In 1874, James Blacklock, the rector of the Hamilton Academy school in the South Lanarkshire town 12 miles south of Glasgow, decided to form a football team from among his pupils. Thus Hamilton Academical FC were formed, becoming members of the Scottish FA shortly after.

Academical‘s first recorded match was in October 1874 and resulted in a 2-0 defeat to Gilbertfield. In their early years there was a competing club in town, Hamilton F.C. who wore blue so the new team decided to ignore the Academy colours of blue and green and went with red and white hoops.

There had been two previous attempts to get clubs going in Hamilton but both Hamilton Thistle and Hamilton Gymnasium would last only a few seasons although Thistle would re-emerge later.

Reports concerning the club’s initial appearance in the Scottish Cup are sketchy and inconsistent. Some state that the team entered the Scottish Cup in the 1874-75 season and withdrew after a pair of draws with Rovers F.C. Others claim that the team first entered the competition in the 1875-76 season and started with a 1-0 home win over Airdrie). They then lost 3-0 in the second round at Levern Hurlet. Yet more reports claim that Accies’ first-ever Scottish Cup tie was a 3-0 loss to Barrhead in 1876

In around 1876 Hamilton F.C folded and some accounts indicate that the two clubs might have merged and this is borne out by players from the now-defunct club appearing in the records of Academical at around this time. They were certainly running two teams by then so there would have been room to incorporate new players.

For the first almost 20 years of their existence the club mostly played friendlies, their only competitive fixtures at first being in the Scottish Cup, Scottish Qualifying Cup and Lanarkshire Cup. The best Scottish Cup season came in 1879-80 when they made it through to the 4th round.

Also in 1879 Hamilton were among the founder members of the Lanarkshire Football Association and when their first silverware came in 1881-82 it was in the Lanarkshire Cup where they beat Cambuslang 3-2 in the final watched by a crowd of around 2,000.

Hamilton played at various local grounds for the first 14 years. These included Bent Farm and Clydesdale Street before they settled at South Avenue their first real ‘home’. It was here the\at they were able to charge admission and in 1883 the club held their first sports and football tournament at the venue with a 4-a-side tournament which was won by Rangers.

Hamilton moved to South Haugh for a season in 1884 but then returned to a new ground in South Avenue in 1885. In 1886 the ground hosted the Lanarkshire Cup final between Airdrie and Cambuslang and 4,000 were in attendance. Airdrie were leading the game 3-1 when it was abandoned due to fans encroaching on the pitch.

An incident occurred in 1888 as reported in the local press which has little relation to either club or ground but which deserves repeating. The match secretary of the time was due to get married. The club gave him a present which he decided was so ‘shabby’ that he resigned his post and left with immediate effect.

In 1888 Hamilton finally found their home, and it was one they would remain at for over a century. The club met ‘An XI from Glasgow University’ in the first fixture at the new ground in May of that year whilst the initial official match came in the Scottish Cup in September where they recorded a 5-0 win over Airdrieonians.

In 1889 Douglas Park was thought good enough to stage a junior international between Scotland and England. The appointed referee failed to materialise so the secretary of Cambuslang borrowed a whistle from a policeman and took charge of a 10-1 Scotland win.

Whilst the ground was moving along nicely, the team clearly wasn’t and after a special meeting in August 1889 it was announced that the club would be disbanded and that Hamilton Hibernian would be moving into Douglas Park.

But Hamilton Academical carried on playing. Sadly it isn’t known whether the original club managed to carry on or the new club simply took over the name and fixtures.

In 1891 over 1,000 attended a Lanarkshire Junior Cup final at Douglas Park and the club made improvements prior to this including widening the pitch.

It would appear that the club had greatly improved their financial position by this time and, indeed at the AGM a balance of over £20 was reported, amid much applause and improvements were slated to be made both to the pitch and the pavilion. 

In 1893 Accies (in earlier days it was Acas) were admitted to the Scottish Alliance League, bringing regular league football to Douglas Park for the first time.

Hamilton were regular visitors to the North East of England during the Christmas and New Year period where they would play three matches. On 1 January 1997 they travelled south by train to start the tour against Jarrow. Unfortunately the hamper carrying their kit remained on the train until it was unloaded in London forcing Accies to borrow kit from their hosts.

In 1897-98 they were elected into the Scottish League finishing 9th of 10 in their debut season. The record was actually slightly better than it appears, Renton started the season but resigned after losing their first four matches. Hamilton took their place, and their record and, after losing their first-ever Scottish League game 3-2 to Kilmarnock, finished with a respectable 12 points from 14 games.

The club withdrew from the Scottish Combination League in order to fulfil the Scottish League fixtures and were fined £50 for doing so.

After a few seasons of mid-table finishes, along with a Lanarkshire Cup win in 1902, Hamilton romped to the Second Division title in 1903-04 finishing eight points clear of runners-up Clyde. Sadly they weren’t elected to the top flight after Kilmarnock objected to their promotion stating that if they were there would be three clubs from Lanarkshire in the top division.

Two seasons later, they were promoted, despite finishing down in 4th place. This was due to two factors. Firstly, two of the teams that finished above them, Leith Athletic and Albion Rovers were rejected by the top flight. Secondly, the top flight expanded from 16 to 18 teams meaning Accies and Clyde were given positions in the top division.

By then the club had finished work on a new pavilion and Queen’s Park were the visitors for the opening match with Hamilton winning 1-0.

In 1901 Everton visited Douglas Park for a friendly with the home team winning 1-0. Shortly after the match the Toffees signed Accies man Charlie Clark fo £60. The following year Hamilton sold Jinky Muir to Motherwell for £120.

Peter McIntyre

After selling Muir the club made a big move of their own, signing Peter McIntyre.

McIntyre, who had started out with Glenbuck Cherrypickers before moving on to play for Rangers and then going south to play for Preston North End and Sheffield United after which he returned to Scotland and joined Hamilton.

The 1906 replayed Scottish Cup tie against Third Lanark saw Douglas Park set a new attendance record with 14,000 fans paying a total of £308 at the gate.

Peter Somers

In January 1910 Peter Somers returned to the club after spending the majority of his career at Celtic.

Somers had originally joined Hamilton from Cadzow Oak but was moved to Celtic in 1897. He had a successful loan spell at Blackburn Rovers and played 219 times for Celtic scoring 62 goals and was part of the team that won six Scottish titles and three Scottish Cups, picking up four Scottish caps along the way.

By the time he returned to Douglas Park, Somers was in the twilight of his career and he would play just one season before becoming a director of the club. Sadly a few years later he became ill and was forced to have part of his leg amputated. He never fully recovered and after an operation for gangrene he passed away in a Glasgow nursing home on 27 November 1914. He was 36 years old.

Hamilton were generally struggling at the higher level but in the 1910-11 season they almost produced a major shock. In the Scottish Cup, the team saw off Third Lanark, Johnstone, Motherwell (in front of 18,000 at Douglas Park – a new record) and then Dundee (3-2 after being 2-0 down) in the semifinal in front of another 18,000 crowd at their home ground.

The 1910-11 team

This set up a final against Celtic at Ibrox and, in front of 45,000 fans at Ibrox the teams battled to a goalless draw. The replay, played a week later again at Ibrox, saw Celtic run out 2-0 winners.

So, a Cup final appearance but it wasn’t all good news for the club in 1911. In November of that year the roof blew off of both stands and repairs cost Accies £100.

In 1913 the club set a new record for receipts when they took £602 on the gate for a Scottish Cup match against Rangers. The attendance was only 12,000 – some way from the highest but the club had doubled admission prices in order to keep crowd numbers down and improve safety. Later that year another match against Rangers celebrated the opening of a new grandstand and a crowd of 22,000 saw a 1-0 win for the visitors.

Alex Raisbeck

In 1914 the club decided to employ their first manager/secretary. They advertised the job and had over 100 applicants. One of these was former Liverpool and Scotland great Alex Raisbeck who had found out about the opportunity during a Chance meeting with a club director.

Raisbeck was appointed and would remain in the post for three years before becoming a director of the club for two more. After leaving the club he would go on to a long managerial career in England.

Like all Scottish clubs Hamilton continued playing throughout the First World War but unsurprisingly they lost a number of key players who joined up. The only fatality associated with the club was former player Thomas Gracie who played for Everton and Liverpool and was playing for Hearts at the time he joined the famous McCrae’s Battalion.

Gracie never actually made it to the front line. While training with the battalion at Ripon he was diagnosed with leukaemia and passed away in Glasgow in 1915.

Football resumed after hostilities and Hamilton continued surviving in the lower reaches of the Scottish First Division. They also left at the Scottish Cup at an early stage apart from a couple of occasions.

In the 1921-22 season a local barber offered free haircuts and shaves to the players should they win the Cup. This seemed to inspire the players as they made it to the quarter-final before being eliminated by Aberdeen at the quarter-final stage.

Scott Duncan was appointed as the new manager in 1923 replacing David Buchanan who had resigned and it was more likely him than a local barber that inspired the team in 1925 when they reached the Scottish Cup semi-final before losing out to Dundee after a replay. The team also visited Anfield in April of 1925 and emerged as 3-2 winners over their hosts.

But Duncan didn’t last. In September 1925 he left for Cowdenbeath and would later go on to take charge at Manchester United and Ipswich Town where he gave way to Alf Ramsey in 1955. The new man in the manager’s seat at Douglas Park was Willie McAndrew who would stay in the post for 21 years.

The club would reach two more Scottish Cup semi-finals during the early part of McAndrew’s reign but each time they failed to make the final step, losing to Partick Thistle in 1930 and to Rangers in 1932.

The key players for Hamilton at this time were Alex Herd and Davie Wilson. The inside-right signed for the club in 1928 as a 17-yea-old. He would go on to make 85 appearances for Accies and score 41 goals before being sold to Manchester City in 1933, winning the F.A. Cup a year later.

Herd’s son David, who played alongside his dad at Stockport County, enjoyed a fine career with Arsenal and Manchester United among others and was capped five times by Scotland.

Davie Wilson

Herd formed an excellent partnership with Wilson, an Englishman who McAndrew signed from a colliery side in Northumberland in 1928, and who would later be described as Hamilton’s finest-ever player.

Scotland v Wales. Schoolboy international at Douglas Park 1938

Wilson was the Scottish Division One top scorer in 1936-37 and when eventually left Douglas Park, joining Stranraer in 1945 he left behind a club record of 405 goals in 532 appearances in all competitions including 255 in 329 league games and 32 in 31 in the Scottish Cup.

With Wilson leading the line Accies enjoyed perhaps their finest season in 1934-35. In the Scottish League they were in the hunt all the way, before eventually dropping off a little to finish in 4th place, seven points adrift of Rangers. In the Cup Accies finally overcame the semi hurdle beating Aberdeen in front of 31,942 fans to set up a final against Rangers, and a chance to deny the Glasgow giants the double.

Jamie Bullock leads the team out for the Scottish Cup final

A crowd of 87,740 were at a rain-soaked Hampden Park for the final.

Rangers in the attack in the final

Accies were always second best in the day and a pair of goals from centre-forward Jimmy Smith proved too much for McAndrew’s men who replied just once, through Bertie Harrison, giving Rangers their second double in succession.

The 1935 team

Despite the Cup run, finances at the club weren’t great although the £6,000 sale of Bobby Reid to Brentford soon after the defeat at Hampden no doubt helped matters. Reid would go on to win two caps for Scotland in 1938.

Another £3,000 was added to the coffers when Cup Final goalscorer Bertie Harrison was sold to conquerors Rangers but in 1939 Harrison came back to Douglas Park in return for Chris McNee with Accies receiving £1,550.

In 1937 the club smashed their attendance record, on a Wednesday afternoon. The game against Heart of Midlothian had been postponed on 27 February due to bad weather and was eventually played on 3 March when a crowd of 28,690 saw Accies run out 2-1 winners.

Obviously things slowed down during the 2nd World War as the Scottish League was suspended but when the league resumed in 1946-47, Willie McAndrew finally stepped down as manager and was replaced by former Celtic boss, and former Accies player Jimmy McStay (Great-uncle of future Celtic legend Paul). It was a poor start for the new man as Hamilton finished bottom of the 1st Division and were relegated to the second tier.

The club were to spend 27 of the next 29 seasons in the 2nd Division, twice being promoted as runners-up and each time immediately being relegated.

McStay stepped aside in 1952 to be replaced by Andrew Wylie who stayed for two years. Jacky Cox and John Lowe would follow Wylie into the hot seat and both last a couple of years without helping the club make any huge progress.

John McSeveney

It really was mostly about survival and any time Hamilton found a decent or promising player he would be sold. Included in those leaving were John McSeveney who went to Sunderland for £5,500 in 1951, George Meek who went to Leeds United for £2,500 in 1952, Bobby Cunning who was sold to Rangers for £2,500 in 1954 and George Brown to Clyde for £3,000 in 1955 but Hamilton must have been kicking themselves for the one that got away.

Former player George Gilmour, now working as a scout for the club, went to watch a junior match in 1955 and recommended that they sign an 18-year-old called John White from Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic.

White would eventually sign for Alloa Athletic before moving on to Falkirk and then Tottenham Hotspur. He was a member of the double-winning side at White Hart Lane and played 22 times for Scotland before being tragically killed when struck by lightning in 1964 aged just 27.

Whilst they weren’t in the best financial position the club continued with renovations at the ground, although no major works were carried out.

In 1954 Accies made it to the quarter-final of the Scottish Cup where they were drawn to pay Celtic at home. An official attendance of 22,000 (although it is thought likely that many more were present as one of the gates broke) saw the visitors edge through 2-1.

In  March 1959 the club sold a pair of players, Danny Ferguson and Bobby Walker, to Hearts for a combined £10,000 and later that year they added a new manager when handing the reins to former Scotland international Andy Paton.

Paton, who had won three caps for his country, played over 500 times for Motherwell (he was voted their greatest-ever player) before moving to Douglas Park for the last year of his playing career. He was then appointed manager and would remain in the post for nine years.

Part two of our story of Douglas Park and Hamilton Academical will include the Paton years and the amazing story of Jan Stepek, and will come right up to the end of the stadium.