Rather than posting a Valentine’s Day post full of doom and gloom, fire, brimstone and downright misery, I have decided that the most appropriate topics to write about on this the shitest of all the Hallmark holidays are football and urban rambling, the unsexiest topics going. Enjoy.
I have written here before about exploring the south side of Glasgow, where I live and work. In the next couple of weeks, Hibs – the team I support – are going back to Hampden for the Scottish League Cup Final. The last time I was there, we lost. It was a beautiful day anyway. After the game, we went out to lunch then I went for a walk not so many minutes to Cathkin Park, now a public park but once one of the great football grounds of Scotland, the site of the second Hampden Park and the home of Third Lanark. It is possibly the most atmospheric places I’ve ever been to because while it’s a public park, much of the terracing is still there, overgrown and blending back into nature.
Walking into the park, there are subtle reminders of its history. There is a plaque marking it as Third Lanark’s home from 1872 to 1967 and a mosaic on the ground depicting the club’s badge. They went out of business in 1967. I remember hearing a story once that they couldn’t afford to buy footballs and broke league rules by using a ball more than five or so times. There is once more a Third Lanark, playing at Cathkin but in the amateur leagues. Their league place was taken, after a few years, by Ferranti Thistle, which became Meadowbank Thistle and ultimately Livingston, ironically another team which has diced with oblivion a fair few times.
I have been there a couple of times, most recently one afternoon when I went for a good walk around the south side, taking in Queen’s Park and then the Scottish Football Museum at Hampden. But I made sure I got to Cathkin. I virtually had the place to myself. It was another beautiful day and I remember that there was one young woman who walked up and lay on a bench to sunbathe. I didn’t. I don’t do sitting still. So, I walked around the ground and up the terracing, taking photographs and standing and staring for a while. I stood and imagined the games that happened there, being part of a massive crowd jostling for position and cheering for my team. I thought about how I would have felt in the last days, knowing my club was dying. I walked the full length of the pitch and stood for a while in the middle of each goal and for even longer in the centre circle. It was an incredible experience, almost like urban archaeology, standing there letting my imagination run across the grass skinning defenders and hitting the ball right into the top corner.
Strangely, I’ve only experienced a similar feeling once, when I was at Easter Road recently. I was there for a guided tour of the Holy Ground, taking in the Boardroom, the director’s box, changing rooms, concourse, tunnel and dugouts. Part of the route took us around into the East Stand, which is where I normally sit, to an area where there are commemorative plaques. Walking around from the tunnel, by the Famous Five Stand to the East gave me shivers. It was weird, eerie to be in this place I know so well when it was absolutely deserted. It was still quite evocative, of memories from when I was a kid and much more recent.
Having lived in Glasgow for nearly three years, I am yet to see it all. I often find myself in unfamiliar places. It only happened last week, walking from one library to another for work. Sadly I only have so much time to go out and explore. I’m mainly dotting around for work. But one day soon, maybe even Cup Final day, I’ll pop along to Cathkin and stand a while. It might help that one of the few Scottish Cups Hibs have won was at Cathkin, against Dumbarton on 12th February 1887. Imagining Hibs lifting the League Cup is one thing – that’s happened twice in my lifetime so far – but a Scottish Cup, last won in 1902, is quite another. There’s something to think about and it’ll happen one day. Third Lanark’s day might still come too. Standing at Cathkin, there’s always a rich past that looms large into the present. If you know your history, it’s enough to make your heart go…