A Rush and a Push and the Land is Ours

The parallels between New York City and East Kilbride are, on the face of it, pretty limited.

New York is the most populous city in the United States of America, home to over eight million people and a global centre for finance, international diplomacy and fashion. East Kilbride, meanwhile, is Scotland’s sixth largest populace but it is still a satellite town, a new settlement built following World War II to accommodate Glasgow’s overspill: families displaced by the ravages of war upon its already over-crowded and decaying housing stock. While New York and East Kilbride may be antithetical in terms of scale and global influence, both places have an increasingly complex footballing landscape. Two distinguished clubs on either side of the Atlantic Ocean find themselves embroiled in a turf war and are struggling to find a foothold in a game they were once considered amongst the establishment.

 

From Bridgeton to Rutherglen…

The story of Clyde FC began in 1877, seven miles from East Kilbride (a village with a population of less than 900 at the time) on the banks of the River Clyde at Barrowfield Park, Bridgeton. Clyde joined the Scottish Football League in the organisation’s second season in 1891 and beat Vale of Leven 10-3 in their inaugural fixture on 15 August. Football, unlike other sports of the era, was unique in that the Victorian public gladly paid to watch the spectacle and the new league was enthusiastically attended. Clyde quickly outgrew Barrowfield and in 1898 moved across the river to a new home at Shawfield, Rutherglen.

Initially founded as a private members club to facilitate the transformation of the Shawfield site, Clyde became incorporated and issued shares in “The Clyde Football Club Limited”. The move inadvertently instigated their enduring affinity with financial crisis – in a matter of only months, liquidation was narrowly avoided. Despite their brush with calamity, the early 1900s saw Clyde establish themselves amongst Scotland’s best sides. They finished third in Division One in 1908-09, only three points behind champions Celtic, and were Scottish Cup runners-up in 1910 and 1912.

A second flirtation with liquidation in the 1930s led to a seminal moment in their off-field fortunes. After an initial approach to lease Shawfield was thwarted by restrictions and an unaccommodating league body, Clyde chairman John McMahon – recognising a solution to the club’s financial woes – was able to bring about the use of Shawfield for greyhound racing. The Shawfield Greyhound Racing Company Ltd was established and held their first race meeting at the ground in 1932. The company purchased the stadium from Clyde a few years later in a move that secured the club’s short-term future and created a welcome additional income stream. With the greyhound racing company largely financed and owned by Clyde’s directors, the consequences of the football club giving up its most important asset would not be appreciated until many years later.

After three more Scottish Cup semi-final appearances in 1932-33, 1935-36 and 1936-37, Clyde finally picked up their first senior honour after defeating Motherwell 4-0 in the Scottish Cup final at Hampden Park in 1939. The post-war period saw the Bully Wee become something of a yo-yo club: on no fewer that five occasions between the resumption of football following World War II and 1975, the side were relegated from the top flight only to be promoted the following season. Despite their inconsistent league form, cup success came readily and Clyde won the Scottish Cup again in 1955 and 1958 and finished runners-up in the competition 1956 and 1960. League Cup semi-finals were also achieved in 1957 and 1958. The club went on to enjoy perhaps its finest season in 1966-67, finishing third behind the Old Firm (conquerors of Europe that year, no less) and again reaching a Scottish Cup Final. Qualification for European competition was only denied by a rule stipulating that just one team from each city could enter the Fairs Cup, with Cup Winners Cup finalists Rangers going on to represent Glasgow.

As the sixties came to a close, Clyde, for once, had found some stability in the top flight, but their traditional heartland in the east of Glasgow was changing at pace. All around Shawfield, the bomb-damaged, overcrowded and substandard housing was being razed to the ground and its residents – from Bridgeton, Dalmarnock, the Gorbals, Oatlands and Rutherglen – decanted away to other parts of the city and beyond, to new towns in Fife, Ayrshire and Lanarkshire. The area’s decline in population was reflected on the terraces of Shawfield and the club’s attendances dwindled.

The footballing landscape was also to change with the advent of the Premier Division in 1975. Clyde were never in contention for the top ten finish in 1974-75 that would have seen them participate in the inaugural competition, but this was the least of the club’s concerns. The Bully Wee were in free fall and in 1977, after successive relegations, they finished seventh in the Division Two. In the course of a decade, Clyde had gone from the country’s third best team to languishing towards the bottom of Scottish football.

 

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic…

1975 was also a significant year for football in New York. The New York Cosmos were founded in 1970 but, like many other franchises in the North American Soccer League (NASL), was failing to capture the imagination. “Soccer” in the United States was dying a slow, painful and largely unnoticed death, just seven years after the NASL had began. New York – a miscellany of students, unheralded foreigners and part-timers – were playing their football at a high school athletics ground in front of row after row of empty seats. It all changed suddenly: the signing of Pelé immediately transformed football across the country, lending credibility not only to the Cosmos but to the NASL and the perception of the sport in general. While Clyde were sinking in Scotland, the Cosmos were the star attractions in America and gaining global renown as the worlds most exciting side. By 1977 they had dropped the New York prefix and moved to Giants Stadium in New Jersey, where more stellar recruits (including Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto, Giorgio Chinaglia and Johan Neeskens) were playing to 80,000 capacity crowds: it was the nexus of soccer and showbiz.

But just as Pelé had kick-started the development of soccer in the US, his retirement in 1977 would mark the beginning of its decline. With nobody of the same stature to personify the sport, its popularity nosedived just as quickly as it had risen. The NASL collapsed abruptly in late 1984, as did the Cosmos a year later.

 

What’s it called? Cumbernauld!

Back on this side of the ocean, Clyde were, as was customary, yo-yoing between divisions, only this time it was the second and third tiers. Promotion in 1978 was followed by relegation in 1980, and then another promotion again in 1982, on both occasions as champions of Division Two. The titles sustained Clyde in the short-term but their troubles were plain to see – Shawfield had become a sorry sight as changes in gambling legislation in 1963 that allowed off-course betting hit greyhound racing. The Greyhound Racing Association Ltd acquired an increasingly dilapidated and unkempt Shawfield in the late 1970s and put the stadium on the open market for £500,000 in 1983. In 1986, Clyde were served with an eviction notice and Alloa Athletic were the final opposition at Shawfield on April 28 where the Bully Wee triumphed 4-2 to finish 11th in Division One.

While inadvertently missing out on European competition in 1967 due to their location might have hinted that the club’s future lay outwith Glasgow – an opportunist attempt to merge with a then-financially stricken Hamilton Academical in the early 1970s had come to nothing – eviction from Shawfield opened up the opportunity to start afresh. Clyde would endure the next seven-and-a-half years as nomads, ground sharing with Partick Thistle at Firhill (for five years) and then with Hamilton at Douglas Park. Eventually, a new home was found in Cumbernauld. The town’s development corporation had been keen to have a flagship sports stadium and a professional football team, so an agreement was reached in 1990 that Clyde would become tenants of a publicly-owned and purpose built stadium. On 5 February 1994, a capacity crowd of 6000 at Broadwood watched as Clyde lose 0-2 at the hands of, ironically enough, the Accies.

It was to be an inauspicious start to life in Cumbernauld. Scottish football was again reorganising and the bottom five sides in Division One faced relegation, as the three leagues were to become four divisions of ten. Clyde finished tenth, consigning them to the Division Two. It was a long road back but following promotion in 2000 under Allan Maitland, the club were able to challenge at the top end of the First Division for the first time since the 1970s and in 2004 it looked like they might just make it to the SPL.

It wasn’t to be. The club have been dealing with the consequences ever since. On the pitch, Allan Kernaghan had assembled a stong, combative team that needed just a point from its final game but off the field, bills were going unpaid. Not only were Clyde on the brink of promotion, they were on the brink of being petitioned by their creditors and liquidated. The 1-2 defeat to Inverness Caledonian Thistle left no option but to the address the huge debts that had been accrued and the chairman Billy Carmichael sought to sell his majority shareholding.

Following lengthy negotiations, a consortium comprising the Supporters’ Trust and other investors gained the majority shareholding from Carmichael for a nominal sum and a CVA was agreed to clear the club’s debts. In 2010, Clyde became a community interest company owned by its members, as it had been when formed in 1877, but it has become an enduring struggle to remain competitive, pay off historical debts and maximise revenues to keep the team competitive. In this context, Broadwood has become to be seen as the problem – and no longer the solution to the club’s long-term future.

Clyde’s relationship with landlords North Lanarkshire Council (NLC) has been an uneasy one since the dissolution of the Cumbernauld Development Corporation and the council’s formation in 1996. In the eyes of the club, it became untenable in December 2010 and notice was served that Clyde would be leaving Broadwood. A statement on the club’s website referred to “practical business difficulties” and the “limitations” of its lease making it “unable to operate on a long-term sustainable basis compatible with its ambitions” but eluded to a complete breakdown in the relationship between the football club and North Lanarkshire Leisure (NLL), the council-owned operators of Broadwood.

The announcement came somewhat out of the blue but was not without auspice: in April 2009 the club were facing eviction over a disputed six-figure debt owed for rent and other costs. Although resolved within a fortnight, the episode brought to light the tensions between club and then-stadium owners Broadwood Stadium Company (also owned by NLC and later to be incorporated as part of NLL), with a Clyde director at the time accusing the local authority of having a “hidden agenda. It was the beginning of the end for Clyde in Cumbernauld, despite the club stating it was still committed to the town.

On the field, the club was enduring a torrid time. John “Bomber” Brown’s tenure as manager was an unmitigated disaster and for the second time in the their history, they suffered the ignominy of successive relegations. Clyde kicked off the 2010-11 season in the Third Division.

Following their demotion, the club released a statement on its finances which painted a positive picture:

“There is no doubt about the financial future of the club; stringent financial management has ensured that the instability of this time last season has not been repeated. The club is capable of surviving the drop to the Third Division and is planning a return to being regularly competitive in the other divisions.”

There was also an acknowledgement of the support provided by the council, in providing the necessary time to restructure the cost base of the club and giving an indication that discussions were underway with NLL to negotiate a new lease designed to enable Clyde to sustain their tenancy and operate with greater autonomy at Broadwood. The statement was clear: despite speculation, there were no plans to play anywhere else.

Eight months later, those negotiations ended with the club informing NLL of their intention to leave the stadium. While there were no immediate plans for an alternative location, Clyde’s aspirations of taking back control of its own destiny for the first time since selling Shawfield 80 years ago were apparent and an extensive process to find the team’s fourth permanent home began in earnest.

From the outset, Clyde – with around half of their season ticket holders residing in Cumbernauld and the surrounding area – looked to remain in the town but were again frustrated by the lack of assistance provided by the local authority in finding a local site. Initial optimism waned, leading the club to look further a field and in October 2011 the prospect of a move to East Kilbride was first publicly mooted.

 

A new career in a new town

Aspirations for a senior football club in East Kilbride were nothing new. Many had seen in the potential in a town boasting of population of over 70,000 including former footballer-turned property developer James Kean (who had made 83 appearances for Clyde between 1978 and 1981), his brother Paul and sports journalist Iain King. In October 2008 it was announced that the trio would be joining the board of East Kilbride Thistle and fronting a consortium with ambitious plans for the junior club; they made no secret that establishing a professional team in East Kilbride was their ultimate aim.

This “new era” at East Kilbride Thistle, however, came to an abrupt end just three months later amid internet rumours that the consortium were planning to jettison the junior club from their Showground home and relocate Clyde to East Kilbride. Thistle chairman John Drummond sought assurances from the group – who maintained a financial interest in Clyde – before ultimately calling the deal off. The move left the consortium exasperated and angry but only served to reinforce their desire to bring senior football to the town. Speaking at the time, Iain King told the local newspaper: “We won’t stop here… There is too much drive, too many influential people in the consortium to try and make a difference, so this won’t stop us.”

On the back of the rejection, the full extent of the their plans became apparent. An initial investment of £700,000 was to provide two state of the art 3G pitches and a 500-seater stand at the Showpark and in the longer-term, a £100m development would herald a new stadium in the Langlands area of East Kilbride, over 450 houses, shops, a new primary school, as well as business and retail space. The income generated from the retail units was to be put into a trust to allow the football club to have a long-term cash stream.

While it was no surprise that the Keans and Iain King continued unperturbed by Thistle’s rejection of their endeavours to bring senior football to East Kilbride – they went on to establish the East Kilbride Community Trust in 2009 and developed the K-Park Training Academy, which opened in September 2011 – the announcement in October 2011 that Clyde and East Kilbride Thistle were in discussions regarding the development of the Showpark appeared to represent a complete turnabout by the junior side’s committee.

East Kilbride, however, was not the only option Clyde were investigating. The club retains a strong following in its traditional heartland of Rutherglen and the surrounding environs. In August 2012 it emerged that talks between Clyde and Rutherglen Glencairn had taken place about the viability of upgrading Glencairn’s Clyde Gateway Stadium to senior standards in a joint venture between the sides. With the two proposals running in parallel, it came down to the Clyde board to make a decision over which option to suggest to the club’s members. At an extraordinary general meeting on Saturday 20 April 2013 the following resolution was put to the members:

“That the board are authorised to enter into on behalf of the company all appropriate legal agreements and make all appropriate arrangements to allow the club to relocate to a location of the board’s choice in or around East Kilbride.”

In the run-up to the vote, Clyde’s website carried positives messages from alumni such as Craig Bryson and Jack Ross, former manager Craig Brown and, appositely given the clubs fractious history with NLC, a representative of South Lanarkshire Council. An interview with chairman John Alexander provided further justification to supporters, describing in detail how their current business model was unsustainable and why a move to East Kilbride was necessary for the survival of the club. The interview also clarified that this was no longer a prospective partnership with East Kilbride Thistle at the Showground, but with the East Kilbride Community Trust (EKCT) and a move to a new, yet to be built, stadium somewhere in the town.

The resolution was unanimously passed by Clyde’s owners by 285 votes to 21. A second resolution to change the club’s name to “EK Clyde Football Club”, subject to the board being satisfied that all appropriate steps have been taken to enable the company to move to its premises in or around East Kilbride was also passed. Another brave new dawn awaited the Bully Wee.

 

Unexpected rivals…

As Clyde looked destined for a future in East Kilbride, not far from where it all began in 1877, in New York another once-famous club was also seeking to re-establish itself. The New York Cosmos might have been long gone but had not been forgotten and after numerous attempts to resurrect the team, particularly around the time of the 1994 World Cup and the formation of Major League Soccer (MLS), they returned to competitive action on the 3 August 2013, three years after their reformation and took on the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the Fall Championship of the rebooted NASL. A crowd of 11,929 witnessed a 2-1 win for the new-old club. The 2010 Cosmos’ first season was a success and the franchise won the 14-game Fall Championship, losing just once, and was victorious in the end of season Soccer Bowl.

The NASL – which saw its first game kick-off in April 2011 – has been sanctioned as a Division II Professional League by United States Soccer Federation, placing it beneath the MLS in the hierarchy. With no promotion to the MLS, the New York Cosmos will have to follow the lead of the Montreal Impact, who left the NASL to join the MLS in 2012, if they are to achieve their ultimate goal to play at the very highest level. The club will first need to walk before it can run: regardless of their legacy and their appeal, achieving longevity will be no easy task, particularly for a team located in what has been described as the “most crowded sports town in the world”. And that town is about to become a lot more crowded.

On May 21 2013, MLS announced its 20th expansion team had been acquired and would play… in New York. The new team was to be named New York City Football Club (NYCFC) and is majority owned by Manchester City, with the New York Yankees baseball team also an investor. MLS Commissioner Don Garber hailed the news: “This is a transformational development that will elevate the league to new heights in this country. The New York area is home to more than 19 million people and we look forward to an intense cross-town rivalry between NYCFC and the New York Red Bulls that will captivate this great city”.

The announcement undoubtedly came as a blow for the Cosmos, who were the presumed frontrunners for the second New York franchise. Chairman Seamus O’Brien cited his own background in England, where teams play “across the street from each other” and said he didn’t think three professional teams in New York would be a problem. But in the face of the corporate might of the Red Bulls, NYCFC – who made Spanish international David Villa their first signing in June  – not to mention two NFL, two NBA, two MLB and three NHL teams all within the metropolitan area, the Cosmos face an immediate fight to be seen and heard, just as they did in 1975.

A month on from the NYCFC announcement, Clyde suffered a similar fate. On 17 June 2013, East Kilbride FC were announced as one of the 12 inaugural members of the Lowland League, the newly formed fifth tier of the Scottish league football. Formed in May 2010 with the merger of Jackton Boys Club and Stewartfield FC and hitherto a competing in the amateur leagues, the involvement of EKCT – James Kean and Iain King, the latter installed as head coach of the side – meant there would be no standing still. Just over two weeks previous to the Lowland League announcement they had been accepted in to the South of Scotland league, now they were part of a extended Scottish football pyramid. Within a matter of weeks the number of senior football clubs in East Kilbride increased from zero to, potentially, two.

The Clyde board, just like Seamus O’Brien, initially responded with bravado and director David Dishon stated: “The more the merrier I’d say because that gets more use of the stadium, which is the point of having it”. But the news must have cast serious doubts on the viability of Clyde’s relocation to the town. Based at K-Park, East Kilbride boast over 20 teams and 600 players at all age levels and in April were granted full SFA status, meaning they will compete in the Scottish Cup this season. It is not inconceivable they could join Clyde in League 2 before the end of the decade (from this year on, the winners of the Lowland League will meet their Highland League counterparts to win the right to a play-off with the bottom side in fourth tier for a place in the division).

On the field, the side enjoyed relative success in their debut season at senior level, finishing mid-table and winning the South Region Challenge Cup. There was controversy at the campaign’s end, however, as King and his assistant Craig Young left just days later with the committee citing disagreements over finances. It was an acrimonious end to the seven years in which King had helped build the club up.

 

Where next?

The short-lived boom and bust story of the New York Cosmos may seem far removed from the history of 137-year-old Clyde, but while the Bully Wee might have never attracted the razzmatazz of the 1970s Cosmos, they are also facing a battle to secure their long-term future, just like the modern-day incantation. That future had looked to be based in East Kilbride but the emergence of a new senior club in the town has created further uncertainty.

With the growth of East Kilbride FC it is difficult to see how Clyde, with a disparate and dwindling fan base, fit into the picture. Can “EK Clyde” hope to integrate and engage with the community in East Kilbride if a vibrant, progressive and, perhaps more importantly, indigenous club has beaten them to it? Clyde find themselves in an impossible and unfathomable position. If the club’s owners had envisaged the rise of East Kilbride FC it seems unlikely they would have volunteered to relocate to the town. Can they remain in Cumbernauld after making such a strong case for departing Broadwood? Or is Rutherglen now a more attractive option again? The most recent public statement on the issue from September 2013 described positive meetings with EKCT and the formation of joint working groups. But the dynamic appears to have radically changed – no longer are the Bully Wee being courted by those in East Kilbride. Instead, it is the club which is required to do the convincing.

The recent, intertwining histories of Clyde and the efforts to bring senior football to East Kilbride have been mired in miscommunication and inactivity: Clyde’s persistent troubles with the owners of Broadwood, resulting in threatened eviction and, ultimately, the decision to quit; the committee of East Kilbride Thistle failing to match the ambition of the Keans; Rutherglen Glencairn’s closing the door on Clyde returning to the club’s traditional heartland as the Clyde Board favoured East Kilbride last year; and then the club effectively being left behind as the Keans and Iain King drove forward their vision for a senior football club in the town.

After several difficult seasons, Clyde are on course to become debt free (having found themselves with arrears of over £500,000 in 2008) and this summer made an exciting appointment in Barry Ferguson as head coach but now, more than ever, there is a need for the club to act to secure their long-term stability. Having painted a bleak picture for their future if they remain in Cumbernauld, Clyde’s search for a location to call home and where a sustainable business model, whatever that may be, can be realised continues.

You wonder how long they have left to find one.

 

The sources used in the research of this article were:

 

Alistair Gemmell

Alistair Gemmell

An exiled Honest Man since birth, distance from Somerset Park has not diminished Alistair's support of Ayr United. A placemaker by profession, he contributes match previews to the club's online content and once saw Andy Walker in a furniture store in Tillicoultry.

1 Comment

  • Reply August 2, 2014

    JF

    Excellant article but the only omission being that a notable chunk of the Clyde support has stopped attending/or will stop attending if the name change goes through should the move to EK ever comes about.

    At least the ‘new’ Cosmos were smart enough to have kept their original name.

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