“Fame from Smoke”
During my travels I have yet to discover a Junior side who’ve had no success at all in the 133 year history of the grade. I’ve visited clubs like Shettleston and Dundee North End, where neither have ever won the Scottish Cup but both have trophy or league victories peppered throughout the duration of their whole existence. Then I have seen late bloomers, sides such as Pollok who spent their formative decades without much to show for it before the death of Third Lanark in 1967 became a catalyst for half a century of regular, major silverware. Finally we have the sleeping giants, teams with illustrious histories but lacking in recent achievements. Cambuslang Rangers are one such outfit, their accolades landing them the title of ‘Scottish Junior team of the 20th Century’ despite a largely empty trophy cabinet at Somervell Park since the late seventies. Today I journeyed to Rutherglen Glencairn a club that is much more than a sleeping giant; they are Titans who long ago ruled over the Junior scene but became trapped in an underworld of lower divisions and trophy-less seasons. This year however they emerged from a footballing Tartarus into the SJFA Premiership with the opportunity to reclaim their throne from such Olympians as Auchinleck Talbot, Kilwinning Rangers or today’s opponents Cumnock.
It all began in the town of Rutherglen’s Old Jail in 1895 where the plan for a new club was conceived, before a birth on August 15th 1896 when ‘The Glens’ defeated an Ibrox XI 1-0 at the old Southcroft Park. From there on the new club went on to be one of the country’s finest Junior sides right up until the end of World War Two. In that time they won four Glasgow Junior League championships followed by two Central League titles as well as five Glasgow Junior Cups and a Dryburgh Cup. It was in the Scottish Junior Cup where their greatest success came winning the ‘Holy Grail’ four times before the outbreak of hostilities with the Nazis. It was first won in 1902 as part of a treble along with the league and something called the Glasgow Exhibition Championship, Maryhill defeated 1-0 in the final at Partick Thistle‘s old Meadowside Park. Seventeen years later 1-0 was enough to lift the cup a second time against Govan side St Anthony’s before the third victory came in 1927 against local rivals Cambuslang. The final win in ‘The Scottish’ came in 1939 when The Glens beat now defunct Shawfield 2-1, an all Rutherglen final. In fact Rutherglen Glencairn were so successful in this tournament during their first half century that today they are still the 7th most successful side in the history of the Scottish Junior Cup and tied in 5th place out of clubs still playing today.
For some reason however, winning ways all but disappeared in the post-war and modern eras. There was a Central League title and Scottish Cup final appearance in 1966/67 but apart from that only a Central League Cup and couple of Sectional League Cups have been won along with a few lower tier championships. A graph plotting the progress of The Glens in the 21st Century show all but one season spent in the second and third tiers of the West Region. This season however they have climbed back up towards the summit of Mount Olympus. The Glens are looking to consolidate their place in the McBookie Premiership so they can start to be considered part of the pantheon of elite clubs once more. Is this the start of a Rutherglen renaissance where they become gods of the Junior game again? That is what I came to find out today.
Success might have come and gone but throughout their history Rutherglen Glencairn have had some outstanding players. Alex Bennett was part of the 1902 treble winning side before going on to success with both halves of the Old Firm. He played 124 games for Celtic and 188 at Rangers, in total he won seven Scottish Football League titles and two Scottish Cups. Moving forward to the 1980s and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Albion Rovers cult hero and Middlesbrough icon Bernie Slaven spent a season as a youth at The Glens. He arrived from Johnstone Burgh for the 1980/81 season before going on to have a fine career at places like Greenock Morton, Port Vale and Darlington as well as picking up seven caps for Ireland. Finally from my era was tough, yet cultured left back Rob McKinnon who went from Rutherglen to Hartlepool via an unsuccessful stint at Newcastle United. He was a vital part of Tommy McLean’s strong mid-nineties Motherwell side before a Bosman move to Eredivisie club FC Twente.
I arrive in Rutherglen at lunchtime to find a rather smart and attractive town, an impression that remains with me throughout the day. Close to the station is the first pub, one that has been a a part of the local landscape for many a long year; Chapman’s. Entering via the back door I was greeted by Cesar himself, Billy McNeill in portrait form, letting me know this is a Celtic boozer with loads to signed shirts beyond him and a huge Scott Brown fresco signed by the man himself. It’s a large yet narrow pub with high ceilings, plenty of seats in brown leather with the typical old town photos and maps on the walls. Clean, friendly with a good spirits selection offsetting a standard range of beers. Guinness a reasonable £3.55 a pint.
Next up at the far end of a bustling main street is a bar whose name might suggest a Madonna theme, but Vogue is another Celtic bar where you ain’t gonna hear ‘True Blue’ on the jukebox any time soon. To say ‘another Celtic bar’ is actually making a massive understatement, this is a Hoops Heaven jam packed with memorabilia, shamrocks adorning ornate mirrors and windows. Through the back we even have the spacious Lisbon Lounge.
Celtic aside it is a lovely auld pub, dark but spotlessly clean. Behind the bar there is a row of stainless steel chest refrigerators none of which have a single finger print upon them. The Magners is good too at £3.50 a pint, probably a better choice at this hour than the Eden Mills ‘Treble, Treble’ gin. Yes this place isn’t going to cater to certain tastes but if you support Celtic you have to make a pilgrimage. Vogue is the finest hoops bar I’ve been to on my travels.
Next up, located rather unfortunately on the dual carriageway that is the A730, is a vast family run establishment called The Sportman. I arrive as a massive operation to take down Halloween decorations is underway in one of three large rooms, a party must have taken place the night before. Loads of live music and entertainment nights are advertised and to go with them is a wee stage in the corner with sparkly wallpaper and a carpet so thick it has lines from a hoover like you get on a lawn. I bet Friday and Saturday nights are rocking in here, this lunchtime was quiet however. Sportsman’s had a homely feel as I drank my pint, the landlady straightening her hair between serving the odd drink.
Finally on the far side of the M74 was The Glencairn Venue, former social club of today’s hosts but now rented out to different hands. It is massive and modern, capable of seating hundreds. This is handy as coaches of Celtic fans were about to arrive ahead of their League Cup semi-final against Hibernian. Here I bump into a Jambo who I recently met at ‘The Hampden Club’, a group representing Football Memories Scotland at our national stadium. I joined him and his mates who were headed to the same game as me.
The Hoops hordes arrive en mass yet the large number of efficient staff means no one waits any time at all to grab a pint. The music is even changed to play their favourite hits. Shame this means I’ve go to drink Guinness in a very soft plastic tumbler, but that’s a tiny issue.
As part of a posse then I headed to Glencairn’s own Elysian Field; New Southcroft Park, or The Celsius Cooling Stadium as it is currently known. It opened eleven years ago and is a pretty straightforward affair with the railway & M74 behind one goal, turnstiles & changing rooms behind another with concrete terracing along each touchline. There is a large covering on one side, enough to house everyone on a rainy day.
As is common at Glesga Junior grounds the place has been allowed to go a little to seed. Weeds emerge from cracks & crevices, the perimeter fence has gaps & broken sections and a pile of rubble lies behind a toilet block were none of the sinks work. In ancient parks this can have quite a charming effect but at this modern venue it is a bit of a grim sight. It’s a fine ground, just needs some TLC.
On a lush but strangely coloured pitch Glencairn vs Cumnock kicked off and to begin with the visitors looked the better side. They applied pressure while former Partick, Dunfermline and Ross County man Andy Dowie was a class act at the back. Yet The Glens front line of Callum McRobbie & Dale Simeon was immense. McRobbie resembled a Tongan rugby star with thighs like monstrous Christmas hams, yet his strength was tempered with a subtle skill on the ball. Simeon in contrast has been scoring for fun this season and added to his tally just ten minutes in.
It stayed that way until half time when my gang stormed a very comfy players lounge for a can of Tennents before a second half where Rutherglen almost threw it all away. Murdoch of Cumnock was gifted a tap in around the 55th minute and then 15 minutes before the end Christ knows what the keeper was doing as Anderson put the Ayrshire men ahead. Thankfully for the home team Simeon continued his great for by equalising minutes later. It ended 2-2 and no one could say it wasn’t fair.
Seriously Rutherglen is a beautiful wee place, well worth a visit; clean, modern and full of shops, not empty retail units. It also has some grand old architecture if that’s the sort of thing you’re into. The pubs are all grand and very different; giant social clubs, family run entertainment venues and veritable Celtic museums. That’s only the ones I’ve visited too, there are plenty more who come well recommended.
The local club, Rutherglen Glencairn are back in the top flight and look like they belong, able to more than hold their own. If Simeon maintains his form and McRobbie can keep giving him service they will maintain Premiership status. As for reclaiming their ancient place at the top of the Junior pantheon? That may be some time off, they have escaped the underworld but a seat atop Mt Olympus will require a bit more work.