The second post in our Glasgow football series picks out a dozen landmark seasons from Scottish League history that highlight the best and worst of times for Glasgow’s major clubs. Our starting point is 1903 when Queen’s Park joined the ranks of the Scottish Football League for the first time and took the city’s representation to six clubs. Over the seasons it’s apparent that there has been a clear trend of gradual, yet steady decline in the overall fortunes of Glaswegian football. With Celtic and Rangers having been just as dominant in modern times as old, the brunt of this decline has fallen on the city’s smaller clubs who have dwindled away, rather sadly, to shadows of what they once were.
In pure statistical achievement terms, this was the best-ever collective season for Glasgow’s clubs. Third Lanark became Scottish champions, the Old Firm finished joint third with Partick Thistle (6th) and Queens Park (8th) not far behind either. Clyde finished in second place in Division Two.
This was the only season ever when Glasgow clubs occupied all the top four places in the First Division (Rangers, Celtic, Clyde and Thistle). Third Lanark finished in a mid-table 11th spot with Queens Park lower in 17th place.
The Scottish First Division gradually expanded over the years from 10 to 20 teams and between 1907 and 1922, all the six Glasgow clubs were top-flight fixtures. 1920 was one of several years in which all six of the city’s clubs finished in top fifteen places; this meant the narrowest ever spread of positions from top (Rangers in 1st) to bottom (Clyde in 15th).
Clyde, Third Lanark and Queens Park had all suffered relegations to Division Two during the 1920s, but the Glasgow sides were collectively stronger again during the following decade. The title went to Motherwell in 1932 although Glasgow teams took up four of the top six positions.
The post-war years saw some major changes in the natural hierarchy of Glasgow’s clubs. This particular year saw Celtic finish in a disastrously low position of 12th – and ranking fifth out of the six Glasgow teams. The Parkhead club struggled for a number of years around this time and Partick Thistle in particular had the measure of them: the Jags finished above Celtic in the League four times in six seasons during that immediate post-war period.
Perhaps the last great collective season for Glasgow football with 1957-58 being the final one all six of its clubs played in the same division together. Queen’s Park were famous for being Scotland’s oldest Association club and the only amateurs playing in the Scottish League. The Spiders had done exceptionally well to remain competitive with the professional clubs as long as they had, but losing three or four players every year to the professional game made it just too difficult for them to stay in this company. Queen’s had been up and down between the divisions a number of times before but there was to be no return after their 1958 relegation. In the decades since Queen’s have never come close to playing top division football again. The other Glasgow sides remained buoyant this season though with Rangers, Celtic, Clyde and Thistle all finishing in the top six places once again.
An unusual year for football in the city. While Third Lanark finished a distant bottom of the table in what was their last ever top-flight season, at the other end of the League the major talking point was the finishing positions of their neighbours – Rangers (5th), Clyde (7th), Celtic (8th) and Thistle (11th). In no other Scottish League season has a Glaswegian side not achieved at least a top three finish and this year none even made the top four. It would also be the last time that one of the smaller Glasgow clubs finished ahead of a member of the Old Firm until Rangers were forced to start again in the fourth-tier in 2012.
Third Lanark’s fall from grace was rapid and brutal. The Hi-Hi’s had finished in third place in the Scottish League as recently as 1961, but in the years that followed the club was ripped apart by financial issues that led to its bankruptcy and extinction after 95 years in existence. Third Lanark was a much-loved institution and the club’s demise was a big loss to the Glasgow scene. The city’s representation would number five clubs from that point on.
The previous season had been the last one with Glasgow clubs occupying Scotland’s top three places (Clyde following Celtic and Rangers) and 1968 was to be the last with four Glasgow sides finishing in the top ten as Clyde became the next Glasgow club to suffer a precipitous decline in fortunes. Wide scale slum clearances and depopulation in their main fan catchment area decimated their support with average attendances plummeting from 18,000 in 1950 to 4,600 by 1967. For a part-time club with few fans to finish third in the Scottish League – trailing only the Old Firm who both played in European Finals that season – was a remarkable achievement, but the club was fighting a losing battle to sustain its competitiveness. Clyde remained as a top-level side until the major League reorganisation of 1975, but have never been properly competitive since.
Clyde had left their longstanding Shawfield home in 1986 and spent nearly a decade as an itinerant club, forced to ground share with Hamilton Accies and local neighbours Partick Thistle. By 1994 they finally settled down in a new home, Broadwood Stadium, in the new town of Cumbernauld outside of Glasgow. Clyde technically ceased to be a Glasgow club in practical terms, although it’s perhaps easiest to think of them as a Glasgow club in perpetual exile.
While Partick Thistle are actually the least successful of the six Glasgow clubs in terms of trophy count, the Jags were very consistent League performers during much of the twentieth century. An established First Division presence in every season, apart from just two, between 1903 and 1982, Thistle has been a generally more stable club less prone to the same major fluctuations in fortune that blighted Clyde, Third Lanark and Queens Park. Partick Thistle has also fared somewhat better in modern times than the other smaller Glasgow clubs, this despite struggling to match the level of League finishes that were commonplace for them in the years before the top division was cut in numbers. The 1998-99 season represented the lowest point in their League history with them narrowly avoiding relegation to Scotland’s fourth and bottom tier.
Statistically Glasgow’s best season since the early 1980s. Rangers and Celtic took the top two places as usual, Thistle was an established Premier League side again and Clyde stood just below this level, near the top of the Scottish Football League. This was an era in which Clyde overstretched financially trying to reach the SPL and this ultimately caused the club to implode. They hit rock-bottom by 2011 when finishing 42nd and last in the SFL, dropping beneath even Queen’s Park for the first time in three decades.
Around a half-century of gentle decline notwithstanding, the record books still demonstrate clearly the proud role and major influence all of Glasgow’s six major clubs have had on the history of the Scottish game. In the merit of order based upon top division League points won, all six feature in the League’s top twenty: Rangers (1st), Celtic (2nd), Partick Thistle (10th), Clyde (14th), Third Lanark (15th) and Queens Park (19th).