Teetering beneath the mighty Castle Rock of Dumbarton, a solitary single grandstand is all there is to the modest home of the town’s venerable football club. Dumbarton FC not only play at the smallest ground in the Scottish Championship – it’s the currently second smallest in the entire Scottish League.
And yet, not only does the historic Rock have its own proud tale to tell – the escape of Mary Queen of Scots, the incarceration of William Wallace – but so does the football club that moved in below relatively recently.
Before The Rock – as Dumbarton fans also refer to their stadium – there was Boghead Park. Halfway between Dumbarton Central station and the cemetery, this prosaically named ground had been in continuous use for 121 years until its closure in 2000, a record of longevity even for Scotland.
Boghead Park witnessed the first two winning campaigns in the history of the Scottish League. In fact, the Scottish League itself sprang from an initiative instigated at nearby Renton, halfway to Loch Lomond. Back then, there were three leading clubs in and around Dumbarton, all formed in 1872. As well as Dumbarton FC and Renton, there was Alexandria-based Vale of Leven.
Dumbarton was then a busy working town of shipbuilding and whisky production. Helping provide this industry as it cut through town towards the Clyde, the River Leven linked these three football hubs on its lazy journey from Loch Lomond.
After his club played in the first competitive fixture in Scottish football history, a game against Kilmarnock in the inaugural Scottish Cup of 1873-74, the Renton club secretary wrote the proposal that led to the introduction of the Scottish League in 1890. Three of its 11 founding members can from West Dunbartonshire.
Dumbarton were declared joint champions that first year, winning the trophy outright the next season. By then, The Sons of the Rock had already won the Scottish Cup in 1883. These three items of major silverware remain the only ones in club’s trophy cabinet to date.
Renton won the cup in 1885, over Vale of Leven, and again in 1888 and provided more than a dozen players for Scotland’s international side. Already flirting with professionalism, the club resigned from the League in 1897 and folded after World War I.
‘The Vale’ had had their heyday in the 1870s, winning the Scottish Cup three years running and beating their English counterparts, The Wanderers, down in London. The Alexandria side also dropped out of the League not long after joining it.
There were other clubs too – Dumbarton Amateurs, run by the main local shipyard owners Denny, were a strong side and survive today as Denny Amateurs. Just as in Glasgow and Edinburgh, there was also a team in green formed by Irish immigrant workers: Dumbarton Harp. Formed in 1894 and based at Meadow Park near Dumbarton Central station, Harp played in the inaugural Third Division in 1923 but soon dropped out and folded.
Vale of Leven became a junior (ie non-league) club in 1939. Still based at Millburn Park, Vale of Leven now play in the West of Scotland Central District Second Division – and in the Scottish Cup. In 2016 they were knocked out by Greenock Juniors. The Old Vale Bar on Alexandria’s Main Street is still going.
Renton’s Tontine Park was knocked down and council housing now stands in its place – a plaque marks the site of its centre circle in one of the gardens. A New Renton occasionally play on a pitch opposite the old site in Tontine Park.
Dumbarton FC dropped out of the top flight in 1922 and have only been back twice, for a total of four seasons. When ‘Apocalypse Now’ actor Robert Duvall visited in 1999, to make a somewhat sketchy film romanticising Scottish football, Boghead Park was falling to bits. The production crew even had to make long-needed improvements to the dilapidated facilities.
By the time ‘A Shot at Glory’ came out in 2002, The Sons had moved to the Rock they were nicknamed after and Dumbarton was providing its dramatic and historic backdrop for the home and away fans gathered in its solitary stand.
Unlike the Rock itself, the stadium may not last the test of time. In November 2016, public consultations took place concerning Dumbarton’s proposed move to a new ground at Young’s Farm beside Renton Road on the opposite bank of the Leven. Plans were laid on display for fans to inspect at that month’s home game with Greenock Morton.
Glasgow International is the nearest airport to Dumbarton 21km (13 miles). Skylink bus No.915 runs twice a day from the airport to Dumbarton Barloan Toll (20min journey time, £6 single), on the edge of town near the cemetery, a 10min walk from Dumbarton Central station.
Alternatively, from Stance 1 outside the terminal, Glasgow Airport Express bus No.500 runs every 12-15min to George Square by Glasgow Queen Street station (online £7 single, £9.50 open return, journey time 15min).
From Queen Street, frequent trains run to Dumbarton Central (30min, £4.40). One stop/2min before, all call at Dumbarton East closer to the stadium.
Buses, run by First Group and McGill’s, connect the two stations along the Glasgow Road. Wilson’s of Rhu also serves Dumbarton. Each has a different ticketing system. For all details, see Traveline Scotland.
Parallel to the Glasgow Road and the river, the pub-lined High Street, also served by buses, is a 10min walk from Dumbarton Central and 15min walk to the stadium.
Alexandria-based TOA Taxis (01389 742 121) are a reliable local firm who quote £25-£30 for an airport transfer for Glasgow International.
There is no dedicated tourist resource for Dumbarton. Visit Scotland has a limited amount of accommodation information.
The closest lodging to the ground, a short walk along Glasgow Road from Dumbarton East station is the seven-room Positano B&B, renovated, comfortable and eminently affordable.
Also within range of Dumbarton East station, in the opposite direction to town, the Abbotsford Hotel on Stirling Road comprises 30 simple en-suite rooms complemented by a popular bar and restaurant and, a little further away on Glasgow Road, the somewhat more authoritative Dumbuck House Hotel, an 18th-century country house taken over by the McMillans in 2014. Here 20 rooms are ranged around an excellent seasonal restaurant, with its stand-out slow-cooked steak pie. Visitors will be treated to the nugget of information that the small garage once next door was run by the family of locally born motorsport legend Jackie Stewart, who worked there as a youngster.
It’s a 15min walk from Dumbarton East station or four stops on bus Nos.1B and 340.
Slightly further out, where the Glasgow and Stirling Roads meet, the three-star Milton Inn Hotel contains comfortable, en-suite rooms plus a bar with sport on TV and a pool table – although the restaurant has recently had to close. On the plus side, it’s also on the Nos.1B and 340 route – the Glasgow-bound stop is next door, but you’ll have to cross the road 200 metres away for services into Dumbarton. This is also the closest for the standard budget Travelodge Dumbarton another 400 metres out.
In the opposite direction, past Dumbarton Cemetery and close to where the Skylink bus drops off from Glasgow Airport, the Premier Inn Dumbarton Loch Lomond is, indeed, in the right direction for the famed lake. For Dumbarton, bus No.206 runs every 15-20min from nearby Bellsmyre Avenue – otherwise, it’s a 15min walk.
Pubs line the High Street – a couple at the Dumbarton East end are more suitable as pre-match options.
Nearby, the Captain James Lang occupies a pre-war Woolworths, now the main Wetherspoons – the captain in question was a Dumbarton man who sailed the local paddle steamer.
Just off the High Street, close to the river, the Glencairn Lounge is more restaurant than bar but it’s well regarded and happy to serve drink-seeking customers.
The large, modern Waterside Inn, overlooking the river, is a convivial spot to watch the game on a plasma screen – live music takes place upstairs. Across the Leven, the Waverley Bar throngs with multi-generational regulars thanks to a weekly diet of quizzes and karaoke.