Cathkin Park, Glasgow

Cathkin Park, Glasgow

Where once thousands of football fans cheered on their team, silent trees now crowd together on the terraces in an eerie relic of a city's sporting past.

The weeds and moss are creeping over the concrete steps and terraces, the wind and rain have stripped the paint from the barriers and silver birch trees have invaded intersections of the old stands.

Cathkin Park, in Glasgow, was once the home of Third Lanark, a founder member of the Scottish Football Association (1873). Established just one year earlier as the Third Lanark Rifle Volunteers, an sporting off-shoot of a regiment of the 'territorial army' of the day, they went on to also help found the Scottish League in 1890, becoming First Division Champions in 1904 and Second Division winners in 1935.

Nicknamed the Warriors, the Redcoats, the Hi-Hi and the Thirds, they played in scarlet in their southside home for almost 100 years.

In 1923 the team toured Argentina, a curious echo of the later adventure of former player Ally MacLeod, manager of Scotland in the 1978 World Cup. He was a schoolboy signing for Third Lanark, playing with them for nine years. Other names of note were two goalkeepers – Lisbon Lion Ronnie Simpson and, further back in time, Scotland goalie Jimmy Brownlie, who became manager of Dundee United after the First World War.

The club's history included a late flowering; they made it to the 1960 Scottish League Cup Final and finished third in the First Division in 1961, scoring 100 goals in 34 matches.

Cathkin Park terraces

And in the end it wasn't football but finance that led to their failure. There are murky tales of deliberate mismanagement by domineering chairman William Hiddleston. He certainly succeeded in selling the ground in 1967 only for the site to then be denied planning permission for housing. He died suddenly few months later.

A rescue mission failed and according to football historian Bob Crampsey, the club's estimated 10,000 fans either abandoned football or transferred their allegiances to local Junior team Pollok.

He wrote: "The death of Third Lanark in 1967… is perhaps the most painful of all the losses sustained by Scottish League football… The closure of the club alerted football in general to the dangers of unscrupulous chairmen, and the attraction of football grounds to commerce as town and city sites ripe for development. All attempts to relocate Third Lanark either within the city of Glasgow or in one of the new towns failed, and with their going went one of the last links with the earliest origins of Scottish League football."

As the ground stood empty and unused nature moved in. When I first discovered it almost ten years ago, the park had become a place for a walk or a run, for teenagers to gather, for walking the dog and for aficionados of football or the fantastic to enjoy a slightly spooky afternoon outing.

It's still all that today but now Third Lanark is back in Scottish football; an amateur team has revived the name and plays once again at Cathkin Park. But though the pitch is now mown and the goalposts erected, it's easy to imagine that as the new team plays, the ghosts of their predecessors peek out from among the whispering trees.

(Quote from pg 299 of 'The Scottish Football League, The First 100 Years' by Bob Crampsey. 1990.)

How to get there

Cathkin Park is on the south side of Glasgow in between Crosshill and Mount Florida railway stations. The entrance from Cathcart Road is signposted. There are parking spaces although it gets busy when the pitch is in use.

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