Scotland’s first ever champions, Dumbarton FC had their heyday in the late Victorian era. The century-long decline of The Sons was reflected in the slow decay of their equally venerable but ramshackle stadium, Boghead Park.
In 2000, Dumbarton moved to a pitch at the foot of Castle Rock, the historic local landmark that gave the club its full nickname. The Sons of the Rock slowly rose from fourth tier to third then, in 2012, to Championship.
Now the club has a serious proposal to build a new ground altogether, moving away from this one-stand venue, despite its grand setting, for a site across the River Leven at Young’s Farm beside Renton Road. Sons fans going to the home game with Greenock Morton in November 2016 could view the plans in hand.
Dumbarton FC were formed in 1872, making them the fourth oldest in the current Scottish League. Entering the inaugural Scottish Cup in 1873, The Sons went out two seasons running to local rivals Renton, both times after a replay, then lost in the final to Queen’s Park in 1881.
First playing at Townend then Meadow Park, later home of lesser and short-lived city rivals Dumbarton Harp, Dumbarton FC had moved to Boghead Park in 1879. By the time they left it for the Rock, the stay had become the longest continuous one in Scottish football.
Runners-up again in 1882, Dumbarton at last won the cup a year later in front of five-figure crowds at Hampden Park, the tie requiring a replay. West Dunbartonshire rivals Vale of Leven held The Sons 2-2 in the first game before Dumbarton’s Browns, Robert ‘Plumber’ and Robert ‘Sparrow’, no relation but both Scottish internationals, scored the two decisive goals in the second match.\
The Sons followed this by winning the inaugural Scottish League in 1891 – at least on paper. Finishing higher than Rangers on goal average – four 5-1 wins at Boghead Park would have helped – The Sons were nevertheless forced into a play-off. A 2-2 draw saw the first Scottish title shared. Dumbarton made no mistake in 1892, beating Celtic by two points. In both seasons, Jack Bell, later of Everton and Preston, was top league scorer.
And that, apart from rare second-, third- and fourth-tier and 20 Dumbartonshire Cups, accounts for the entire achievements of Dumbarton FC over nearly a century and a half.
In 1922, Dumbarton fell out of the top flight and wouldn’t return for 50 years. Promotion came under manager Jackie Stewart – no relation to the Dumbarton-born racing driver of the same name – but the subsequent highest league placing in modern times, a top-tier tenth in 1974, was thanks to his former assistant, ex-Partick Thistle stalwart Alex Wright. In his side was Willie Wallace, previously a Lisbon Lion European Cup winner with Celtic, and the McAdam brothers who later played on different sides for Celtic and Rangers in the same seasons.
This was the last great Dumbarton side, although Wright’s nurturing of Graeme Sharp and Murdo MacLeod, both later Scottish internationals with Everton and Celtic respectively, should also be noted as Dumbarton again knocked on the door of the then First Division in the second half of the 1970s.
Wright stayed at the club in various capacities for nearly two decades but the rot had set in.
Third-flight for the first time in 1988, Dumbarton tried various managers, including MacLeod and another old boy, former Forest striker Ian Wallace, but The Sons were rooted to the lower half of the League. Boghead Park was an ageing relic with little to recommend it save for quirks such as a stand roof which previously kept passengers dry at Turnberry railway station.
The ground was sold for housing development and Dumbarton moved below the Rock near where the Leven meets the Clyde. A more dramatic setting would be hard to find. Equally positively, in a then pioneering move, a supporters’ trust won a seat on the board and began to play a role in the running of the club.
Eventually it bore results. Under former Scotland Police XI midfielder Alan Adamson, The Sons at last made the play-offs for a place in the second tier in 2012. With goals from Bryan Prunty, whose spectacular strikes won him end-of the-season awards, Dumbarton overcame Arbroath then Airdrie to reach the second flight for the first time in nearly two decades.
After a shaky start, and Adamson’s dismissal, Dumbarton have managed to stay in the Championship since.
Dumbarton Football Stadium is currently referred to as the Cheaper Insurance Direct Stadium, the latest in a long line in not-so-snappy sponsors’ names since The Sons moved to the Rock in 2000. The ground is unusual in several ways, starting with its stunning location, beneath a great big hump of volcanic basalt, its vantage point at the confluence of the Leven and Clyde rivers attractive to some of most famous figures in Scottish history. Set against this, the stadium comprises one single stand and an expanse of pitch. In fact, calling it a stadium, whether you were Strathclyde Homes, DL Cameron, BetButler or Cheaper Insurance Direct, is somewhat of an exaggeration.
The entire crowd, usually around 1,000 now that The Sons are second-tier, gathers in this one stand, home and, in sections 1 and 2 at one end of it, away.
Though three-quarters of this uniquely located space lies shorn of any features other than landscape, the club is looking at a new location for a 4,000-capacity ground halfway between Dalreoch (Dumbarton’s third rail station) and Renton north-west of town.
Capacity at the current home is 2,000, all-seated, with welcome windshields on either side.
The stadium is about a 7min walk from Dumbarton East, with direct, regular train connections to Glasgow. From the station, head over Glasgow Road alongside, then take the second left, Victoria Street – the stadium is about 500 metres further down, on the right.
From Dumbarton High Street, either take the Nos.1B, 208, 218 or 340 buses for two stops to Leven Street, which you follow round past Morrisons to the junction with Victoria Street – or walk the 15min up High Street/Castle Street, past the Scottish Maritime Museum, onto Glasgow Road then down Leven Street.
Tickets & shop
Admission is a pay-on-the day £18, £9 for senior citizens and under-16s, £24 for an adult and under-12. Category A matches are priced at £20/£10/£26.
A modest selection of souvenirs is sold on match days.
The main pre-match pub, the Stag’s Head, right by Dumbarton East station, is handy for both home and away fans. Big-screen football and occasional live music are the main attractions here – plus a location little more than 5min walk from the stadium, down Victoria Street.
If you’re in town, two adjoining pubs at the eastern end of the High Street are also pretty convenient – they’re also next to the bus stop for services to Glasgow Road, if you’re cutting it too fine to walk. As its name suggests, the Counting House is set in a former bank, now a large, airy, Belhaven pub/eaterie with plenty of TV sport. Next door, The Clipper is more contemporary, but understands the need for TV football, along with quality burgers and a good range of beers.