The Life And Times Of Firhill Park
The Life And Times Of Firhill Park
see also: Firhill → for a comprehensive list of all events at the ground

by Jack Little

Thistle Chairman Tom Reid on a sightseeing tour of Warsaw in June 1958 while President of the SFA, on being shown Poland’s Academy of Culture and Science…

mh-quote.png We also have an academy of Culture and Science in Glasgow. They call it Firhill.

WHERE AND WHY?

Firhill site map
● Map, circa 1880s, reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

Could you develop an emotional attachment to a piece of waste ground in the North-West of Glasgow bounded on 2 sides by a canal and a main road on a third? Thousands of supporters have done just that by default since September 1909.

With the traditional roots of the club firmly in Partick but forced to vacate their present ground (Meadowside), the club directors took a bold decision. They saw in the Maryhill district of Glasgow a huge catchment area without a senior football club and took the plunge (not in the canal of course).

Scottish Referee 26-Sep-1908
● Scottish Referee: 26th Sep 1908 (left); 2nd July 1909 (right)

Moving for the start of season 1909/10, initially renting the ground on a 10-year lease, they subsequently purchased the land from the Caledonian Railway Co in 1916. Firhill has been Thistle’s home ever since. The cutting is one of the earliest references to the purchase of the lease.

Taking the gamble the club would still be there in 1914 (!), the Directors introduced a 5-year season ticket for £2.2s (around £250 today).

The average wage in the UK at the time was around £1 per week. “Pay at the gate” admission to the terracing was 6d – roughly one fortieth of the weekly wage.

Daily Record 11-Nov-1908 (i)
● Daily Record, 11th Nov 1908

PR DISASTER

After generally supportive “free copy” in the press, Firhill got off to the worst possible start. On the morning of the official opening match v Queen’s Park (21 August 1909), the Glasgow Corporation Master of Works inspected the ground and decided part of the terracing was too steep. With dignitaries all invited, in beautiful weather and with a bumper crowd expected, it was a major embarrassment and a financial loss. It took several weeks for the alterations to be made. To make matters worse, Queen’s Park - hardly displaying a Corinthian spirit (!) - had to be paid compensation for the game being postponed.

As was the custom at the time, postponed matches were simply added on to the end of the fixture list thus the last league game of the season was played in rain and sleet on 16 April 1910 in front a crowd of around 4,000. Queens won 2-0.

The issue appears to have been that “step breaks” should have been included. The Master of Works had the law on his side (several in fact!).

Scottish Referee 23-Aug-1909
● Disappointment outside the gates (top) / The objectionable banking (bottom)

Monday's “Scottish Referee” (23-Aug-1909) included the pictures as shown and gave some insight to the matter:

mh-quote.png About one o'clock on Saturday afternoon, the Partick Thistle F.C. officials, who had made elaborate preparations for the opening of their new ground to the public shortly after this hour, were notified by the civic authorities that they could not do so. In the opinion of the inspector acting for the Glasgow master of works, a portion of the banking was not according to requirements. No time being available for a change of venue for the match with Queen's Park, the game had to be cancelled. Ignorant of the fact, many people went to the ground, only to find the gate closed. On learning the reason, however, they retired as peaceably as they came, being much disappointed, of course, at the vetoing of the match.

FIRHILL EMPTY

Why a decision in regard to the ground could not have been arrived at earlier seems to us inexplicable. Think of the inconvenience and disappointment suffered by the public, thousands of whom had generously intended to patronise the match, and so encourage the old club in opening their new home. We are advised that many of these spectators were newcomers to the game, and to them the closure came with keener disappointment and chagrin. There was absolutely, in the circumstances, no relief for the Thistle directorate and their patrons, and in the gorgeous afternoon they had to look upon the skeleton terracing and the empty field with feelings which may be better imagined than described. We can recall no parallel case in the whole area of British sport, and we feel sure that the Thistle's sad experience will command, as it does, not only general and genuine sympathy, but what is of more account, solid support.

THE OBJECTION

The objection taken to the part of the banking was to its steepness and want of step breaks as seen in the Hampden, Celtic and Ibrox Park terracings. The following is an excerpt from the Buildings Regulation Act on which the authorities exercise their powers in an instance such as this:-

Wherever a Master of Works or an inspector appointed by him or by the corporation finds any operation in progress or work being done or anything being used contrary to the Glasgow Building Regulations Act (1900), or to the Act of 1866, or to any bye-law made under said Act, he may forthwith stop such operation, work, or use, and may take precautions by the appointment of watchmen and otherwise ensure that such operation or work or use shall not be resumed until the person concerned or the Master of Works or other officer entrusted with the cognisance of the matter in question has had an opportunity of bringing the same before the Dean of Guild or other competent tribunal, and constables of police shall be bound to render such assistance as may be required to enable the Master of Works or said inspector to carry the provisions of this section (131) of the said Building Regulations Act into effect.

The additional work at Firhill, we understand, will take at least three weeks to accomplish, so that it will be September 11th, as we say, before the terracing is complete. There has been some rushing to have the ground opened owing to the delay in the stand construction, but by the above date it is expected that the ground will be fully and safely equipped for the public. We take leave to say here that Firhill as a ground will, when completed, hold its own with any other in Scotland and the Thistle are to be congratulated on the prospect of having there a home which will be second to none.

Rangers stepped in and offered Ibrox as the venue for Thistle’s next home game against Morton on the Wednesday night. Conveniently, two scheduled away matches followed, allowing the alterations to be made with minimal disruption.

Press inspection
● Press inspection of Firhill on 16th Sep 1909

Firhill received a clean bill of health and the ground was ready to be opened for the Scottish Cup Qualifying Cup tie with Dumbarton Harp on 18 September 1909. The directors looked relaxed when and they invited the press to see the new ground two days earlier. Andrew Jardine (far left) looks particularly laid-back and non-conformist (no bowler hat!).

vs. Dumbarton Harp
● Commemorative poster for the first game at Firhill

POPULAR VENUE – BUT AT A COST

Transport
● Glasgow Corporation tram

By the end of season 2020/21 Firhill had hosted almost 5,000 matches. It seems to have been a victim of its own success. It was bigger than most other West of Scotland venues yet smaller that Hampden, Ibrox and Celtic Park. As such it was an optimum choice for countless matches where other grounds would have been too small or too large.

Perhaps too many were crammed in on occasion however. During the match against Celtic on 13 November 1909 some crush barriers gave way when a section of the crowd surged forward as Celtic equalised. A number of spectators suffered crush injuries and broken bones but, thankfully, there were no fatalities. The Ibrox Disaster seven years earlier when 25 spectators died at a Scotland v England International match was still fresh in the memory.

Fighting broke out when a barrier collapsed and several people were injured during a match against Celtic on 5 April 1920. One man was stabbed twice during the incident, but not seriously.

Firhill’s position relative to public transport was also a major selling point. Red, Blue and White Glasgow Corporation tram services all served the Maryhill area, converting to route numbers, 11, 13 and 18 respectively in 1938. Bus services 1 and 30 were added in the early ‘30s and the Underground to either Cowcaddens or St George’s Cross stations was also a handy option.

THE PITCH

It is remarkable just how often Firhill has been used for non-PTFC matches. In the first 4 years of the stadium’s life there were over 50. This is getting on for the equivalent of “5 seasons in 4” - all this at a time when the pitch should have been allowed to “settle in”.

On top of Thistle’s home matches, around 430 others were played before its 50th birthday in 1959. Since then it has been used roughly 350 times but over 200 of these matches were formal ground-sharing arrangements with Clyde and Hamilton Accies. These arrangements greatly reduced its availability for anyone else but, in any case, in more recent times senior clubs have become far more “protective” of their playing surfaces and less inclined to hire out their grounds.

There was a downside of course and the number of matches quickly took its toll on the playing surface. Even within a year of opening the non-Glasgow press was already decrying the state of the pitch. Comments such as “Any cowp in Dundee would have been better”, “Sea of mud”, “Pools of water”, “Thistle wilt in the mud”, “The Firhill gluepot masquerading as a football surface” and “Saints can expect no favours on the Firhill mud-flats” give a flavour of how the pitch was regarded. There is a claim by some that the pitch lies below the level of the canal which is slowly leaking causing a high-water table under the playing surface. As early as March 1910 the “Daily Record” reported that the club “intend to start re-draining the pitch section by section”. The Directors were said to be aggrieved at the level of criticism the pitch was receiving, considering it was only 6 months old.

The “Edinburgh Evening News” ran a piece about Glasgow football grounds in February 1915. While generally applauding the directors for making the bold decision move to Maryhill six years earlier, they couldn’t resist a cheap jibe…


mh-quote.png It is a stonethrow from the canal and someone once angered the club officials by saying that the state of the pitch was such as to suggest they had fenced in the canal basin, run off the water and engaged in a christening ceremony.

In 1914 the Scottish Junior Cup finalists (Larkhall and Ashfield) had mixed views on the use of Cathkin for their replay. Larkhall were delighted because they were “used to playing on grass” whereas Ashfield wanted Firhill again because they weren’t. Hardly a ringing endorsement! Between 1910 and 1970 Ashfield played at Firhill 53 times so they may have had a point.

In May 1917 Thistle announced no more mid-week games would take place at Firhill to allow the pitch to recover - but soon after made an exception for a charity match. They allowed Petershill to train on Wednesday evenings (November 1917). There are a couple of instances of two games being played at Firhill on the same day, the 2nd kicking off at 7.00 making use of the long summer evenings. There is a reference in the spring of 1923 to there only being grass at the four corners of the pitch.

The perennial state of the pitch was actually raised humorously by a Thistle director. The “Dundee Courier” reported on 10 July 1930 that on a visit as a member of an SFL committee to East Fife’s ground to inspect its suitability for 1st Division football, he jokingly offered East Fife a 4-figure transfer fee for the turf.

JUNIOR FOOTBALL

With around 360 matches, the biggest single use of Firhill over the years has been by Junior football both as a venue for cup semi-finals and finals and representative matches. Often hailed as a good friend to the Juniors, the club’s motives may not have been altogether altruistic.

In May 1930, the “Falkirk Herald” reported considerable disappointment that the final of the Victory Cup and the subsequent replay had been played at Firhill. Local teams Alva Albion Rangers and Dunblane were the finalists and they pointed out King’s Park in Stirling would have charged £1 for the hire of their ground whereas Thistle routinely charged 7.5% of the “gate” and retained the takings from the stand for themselves. The new stand opened in 1927 had to be paid for somehow! In fairness, most clubs withheld the takings from their stand(s) and as such were exempt from calculating visiting teams’ share of the “gate” in League and Cup matches.

In contrast however, charging was not always the case, as reported in the Daily Record (6 January, 1910):


mh-quote.png It was a gracious action by Partick Thistle directors to give the Juniors the use of Firhill free of charge for Monday’s Inter-League game. The gate amounted to £50 [around £7,000 today].

There seems little doubt that Thistle earned a more than decent supplementary income from hiring Firhill – but paid the price in terms of the playing surface.

Junior football can be a real chore to research. Venue and date changes were common as was changing venues to avoid unforeseen clashes with senior matches impacting on the attendance (and therefore the takings).

Senior club venues suddenly becoming unavailable due to conflicting (senior) matches or cup-tie replays ongoing beyond the date of the original venue booking was also a problem. “Played to a finish” seems to have been a phrase that came slowly to the Junior world‘s vocabulary.

No doubt confusion wasn’t helped by several organisations running Junior football - on occasions in dispute with one another for some years. There is at least one example found where the Glasgow JFA and the Scottish JFA arranged matches involving one of the participants for the same day. Still, the Junior football world must have seen Firhill as an ideal venue.

SPORTS MEETINGS

Sports Meetings
● Sunday Post, 5th July 1924

Football and Athletic club Sports Days were very popular in their day, often attracting crowds of 10, 15 or 20,000. Maryhill Harriers used Firhill more than once and their meeting on 19 May 1924 featured the famous Eric Liddell, of “Chariots of Fire” fame. Within weeks, he'd be an Olympic gold medallist! A feature of Maryhill Harrier meetings was the 100-yard sprint for which the Chairman Tom Reid had donated the “Reid Bowl”.

The cutting from the “Sunday Post” on 5 July 1924 makes interesting reading! Boxing thrown in as entertainment!

The reference to a win for Clyde by 1 corner to nil is correct. Corners were used to determine winners of drawn matches long before penalty shoot-outs.

On 26 June 1922 "Athletic News" ran a critical piece on the cynical use of "Sports Days" by Scottish football clubs to make money under the guise of sponsoring Scottish athletics. They claimed that the total prize money for 5 handicap races had come to a mere £45 (roughly £2,700 today) yet Thistle had recouped half of that on entry fees.

The winners of the 5-a-side football competition (Rangers) and runners-up (Thistle) shared £50. They suggested that "affluent clubs like Partick Thistle" should be more serious in their support for the sport of athletics.

The Maryhill Harriers meeting on 26 May 1930 had a controversial finish to the marathon. One Ernest Harper of Hallamshire Harriers (Sheffield) entered the stadium first and on the last lap actually increased his lead on local runner Duncan Wright. Unfortunately, a tape had been strung across the track for the half mile race. Harper breasted the tape thinking he had won and stopped running. By the time he had realised what had happened Wright ran on to win. Harper resumed under protest and finished second. (He was five minutes ahead of the third-placed runner.) After deliberation, the race committee decided to withhold the winner’s prize.

“THE DUGS”

Greyhound racing at Firhill made a tentative appearance for a few months in 1928 but poor attendances meant the venture was short-lived.

Greyhounds 1928
● Hull Daily Mail, 21st May 1928

A new venture began 4 years later when the Firhill Greyhound Racing Company Limited was launched and share issues appeared in the press in the summer of 1932. On 13 August 1932, the “Edinburgh Evening News” quoted Tom Reid, Thistle Chairman, saying that Thistle were “struggling along under an £12,000 bank overdraft” (around £950,000 today) and that greyhound racing was Firhill’s only salvation.

Greyhounds 1933
● The start of a new era at Firhill

Eleven months later, on 13 July 1933, the Justiciary Court of Appeal in Edinburgh overturned an earlier ruling and declared the form of betting known as the Totaliser to be illegal (as it had been declared in England). According to the “Scotsman” Thistle had spent £20,000 (around £1.5m today) preparing for dog racing and installing the “Tote” equipment which had been heralded as the best in the business.

Following the Court’s judgement race nights could only continue without the “Tote” operating. (Clyde had been reported as having spent over £2m at today’s prices preparing their stadium.) Clubs had no option but to comply with the law - although there were crowd protests at Firhill about the “lack of proper betting facilities”.

The “Tote” became legal again on Monday 1 July 1935 thanks to a new Betting Act. On 29 June, staff operating the equipment at Clyde’s Shawfield called a lightning strike as soon as the Saturday night meeting was finished. They were protesting about the reduced wages being offered in advance of the new law the following week. Firhill racetrack staff were said to be available to operate the system in the meantime.

Greyhound hooligans! The decision to award the tenth race at Firhill on 17 June 1935 to a dog called Winasmuch was “aboutasmuch” as hundreds of men could take. They ran across the pitch, smashed a window in the judge’s box and tore up a section of fencing. Police were called and the race was re-run after an hour’s delay.

Interestingly, in November 1936, the SFA Council (along with the SFL, always decidedly cool on the idea of greyhound racing at football grounds) vetoed both Firhill and Shawfield as being suitable venues for a Scotland v Ireland amateur international because they had dog racing tracks. There are several press comments by match reporters complaining about obstructed views at grounds with greyhound racing.

In the early hours of 7 May 1938 people in the tenements facing Firhill woke to discover a huge fire in the south end of the stand. The efforts of the fire brigade saved the rest of the stand but the offices of the greyhound racing company, the garage and tea rooms were gutted - the roof having fallen in. A change in the wind direction allayed fears that the fire would spread to the adjoining dog kennels.

At the usual Friday night race night on 17 June 1938 racing was delayed for 40 minutes when it was alleged a dog had been injured emerging from the traps. There was a noisy demonstration outside the judges’ box. When they decided the race was valid a man jumped the railings and threw his cap at the dogs as they passed during the next race. Police were called and there was one arrest.

In November of that year a man was seen to lean over the railings in an excited state. The dog that looked like winning the last race fell to the ground as if hit by something. The police took the man away for his own safety but a menacing crowd gathered and police reinforcements had to be called. The crowd gathered outside the police station he was taken to. Two days later the man appeared at Maryhill Police Court charged with disorderly behaviour. He was found guilty and fined £5 (around £350 today) or 60 days’ imprisonment. The Procurator Fiscal told the court that over 700 people had backed the dog and had lost their money and that police reinforcements had “saved the man from being lynched”.

In June 1940 Thistle posted a loss of £647. It was reported that but for £1,000 derived from dog racing the figure would have much worse. £1,647 in 1940 would have been close to £100,000 at today’s prices.

In April 1947 two men appeared at Glasgow High Court and were found guilty of 13 charges of safe blowing and theft in Glasgow over three nights in June 1946. Among the charges were that they stole £94 (over £4,000 today) from the pavilion of PTFC and cash from the Firhill Greyhound Racing Co. One was given 3 years’ Penal Servitude, the other 2 years in prison. The judge said he limited the sentence of the former because of his war record with the Merchant Navy.

A fire also destroyed a row of totaliser booths and some corrugated roofing in a blaze on 10 June 1952. Firemen had the blaze under control after half an hour. The next race meeting went ahead but there were reduced betting facilities as a result of the damage.

BOXING

Boxing
● Thousands supported local boy Keenan at Firhill

The first documented event at Firhill was in May 1931 when the main bout saw Jim Maharg successfully defend his Scottish Flyweight title against Jim Campbell. Around 10,000 attended on the night. The “Falkirk Herald” reported that Firhill had proved an excellent venue in that the programme had been well covered by the press and the weather had been kind but outdoor boxing was not universally popular. The evening had been a financial disaster for the promoters. For Thistle, the legacy was “a badly messed playing pitch”.

The halcyon days of boxing at Firhill were undoubtedly the 1950s, during which there were at least ten events.

Glaswegian Peter Keenan frequently used Firhill while training for his fights by running up and down the terracing to strengthen his legs. In total, he fought at Firhill eight times. He had a basement gym at Grant St / Ashley St corner, diagonally across from the school on Carnarvon Street, so didn't have far to go.

Fifteen-thousand saw him beat Vic Herman in May 1950 and 30,000 saw him win the British Bantamweight title in May 1951 against Danny O’Sullivan. In September of that year he won the European Bantamweight title against Spaniard Luis Romero in front of 30,000 people.

Having previously lost it, he regained the title by beating Frenchman Maurice Sandeyron in front of 30,000 spectators in June 1953.

Twenty policemen had to escort the referee from the ring when he stopped a non-title fight at Firhill on 17 June 1959 between Bill Kelly and Dave Charnley.

Kelly, along with a sizeable number of spectators, protested about his disqualification for pulling his opponent on to his punches. He had, however been warned about it several times. One man rushed towards the police escort but was pushed away.

GROUND IMPROVEMENTS

In late August 1909 the “Scottish Referee” went overboard and boasted that between them Hampden, Ibrox and Celtic Park could accommodate 300,000 people, Firhill (when finished) 60,000 and Third Lanark’s Cathkin Park (“if put to it”) another 100,000. With a total capacity of 460,000 these five grounds were thought, collectively, to be the biggest and best appointed in one city not just in Britain but the whole world. Maximum capacity limits should be treated with caution however. In any case, it was a spurious claim. All five grounds would never have been filled at the same time.

For 10 years Firhill was largely untouched then plans for the capacity to be increased were announced in November 1919. There was to be an increase of 20,000 taking the ground up to a (theoretical) maximum of 60,000.

In June 1921 there were more improvements costing a reported £30,000 (around £1.5m today). A brick boundary wall was built round the stadium, the terracing was improved, crush barriers were strengthened and a retaining wall was built between terracing and the pitch. The capacity was said to be set to rise to 65,000 and 80,000 (!) once the planned new stand was built but as can be seen below, the new stand wasn’t nearly big enough to take the capacity up to 80,000.

The current “Main Stand” was opened on 13 August 1927 by the MP for Glasgow Maryhill J. B Couper. It had 6,000 seats and boasted 1,150 were “tip-up”. There was space for 70 press reporters and a directors’ box seating 75. The cost was reported to be £60,000 (around £4m). Spookily, Queen’s Park were the opponents that day as well but thankfully history didn’t repeat itself. The game went ahead, this time Thistle winning 2-0.

For the arrival of dog racing in 1932 the playing surface had to be moved nearer the canal and further north by 15 feet. Of necessity the capacity was reduced to around 40,000 to accommodate the dog track and the greyhound offices and equipment.

A covered enclosure was built on the terracing opposite the stand in 1955 and remained until the Jackie Husband Stand was built. Floodlights were installed the same year (see below).

Seating capacity was increased with the ending of greyhound racing in 1957 due to dwindling attendances and the growth of high street betting shops. The last evidence that dog racing had taken place was removed in 1959.

Outline planning permission was granted in October 1976 for the first phase of a redevelopment programme - reportedly costing £1.5m. A new social club and covered terracing were planned and the playing surface was to be moved. The social club opened but there were no developments on the terracing.

In December 1989 Thistle announced an £11m development programme in partnership with the British Waterways (the then owners of the canal) to produce a sporting, business and recreation complex. Sadly, it did not materialise.

In the summer of 1991 extensive work was done on the pitch. Undersoil heating was installed along with new drainage channels and a thousand tons of sand were laid to raise the level of the pitch by 4 inches. The pitch dimensions were increased to 112 yards x 74 (102m x 68m) making it 6 yards longer and 2 yards wider). The club were hopeful this investment would drastically improve the playing surface, reduce the number of weather-related postponements and attract U-21 and “B” internationals to Firhill.

March 1994 saw the demolition of the 39-year-old covered terracing (affectionately known as “The Shed”) when construction of a new cantilever, 6,263 seat stand began. It was opened in December of that year having been christened “The Jackie Husband Stand” after a club legend.

On 13 August 1994 while he was serving a touchline ban, assistant manager Gerry Collins took up a solitary position on the far side of the park in the construction site that would soon be the new stand. Despite wearing a yellow hard hat, he seemed to have gone unnoticed but eventually the referee stopped the game and ran over to speak to him. He suspected Gerry was coaching from the touchline and had moved to the construction site to get round his touchline ban. He was told to go back to the main stand.

TOWARDS THE SCOTTISH PROFESSIONAL LEAGUE

Ambitious to gain promotion to the SPL from the First Division, the directors faced the prospect of having to increase the seating capacity to a minimum of 10,000 to meet SPL requirements. This made no commercial sense as Firhill already had 9,000 seats but rules are rules - except when they are not. (See below.) Apart from matches against Rangers or Celtic, the need for 10,000 seats was seen as a very expensive luxury. The ramifications of this would prove to be a major reason for the club’s financial problems for seasons to come. In his programme notes (26 April 2003) PTFC chairman Tom Hughes wrote:


mh-quote.png Make no mistake about it, this club would not have any debt whatsoever if it had not had to build the north stand.

Nevertheless work began in January 2002 and the North Stand (eventually to be named “The John Lambie Stand”) was completed before the 31 March deadline with little time to spare. It was opened for the match against Ross County 30 March and the South terracing was opened for the last time that day. (No standing allowed in the SPL.) Along with safety improvements in the Main Stand the total cost was reported to be £850,000. This was offset against the sale of part of the north terracing to a developer for student flats. Still, it was money that could have been spent on players. All that remained was to win promotion! Thankfully it was achieved.

The stand was initially built “two-thirds complete” with 1,414 seats. The decision to build it in two phases may have been as much an oblique gesture towards the SPL as a commercial decision. Construction of the remaining third was completed a few months later providing a further 600 seats taking the total to 2,014.

THISTLE MAKE A STAND. INVERNESS MAKE TWO.

At the end of season 2002/03 Falkirk were denied promotion because SPL top-flight clubs did not support their proposal to ground-share with Airdrie (round trip distance 40 miles) while they built a new stadium. The following season Thistle finished bottom of the league but appeared to have avoided relegation when Inverness Caledonian Thistle (ICT) were denied promotion by dint of a 7-5 vote to reject their proposed ground-share arrangements with Aberdeen (round trip distance 220 miles) until they increased their seating capacity. ICT immediately lodged an appeal with the SPL and the cry went up for a second vote. Thistle applied to the Court of Session for an Interim Order preventing another vote but to no avail.

Within hours of that decision (22 June) a second vote resulted in a 10-2 vote in favour of ICT’s proposals. Thistle appealed to the SFA and after a four-hour hearing on 9 July the SFA announced they had no grounds to appeal the SPL’s decision. One wonders why it took them 4 hours! This gave the club just 22 days to prepare for their first competitive fixture in the lower division.

ICT (seating capacity 2,280) proceeded with the building of new stands at both ends of the ground and ground-shared at Aberdeen’s Pittodrie Stadium for less than the full season. As any Thistle supporter who has felt the “bounce” in the away stand when Thistle score will appreciate, the stands were built in less than 50 days. This took ICT’s seating capacity to over 7,500 ie, still short of the 10,000-minimum requirement. Crucially however the SPL had reduced the minimum seating requirement to 6,000. Little wonder Thistle were rather upset but they stopped short of taking further legal action.

MORE DEVELOPMENT PROPOSALS

Plans for developing the south end of the ground were lodged with Glasgow City Council in March 2005. After several years of negotiation and having been led to believe that the plans would go through, season 2006/07 began with the surprising news that planning permission for a retail/residential/1,000-seater stand had been rejected by 9 votes to 7. Unfortunately (aesthetically) the terracing had been removed in anticipation of planning permission being approved and this left an overgrown grassy slope that soon became affectionally known as “The Bing”.

Permission for a revised plan was granted in December 2006. It envisaged residential flats, three parking levels and office space but crucially, no “South Stand” was planned although space would be retained if it made commercial sense to build one. The main benefit would be the income from the sale of the land to the developer.

A planning application was lodged in February 2007 to demolish the “Main” (1927) stand as part of a long-term development. Writing in the programme (10 February 2007), chairman Tom Hughes said:


mh-quote.png Firhill is not a museum but must be a living, working and modern sports ground fit for the needs of the 21 century.

Like the other proposals mentioned above nothing happened then, as the economic downturn and credit crunch began to bite, in the autumn of 2009 shareholders agreed to set up a 50:50 partnership between the club and a new company (“Firhill Developments Ltd”) owned by “Thistle-minded businessmen” to sell the south end of the ground and the main stand to the new company. The club would benefit from the sale (reported to be £1m) plus shared profits from subsequent developments.

Part of the proposals was to move the club offices, dressing rooms etc to the new development once built. The sale was finalised in December 2009 and a planning application was submitted to the Local Authority in April 2010. Subsequent discussion in August led to the proposal to have the club’s facilities at the north end of the proposed new stand and not at the south end of the ground as originally planned. At the same time, it was confirmed there would be no spectator accommodation at the south end.

In terms of physical development, none of the plans mentioned above ever came to pass. Firhill remains a 3-sided stadium with a “bing” at the south end.

November 2011 saw Glasgow Warriors Rugby announce they were ending their 6-season ground-share arrangement with Thistle at the end of the season. The loss of a reported £200,000 annual income put even more pressure on the budget for season 2012/13, so much so the Board explored the possibility of installing an artificial pitch. A contentious issue, many supporters may well have been glad this particular “development” never came to pass. Chairman David Beattie wrote in the programme of 17 December 2011:


mh-quote.png We…need to be bold and imaginative when it comes to finding new ways of raising revenue for the club.

Laudable words but simple economics remained the main constraint for several seasons until late in 2015 when the club’s debt was “restructured” thanks to an individual private investment and from lottery winners Christine and Colin Weir leaving Thistle “debt free”. The main stand was renamed “The Colin Weir Stand” for the start of season 2016/17 in recognition of his generosity. Following his subsequent takeover of the club through his company “Three Black Cats Ltd” Colin Weir announced his desire to donate all his shares and the club’s assets to a fan-owned organisation. He wrote to the fans via the programme on 23 November, 2019:


mh-quote.png Once the transfer happens, fans will control all Thistle’s assets, including the south terrace and main stand which bears my name both of which are in the process of being returned to the club’s ownership for the first time in years.

This process was unavoidably stalled by his sudden death on 27 December 2019 and the Covid-19 pandemic. At the time of writing (Summer 2021) the process of setting up the fan-ownership structure is continuing but nothing is likely to be concluded until Colin’s estate is settled.

FLOODLIGHTS

The “Aberdeen Evening Express” reported on 14 September 1955 that Thistle hoped “to have their own lights up at Firhill very soon”. This was largely in anticipation of a proposed British Floodlit Soccer League which Thistle and 5 other clubs proposed to set up. However, the SFA (never comfortable when being seen to be losing influence and control of developments) decided not to sanction such a floodlit competition and a series of “friendly” matches took place instead. The lights were “switched on” for a friendly v Tottenham Hotspur on 14 November 1955.

Firhill hosted Glasgow’s first ever European club competition match 9 days later when Swedish side Djurgarden played their “home” game against Hibernian in the European Cup. 21,962 saw Hibs take a 3-1 leg back to Edinburgh for the second leg of the quarter-final.

Reports of both these matches in the “Glasgow Herald” include comments that most of the players had difficulty following the flight of the ball because “the Firhill floodlighting is far from perfect”.

In a classic piece of bureaucracy that will be well understood by anyone who follows Scottish football administration, the SFA finally gave permission for the SFL to give permission to clubs to use floodlights - but only for league matches. Scottish Cup ties were exempt but replays were to be considered on application to the SFA on a case-by-case basis.

A little piece of history was made on 8 February 1956 when Thistle played Motherwell in a 2nd XI cup tie at Firhill. 5,000 saw Thistle win 6-0 in what was Glasgow’s first ever domestic floodlit football match. Or was it? There may be an alternative contender for the honour.

Thistle v Kilmarnock on 28 January 1956 may have been first but reports of the match in the “Glasgow Herald”, the “Evening Times” and “The Bulletin” make no mention of the lights being switched on. Surely they weren’t so dull that no-one noticed! The match was advertised with a 2.50 pm kick-off so perhaps they just got away with it in (failing) daylight.

Ground improvements were made once dog racing finished, and the floodlights were upgraded incorporating a “mercury vapour” system.

The Thistle v Third Lanark Glasgow Cup fixture due on 1 November 1965 was postponed due to gale damage to the floodlights. Gusts of 100 mph and torrential rain swept Scotland.

The summer of 1990 saw an innovative installation. New French-made floodlights (100ft corner towers) replaced the banks of lights along the length of the stand and covered enclosure. Before their installation, a Skol Cup tie on 28 August 1990 had to be switched to Clydebank’s Kilbowie Park at short notice after Dundee United had refused to play the match at Firhill with a 6.00pm kick-off.

Clyde (ground-sharing Firhill with Thistle) were allowed to postpone their home match on 18 September due to the lack of floodlights but were refused permission by the SFL to concede home advantage to Dumbarton for a Centenary Cup tie. They were obliged to play the tie at neutral Douglas Park Hamilton. Thistle were also given permission to postpone their home match against Meadowbank Thistle due on 8 October.

MORE CURIOS AND SNIPPETS

Firhill was still a piece of waste ground when to Mr and Mrs Jackson of Springbank St (on the other side of Firhill Rd) a son was born on 29/11/1905. Johnny (“Jaikey”) Jackson went on to become one of the best and best-known of all Thistle’s keepers. Before his transfer to Chelsea in 1933 he clocked up a mighty 337 appearance for the Jags – including a Scottish League record of 258 consecutive league matches. He therefore (in all likelihood) holds another record as being the Thistle player born closest to the ground.

A gang of travelling pickpockets (already known to the police) mingled with the 30,000 crowd as they came away from a Home Scots v Anglo Scots trial match on 14 March 1912. They were watched by plain clothes policemen while plying their trade among spectators getting on trams in New City Road. All three men were arrested - one while his hand was actually inside a spectator’s pocket! The three men (with 46 previous convictions between them) were found guilty and given 60 days in prison.

An Old Firm cup-tie was actually played at Firhill on 15 November 1914 in the semi-final of the War Fund Shield.

The first “Clyde Lodger” match was actually 20 March 1915 (Clyde v Ayr United). Clyde’s pavilion had been destroyed in a fire. It would be another 71 years before they took up semi-permanent residence.

The Dundee “Evening Telegraph” reported on 24 January 1927 that, seemingly taking the lead from Welsh football fans, a conductor “instructed and led” a choir at the Thistle v Stenhousemuir Scottish Cup tie on 22 January. ”Old Scots songs” were order of the day and “proved that community singing by football crowds can be made a popular feature”. Really?

The Thistle v Motherwell match on 23 November 1929 was covered by the BBC from 2.30 to 4.10pm. The commentator was R E Kingsley who was “Rex” of “Sunday Mail” fame.

On 27 May 1931 the BBC relayed bagpipe music played by the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) at their annual Battalion Sports live from Firhill. The BBC were congratulated in the press for finding a way in which to broadcast bagpipe music which until then had been problematic.

A few weeks later Firhill hosted a national Brass Band Competition involving 15 bands and 360 bandsmen. The winners were the Dyke Mills Band - famous in the world of Brass Bands - and picked up £100 prize money (around £7,000 today).

The 1930/31 Scottish Junior Cup final (not played at Firhill) has a bizarre back story. Burnbank lodged a protest after defeat by Denny Hibs and they subsequently took them to court. After prolonged legal battles, the SJFA finally declared Denny Hibs the winner on 10 May 1932 and awarded them the cup. This was on the proviso that it was returned to them no later than 20 May as it was needed for the final the following day (played at Firhill). They “held” the cup for 10 days.

On a more sombre note, for many years there was an average of 8 drownings per year in the canal around the Firhill Basin with several reports of awards for bravery for people diving in to pull others out. In 1938, by August that year, seven children had drowned “log-jumping” in the canal timber basin. Glasgow Corporation set out a proposal to buy the basin, fill it in or convert it into a model boating pond. Clearly these things take time!

More than £5,000 (around £230,000 today) was raised at a Glasgow War Fund event on 7 April 1945. The winner of the prize draw was one Mrs Annie Scott of 84 Firhill Road who won - wait for it - a horse. Hopefully Mrs Scott lived on the ground floor!

In September 1959 a boiler in the stand exploded and a workman was partially buried under falling masonry.

Thieves broke into Firhill on the night of 29 December 1959. They opened manager Willie Thornton’s office door with a fork, stole a few shillings from the petty cash, some spirits, some medicine balls and a few odds and ends. Clearly not a major international crime syndicate then!

Fire
● Bizarre experiment with 'oversoil heating'!

The early 1960s saw debates about ways in which the problem of frozen pitches could be tackled. Undersoil heating was being promoted – but at a cost. In January 1960 Thistle showed some foresight and had a small system (insulated copper wires an inch or so beneath the surface) installed behind one of the goals. After a frosty night, the “patch” was found to be unfrozen and the grass “healthy”.

1963 saw one of the worst winters on record. In an attempt to get the pitch playable for the Scottish Cup-tie on 26 January 1963 against Morton, Thistle resorted to extreme measures. They set fire to petrol in the goal areas in an attempt to thaw the frozen ground. Presumably, the fires were out by the time the match was eventually played on 4 February! Thistle won 3-2. (Daily Mirror 25/1/1963.)

In October 1968, a spate of wilful fire-raising hit 3 grounds in the West of Scotland - Ibrox, Hampden and at Johnstone Burgh FC - and along with other grounds Firhill was put under special police surveillance in case the arsonist(s) struck again.

Andy Robin & Hercules
● Who's a big boy? Andy & Hercules!

Supplementary match-day entertainment often takes the form of kids’ 5-a-side matches, penalty shootouts, hit the bar competitions and, in times gone by, pipe bands but Jackie Campbell’s testimonial on 12 October 1980 had something more unusual.

Andy Robin's brown bear Hercules was hired to entertain the crowd. As part of the pre-match build-up, Hercules, in a cage, was paraded round the track. The bear appeared to look wistfully at the wall at the top of “The Shed”. Perhaps he sensed that the canal lay on the other side and longed for a swim.

He became “famous” eight years later when filming a TV advert he escaped by swimming from Benbecula to North Uist. He was on the run for 20 days and was found 20 miles away from where he had been last seen. There is a statue to Hercules on the island. (the life and times of Hercules is a story in itself worth reading… see here external-link.png)

Fire destroyed most of the home dressing room and the treatment room on 27/28 March 1985.

Thanks to the initiative of JAGS supporters Charlie Kirkwood and Stuart Thomas, the end of season 2010-11 saw the introduction of an innovative approach to fun and fundraising in the shape of The Firhill Cup. In addition to the usual attractions – beat the goalie, bouncy castle, BBQ etc – the main event is a series of matches by teams comprising supporters themselves. Each team is guaranteed at least 3 matches, the winners of two four-team mini sections playing off in the final. Each player pays £25 to enter and all takings on the day go direct to the manager’s player budget. Such is the demand that sometimes (don’t tell the SPFL!) the teams play 12-a-side. Covid-19 brought this popular event to a halt after 9 seasons but hopefully it will be back soon.

OH YES IT DID. OH NO IT DIDN’T.

Sadly, no documentary evidence has been found to confirm that one of the more bizarre matches actually took place but on 23 January 1927 the “Sunday Post” ran a preview of a charity match between the companies of two Glasgow pantomime shows in support of East Park Home two days later. An added novelty was the fact that two actresses would play at centre-forward “for the first three minutes” for either side. All for the princely sum of sixpence for the stand. Miss Neta Underwood and Miss Kitty Reidy were the number 9s. They were highly regarded stage artistes.

Neta Underwood & Kitty Reidy
● Actress & singer Neta Underwood, in 1924 (left) & Kitty Reidy, Australian actress and soprano, circa 1926 (right)

MEDIA DARLINGS

John Grieve
● Maryhill-born actor, John Grieve

Thistle’s proximity to “The West End” has led to claims by theatricals and media people to be Thistle supporters. Some of these claims are certainly true but others may merely be “fashionable”. One wonders, for example, whether the claim made by American actor David Hasselhoff (of “Bay Watch” fame and appearing in pantomime in Glasgow) was little more than a publicity stunt.

The actor Maurice Roeves (overheard in bookshop in Byres Road complaining about the lack of Thistle calendars on sale), actress Effie Morrison, Mhari Black MP and Kevin McCarra season ticket holder and “Guardian” sports journalist are among those who pass the test.

As will be seen from the extract from the club‘s 1971/72 handbook below one man who had impeccable credentials in that regard was actor John Grieve.

He appeared in numerous TV series but he is most likely remembered for his appearances in the BBC series “Para Handy” as the engineer Dan Macphail.

He was often seen as a depressed, moaning, greetin’-faced character. Perhaps years of supporting Thistle prepared him for the role!

He was Thistle/Maryhill through and through.

John Grieve text
● John Grieve writes in the PTFC handbook, summer 1971

FIRHILL ON THE TELLY

References to Thistle and Firhill on TV are not unknown – some verging on the not too complimentary. STV’s long-running “Taggart” series (27 seasons) is an example. In an early episode a detective says to his boss “Sir there’s been a murder up at Firhill” to which the caustic reply was “It’s murder up there every week”.

December 2000 saw the screening of “Football Crazy” with a series of murders (that word again) surrounding a fictional football club. The football scenes were filmed at Firhill with Chic Charnley and Albert Craig appearing in bit-parts. Part of the show was filmed during the pre-season friendly against Chesterfield and the plot called on the crowd to shout “Red card! Red card!

FIRHILL FOR SALE!

Faced with ever-increasing costs and ever-decreasing crowds the directors took what must have been an agonising decision. In November 1982 Firhill was put on the market with an asking price of £500,000 (roughly £2m today). They hoped either Glasgow District Council or Strathclyde Regional Council might buy it and develop the ground as a sports complex. The former said they’d think about it, the latter declared themselves “not interested”.

The directors had hoped they could rent the ground and continue playing there. Alternatively, they were reported as being prepared to move away. Relocation in East Kilbride or Cumbernauld was mentioned. As it transpired, nothing came of this.

STILL HERE!

Since John Carr scored Firhill’s first ever goal for Dumbarton Harp on 18 September 1909 around 16,250 goals have been scored at Firhill. In the region of 5,000 games have been played. Could the Edwardian gentlemen of 1909 pictured above have speculated Firhill would still be the club’s home 112 years later?

Firhill overhead
● Firhill overhead, reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.


Publishing date An original Thistle Archive publication, 18-Sep-2021.
Latest edit date Latest edit version 04-Oct-2021.


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