‘The Queen of the South shall rise up in the judgement with this generation, and shall condemn it.’ Extolled in such Biblical terms by local poet David Dunbar in 1857, the historic burgh of Dumfries is home to one of football’s most romantically named clubs – and the only one derived from the New Testament.
While Matthew 12:42 alludes to the Queen of Sheba, Dunbar was referring to a pretty, prosperous market town where Robert the Bruce began his campaign, Bonnie Prince Charlie was headquartered and Robert Burns lived out his last years. Dunbar’s description became the town’s nickname – and was given to the football club formed at Dumfries Town Hall in 1919.
Dumfries is closer to Carlisle south of the border than it is to bitter Scottish football rivals Stranraer. The prosaic port town a quarter the size of Dumfries had supported Stranraer FC since 1870 – nearly a full 50 years before the formation of Queen of the South.
Dumfries had a ground – but no club to play there. Palmerston Park, across the River Nith at what was then the separate hamlet of Maxwelltown, had seen plenty of football action from the 1870s onwards. No Dumfries club, though, had the staying power of Stranraer.
The current home of Queen of the South was where Queen of the South Wanderers played for two decades before folding because of financial irregularities in 1894. Their most notable player, David Calderhead, earned a Scottish cap, later winning the FA Cup with Notts County and becoming the longest-serving manager in Chelsea’s history.
For several years, Wanderers shared Palmerston Park with the 5th Kirkcudbrightshire Rifle Volunteers FC (aka Fifth KRV), who also used the ground for drilling exercises. The two clubs played regularly in the Scottish Cup and met several times. The 7-7 game of September 1883 produced a record score for a draw in the competition. Against form, the Fifth KRV won the replay then beat another local club, Moffat, before bowing out to Hibernian in the fourth round.
Both Wanderers and the Fifth KRV were members of the short-lived, seven-team South of Scotland League of 1892-93 that failed to run its course for a whole season. Cup games and local friendlies proved more popular.
Twice Southern Counties Cup winners, the Fifth KRV became Maxwelltown Volunteers in 1896, then the 5th King’s Own Scottish Borderers Regiment FC.
Its troops returning from World War I were keen on forming a communal football club, as were employees at the Arrol-Johnston car factory in nearby Heathhall, the first producers of automobiles in Britain. In its works team was Dave Halliday, a trained motor mechanic, who later went on to score hatfuls of goals for Sunderland and Manchester City.
Soldiers and workers met at Dumfries Town Hall in 1919 and Queen of the South were formed.
Trial matches were held. Players who came to the fore included Halliday, Ian Dickson, later a top scorer at Aston Villa, and Willie McCall, a homecoming soldier from the King’s Own Scottish Borderers.
Queen of the South played their first match, against Nithsdale Wanderers, in 1919. With commendable performances in the Southern Counties Cup, Western League and Scottish Qualifying Cup, the club raised its profile, persuading the great Hughie Gallacher to play for nine games. Other key players, including Dickson and McCall, were snapped up by English clubs and the transfer proceeds put towards the purchase of Palmerston Park.
Queen of the South entered the Scottish League in 1923, established a rivalry with Stranraer – fuelled by Queens’ 11-1 Scottish Cup win of 1932 – and achieved a highest top-flight finish of fourth in 1934.
The Doonhamers (‘Doon’ south is their ‘hame’) last saw top-tier action in 1964. In 2008, a first appearance in the Scottish Cup final and Europe raised the profile of the club, now associated with a new breed of local celebrity. Pop terrorist Bill Drummond of KLF and superstar DJ/producer Calvin Harris have penned paeans to their beloved Queens.
None, though, as fair as David Dunbar’s ode in praise of Dumfries back in 1857.
Glasgow International is 135km (84 miles) away. From Stance 1, a Glasgow Airport Express bus No.500 runs to Bothwell Street/Hope Street by Glasgow Central station (online £7 single, £9.50 open return, journey time 15min) every 12-15min. From Glasgow Central, a direct train to Dumfries (every 1-3hrs, £16 single) takes 1hr 45min.
Edinburgh Airport is 134km (83 miles away). There is direct train service to Dumfries from Edinburgh Haymarket station. – you’ll have to change at Carlisle or Glasgow Central, overall journey time 3hrs (online £23).
Dumfries station is on the eastern edge of town, the ground on the other side of the River Nith in Maxwelltown to the west. It’s easily walkable from the station to town and 1.5km altogether from the station to Palmerston Park.
Lockerbie-based Houston’s coaches provides a local and regional bus service.
Dumfries Taxis (07784 920 096) is a reliable local firm, with airport transfers and discounted rates for return journeys.
Visit Scotland Dumfries has modest hotel information.
The nearest lodging to the ground, and the only one on the Maxwelltown side of town, is the Edenbank, a three-star with its own bar and restaurant.
All other hotels are on the eastern bank of the Nith, with a cluster around the train station. These include the Station Hotel itself, a three-star in the Best Western chain, and the Ferintosh, a warm and welcoming guesthouse in a Victorian sandstone villa, hearty Scottish breakfast with every stay.
Also on Lovers Walk are homely B&B the Torbay Lodge and the family-run Morton Villa www.mortonvillabb.com, with two en-suite rooms and one with a separate bathroom. The Waverley nearby is friendly and affordable, with a handy bar with TV sport on hand.
The cut-above option is the stately Cairndale, spa, pool, golf breaks and formal dining on English Street close to the town centre.
Traditional pubs dot the centre of Dumfries, many showing TV football.
Dickies Bar is a typical example, packed with local characters, with free nibbles laid on for European match nights, games shown on three screens. The two-floor Granary is a similarly honest local, with a big screen and a disco at weekends when closing time is 2am. Also known for its large menu and Sunday roasts.
By the station, the Waverley Bar, round the corner from the guesthouse of the same name, is a welcoming spot to watch the game, regulars also engaged in dominoes or quiz nights. Apart from its many steps, the bar is known for its JM Barrie View, a window onto Lovers Walk that leads to the Dumfries Academy where the writer of ‘Peter Pan’ once studied.
By the Academy itself, Déjà Vu is a fine wee bar for football and occasional live music, clientele a little younger than elsewhere. The nearby Tam O’Shanter Inn (113-117 Queensberry Street) dates back to 1630 when it was a coaching inn. It has long been a cosy, traditional pub, and now stocks local Broughton beer.
Also central, Robert The Bruce is the local Wetherspoons, set by the site of Greyfriars Church where the future Robert I of Scotland murdered his rival in 1306.
The other hub of pubs is White Sands, which runs parallel to the river. There you’ll find a handful of live-music bar venues: small, friendly Coach & Horses, the cosy New Bazaar and, tucked in nearby on Nith Place, Wh? Not, recently renamed Queen of the South and decked out in memorabilia relating to the history of Dumfries. A TV and pool table provide entertainment on non-music nights.