Brutalist façades, blast furnaces – and Wee Rovers

Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game

Formed when Coatbridge was shrouded in smoke, fumes and flames from blazing iron furnaces manned by mainly Irish labour, Albion Rovers have always struggled to succeed in a hotbed of Celtic support.

Some ten miles east of the Hoops’ heartland of east Glasgow, the Wee Rovers were forged from an 1882 merger of Albion FC and Rovers FC. In an echo of the sectarian divide that defined football in Glasgow, the club soon developed a rivalry with nearby Airdrie a mile or so further east.

Home to Albion Rovers since Christmas Day 1919, Cliftonhill Stadium clings to a steep slope above the road which arrows out of Coatbridge across the valley towards the neighbouring adversary.

Argyll Bar/Tony Dawber

The pair face off in the so-called North Lanarkshire or Monklands Derby, a reference to the medieval term for Coatbridge as Old Monkland, Airdrie being New Monkland.

Since Airdrie’s demise in 2002, the original clubs will never again meet. The Lanarkshire Cup is also defunct – the Monklands clubs were regular winners, though not as often as Motherwell and Hamilton, also considered local rivals but rarely sharing the same divisional space.

Rovers’ promotion from the fourth tier in 2015 at least revived the concept of frequent set-to’s with the one particular old enemy. Fixtures between today’s Airdrieonians FC and Albion Rovers attracted four-figure crowds – until 2023, when the Coatbridge side lost a vital play-off and left the Scottish League after 120 years of senior football.

Rovers first moved to Cliftonhill from Meadow Park in Whifflet, south of Coatbridge, just before their four games of fame in the spring of 1920. Nearly 120,000 saw the club’s twice replayed semi-final at Celtic Park with Rangers, and nearly 100,000 for the final at Hampden with eventual winners Kilmarnock.

Welcome to Coatbridge/Tony Dawber

Thirty years later, Albion Rovers bade farewell to the most legendary figure in the history of Celtic Football Club, Jock Stein, who made his playing debut in the then blue jersey of the Coatbridge side against the Hoops in 1942. Stein left for Llanelli in 1950 after more than 100 games for the Wee Rovers.

Stein’s unhappy time in Wales almost prompted him to return to the coalpit – though industry had all but died in Coatbridge. Decades later, this heritage has been turned into local visitor attractions such as the sprawling Summerlee museum set up in the old ironworks, with a vintage tram and recreated mine.

For all the generations of antagonism, Rovers nearly threw in their lot with Airdrie when their rivals decided to build a stadium to replace Broomfield Park. Eventually opting to stay at Cliftonhill over any groundshare, Albion Rovers inadvertently played a part in Airdrie’s demise, their rivals botching up the planning of New Broomfield and falling into irreversible financial hardship.

Rovers themselves have since mooted a move away from Cliftonhill back to Whifflet – any welcome plum cup tie, such as Celtic’s visit in 2017, is better switched to Airdrie and the 10,000-capacity Excelsior Stadium, formerly referred to as New Broomfield.

Getting Around

Arriving in town, local transport and tips

Glasgow Airport is 32km (20 miles) west of the city. The Glasgow Airport Express bus 500 (£9 cash/contactless on board with further travel on the First Bus Greater Glasgow network, 90min validity) leaves from Stance 1 every 30mins and takes around 15-20mins to reach town, stopping at Bothwell St/Hope St for Glasgow Central station.

From there, frequent trains run to Coatbridge Central 50mins away, £5 single. The stop before, Whifflet, is closer to Cliftonhill Stadium. From Glasgow Queen Street, served by the airport bus after Glasgow Central, frequent and quicker trains run to Coatdyke 25-30mins away, £5 single, slightly closer to the stadium. Coatdyke is also 2mins/one stop from Airdrie.

The main bus company serving Coatbridge, and Main Street where the stadium is located, is First Group Greater Glasgow.

Airdrie Taxis (01236 747 747) also serve Coatbridge and offer airport transfers. You can expect to pay around £50 from Glasgow Airport.

Where to Drink

The best pubs and bars for football fans

The many pubs and bars at the stadium end of Main Street or around Whifflet station are more suited to pre-match imbibery.

Closer to Coatbridge Central, the small, cosy, corner Argyll Bar on Main Street fills with regulars, especially for weekend karaoke. There’s TV sport, too. Just off Main Street, modern Smiths Bar is a football hang-out, with Old Firm after-parties and a slightly more sophisticated drinks selection, wine, cocktails and the like.

For honest pubs near Coatbridge Central, the Fountain Bar offers large-screen live sport and there’s another TV at the Shunter’s Bar nearby.

Near Kirkwood station, down Bank Street, the Eagle Inn keeps the punters coming with tribute bands and party nights.

Where to stay

The best hotels for the ground and around town

Visit Lanarkshire has details of lodgings in the region. Note that hotels in Airdrie are also pretty convenient for Coatbridge.

The nearest accommodation to Cliftonhill is Mondo, the best-known hotel in Coatbridge, right on Main Street close to Cliftonhill. Behind a sleek exterior, comfortable rooms, the older ones now renovated, complement a prominent restaurant.

On the other side of Coatbridge Central station, the family-run Georgian Hotel comprises eight en-suite guest rooms, a popular restaurant and bar with beer garden.

Close to Bargeddie station two stops from Whifflet on Langmuir Road, the Auchenlea Guest House (0141 771 6870) is set in a renovated farm cottage, providing comfortable, en-suite rooms with a full Scottish breakfast at affordable rates.