Still known by many as ‘Morton’ even though there’s no such place, at least not on the banks of the Clyde, Greenock Morton are one of Scotland’s most enduring clubs.
Somehow, given the solitary item of major silverware in the trophy cabinet and a locality backdropped by half a century of industrial decline, ‘The Ton’ have survived since 1874. Spending all but the first five years at Cappielow, near the docks that then provided the surrounding town of Greenock with employment, the club has always struggled to attract custom away from the lure of the Old Firm in nearby Glasgow.
A group of lads on Morton Terrace, a majestic old sandstone building named after a mayor of Greenock, formed the club after playing at a nearby field. The building stands to this day but Morton Football Club soon moved close to the waterfront at Cappielow.
Inaugural members of Scotland’s newly formed Division Two, Morton made it to the top level in 1900.
This early period, battling with the big clubs of Glasgow and Edinburgh for nearly three decades, proved the most successful in the club’s history. For six consecutive seasons from 1914, Morton finished in the top four, even runners-up one on occasion, to Celtic in 1917.
The crowning glory came in 1922 with a first and so far only victory in the Scottish Cup, an early strike from Jimmy Gourlay decisive against Rangers. Gourlay came from a long line of successful footballers from Cumbuslang – the fact he was at Morton at all indicates how prominent the club was then.
It wasn’t to last. Relegation in 1927 preceded two decades of bouncing between top and second flights, before another cup run in 1948. In three desperately tight games of 120 minutes each, Morton beat Celtic 1-0 in the semi-final, drew 1-1 with Rangers in the final then lost to the same opponent 1-0 in the replay. Huge Hampden crowds – 272,000 for the two finals – watched Morton pull out all the stops against the Glasgow giants. Morton goalkeeper Jimmy Cowan had just won the first of 25 caps for Scotland while inside-forward Tommy Orr had just started out on a 250-plus game career for The Ton.
A rare high league finish in 1968 provided Morton with passage to Europe, bringing Chelsea to Cappielow in the Fairs’ Cup. A 5-0 win at Stamford Bridge had killed the tie but Morton at least kept the Londoners to 4-3 in the second leg. In the final, Danish international Preben Arentoft would score for Newcastle soon after his move from Morton.
Cappielow never staged European football again but it would soon have its own king, an audacious genius in the rather large shape of Andy Ritchie. Rejected by Jock Stein at Celtic, Ritchie had the skill but not the industry. An expert with a dead ball or an outrageous chip from 50 yards, Ritchie was hailed as a cult hero at excitement-starved Cappielow. Scottish Footballer of the Year in 1978-79, he personified the flawed maverick of the day. Failing to land a major transfer, Ritchie retired at 28, though a Morton supporters’ club is named in his honour.
Life at Cappielow was never the same after him. Rescued from financial ruin by confectionery magnate Douglas Rae in 2003, Morton, now named Greenock Morton, achieved promotion to the second flight in 2007.
The seasons since have been marked by a managerial merry-go-round and regular flirtation with relegation. Now under former Morton defender Jim Duffy, the club is back in the Championship and looking for a longer stint in the Premiership for the first time since it was graced by Andy Ritchie.
Cappielow Park, known simply as Cappielow, stands on the eastern edge of Greenock between a line of hills and the Clyde. Containing a Cowshed and a Wee Dublin End, Cappielow hasn’t lost its venerable romanticism but, under owner Douglas Rae, it is gradually embracing the 21st century. These days, you can book a three-course corporate meal and electronic ticketing is being introduced in 2016-17.
For all that, football here comes with a view of an iconic Titan shipbuilding crane that still looms over the Wee Dublin End. Visiting fans, until recently treated to this historic view, are now accommodated in the nearest section of the all-seater Grandstand to the former away end. The terraced home end is along Sinclair Street.
Capacity is 11,000, half of it seated.
Cappielow is conveniently close to Cartsdyke station, directly linked with Glasgow, Paisley Gilmour Street and, just beyond, Greenock Central and West. Not all trains for Greenock from town stop at Cartsdyke – the stopping service is usually every half-hour and takes 40min from Glasgow Central. Trains are more frequent between Greenock and Cartsdyke, allowing for more choice of pre-match pubs.
From Cartsdyke station, head along adjoining Bawhirley Road to Carwood Street then bear left down the hill and under the rails to the ground.
Regular bus Nos.540 and 545 also serve Cappielow, cutting through Greenock from Port Glasgow on the way to Gourock.
Pay on the day is the usual way although the club introduced online electronic ticketing for the game with Dumbarton in August 2016.
Turnstile prices are £20 across the board and £5 for 12-16s. It’s free for under-12s. Advance purchases, online or from the commercial office at the ground, are £2 cheaper, including £15 for over-65s and other concessions and, in person only, £3 for 12-16s.
There’s no regular shop at the ground. Smiths of Greenock (Mon-Sat 9am-5.30pm, May-Aug & Dec also Sun 11am-4pm), a store almost as venerable as Cappielow itself, on the corner of West Blackhill Street and Nicolson Street in Greenock, stocks all kinds of Morton souvenirs. Logo’ed Glencairn whisky glasses, hoodies and baseball caps can be found among the new season’s kit.
The many bars in Greenock, along the train line all the way up to Gourock, are also handy for the ground – but the Greenock Morton Supporters’ Club deserves special mention, a welcoming bar where football talk dominates. It’s on Regent Street, near Greenock Central station.
Also close, at the eastern edge of Cathcart Street nearest the ground, the modern Lighthouse Bar features Morton memorabilia on the walls behind an art deco façade. It’s a popular stop for fans pre-match.
The only place near the ground is the Norseman Bar, right on Sinclair Street, pretty basic and packed on match days. Above a fast-food outlet, it lays on evening entertainment to keep custom going during the week.