The Absolute Game Revisited – Part 3

July 26, 2009

from TAG 47 (March 1996)

CLYDEBANK BLITZED

(photo from http://www.homesoffootball.co.uk)

In TAG 44 the editor appealed for somebody somewhere to write something, anything, about Clydebank FC. I’ve watched out for the resulting flood of articles in issues 45 and 46, but so far, nothing. In the absence of any Bankie fans stepping forward to do the job, emergency measures are called for, and so this is a view of Clydebank from a person who has only been at Kilbowie Park on a handful of occasions over the last six or seven years, and has practically no knowledge at all of the current set-up there. More poignantly, it’s the view from a Dumbarton supporter, and you all know that it’s notoriously difficult for a Sons fan to think of the word ‘Bankie’ without following it with the word ‘bastard’, but, hey, who said TAG has to be objective or fair?

Born Under a Bad Sign.

Devotees of blues music will be aware that there were two separate, and equally famous, men calling themselves Sonny Boy Williamson. Similarly, Clydebank Football Club has had two totally separate incarnations, the first club of that name having expired in 1931, while the present club which we all know and love was born as recently as 1965. It was a difficult re-birth, which is not really surprising when you consider the unnatural practices which resulted in its conception. Extending this rather disgusting obstetric metaphor, the new club’s parents were the Steedman brothers, and the offspring was originally one half of a siamese coupling with East Stirling, which was christened with the distinctly unlovely name of East Stirling Clydebank. Post-natal separation of this gruesome twosome was performed by a judge in the Court of Session. Just in case none of this makes any sense to you, the story is that Jack and Charlie Steedman were directors of East Stirling in the early 1960’s, and after a couple of relatively successful seasons, they were desperately looking for ways to increase the size of crowds at home games. They came up with the truly brilliant idea of moving East Stirling lock, stock, and rabbit, up the road to Clydebank.

The geography experts amongst you will have instantly spotted a flaw in this cunning plan, namely that that particular road is rather longer than a hopeful punt up the park, crossing, as it does, several counties, a number of largish towns, a couple of time zones, and a gigantic cultural divide. Just in case any of the ‘Shire fans had missed the point, the name of the club was quickly shortened to ES Clydebank, thereby ensuring that memories of its true origins would soon be forgotten. (This is a bit like the more recent occasion when the Halifax Building Society and the Leeds Building Society merged. The Directors of each society solemnly agreed that the name of the new merged company should be a composite of the old names. Thus the Leeds provided the words ‘Building Society’ while the Halifax chipped in with the words ‘The Halifax’ so that the new company was named ‘The Halifax Building Society’). The ferocious reaction of the east Stirling supporters to this de facto destruction of their club should have been, but wasn’t, a lesson to Wallace Mercer when he was pondering a similarly outrageous manoeouver 30 years later.

After months of messy litigation the shareholders at East Stirling triumphed and ES was forensically uncoupled from Clydebank leaving two clubs where there had formerly been one. The Steedmans (or should that be the Steedmen) remained at Clydebank and the Shire were free to wend their merry way towards what we should diplomatically call their present predicament. One consequence of all this is that the record books for 1964/65 contain reference to that ugliest and most misleading of all Scottish football names, East Stirlingshire Clydebank. It’s hard enough nowadays to get some people to believe that East Stirling Football Club is located in Falkirk, and not Stirling. It must have been murder trying to explain that Clydebank wasn’t in Stirlingshire, Stirlingshire wasn’t in Clydebank, the club was named after a county that it wasn’t in, neither East Stirling nor Clydebank were anywhere near the town of Stirling, and Clydebank was very much west of Stirlingshire. A nightmare for English groundhoppers.

Kilbowie Konfessions

There’s no denying that since 1965 Clydebank have been much more successful than East Stirling.** The Bankies have had a couple of forays into the Premier League, and after their initial promotion from the second division they’ve never been back there. They’ve caused their fair share of Cup upsets over the years, and they’ve gained a reputation for bringing through many talented youngsters who are subsequently snapped up by bigger fish, for suitable fees. Off the top of my head I can think Of Davie Cooper, Tommy Coyne, Bobby Williamson, Frank McDougall, eh…Mike Conroy, um…Chic Charnley, and many others that I’ll think of in a minute. They had the first all seated stadium in Scotland, far in advance of the Taylor report, albeit that, as Simon Inglis notes in his ‘Football Grounds of Great Britain’, “the bench seating allows the hardy to continue standing”. Oh, and eh, Davie Irons is another one.

When I moved to Dumbarton in 1981 the first game I went to was at Boghead where the Sons went down narrowly to Motherwell, 0-6. A couple of weeks later I travelled the few miles along the road to Kilbowie to see what my other local team were made of. By coincidence, Motherwell were again the visitors. Although the Bankies managed to get on the score sheet, my masochistic streak was well satisfied by Motherwell sneaking in 7 at the other end. Thereafter I attended Kilbowie reasonably regularly for a few years and saw some great games there. There always seemed to be a deluge of goals. I particularly remember one game against Airdrie where it was 3-3 after ten minutes.

Another of the joys of visits to Kilbowie was in getting much more than your money’s worth in the match programme. I don’t know what its like now but in the Eighties it was simply the best in Scotland. Where other programmes might just have stretched to an up-dated league table, the Bankies version bombarded you with pages of statistical analysis which could easily have passed for ICI’s annual accounts. Much of the information was obscure, but nevertheless fascinating. It also regularly included reports from Italian/Spanish/Dutch/French football, information about programme collecting, reviews of ‘matches to remember’, genuinely interesting pen portraits and histories of their opponents, a truly argumentative and ‘no-holds-barred’ correspondence column and much much more. Wherever possible they adopted the old Kinks trick of converting every word beginning with a ‘C’ into a ‘K’, so that sections of the magazine had titles like Kilbowie Komment or the Kilbowie Kartoon etc, prompting Dumbarton supporters to refer to Bankie fans as ‘Kilbowie Kunts’. The programme was practically a fanzine before fanzines had been invented. Have I praised it enough? This may well be a major clue as to why TAG has never heard from any Bankie fans. It’s distinctly possible that none of them have ever purchased a fanzine because their programme is so good.

Part 2 – tomorrow at the same time

**Footnote by pernickety Editor – this was written in 1996. As at 2006 Clydebank Football Club has long since disappeared from Scottish senior football – it is defunct – or a word that sounds like that. All of that is another story for another day

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