Three is a magic number

Folded in 1967, the Glasgow club Third Lanark are being revived by a small group of enthusiasts who host a fund-raising gala dinner on June 13. Peterjon Cresswell speaks to the man behind the red resurrection, Pat McGeady.

At a pretty public park hidden down a quiet street in a residential neighbourhood behind Scotland’s national stadium of Hampden Park, a strange symbol is embedded into the concrete by the main entrance. Circular in shape with a mystical number ‘3’ in the middle, it looks like the kind of thing that would attract a passing alien spaceship to land in south Glasgow.

Explore deeper into the greenery, and the ghost of a football ground emerges, stepped terracing and crash barriers lining an expanse of green patronised by dog walkers.

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Patrick McGeady/Peterjon Cresswell

But the barriers have recently been painted bright red as if someone were expecting a game to be played that afternoon. In fact, at some point on June 13, a number of players are due on the field for the first time since their club folded in 1967.

The ground is Cathkin Park and the club was Third Lanark. In fact, this club still is Third Lanark, an amateur outfit revived by Pat McGeady. As local resident, a supporter and former youth player of ‘The Thirds’, Pat decided to reform the club he loves in 2007, exactly 40 years after it folded.

This March, a photo exhibition, ‘The Way We Were’, celebrated ‘95 years of the legendary Hi Hi’. Both a nickname and a chant, ‘Hi Hi’ was the battle cry of founding fathers, the Third Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers.

‘This was a great, great club,’ said Pat, as we walked around its former home, the crash barriers painted red by Pat’s own hand (‘…maybe I should have used a stronger emulsion,’ he reflected).

Pat, a pipe-fitter in his 60s, and his fellow revivalist Matt Curry, are behind the gala dinner (‘Still Seeing Red’) to take place at the nearby No.10 Hotel on June 13. The tragic demise of Third Lanark is one close to Pat’s heart: ‘1967 was otherwise a great year for Scottish football. Celtic won the European Cup, Rangers also made a European final, and the national team beat world champions England. But that was the year that the Thirds went into liquidation – after finishing mid-table in the second division!’

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Cathkin Park as was

What happened? Only six years before, the Thirds had finished third in a very strong Scottish top flight, scoring a record 100 goals and often filling Cathkin Park to capacity.

Pat lays the blame firmly at the door of the much-maligned Bill Hiddleston, the chairman who ‘ran the club into the ground’. Months after Third Lanark folded, and with the Board of Trade making uncomfortable investigations into his dealings, Hiddleston was found dead in Blackpool.

Stories about Hiddleston are legion. Since 2007, Pat has heard several from the former players themselves. ‘There was one time that Hiddleston left the players’ wages in threepenny bits, the takings from that day’s gate. Quite often they weren’t paid at all. Then there was the time that he had the players retile the communal bath in the dressing rooms – except that someone also tiled over where the plughole was meant to be. They were washing in the same water for weeks!’

With an unreliable or no cash flow, managers – managers of the quality of Bob Shankly, Bill’s brother who guided Dundee to the league title in 1962 – came and went, unable to persuade players to stay. In total, three ex-Thirds players later appeared in European finals for other clubs, including Celtic goalkeeper Ronnie Simpson.

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Cathkin Park/Peterjon Cresswell

Once known as the second Hampden Park, Cathkin Park itself is steeped in soccer history. Used by the great Queen’s Park side in the 1890s, it hosted a number of Scottish Cup finals and two internationals.

Despite rumours of Hiddleston looking to cash in by selling the ground for real estate, the land reverted to the City of Glasgow and has been a municipal park since 1967.

‘It was so sad,’ says Pat. ‘We used to come here as boys for a kickabout. All that history just gone.’

When the Hi Hi supporters’ bar in Crown Street closed, the last link of the chain went with it.

Pat has now been waging his own battle for eight years, raising funds through gala dinners and selling souvenirs to set up an amateur team, an under-19 side and a ladies’ XI. Honorary president John Sweeney, who followed the Thirds as a boy before emigrating to Canada, has also made a significant contribution.

Although the club’s Sunday league matches are played at Cathkin Park, the aim of this small band of enthusiasts is to lease it back from the city council and have a proper football ground re-established there.

‘On Saturday we’ll get all the old players together,’ said Pat, ‘and swap a few stories. Most of them won’t have seen each other for 50 years. Some will just want to pour their heart out’.

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