Clyde FC Annual Sports: 1885 – 1895

Cycle racing at Barrowfield

(Note the crowd size)

The Scottish football clubs were holding athletic sports meetings well before the SAAA came into being in 1883, and when, after 1885, the amateur athletics became less the prerogative of the private school FP clubs and Universities but more a pastime enjoyed by the common man, the clubs continued to provide the entertainment of regular track and field competition.   Queen’s Park FC, the Rangers FC, Ayr FC, Partick Thistle, the various branches of the Lanark Rifle Volunteers, St Mirren and many more from among the junior ranks such as Maybole, Royal Albert and so on held regular meetings for amateur athletes.  The Clyde FC meetings lasted in various forms for many decades.   They started off as amateur sports but then they became professional for a time before returning to the amateur fold.   Note this article from the Glasgow Herald of 21st July, 1913: 

“The Clyde Football Club are apparently “whole hoggers” as far as professionalism is concerned, and in this respect  they are at least consistent.   Instead of running amateur sports, as so many professional clubs do [amateurism in Scotland is practically subsidised at the expense of Association Football] Clyde are running a purely professional gathering on Saturday first.   Of course football is the trump card, but in addition they are introducing Jack Donaldson, the eminent sprinter, and a runner of his impressive accomplishments should attract many to Shawfield on Saturday.   Largely through the influence of Struth, several of the best professionals in Scotland will take part in the proceedings.   Professional running in Glasgow has been pretty low in the water for years, but the Clyde are serving up in an attractive manner on Saturday, and will no doubt be rewarded for their enterprise. “

The trail will be difficult to follow but we will start at the beginning.   

The Glasgow Herald of 30th July 1886 carried a report on the Clyde FC Sports at Barrowfield Park on the previous Saturday.   The weather was fine although there was a strong wind blowing “which assisted the runners greatly.”   The events covered included 100 yards (six heats and a final), a 220 yards, a half mile handicap, a 300 yards consolation race and a four a side match between H Brown’s team and Britton’s team.   No clubs were noted for any of the runners and there were only the two football teams out.  The report also said that it was the third annual Clyde FC Sports.   But …. 

The following report was printed in the ‘Scottish Referee’ of 4th July, 1887:

“The first annual sports to be held in connection with the Clyde Football Club were held at Barrowfield Park on Saturday afternoon.   The weather was excellent and the various events were well contested.   About 3000 spectators were present.   Mr S Lawrie acted as judge.”   One of the features of this event is that it was held only four years after the formation of the SAAA and  two years after the first open amateur athletic club was formed.   The contestants therefore came from a wide range of clubs including Clydesdale Harriers, West of Scotland Harriers and many football clubs, senior and junior.   One of the contestants was W Maley of Clydesdale Harriers who won his heat of the 100 yards off three and a half yards but was unplaced in the final.   Events included the 100 yards (confined), 100 yards open, 440 yards open, 880 yards (members), 880 yards open with 23 runners, 220 yards open, one mile open with 22 starters,  plus a four-a-side competition which was won by Clyde Strollers over Clyde by a goal and a touchdown to nothing.   It was a  very successful first venture.    

The ‘Glasgow Herald’ covered the event – this from the issue of Monday, 2nd July. 1888:  “The second and principal day of these sports took place on Saturday at Barrowfield Park, Bridgeton, under the most favourable weather conditions.   The programme consisted of 18 items including the consolation race and the semi-final and final ties of the four-a-side football competition, and the final heats of the competitions confined to the club, the preliminaries of which were held last Saturday.   The entries were very large, reaching nearly 300, and showing a considerable increase over the entries last year – the year in which the open sports were instituted.   Mr John Meikle was referee, Mr R Livingston was handicapper, Mr D McCall as starter, Mr M Steel as timekeeper, and Mr R Young Clerk of the Course.   The sports were well conducted and there was a large attendance of spectators.”

The events also included bicycle races and a walking race and competitors came from even more clubs than the previous year and the result of the four-aside was a win for Cambuslang over Clyde Rovers by a goal and two touchdowns to nil, while the tie for 2nd prize went to Renfrew who beat The Abstainers by two goals and one try to nil.   Goals, tries, touchdowns – a wee bit different from the five-a-sides that became popular later where only goals and corners counted.   One of the runners was James Erskine of Clydesdale Harriers whose two sons were good sportsmen with Ralph being world champion boxer, and who were both killed in the ’14-’18 war.    

We were reminded on Monday 24th June, 1889, by the ‘Scottish Referee’ that  “Clyde FC Sports take place on Saturday first.   Remember Barrowfield.”   The following Monday there was no report on the event but the results were listed for those interested.   The meeting clashed with the SAAA Championships held at Hampden that year and the entries were subsequently down with all the big names running at the big meeting.   

The ‘Glasgow Herald’ of 30th June, 1890, merely said: “The annual sports in connection with the Clyde Football Club took place at Barrowfield Park on Saturday afternoon and proved a great success.”   There was no indication of numbers of spectators or of the weather but the results indicate that it must have been good summer afternoon.   The 100 yards had twelve Heats, four semis and a Final; 7 Heats in the 220; 4 Heats in the 440; 23 ran in two heats of the 880 yards (an interesting result with M.A. Gemmell of Clyde finishing third); a Mile and a Two Mile Handicap plus the cricket ball throw.   In the four-a-side football  Third Lanark beat Celtic in the Final. 

The ‘Scottish Referee’ on the other hand waxed lyrical on the meeting, saying –“Like the great river after which this old and famous East End club is named,, its origin was lowly, its progress continuous.  The tide of prosperity has ebbed and flowed during the Clyde’s long career, and though they have often taken it at the flood, however, the Clyde have maintained their position as the oldest and most popular of our Eastern clubs.   On Saturday they made a record in regard to the number of their entries, over 300 athletes names appearing on the programme.   In recogmition of the club’s enterprise, too, the gallant men of Bridgeton – as Sir George Trevelyan has styled his constituents – turned out in large numbers.   When the programme of events was opened at 2:30 the enclosure was lined round and round, whilst the grand stand was well filled.   The day was very suitable for sports, and when the Bonnybridge Band, in stirring trumpet tones, started the music, everybody bore a holiday smile, and and the men toed their marks in thorough good humour.”

Like some of the other clubs Clyde also held a football tourney and theirs was always at the start of August.   These were well supported and the competition in 1890 was held on 4th August with a programme entirely football oriented:

  • Senior five-a-side tournament;    * Finals of a Junior 5-a-side;   *100 yards footballers race;   * Place kick confined to players in the 5-a-sides’   * Dribbling race open to all league footballers;   *One Mile trotting handicap.   

These meetings were often also referred to as ‘Sports’ meetings.   

Into 1891 and entries for the sports closed on 22nd June at H & P McNeil91 Union Street – Messrs McNeil being two of the famous brothers who were founder members of the Rangers football club.

The Sports were becoming very popular and the ‘Glasgow Herald’ had a short preview in the Monday 22nd June, 1891, edition: “On Saturday first Barrowfield Park will be ablaze with excitement, the cause being the annual sports of Clyde FC, who with their extensive membership and following should have a big success.   Needless to say, the entries are large at this meeting which, athletically is one of the best patronised in the western district.   Several of Saturday’s champions will compete and it will be interesting to watch how they perform in handicap events.”    

The meeting on the Saturday was a big success and was fully covered in the Glasgow Herald of 29th June.  The entries were up on former years and they even had the Bonnybridge Brass Band to entertain the crowd.   The crowd ‘was well up to previous years’ and MF Gemmell was third in the Final of the 440, having won his Heat.  There were running races from 100 yards up to 3 Miles, a four a side competition and three cycle races – one mile solid tyre safety bicycle, one mile pneumatic tyre safety bicycle and three miles pneumatic tyre safety bicycle.   

In 1892 the preview of the sports (Glasgow Herald, 20th June) read: “The residents of the East End will have an opportunity of showing their interest in athletics on Saturday first when the Clyde FC will bring off their annual meeting.   None of the athletic or cycling cracks ill be present, as the former will be engaged at Dundee and the latter at Hampden , competing for championship honours; but as there are so many good second-class men belonging to both branches of sport, the races should suffer little by their absence.   The ground at Barrowfield has been improved in several respects since the last athletic meeting held there and cyclists especially should have greater freedom in taking the corners.”   Yes, the Clyde Sports were to clash with the national SAAA Championships again – but then so were the Heart of Midlothian Sports, Strathmiglo Sports and several other meetings which would also coincide with the highspot of the summer athletics season.   The result was that the same Glasgow Herald did not report on the Sports.

At the start of June in 1893 – the month when Clyde had their sports meeting – there was a note in the ‘Scottish Referee’ which simply said, “The Clyde FC intend to have their pitch dug up during the season and the clayey surface replaced by ashes so as to lend additional facilities to the draining powers of the field.”

I assume that they meant during the close season.   This would account for the difficulty in finding a sports meeting in June,1893.      No reports of the event were found in either Glasgow Herald or Scottish Referee for 1893 but the Sports took place on their due date in 1894.   

The Glasgow Herald of 18th June that year read: “The annual sports of the Clyde FC took place at Barrowfield Park on Saturday after noon.   The weather was delightfully fine, but the attendance was small owing to the counter attraction, the lifeboat procession. ”   There followed a list of officials (including Willie Maley as one of the judges) and results.   After ten Heats and two Semi Finals the 100 yards was won by Wilson of Clyde FC (off 5 yards) in 10.2 seconds.   Although he won his heat of the 220 yards (eight Heats) he was unplaced in the final which was won in 23.4 by Houston of Rangers FC and Clydesdale Harriers,   The quarter mile was won after 4 Heats by Scott of Clydesdale Harriers in 55.1.   The half mile handicap was won by Kelly of Clydesdale from Smith of Abercorn FC in a field of 33 runners.   The mile went to Milroy of Maybole FC from Kelly.   The runners all seemed to come from West of Scotland clubs and there were no reports of field events.

The Lifeboat procession referred to was an annual event which was very popular and several sports meetings lamented the fact that their event was held on the same day.   The procession started at Bunhouse Recreation Ground (behind the Kelvin Hall) , Blantyre Street and Regent Moray Street and collections were taken up at various points along the route in aid of the Glasgow Lifeboat Fund.   All sorts of groups took part in this great procession including the Associated Carters Society of Scotland, Clyde Shipping Company’s sailors, Royal Naval and Pensioners, Glasgow Ambulance, and many more, which wound its way round Elderslie Street, Sauchiehall Street, Buchanan Street, Argyll Street, London Road to the Green.   Hordes of people went along to watch and contribute to the fund.   Any sports meeting on the day would feel the financial hit.

So much for the report, there were further comments on the event in the Special Notes On Sports column.   They said “Sports of an unpretentious nature were held at Barrowfield by the Clyde Football Club and everything passed off most creditably.   The foot running was highly interesting while the tug of war open to public works was a happy idea on the part of the executive.   Let the Clyde make this one of the features of the annual sports and it will take more than the attractions of a lifeboat demonstration to keep the general public away.   The Maryhill Gasworks No 1 team carried off the first prize – as they deserved to do, for there was more skill to their work than in that of the other teams.   The Blochairn smelters, who distinguished themselves at the Exhibition sports of 1888, were much fancied, but in the semi-final they were somewhat easily beaten.   The third peize went to the Wellpark Brewery team.   The 100 yards final was a very pretty finish.   Wilson of the Clyde was first, T Moore, off 9 yards(who fades away terribly at the finish) was second .  …  Kelly, Clydesdale Harriers won the half mile and with greater care he might have won the mile.  …   Several of the back markers – Robertson in particular – showed bad judgment in the Mile,   The 220 yards and 440 yards were productive of capital sport; and for a meeting comprised entirely of flat events, it was a conspicuous success.” 

From the purely club point of view the athletics high spot of 1895 was the winning of the national SAAU 100 yards by W Wilson of Clyde FC.   There was a split in the governing body at this point and Wilson won the SAAA version of the Scottish 100 yards – a title won the following year by Maley of the Celtic.