventeen year career at Parkhead that saw him play 439 times in the league alone. McGrain played sixty two times for his country, making it to two World Cups and only missing out on a third, Ally MacLeod’s 1978 folly, due to injury.

The post war era hasn’t been completely trophy-less for today’s hosts however as they won two Central League Premier Division titles in the late nineties and a couple of West of Scotland Cup victories in the early noughties. That last Scottish Cup victory however was seventy nine years ago, probably beyond the living memories of any Hill fans who today welcomed Forfar West End to Lochburn as yet another cup campaign began. I doubted that given their current perilous state anyone could possibly imagine them going all the way this season, but a good run in The Scottish has the potential to raise revenue and support. Would this afternoon was to be the start of a memorable march to Scottish Junior Cup glory for Maryhill or a fall at the first hurdle?

Pre-match Pints

I rather stupidly got the Subway to Kelvinbridge leaving me with quite the walk to the first boozer, however the stroll was well worth it as my first stop was pretty excellent; Maryhill Road’s Viking Bar. Clearly the beneficiary of a recent refurbishment it was immaculate inside and out, modern in décor yet covered in antique signs, sporting memorabilia and photographs.

There is plenty of drink on offer served by staff in crisp white shirts and dark waistcoats. I enjoy a £3.60 pint of Bud Light at a vast wooden bar height table where newspapers wait to be read. I observe full Scottish breakfasts being delivered to punter’s tables, at £4.50 they look glorious. You don’t see many places like this I can tell you.

Next up is a place the likes of which I do see all to often, The Punch Bowl, which is much further up the road near Lochburn Park itself. In an attempt to be complimentary I will say it is basic; clean, tidy and friendly. It is pretty dark and dingy however with only a limited line up of booze. I get a half of Guinness & 35mls of Jack Daniel’s for a standard £3.80 and become amused at a sign behind the bar which states ’21 YEARS & OVER’. The average age of a customer in here is deep into the fifties.

I finish on a high note however at the highly recommended Harvey’s Bar, right across the road from the ground. A lovely old fashioned place where regulars are crowded round all four sides of a square central bar. The prices are inexplicably set at 2002 levels as all pints are less than three quid, my pint of Strongbow coming in at a bargain £2.90.

As stated it is pretty busy (Celtic vs Hibernian has just kicked off on the tellys) but everyone seems to know one another and the atmosphere is fun as well as jovial. Some regulars are rather smartly attired too, one auld gent is in a grey suit with hair slicked back and a nice chronograph peaking out from under his cuff. He put me in mind of Alan Ford’s gangster character in the movie ‘Snatch’, I take note to avoid spilling his pint.

The Ground

I enter Lochburn Park via a small alleyway that leads directly to the social club, a grand old place worn from years of use by club and community. Both these elements are combined today as not only is a bumper crowd expected for the match but a baby shower/gender reveal party is about to commence. Good choice of draught beer and spirits on offer with committee members in early enjoying a few libations.

Out into the park itself and Mr Dallas was right, it could be one of the best grounds in Junior fitba, but it needs work to get there. It has floodlights but the seating behind one goal is only accessible by climbing over weeds, through bushes. Across from the social is a vast covered area in good nick and the pitch itself is rather lush apart from muddy patches at each goal mouth.

Lochburn Park’s strangest feature is that the playing surface is sunk a good four to six feet below terracing levels meaning all gaze down on play like watching gladiators in The Colosseum (or if one team is getting pumped; like watching Christians being fed to lions). It is unusual but an interesting way of taking in the action, bet it is a bugger for drainage however.

The Game

The first half of action from Lochburn Park was nothing to write home about. In front of a disappointing crowd Forfar West End showed some lovely touches (particularly their skillful number 9) and The Hill showed themselves to be a tough, physical operation. In 24 minutes that big 9 Graeme Hart put West End in the lead, converting a cross from Zak Wilson. This score stood until half time where all at the bar/baby shower agreed that it was anyone’s tie.

Then came a second half that was epic in scale and a true rollercoaster of emotions. In 45 seconds most were still inside when the equaliser came. If fans didn’t see Brian Ashe’s goal the significantly larger second half crowd couldn’t believe their eyes when, just a few minutes later, Gavin Naismith leathered the ball home from 25 yards. 2-1 Maryhill and the cup dream very much alive.

Then it all went tits up. Hill’s Ged Dobbs was red carded in highly suspect circumstances before his surviving team mates became overwhelmed by Forfar’s superior numbers. The equaliser was inevitable, the winner unsurprising an the fourth a cruel end to some second half. Maryhill’s much needed cup run did end at the first hurdle and it probably didn’t deserve to either.

The Aftermath

While half the social club partied at the news that the happy couple were confirmed to be expecting a girl, the rest lamented over their pints that the cup was over for another year. While they were down in the dumps I was pretty happy at having had a really good day out. Two pubs were excellent (and one was serviceable) but today was all about that grand old club Maryhill.

It really is a great Junior outfit with facilities far superior to many others in the grade, how The Hill aren’t attracting more support is plain crazy. It lies in a parliamentary constituency of 73,000 people and at fiver entry with a cracking club attached so many are missing out. Particularly when the action is as exciting as it was this afternoon. If you are reading this and are local I implore you to go, Christ even if you’re a distance away it is still worth it.

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