The original Cathkin Park was opened in 1872 when members of the Third Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers (the club’s original name) started playing on land that had originally been part of a drilling field for the regiment.
Formation of the team was inspired by some of the soldiers seeing Scotland play England at the West of Scotland Cricket Ground in the first ever international with a number of members of the regiment in the Scottish side. The formation was proposed by a Private Broadfoot and seconded by Private Taylor (Joseph Taylor, who was in fact a Queen’s Park player and had played in the international). The odd part is that the club were never from Lanark, nor really from Lanarkshire but were a Glasgow team from day one.
The members held a meeting in the regimental orderly room to agree on the formation of the club with Lieutenant Colonel Crum-Ewing proposed as the first President, and then met again a few weeks later to choose colours of ‘A scarlet guernsey, blue and yellow cowl, blue trousers or knickerbockers and blue stockings.’
Initial facilities at the ground were limited to a log pavilion but funds generated from successful Cup runs enabled the club to add a grandstand, at a cost of £155, in 1878 and also to conduct Scotland’s first experiment with floodlit football. The club also changed their colours to ‘blue and white hooped jerseys with white knickerbockers’.
Among the leading players at the time were ‘Darkey’ Walker, who has claims to be the first black player to play in top-class football and James Lang, who only had one eye after a shipyard accident in Clydebank, and is generally regarded as the first professional footballer when he joined Sheffield. Walker appeared in the 1876 Scottish Cup Final and Lang played in the 1878 conclusion both of which Third’s lost.
The ground was thought to be of sufficient quality that in 1882 it hosted the Scottish Cup final and replay between Queen’s Park and Dumbarton. 14,000 attended the first match. It was also chosen to host the 1884 Final although that match was never played as one of the finalists, Vale of Leven did not have enough players available. It again staged the final in 1886 when Queen’s Park beat Renton 3-1.
In 1884 two British International Championship matches were held at Cathkin with Scotland beating England 1-0 in front of 10,000 in the first ever all-ticket encounter and then overcoming Wales 4-1 before 5,000 fans.
The Snow Final
In 1889 the ‘Hi Hi’ as Third Lanark were later to become known won the Scottish Cup by beating Celtic – twice. The original game, which became known as the ‘Snow Final’ was played at Hampden Park on 2 February. The day started with a light covering of snow but this grew thicker as the day progressed and by kick-off time was ankle deep. Both teams played under protest and eventually agreed that the match should be treated as a friendly. Thirds won 3-0 but it counted for nothing. The following Saturday the teams reconvened at the same venue and the Hi Hi won again, this time 2-1 to claim the trophy.
The Scottish League started in 1890 and Third Lanark were among the founder members. The first league match at Cathkin was on 23 August 1890, Dumbarton beating the hosts 3-1. At the end of the season the ground hosted a championship playoff between Rangers and Dumbarton after the teams had finished joint top of the table. The match was drawn and the title shared.
The highest attendance at the stadium came in 1899 when a visit by Rangers attracted 16,000 spectators who saw the visitors run out 5-1 winners.
In 1902 the British League Cup was played to raise money for victims of the Ibrox disaster in which 25 were killed and 517 injured. Everton and Sunderland, arguably England’s two best teams at the time, took on Celtic and Rangers.
The Scottish teams won their respective semis, Celtic thrashing Sunderland 5-1 and Rangers needing a replay to overcome Everton after drawing at Goodison. 12,000 attended Cathkin for the final on the day of the Coronation of King Edward VII and they saw Celtic run out 3-2 winners after extra-time thanks to a hat-trick from Jimmy Quinn. In total £900 was raised for the disaster fund from the four matches.
In 1903 Queen’s Park left the then Hampden Park for a new stadium which they renamed Hampden Park. Third Lanark then left Cathkin Park and took over the original Hampden Park renaming it New Cathkin Park. Confused?
The move to the new stadium came with one rather strange decision. Cathkin had a two-storey brick built grandstand and embankments in place. Queen’s Park asked Thirds if they would like the, left in place but the new owners insisted everything be demolished and, transported their own stand from the original Cathkin and built their own embankments.
In the same year all official links with the rifle volunteers were severed and the club’s name was changed to Third Lanark A.C. (Athletic Club).
The final match at Cathkin was in fact played by Queen’s Park who used it for a home game against Partick Thistle in October 1903 while Hampden was being finished.
Third Lanark then used Hampden Park for much of the 1903-04 season while their own new stadium was built. In October of that season, the club agreed to switch the home match against big rivals Rangers to Ibrox, accepting ‘most generous terms’ to do so. This caused the Daily Record to write ominously; “Where the money is, there the football will be found”.
This, however, was one of those times when money didn’t win. Thirds won that match and kept on winning. Despite using only 12 players all season and playing few matches at their real home they went on record a fantastic title win, finishing four points clear of Hearts.
By 1905 when they claimed their second Scottish Cup beating Rangers 3-1 in a replay Thirds we’re safely ensconced in their new home – the former Hampden Park – and now renamed ‘New’ Cathkin Park.
The unprecedented run of success was greatly influenced by Scottish international Hughie Wilson, a man who surely has to contend for the title of the club’s greatest player.
After beginning his playing career with Newmilns, Wilson moved to England, joining Sunderland in 1890 and forging a reputation as a fine schemer. ‘Latty’ as he was known was a key part of the ‘Team of all the Talents’ and won three titles with the Black Cats before moving further south to join Bedminster who later merged with Bristol City.
By the time he returned to Scotland and signed for Third Lanark in 1901, Latty was already 32 and seemingly in the twilight of his career but his swansong was to bring him League and Cup-winners medals.
The season after that Cup success saw the debut of another club legend when Jimmy Brownlie joined Thirds. The goalkeeper would remain for 17 years during which time he became a regular Scotland international with 16 international caps and another 14 appearance in wartime and victory internationals.
Thirds maintained their lofty position until the outbreak of the War although Glasgow’s big two were undoubtedly becoming bigger and it really wasn’t possible to keep pace with them. When peace came they had fallen even farther back and in 1925 were relegated to the 2nd Division. The club then bounced between the divisions on a fairly regular basis.
Promotion as champions in 1934-35 led to an extended spell in the top flight but with few decent cup runs to boost the coffers and moderate attendances little was done to improve facilities at the ground and little changed at Cathkin.
Successive Scottish Cup semi-final appearances in 1952 and ‘53 gave some hope that a return to former glory might be achieved but the second semi was coupled with another relegation. Thirds bounced back to the top again in 1957 but with finances deteriorating it was a struggle to compete with the best.
In 1960-61 the club enjoyed their best campaign since their long ago heyday. With former Rangers great George Young at the helm they went into the last match of the season having scored 94 goals. They beat Hibernian 6-1 at Cathkin on that last day to crack the century mark for goals scored and went off the enjoy a 3-match U.S. tour. They finished 3rd that season but fans hoping that this might herald a return to the glory days were to be disappointed.
Good players were still being produced – Ally MacLeod Iabove), Dave Hilley Matt Gray and Alex Harley (whose life was to end tragically at just 33) were particular success stories – and big managerial appointments such as Bob Shankly, Bobby Evans and Young were made, but the lure of the two big clubs in Glasgow proved too much for almost all decent local youngsters and eventually the decision was made to go part-time lessening the attraction to players even more.
In 1963 the club sold 10 players, including Hilley, Gray and Harley to English clubs in a twelve-month spell and it seemed clear that the directors were more interested in cashing in assets than in success on the pitch.
Ironically the 1966-67 season was undoubtedly one of the best for Scottish Football. Celtic’s victory in the European Cup Final was, of course, the highlight. But alongside that Rangers reached the Cup Winners Cup Final and, in April 1967 the national team travelled to Wembley and best the reigning world champions.
325 at the Last Match
All of this led to events at Third Lanark taking a back seat. Having attracted just 297 fans to a game against Clydebank that coincided with Scotland’s visit to Wembley (which was being shown on TV,) only 325 spectators watched a 3-3 against Queen of the South in what was to prove the last-ever competitive match at Cathkin.
The club then played their final game of the season at Dumbarton and the players left after the match having no idea if they were going to be paid their wages. Soon after, the directors announced that they had offered to sell Cathkin to Glasgow Corporation for housing development and were planning to build a new stadium in Bishopbriggs. This, of course, never materialised.
Shortly after, the Board of Trade launched an investigation into the club, which would uncover multiple cases of fraud and which also disclosed that players had been having to pay their own fares to away matches. Much of the blame for the club’s demise was placed squarely on the shoulders of chairman Bill Hiddleston.
Hiddleston (above) had been a director in the mid-1950s and was oddly (given that he had no experience) appointed manager two years later before being sacked from both the manager’s job and the board.
The former wholesale glass salesman re-emerged in 1961 as the majority shareholder. Upon his appointment as Chairman, then-manager Young and his staff walked out, other directors resigned and one was heard to say; “God help them”.
On one occasion a player suffered a compound arm fracture. Mindful of the fact that the club had a solitary set of shirts Hiddleston was heard to shout; ‘Don’t let them cut the jersey off’ as the injured man was taken to hospital in agony.
Tales of asset-stripping along with the intention to sell the ground to developers amid rising debt abound and in June 1967 the club was wound up by the Court Of Session in Edinburgh who appointed an official liquidator. It was found that the club’s liabilities were £40,000 greater than their assets.
In late June it was announced that Third Lanark’s place in the league had ceased and that the remaining players were up for sale.
In July 1968, four directors of the club were found guilty of failing to keep proper books of account. A Board Of Trade inquiry accused Hiddleston of blatant corruption and suggested a police inquiry but the ex-chairman had died of a heart attack in November 1967.
Cathkin Park was sold for development in 1967 but Glasgow City Council refused planning permission for housing because of an old local authority caveat that stated that the ground must be used for recreational purposes. It is now a public park where football is still played.
The ‘Hi Hi’ were the first major club in Scottish football to go out of existence and efforts to bring them back, and to return top-class football to Cathkin, continue 52 years after their disappearance.
The club remain part of the fabric of Scottish, and indeed British football. I’m sure I’ll be joined by many in wishing those hoping to bring the Hi-Hi back to life every success.