Davie Cooper. Those are the two words that come to mind when someone mentions Clydebank to me, along with the smiling image of him being unveiled at Kilbowie in 1993 wearing that famous Wet Wet Wet sponsored Matchwinner shirt. Regarded as one of the best ever, by opponents such as Ruud Gullit or team mates like Sandy Clark, the Rangers and Motherwell icon was still in his second spell as a Bankie when he tragically died of a brain haemorrhage on the 23rd of March 1995. Cooper’s passing perhaps foreshadowed another great loss to Scottish football just seven years later with the demise of Clydebank themselves, a club at that point with over one hundred years of rather unconventional history. While it is a sad fact that mortal men cannot return from the dead, even footballers with messianic ability, football clubs can and this afternoon I was off to Yoker to see the resurrected Bankies take on Beith.
Founded in 1899 Clydebank Football Club spent their first sixty five years as members of the SJFA and were generally regarded throughout the period as one of the better sides in the Junior grade. They certainly had the trophies to back that claim with five Central League Championships and two West of Scotland Cups to their name amongst others. Their finest hour as a Junior was victory in the 1942 Scottish Cup Final in front of 24,500 at Clyde‘s Shawfield Park; Vale of Clyde beaten by four goals to two.
The Bankies’ first taste of senior football came through highly controversial circumstances in 1964 when the club was merged with Scottish Football League side East Stirlingshire. Shire owners the Steedman brothers had spent a couple of seasons prior trying to improve the fortunes of the Falkirk side by promoting youth and selling them to fund more quality, experienced signings. With their plan having some success the next step was upping sticks from Firs Park and moving to Kilbowie where the combined squads would become a single second division club by the name of ES Clydebank. The hybrid team played decent football in front of large crowds but it would only last one season as Shire supporters won a High Court battle to regain control of their side.
Seeing the desire for league football in Clydebank the Steedmans remained at The Bankies and with their support the club was elected to the SFL in 1966. Over the next thirty six years the Kilbowie side largely enjoyed a good run in the league; they spent three seasons in the Premier Division, lost 2-0 to Celtic in the 1990 Scottish Cup semi-final and built one of the country’s first all-seater grounds. The beginning of the end came in 1996 however, when Kilbowie was sold off without plans for a replacement. Clydebank entered a nomadic existence playing home games first at Dumbarton‘s Boghead before ending up at Cappielow, while plans were started then abandoned to move the club to sites in Dublin, Galashiels and Carlisle. By 2002 The Bankies were in dire straits and they weren’t the only ones.
In February of 2000 KPMG were appointed provisional liquidators of Airdrieonians, who had reached near financial meltdown due to delays in the building of their new stadium. After limping along for a couple of years The Diamonds finally went bust on the 1st of May 2002 causing a consortium led by a Jim Ballantyne to immediately set up Airdrie United, who lobbied the league to let the ‘phoenix club’ take the dead side’s place. The move was unsuccessful, Gretna replaced Airdrie leaving the new United out in the cold. Ballantyne was not to be denied however; his group took over Clydebank, relocated them to North Lanarkshire, dressed them up in Airdrie’s auld clothes and took their league place. In a twist of historical irony The Bankies fell victim to what the Steedmans had tried to do to East Stirlingshire four decades before. This time they’d be no High Court victory, Clydebank would be no more.
Except it wasn’t the end, as after the death came the resurrection when the UCS supporters’ group got Airdrie United to surrender Clydebank’s name and insignia in time to launch a new club for the 2003/04 season. The Bankies became Juniors once again entering Central League Division Two which they won at the first time of asking before reaching a Scottish Junior Cup Final in 2009 (where they went down 2-1 to the virtually omnipotent Auchinleck Talbot). Nowadays they sit comfortably in the West Region’s top flight, one of the better sides in the grade once more with Holm Park in Yoker becoming their home as the club enjoy a spell of peace and relative prosperity.
Yoker Athletic‘s Holm Park lies just a few hundred yards beyond signs welcoming you to Clydebank & West Dunbartonshire on the mammoth Dumbarton Road and just prior to said signs is ‘The Last Pub in Glasgow’; The Lovat Arms. Standing alone on the north side of that busy road it looks recently refurbished from the outside, with two doors offering access to either bar or lounge opening into one large open plan boozer. What a lovely boozer it is too; modern, bright, clean and tidy. One wall is papered with a vast historical map of the area showing me how close we are to areas like Partick and Maryhill, while elsewhere framed Bankies’ programmes from the late eighties Premier Division era are proudly yet subtly displayed. There are big TVs to watch football on but I love that each seating booth has its own little one as well. Plenty of money has been spent doing this place up.
As far as drink is concerned there is a good choice indeed with four different lagers to choose from and a quality pint of Birra Moretti, which should be well over four quid, coming in at just £3.40 the pint. A few Clydebank fans are in wearing quite the range of club merchandise and are enjoying the place too, many having food as well. As pre-match pubs go the Bankies have a very good one here.
Another hundred yards back into Glasgow is the rather grim and weathered exterior of the Station Bar. While the outside makes even a well traveled man such as myself reluctant to cross the threshold I was glad I did, as inside was a proper old fashioned and welcoming boozer. I loved the name of the pub printed in gilt on dark wood above the bar and the curtains that cover only the bottom half of the windows. The latter traditionally being less about blocking light and more about preventing wives from checking to see if there men were still at the swally. It is a 35ml nip bar, with a decent selection of malts to go with it, but the beer selection was basic. While a pint of Younger’s Tartan Special would have fitted the old school nature of the place I couldn’t resist a Coors Light at the introductory price of £2.50. The lager is consumed in to company of friendly & funny regulars as I find myself very much at ease in this local pub for local people. For many it will be as comfy and familiar as their own living rooms.
Finally in Clydebank itself I visit a pub which is a celebrity now, a Hollywood starlet; The Douglas Hotel. In Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting 2 the outside of this pub was cast as the exterior of the boozer Johnny Lee Miller’s Sickboy inherited from his uncle in Leith; The Port Sunshine. Now as you might expect from the nature of the Trainspotting franchise the Douglas wouldn’t have been chosen for its immaculate and welcoming look, indeed this £27 a night hostelry is a horrific sight to see. The grimy windows are heavily barred so that nothing can be seen through them and, unlocked door aside, there is zero indication that this place was open today or any day in the past few decades. If I was reluctant to enter the Station I was shitting myself walking in here.
What a strange place indeed, something old and something new, a boozer that must be halfway through a long period of refurbishment. The pool table looks fresh out the box and some seating is newly upholstered but what I first thought was a mirror was actually a hole in the wall big enough to walk through. Toilets are clean but the walk there and back is like navigating the aisle of a turbulent plane due to rather loose flooring. A lassie playing pool turns out to be running the bar (in a very friendly and efficient manner) and the Dark Fruits was good, however I feel weird drinking in a ‘work in progress’ so quickly depart.
Council owned Holm Park is a pretty straightforward affair with a brand new, top quality synthetic pitch and white barrier contrasting harshly with two touchlines of old crumbling concrete terracing and areas of muddy grass. The old Anderson shelter style covered area has been ripped down and some of it still lies in an area of waste ground. Behind one goal is just the massively high green perimeter fence while at the other we have a two story pavilion that looks like a three bedroom detached home from a middle class seventies estate painted battleship grey. Changing rooms on the ground floor and offices (as well as an alleged future bar) on the first. There is no social club, Yoker Athletic had one outside the ground but it burnt down decades ago and its location is now the car park.
I have three positives. Firstly there isn’t a pie stall, instead a rather fancy burger lorry (bigger than a van) is parked up at a large gap in the wall. It serves chips with gravy, cheese or curry sauce as well as a range of burgers in brioche buns. My cheese and bacon burger was smashing. No doubt the club gets a percentage of profits without having to do any work, cracking idea. Secondly a shipping container on the waste ground opens into a fantastic club shop, which has a dizzying array of merch that I’d already seen people clad in on the way to the ground. At a level where I often struggle to buy badges and a scarf for my collection, this place has magnets, air fresheners, jackets, kits, gloves and a whole host of other stuff. Clydebank are really tapping into a revenue stream most don’t bother with. Finally we have a group of young lads aged eight to about fourteen who have congregated as a band of young ultras. They wave flags, throw baloons and make noise on a drum that’s 60% brown tape. A gang that sang throughout the following ninety and added greatly to the atmosphere, I hope they have the club’s support and get the encouragement other sides give such groups.
It started slow but what a game we got at Holm Park, in front of perhaps around three hundred. I’ve often said that 3G pitches at this level contribute to good play on the floor and it was the visitors Beith who demonstrated this. Indeed some clever passing allowed Paul Frize to score a well worked opener just after the half hour. Six minutes later and the Ayrshire men looked to be cruising when a header smashed the back of the Bankies’ net. As some Clydebank committee men trudged off indoor for an early half time however, a spectacular turnaround occurred when the already impressive Aaron Miller scored twice in the same amount of minutes. The first being thumping header from a free kick before a deflection put a fabulous looping effort past the Beith goalie. 2-2 at the break.
The second half was another long period without incident before a thrilling end. Around the seventy fifth minute Bankies’ leading goalscorer Nicky Little had the perfect chance to slot away a header but fired wide just before a Beith defensive error almost lobbed their keeper, who narrowly avoided the own goal. At the death both sides were awarded free kicks that gave relatively easy access to a winner and both made an arse of it. A draw it ended and as fair a result as could be.
Sitting on the Yoker to Argyle Street train I thought about my day, which overall was rather enjoyable. The homely Station Bar, the beautifully done up Lovat and the scary building site of the Douglas set me up well for a cracking ninety minutes of Junior fitba. That Paul Frize is some player in my opinion and together the Bankies’ formed a solid and well drilled unit. The visitors, 2016 Scottish Junior Cup winners, will have been glad with the point today given it was the debut of a new management team (who had them playing some very attractive football).
The day before my arrival Clydebank had issued a statement regarding the SJFA’s failure to move the West Region into the SFA pyramid system for next season. It is clear the club have ambitions to return to the SPFL in the long term. They have the pitch and the floodlights for it, but the rest of the ground needs some work to make the grade, so to speak. They also need to attract a bigger support, but with that famous Clydebank name, if they continue to play exciting football and encourage more youth (who only remember them as a Junior side) to come and wave flags then who knows how high the Bankies could rise again.