LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Glasgow

More than the Clyde divides the capital of fitba

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

Scotland’s football hotbed is the home of its national stadium, Hampden, and the Old Firm of Celtic and Rangers, rooted in the city’s religious divide. It has also witnessed a number of notable moments in European football history, such as a sublime display by Real Madrid in 1960 and Zinedine Zidane’s stunning goal for the same club in 2002. Both occasions were finals of Europe’s premier trophy.

In 2021 Hampden hosted two of Scotland’s group games at Euro 2020, welcoming the return of the stadium’s roar of yore, one produced by crowds limited to four figures by the pandemic. With the UK & Ireland selected to host Euro 2028, Hampden will be back to full blast come tournament time. 

International football began in Glasgow, at the West of Scotland Cricket Club on what is today Peel Street, near Partick station. Here, on St Andrew’s Day 1872, Scotland and England played out a goalless draw. (See below What to See.) The hosts wore navy blue, as they do to this day, because the Glasgow club that provided all 11 players also supplied the shirts: Queen’s Park.

West of Scotland cricket ground/Peterjon Cresswell

Not only based in Glasgow but at Hampden Park itself, Queen’s Park were footballing pioneers who can be partly credited with creating the modern game. As many football historians concur, Scotland invented football because Scotland invented passing. While players south of the border were simply booting the ball until they lost possession, by the early 1870s, Queen’s Park were adept at a passing game that was later adopted in Europe.

The club’s list of firsts and onlys – the first and only representatives from Scotland to have played in the FA Cup final in England, for example – is extensive. Their motto, ‘Ludere Causa Ludendi’, ‘For the Sake of the Game’, underscored their amateur philosophy for more than 150 years. In 2019, members voted to turn professional, and duly sold Hampden Park to the Scottish FA. Now Queen’s Park are building a new Lesser Hampden, the sister ground of around 2,000 capacity to Scotland’s national stadium alongside.

Opening was scheduled for 2023 but, apart from changing the venue’s name to the City Stadium, development remained ongoing through 2024. In the meantime, the Spiders – Queen’s Park changed colours from blue to thin black-and-white hoops in 1873 – have moved back to the main Hampden.

For a while, Queen’s Park were playing at Firhill, home of Partick Thistle, Glasgow’s de facto third side. The Jags moved out of Partick, where that pioneering 1872 international took place, to nearby Maryhill in 1909, but kept their original name.

Queen’s Park’s amateur status meant that until 1900, the club competed in the knock-out tournaments – they still place third in the all-time roster of Scottish Cup wins – but eschewed the professional Scottish League. This, in turn, allowed Rangers and Celtic to garner early titles and establish more than 130 years of almost total domination. 

The Old Firm are the Scottish game. It’s not just the 100+ league titles between them, the 100+ cups and the European trophies. All other clubs depend on revenue from games against the Glasgow giants. Only Edinburgh rivals Hearts and Hibs, along with Aberdeen, attract crowds above 10,000. Rangers and Celtic look forward to gates of around 50,000 and 60,000 every other weekend, all season long, not to mention European nights. 

Rangers are based at Ibrox, alongside the former shipbuilding district of Govan, south of the Clyde. Celtic are in the East End of Glasgow, but geography is not the main factor in football’s fiercest rivalry – it’s identity. Long-rooted associations with Protestant Unionism and Catholicism are embedded in Glasgow’s social history and linked with Ireland. Sectarian chants and fierce bigotry remain a blight on the Scottish game, though the serious violence, even deaths, surrounding Old Firm games are hopefully consigned to the past.

On the pitch, Rangers came roaring back under Steven Gerrard in 2020-21, not only stopping Celtic winning a tenth crown on the bounce but playing the entire season unbeaten. During that long decade in the wilderness, Rangers had been demoted to the fourth tier for financial irregularities. Until the insolvency of 2012, the Old Firm had occupied the top two positions every year but one since the formation of the Scottish Premier League in 1998.

Rangers’ four-year absence from the top flight allowed the likes of Motherwell, representing an industrial town south-east of Glasgow, to shine in the SPL and subsequent Scottish Premiership. Even St Mirren, based at Paisley, west of town by Glasgow Airport, equalled their best league finish this century and picked up major silverware.

Celtic, meanwhile, were walking away with the league by absurd margins each season. The first club to break the Latin grip on the European Cup in 1967, the Hoops last went past the group stage of the Champions League in 2012-13, spurred on by a memorable win over Lionel Messi’s Barcelona at Celtic Park. The Celts saved their best league season for Rangers’ return, 2016-17, winning the title unbeaten.

The season before, the two had met in a pulsating Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden in April 2016, won by Rangers 5-4 on penalties. The Gers were gradually gaining the upper hand until a blistering performance by Celtic in February 2022 under transformative manager Ange Postecoglou allowed the Hoops to leapfrog over their rivals in the Premiership. The last time the title left Glasgow was in 1985, courtesy Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen.

Welcome to Glasgow/Simone Pirastu

Glasgow is fringed by several lower-league clubs who attract a few hundred faithful to their modest grounds every Saturday. Hamilton Academical made a dramatic return to the top flight in 2014 by beating Hibernian on penalties – this after trailing the Edinburgh side 2-0 after the first leg at home. The Accies then stayed in the top tier for seven seasons until 2021. 

Near Hamilton, past Glasgow’s southern outskirts, East Kilbride have been knocking on the door of the SPFL in recent seasons, winning the Lowland League in 2017 and 2019. Home is the K-Park Training Academy, opened in 2011 by former East Kilbride resident, ex-Rangers star and popular TV pundit Ally McCoist. 

The ground is at Calderglen Country Park, about 3.5km from East Kilbride station, 30mins by half-hourly train from Glasgow Central. From there, head to nearby East Kilbride bus station and the First bus 32 (every 15mins) to the Jura Slip Road, journey time 10mins. Nearby is the junction of High Common Road and Strathaven Road – take a left for the park. Walking from East Kilbride station should take around 40mins.

With relegation and promotion between fourth-tier Scottish League Two and the de facto fifth, via two play-offs, there’s added incentive to games in the 18-team, mainly semi-pro division. For 2021-22, Celtic and Rangers introduced their B teams, unable to gain promotion but providing young players with valuable competition and experience.

A look at the all-time honours list of Scottish champions reveals one last title-winner from Glasgow: Third Lanark. The Hi-Hi also twice claimed the Scottish Cup either side of 1900. By the 1960s, attendances had dwindled and there was talk of moving the club from Cathkin Park, ripe for redevelopment, to East Kilbride. In the end, the Thirds blipped out of existence in 1967. 

But Cathkin Park was simply left to the elements and a love of Third Lanark among diehards led to their rebirth as an amateur club, some 40 years after their demise. In 2019, their ever-enthusiastic vice-chairman Pat McGeady, uncle of former Celtic star Aiden, and chairman Ian Alexander, revealed plans for a £5 million, five-year plan to rebuild Cathkin Park as a football and cricket ground. 

In the meantime, the Third Lanark AFC senior side play Glasgow Amateur League games at the Toryglen Football Centre on Prospecthill Road. From there, just across Aikenhead Road, stands Hampden Park, where the excellent Scottish Football Museum proudly illustrates the history of the Scottish game through 14 galleries.

Getting Around

Arriving in town, local transport and tips

Glasgow Airport is 11km (7 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, George Square for Queen Street station and terminating at Buchanan bus station. From there, buses for the airport leave from Stance 46. A FirstDay pass across the network, including the Airport Express, is £13.80 on board, valid until 1am the next day. A FirstDay pass around town is £4.70.

You can order a cab through Glasgow Taxis (0141 429 7070) or head for their airport pick-up point in Zone D of car park 2. The ride into town should take 20mins and cost £20.

Also from Glasgow Airport, McGill’s 757 (every 30mins) goes to Paisley Central Road (£2.70 single, £4.50 all-day pass for greater Glasgow, 15min journey time), alongside Paisley Gilmour Street station, handy for St Mirren.

Some airlines use Prestwick Airport, 51km (32 miles) from Glasgow in Ayrshire, the only spot on British soil that Elvis Presley graced. Air passengers receive a 50% discount for the train every 15mins to Glasgow Central station (full fare £11, pay on board from Prestwick, 50min journey time).

Grid-patterned central Glasgow is easily negotiable, with Central and Queen Street stations in the heart of town. The city is served by a network of privatised buses, mainly run by First, McGill’s and Stagecoach, whose DayRider is £4 on board. If you’re coming to Glasgow by train, a PlusBus supplement (£4.10) allows you to use services run by those three main companies for the rest of the day but not the Airport Express.

Roundabout day pass (£7.40), valid after 9am Mon-Fri/all day Sat-Sun, covers local trains and the city’s circular Subway line, with a stop for Ibrox south of the river. Mount Florida for Hampden Park, Paisley St James for St Mirren, Airbles for Motherwell, Hamilton and East Kilbride are all part of the local train network. Celtic Park is in the East End of Glasgow, on the local bus network or a 10-15min walk from either Dalmarnock or Bridgeton station, also on the train network.

A single on the Subway line is £1.75, a day pass £4.20. Sadly, there is no longer a combined day ticket for buses, trains and the Subway. Further information can be found at Traveline Scotland.

Where to Drink

The best pubs and bars for football fans

Glasgow and pubs are synonymous. Of the hundreds that show football, the most famous (and most convenient, close to Glasgow Central) is the landmark Horseshoe Bar. Don’t be put off by the karaoke upstairs – this is Glasgow at its best. In the station itself, The Beer House is handy if you just need to catch the scores over a craft brew, while just outside Dows attracts visiting fans.

Drinking options surround George Square near Queen Street station. The Ark goes big on sport, with screens over two floors and a large beer garden. Across the square, The Counting House provides the grandiose Victorian setting for Wetherspoons meal and drinks deals. The Auctioneers offers plenty of TV sport behind its glass façade.

Nearby in trendy Merchant City, Committee Room No.9 lays on plenty of big-screen sport and live music to its loyal clientele. Flying the flag for this hugely successful Aberdeen chain, BrewDog Merchant City is lined with 25 taps of sought-after craft choices. Nearer Argyle Street station, Cairns Bar puts football first. 

For a mixed, lively crowd, live music and a large screen TV for sports – the ideal spot, in fact – look no further than McChuills. It takes its football seriously, too. Things get a little greener on this eastern side of the city centre around Trongate, as evidenced by Grace’s Irish Sports Bar, tip to toe with screens.

Back in the city centre, Malones off Sauchiehall Street is another spacious Irish hostelry with sport the focus. Close by on Renfield Street, The Raven is filled with 11 big screens and dartboards aplenty.

In the Wetherspoon chain, the spacious Crystal Palace towards the river shows TV football within easy reach of Glasgow Central, around which you’ll also find the Sir John Moore. Nearby, pool and snooker hall Reardon’s also shows TV sports.

Where to stay

The best hotels for the grounds and around town

The Glasgow Visitor Information Centre has a hotel database.

Handy for Hampden Park, the four-star Number 10 Hotel offers special packages around match days. 

At Glasgow Central, the four-star Grand Central is the definitive railway hotel, benefitting from a £20 million facelift and an award-winning bar. Famous guests include scientist John Logie Baird, who transmitted the first long-distance TV signal from here in 1927. 

Nearby, the Carlton George is a good base as are the mid-range but stylish Rennie Mackintosh and the comfortable Grasshoppers, with Sky Sports in every guest room. Also convenient for city-centre stations, Jurys Inn Glasgow offers 300-plus comfortable rooms. The nearby Radisson Blu is another quality chain choice, with a pool and sauna. 

Around George Square near Queen Street station, staying at Native Glasgow means you’re sailing first-class – these were the elegant offices of the Anchor Line Shipping Company. Across the square, the Z Hotel fills a former printworks with 104 smallish rooms, comfortable if modest, and very convenient.

For the lively Merchant City, the Mercure Glasgow City Hotel is handy, close to buses for Celtic Park and with its own late bar. Once a popular bar, Rab Ha’s still serves drinks but now offers four funky guest rooms, ideal for couples.

Handy for the airport and halfway to town, the Leonardo Inn Glasgow West End, the former Glasgow Pond ,is also close to Partick and within easy reach of Ibrox.

what to see

Sights and attractions for the visiting fan

According to every apparent source, football’s first international was played on St Andrew’s Day 1872, between Scotland and England at the West of Scotland Cricket Club, Hamilton (or West Hamilton) Terrace. Though the cricket club is still there, no Hamilton (or West Hamilton) Terrace exists. Today, it’s Peel Street, a short walk from Partick Subway/rail. West Hamilton Terrace was bombed in the war.

This story is told at The Stumps pub (7 Peel Street) nearby, where illustrated background on that historic day is presented in fuller detail at the back of a chatty neighbourhood local.

The clubhouse at the sports ground is less effusive, its large main bar almost entirely dedicated to cricket but for a small display – and even that has been donated. No plaque, no sign, no memento.

Still, this is, as it was then, a quiet local cricket ground, not affected in the least by its modest role in football history.