“This club be called Morton Football Club”
The above words were the first recorded at the club’s inaugural meeting in 1874 when the side now known a Greenock Morton were formed. They were just called plain old ‘Morton’ for their first eighty years however, resulting in my childhood belief in the existence of a large west coast town by that name where the popular team played. Obviously that wasn’t the case but there seems to be a lack of certainly around the origins of the Morton moniker, with two main theories battling it out to be the truth behind the name. Firstly is the idea that The Ton were named after Morton Terrace, a street near their first field of play. This argument is of course helped by their actually being a street with that name located not far from the club’s current home. Then there is the belief that the side was named after a generous benefactor and founding director by the name of James Morton. Yet someone having a heid big enough to allow the new team to be named in his honour seems a bit unlikely to me.
Regardless the new club came into being and was accepted as a member of the Scottish Football League in 1893 starting in the brand new Second Division. The Ton didn’t debut on a flourish, rather they won just four games finishing eighth in the ten team league, yet they soon got a handle on the big time. The Greenock side won promotion to the top flight in 1900 and finished their first season of Division One football in fourth place; only Hibernian and the Old Firm ahead of them. Top flight status would remain uninterrupted at Cappielow Park (including a runner’s up finish behind Celtic in ’17) until 1927, five years after the club’s finest hour. On the 15th of April 1922 Morton won the Scottish Cup for the only time in their history. Having dispatched Aberdeen 3-1 in the semi-final at Dens on April Fool’s Day, The Ton faced ‘The Famous’ Glasgow Rangers in front of a bumper crowd of 75,000 plus at Hampden Park. A Jimmy Gourlay goal was all that separated the teams, the goalscorer a centre back who’s father James played for Scotland while he earned two caps for the Scottish League XI. As Gourlay was committed to playing a friendly the day after the final at Hartlepool celebrations in Greenock were kept on ice until his return on the following Wednesday.
Morton spent the thirties bobbing up and down between the two divisions before the war put pay to league football. At the end of hostilities and the resumption of play the club were luckily assigned a place in the top ‘A’ Division, despite being in the second tier at the start of the war, and not long after a second Scottish Cup Final was theirs to play in. Rangers were to be the opponents once again and while the Gers won the cup after a replay it is fondly remembered by fans of the Greenock club for the sheer number of people in attendance. On Saturday the 17th of April 1948 131,629 souls entered Hampden to see the sides draw one apiece before a further 133,570 came to the national stadium four nights later for Rangers’ 1-0 extra time victory (a British record for a midweek fixture at the time). Imagine that; 265,000 plus watching a cup final over 210 minutes, incredible and marred by a dodgy finish too. It was alleged that the winning goal came as a result of Ton ‘keeper Jimmy Cowan being blinded by a camera flash, just like when Hulk Hogan dropped the WWF World Championship to Yokozuna at King of the Ring 1993 I presume.
Since then Greenock Morton have kept going, motoring on as a well supported side with not a huge amount of glory to celebrate. After 1948 they spent nineteen seasons in the top flight including an eight year run from 1967 to 1975 when only league restructuring caused them to drop a division. Their last spell in the Premier League was in 1987/88. In cup competitions they have contested another two national finals; firstly the 1963 League Cup Final, again against Rangers, again a six figure crowd, alas a 5-0 humping. The last was the 1992 Challenge Cup Final at Love Street against Hamilton Academical. It might have been a more modest 7,000 plus crowd but the game was a thriller, as Accies ran out 3-2 winners.
I often look at a club’s former players and few in the land have a greater alumni than Sir Stanley Matthews, icon of English football and legendary figure for both Stoke City as well as Blackpool of course. He arrived in Greenock during the Second World War and made a number of guest appearances for The Ton. Hibs fans may talk about signing Georgie Best but it was the past his prime, post America, brandy soused Bestie who plyed his trade at Easter Road. Morton got Matthews in his pomp and was described as so impossible to play against by Clyde‘s own legendary figure Harry Haddock that you just had to stop and enjoy his performance. It was against Clyde in a Summer Cup Final that Sir Stanley masterminded a 6-1 victory where fellow guest player and England megastar Tommy Lawton scored four with his head, each conceived from a Matthews cross.
Everyone who thinks they know Greenock told me two things ahead of my visit; a. Greenock is a shitehole and b. The Black Cat is the pub to visit. Before I discuss the pub I want to make clear that the town ain’t too bad at all, sure the massive office devoted to The Samaritans near the station seems like a bad omen, but near it we have stunning old buildings, clean streets and fantastic views across the Firth of Clyde to Helensburgh. I’ve walked off trains in to far bleaker locales than this. By far.
Into The Black Cat then, whose quirky sign cries it ‘Greenock’s Oldest Pub’ and walking in that much is obvious. A wee place clad in worn wood almost as dark as ebony, it has my favourite pub feature; a 360° central bar with a bonus ceramic trough round the bottom, it’s historical purpose to catch the drips from punter’s brollies. It must be largely unchanged in decades with only the six huge plasma screens (showing golf and horses) hinting at what century we’re currently in. There is a Batman themed puggie too, but not a Snyder or Nolan era one, this one displays logos and image’s from Burton’s ’89 classic thirty years ago.
The Cat, as I hear regulars refer to it, is clean and comfortable, warm and welcoming. At noon there was a couple of elderly gents well into the house whisky & water, sober when I’d be mortal, and at the same time a youngish group bashing the buttons on that auld bandit. The past and the future of this lovely boozer still both in its present. To quote a fellow ground hopping friend of mine “tis a fine shoap indeed”
Next up is right across the road on Laird Street is not a pub but a social club, one belonging to The Greenock Celtic Supporters Club where I was invited to meet vice president Jim McCall for a tour of this cavernous place. On the ground floor is a massive lounge bar with seating for perhaps hundreds around dozens and dozens of little green topped tables. Huge windows look over the water allowing light to pour in. The bar has a grand selection of drinks and pours a sensational Guinness as well as being clad in all the laminated club rules signs that are the hallmark of Scots social clubs. Upstairs I’m shown another vast room, this time a function suite where John Hartson had been the special guest the evening before. The back of the stage is a wonderful collage of members photos, a mix of famous hoops moments and family snaps taken over the supporters club’s almost 75 years history. Their light up club logo is pretty neat too.
It’s some place that can be members only and mobbed on match day to quiet and open to all on afternoons like this. It is a successful and popular club indeed that can afford to open seven days a week. It is testament to the sheer size of Celtic Football Club that such a venue exists thirty miles from Parkhead. Don’t let the Hoops thing put you off however all are welcome. I also want to point out how clean it was, I often say places are immaculate but this club has taken it to another level. Twelve hours before my visit 400 members were in to see a club legend speak, by the time I arrived it wasn’t just clean it was ‘concealing a murder’ clean (has Hartson tweeted since?) Seriously the place is wholly without dust or crumbs anywhere, everything shines. Get that cleaner nominated for an MBE or an Order of Pius X immediately.
A big part of today for me was visiting Cappielow Park, a grand old ground built way back in 1879. It hosted a Scotland vs Wales Home Nations international in 1902, where we won 5-1, and in 1922 a record 23,500 squeezed in for the title decider against Celtic. Today the capacity is ‘only’ 11,589, with 5,741 seats and those seats are spread between the Main Stand, an open embankment of benches behind one goal as well as some newish seating at the front of the other touchline with terracing taking up the majority of that stand. The other goal end is open to the elements too and terraced. Over the Main Stand and it’s counterpart across the playing field are a couple of large pitched roofs made of corrugated metal. The whole place is very well maintained including the pitch, which is in spectacular nick for a chilly November day.
With grounds like Muirton, Brockville, Broomfield and Kilbowie gone from Scottish fitba Cappielow fair warms the heart to see. While Tynecastle has gained so much from finally building that new main stand the one here will remind Hearts supporters and others about what they have lost. Credit also to Morton for having an old ground and not letting any part of it go to seed or become abandoned. Sure the benched embankment wasn’t in use today but it looked ready for it at a moment’s notice. My only issue: £20 for access to a standing area, while I’m sure it’s a fair price for the Championship I can help feeling that I could stand at a Junior game, get fed and half pished for a similar amount. There was a crowd of just over one thousand prior to kick-off today, a low figure by Morton standards, so would a reduction in prices boost attendance?
There isn’t much I can say about the action at Cappielow today as it was a game with little incident or intrigue that played out in a pretty straightforward manner. Cries from the crowd suggest that former Scotland, Chelsea and Leeds United star David Hopkins ain’t a popular figure in the dugout (surprising as he was a Morton boy) but I thought he had The Ton playing nice football. They passed well and the front three dribbled forward confidentially on the excellent surface. Arbroath by contrast, clad in maroon and white, looked like a pound shop Hearts (not so much an insult since the Jambos have been a charity shop version of themselves this season), they seemed to be unable to threaten the Morton goal.
The sides were separated this afternoon by only Reece Lyon’s third minute goal. The nineteen year old finished well from a ball nodded on by Jim McAlister. From then on the highlight of the game was the AC/DC, James and Ocean Colour Scene blasting outta the tannoy at half time. The Ton could have scored a few more but seemed unwilling to go for it against a team who aren’t doing well on the road at the moment. Fans surely can’t grumble about a win but if the Gayfield gang had stolen a point supporters would have been righteous in their fury.
Greenock is no shitehole, that’s for sure, it is big friendly place that welcomes visitors and has views across the water to make many a town jealous. Just two boozers worth writing home about today but The Black Cat was a lovely step back in time while I must thank the Greenock Celtic Supporters Club for their hospitality. I love a good social club and this was a great one.
Twenty quid. A pony. Quite the sum to spend for the honour of standing in a crowded cow shed in a cold November. I was consoled by the fact my admission price allowed me to explore a ground that still lives while so many others have passed beyond the veil. It’s just a shame The Ton didn’t serve up a classic match for myself and the thousand plus in attendance. Cappielow has seen great days and is lucky to still be standing for future ones. Today was only decent but at least I saw a win for a grand old team.