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The Tale of Third Lanark AC

This year marks remarkable anniversaries in the history of Scottish football. The 1966/67 season is one looked by some as possibly the best ever of the Scottish game; where fans were witnessing a golden generation playing at a very high standard domestically, across Europe and with the Scotland national team.

Yet, in the middle of all the feel good factor across the country, 1967 is also home to one of Scottish football’s sorry stories. The fall of football club Third Lanark AC.  Few people have heard the name of Third Lanark and their sad demise which could have been avoided. Third Lanark were founded on 12 December 1872 at a meeting of the Third Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers in the Regimental Orderly Room in Howard Street, Glasgow. The soldiers, inspired by the first ever international football match which had taken place two weeks previously, decided to form their own team. Several of the Scotland team in that match, made up solely of Queen’s Park players, had been part of the regiment: including Billy Dickson, Billy  and Joseph Taylor. Thirds played their home games at Cathkin Park (the second Hampden Park) in the south-side of Glasgow. The club was also a founding member of the Scottish Football League, in 1890 and would change their name to ‘Third Lanark AC in 1903, when official links with the military were severed.

Third Lanark had many success in the later 19th century to the early 20th century. They won the Scottish League Championship in 1904, reached the Scottish Cup final five times (winning two of them), and conquered in the Glasgow Cup four times as well. One of Third’s cup final triumphs comes with it a unique tale dubbed ‘the snow final’. They had reached the Scottish Cup final in 1889 where they faced Celtic at the second Hampden site . As the teams arrived at the ground and started to train, snow started to fall on the turf. With ankle-high snow covering the pitch, both team representatives decided they would just play a friendly match and arrange the final for another date. However, referee Charles Campbell arrived and overruled this request; stating the fans had already arrived expecting to see a cup final. The match proceeded and Thirds won the cup final 3-0. Yet moments after the full-time whistle, despite agreeing to play the initial final, Celtic complained to the Scottish FA and demanded a replay due to the poor weather conditions. After a few days of talks, a cup final replay was confirmed- to the disgust of Thirds’ players. Eventually the players decided to play the re-match against Celtic and went on to win the second final 2-1. Nothing was going to in the way of Thirds lifting the Scottish Cup that year.

The nickname the ‘Hi Hi’ is meant to originate from the roars of the crowd from one match where the defender cleared the ball high in the air, resulting in the crowd to shout “Hi Hi Hi”. The chant was also used as a battle cry to encourage the team to victory during the club’s matches, helping to create an intimidating atmosphere for the opposition.

Third Lanark playing at their home ground Cathkin Park.

In 1961, Thirds secured third place in Scotland’s top division behind Rangers and Kilmarnock; scoring 100 goals in the process, resulting a place in Europe for the first time in the club’s history.

Many famous players featured for the Hi Hi, Jimmy Mason, Jockey Robertson and Ally McLeod to name a few. As well as good players, Thirds have been managed by well recognised Scottish football figures such as Bob Shankly, George Young, Bobby Evans and Bobby Shearer. Shankly speaks of his time at Third Lanark sharing ‘I enjoyed my spell with the Thirds more than any other club I have been with. I was sad to move to Dundee when asked to do so, as at that time Thirds were one of the best teams in the league and were very popular with the crowds, both home and away’.

The December 1962 Shareholder’s meeting would see the appointment of Mr Bill Hiddleston as Chairman; a crook with selfish intentions. Third’s manager at the time was former Rangers player, George Young, who stated that if Hiddleston were to be elected onto the board then he would resign. Once the vote was cast to appoint Hiddleston, Young picked up his coat and left the meeting, never to manage the Hi Hi again.

This would be the beginning of the end for Third Lanark. The following summer would see 34 players released and in the next 5 years, it would seem that anyone could get a game for Thirds. Bobby Evans and Bobby Shearer held managerial tenures to help stable the club but they were powerless. The club would be relegated in the 1964/65 season, kicking off the 65/66 season in the Second division. Crowds were falling drastically at Cathkin. The European club competitions drew people’s attention signalling the end of the Glasgow Cup as a lucrative money spinner, the writing was on the wall for Thirds. Players were not being paid, Hiddleston would use gate money in order to quieten player’s wage demands. Players were even forced to travel on their own to the away matches. It appeared his intentions were to run the club down to the ground and build property on the site. Sadly Third Lanark would play (what would be unknown to their supporters)their last game; against Dumbarton on 28th April in 1967, losing 5-1 at Bogend.

The following weeks brought a Board of Trade investigation, revealing constant player squabbles and bitter internal wrangles for power. All of this would take its toll and eventually a liquidator was appointed. It was shortly after that in the summer where the club would be wound up. This was to be the first club since the Second World War to have been liquidated, a scenario very unusual to which very few, particularly the Third Lanark board, knew how to handle a troubled financial situation such as this.

The timing of the club’s death is very unfortunate. At the time all eyes were elsewhere than the Second division. Kilmarnock were in the semi finals of the Inter Cities Fairs Cup. Rangers were in the European Cup Winner’s Cup final. Celtic winning every domestic trophy; completing the set by becoming the first British club to win the European Cup. The international team which included the likes of Jim Baxter, Denis Law and Billy Bremner, conquering the World Champions England at Wembley Stadium. Thirds were no more than a footnote to that story. Perhaps if there was not as much attention diverted to the other parties at the time then there could have been other people brought to light to help save the club.

One man who kept alive the name of Third Lanark was our friend and former employee, Bob Laird. Bob was the unofficial Third Lanark historian who would host photo and memorabilia  exhibitions, spreading the tale of the mighty Hi Hi. Sharing stories of times at Cathkin, famous matches and players who had the pleasure to wear the red jersey. When television shows and press media needed information on Thirds, Bob was the man they all turned towards, impressing every single one them with his humour, intellect and kind  personality.

Third Lanark jerseys and memorabilia on display in our Museum.

Whilst it is fair to reminisce Scottish football’s dance with world class success fifty years ago, it is also important to remember the great history of one of the Scottish Football League’s founding fathers. A truly respected Glasgow club no strangers to silverware or good players. A club who’s aura can still be felt when walking around the current Cathkin Park sight. A club that- similar to our dear friend Bob- are sadly missed in the Scottish game.

This article is dedicated to our old colleague and dear friend Bob Laird.  

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