Formed when Coatbridge was shrouded in smoke, fumes and flames from blazing iron furnaces manned by mainly Irish labour, Albion Rovers have always struggled to succeed in a hotbed of Celtic support.
Some ten miles east of the Hoops’ heartland of east Glasgow, ‘The Wee Rovers’ were forged from an 1882 merger of Albion FC and Rovers FC. In an echo of the sectarian divide that defined football in Glasgow, the club soon developed a rivalry with nearby Airdrie a mile or so further east.
Home to Albion Rovers since Christmas Day 1919, Cliftonhill Stadium clings to a steep slope above the road which arrows out of Coatbridge across the valley towards the neighbouring adversary.
The pair face off in the so-called North Lanarkshire or Monklands Derby, a reference to the medieval term for Coatbridge as Old Monkland, Airdrie being New Monkland.
Since Airdrie’s demise in 2002, the original clubs will never again meet. The Lanarkshire Cup is also defunct – the Monklands clubs were regular winners, though not as often as Motherwell and Hamilton, also considered local rivals but rarely sharing the same divisional space.
Rovers’ promotion from the fourth tier in 2015 has at least revived the concept of frequent set-to’s with the one particular old enemy. Fixtures between today’s Airdrieonians FC and Albion Rovers attract four-figure crowds, a rarity at this level of football in Scotland.
Rovers moved to Cliftonhill from Meadow Park in Whifflet, south of Coatbridge, just before their four games of fame in the spring of 1920. Nearly 120,000 saw the club’s twice replayed semi-final at Celtic Park with Rangers, and nearly 100,000 for the final at Hampden with eventual winners Kilmarnock.
Thirty years later, Albion Rovers bade farewell to the most legendary figure in the history of Celtic Football Club, Jock Stein, who made his playing debut in the then blue jersey of the Coatbridge side against the Hoops in 1942. Stein left for Llanelli in 1950 after more than 100 games for The Wee Rovers.
Stein’s unhappy time in Wales almost prompted him to return to the coalpit – though industry had all but died in Coatbridge. Decades later, this heritage has been turned into local visitor attractions such as the sprawling Summerlee museum set up in the old ironworks, with a vintage tram and recreated mine.
For all the generations of antagonism, Rovers nearly threw in their lot with Airdrie when their rivals decided to build a stadium to replace Broomfield Park. Eventually opting to stay at Cliftonhill over any groundshare, Albion Rovers inadvertently played a part in Airdrie’s demise, their rivals botching up the planning of New Broomfield and falling into irreversible financial hardship.
Rovers themselves have since mooted a move away from Cliftonhill back to Whifflet – any welcome plum cup tie, such as Celtic’s visit in January 2017, is better switched to Airdrie and the 10,000-capacity Excelsior Stadium, formerly referred to as New Broomfield.
Glasgow Airport is 32km (20 miles) west of Coatbridge. From Stance 1 outside the terminal, Glasgow Airport Express bus No.500 runs every 12-15min to Bothwell Street/Hope Street by Glasgow Central station (online £7 single, £9.50 open return, journey time 15min).
From Glasgow Central, frequent trains run to Coatbridge Central 45min away, £4 single. The stop before, Whifflet, is closer to Cliftonhill Stadium. From Glasgow Queen Street, served by the airport bus after Glasgow Central, frequent and quicker trains run to Coatdyke 20-30min away, £4 single, slightly closer to the stadium. Coatdyke is also 2min/one stop from Airdrie.
Fair Deal Cars (01236 765 765) is a taxi firm based within a few hundred metres of Cliftonhill Stadium and offers airport transfers.
With the Clifton Villa B&B now closed, the nearest accommodation to Cliftonhill is mondo, the best-known hotel in Coatbridge, right on Main Street close to Cliftonhill. Behind a sleek exterior, renovated rooms and cheaper original ones complement a prominent restaurant.
On the other side of Coatbridge Central station, the family-run Georgian Hotel comprises six en-suite guestrooms, a popular restaurant and bar with beer garden. Past Whifflet, close to the A8 linking Glasgow and Edinburgh, The Grange Hotel offers a handy if modest stopover, with a widely known bar and restaurant, from its elevated location overlooking Coatbridge. Nearby, frequent bus No.201 runs to Whifflet station then to the roundabout by Cliftonhill.
Close to Bargeddie station two stops from Whifflet, the Auchenlea Guest House is set in a renovated farm cottage, providing comfortable, en-suite rooms with a full Scottish breakfast at affordable rates.
The many pubs and bars at the stadium end of Main Street or around Whifflet station are more suited to pre-match imbibery.
Closer to Coatbridge Central, the small, cosy, corner Argyll Bar on Main Street fills with regulars, especially for weekend karaoke. Just off Main Street, modern Smiths Bar is a football hang-out, with Old Firm after-parties and a slightly more sophisticated drinks selection, wine, cocktails and the like. Round the corner, The Mint is also modern, and more cocktail-oriented.
Past the station, down Bank Street, the Eagle Inn keeps the punters coming with tribute bands and party nights.