Hill climbing

It’s been a seismic year for Junior football, having voted for a shift into the pyramid system. Maryhill, like many clubs, are eyeing what opportunities that might present. First the new manager and new committee have an old problem to deal with.

By Ginny Clark

This article first appeared in Issue 10 which was published in December 2018.

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Many famous names have played in the red and black, with Jimmy Speirs, Davie Meiklejohn, Tommy Burns and Danny McGrain among them.
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I genuinely believe once a club gets licensed under the SFA scheme with a structure to work to, it becomes easier to make a stronger case for funding and support. The important thing is to generate enough finance to be sustainable, to build from grassroots up, to have boys’ and girls’ teams as well as men’s and women’s teams, to maximise local potential.

The storm blew Maryhill’s hopes of extending a three-win run, their 9.55am announcement of a waterlogged pitch halting Ardrossan’s preparations for the journey up to Glasgow for the West Region League One clash, and prompting a call to McGhee’s Bakery to cancel the pies. After almost two days of rain, on Saturday October 13, it had not been unexpected. Just 24 hours before, the Junior side had tweeted that their match was “doubtful”.

Some wet winters the Hill’s toughest opponent can seem to be their own pitch at Lochburn Park. There have been theories about the Forth and Clyde canal that meanders past here. Others point to the site’s history as a quarry, with the pitch sunk below the surrounding level. It may be there is another contributing historic factor, and a clue perhaps in the name of its location, Lochburn Road. Despite investment in drainage and much hard work on maintaining the surface, any season’s fixture schedule is likely to face some disruption.   

That hasn’t prevented the Hill from weathering the climate’s worst, with silverware coming their way regularly since their founding in 1884. A former Maryhill manager once told me: “You can’t beat Maryhill on a cup day with the sun shining.”

On this day, however, the outlook is rather different. No sunshine, no cup game, not even a league match. Still, there’s another reason to visit Lochburn Park. The pitch and stand might be lashed grey and gloomy but there is a glow from the high windows of the building beside it, Maryhill Club 90.

Solid doors with big brass handles swing open to reveal a large rectangular space, a welcoming sanctuary with a bar at one end and a small raised stage at the other, the original social club layout much as it was when it was built in the early 1970s. However, an upgrade almost 20 years later extended into an L-shape at one end, a refashioning that influenced the social club’s name.

On this quiet day, with the game postponed, there are only three of us, including Leanne Corrigan behind the bar who is waiting to pour our drinks. Yet the room does not feel empty. The carpet cushions our footsteps and all around the walls, photographs and old newspaper cuttings are further insulation from the cold and damp outside. Arms-crossed teams, former players, past glories and joyous celebrations are a reminder of how Maryhill have endured. There might not be a game today but the sense of anticipation – no, expectation – is almost palpable.

Leanne has worked part-time here for around 20 years, on and off, she says. When she first started, Saturday night was members-only night and the queue would be out the door. Now though, with a reduced membership, they take bookings for parties on Saturday nights too, as they do any other day. A week does not pass here without a christening, communion, 21st or 30th birthday party, wedding anniversaries, or funerals. This social club is not only for toasting triumph or numbing the misery of defeat. This gathering place has also been rooted in the wider Maryhill community for close to 50 years, as glasses have been raised to every life landmark.

Ground-sharing has helped keep the till ringing too. Lowland League BSC Glasgow were co-tenants at Lochburn from 2014-2016 and now another Junior side, Clydebank, who challenge for honours in the region’s Premiership, are alternating home games throughout this season.

No matter who is playing, passions can run high. After one match earlier this season, debate between two rival fans, both older gentlemen, became a little overheated. Leanne disappears to a cupboard behind the bar and emerges holding aloft a golf brolly, bent and broken in the middle.

Meanwhile, Maryhill have had their own dramas. Having fought back to what is now known as the Championship, for two seasons, John Hughes’ team were relegated at the end of the last campaign. In June, the secretary and treasurer resigned, followed by the whole management team. By August, however, there was a new committee, just as there was a new manager and virtually a whole new team. On the pitch, things began to look brighter again for Maryhill.

Nevertheless, the wind of change continues to rattle their letterbox. Maryhill’s own unsettled spell had come at a time of upheaval for the Junior game across Scotland. In the summer, as the Scottish Junior FA began discussing the move to join the pyramid system, a number of clubs opted out to start a new chapter in the sixth-tier pathway to the SPFL’s senior ranks and the carrot of SFA funding.

However some Junior clubs, uncertain about the future, fear detachment from history. Maryhill have much to hold dear. Many famous names have played in the red and black, with Jimmy Speirs, Davie Meiklejohn, Tommy Burns and Danny McGrain among them. In the 1960s and 1970s it was not unusual for a club such as Celtic to loan out younger players to Maryhill as part of their development. It was a different journey for Meiklejohn, who started out at Lochburn, and was signed from Maryhill by Rangers in 1919 for £10 (equivalent to around £500 today) plus some corrugated fencing for the ground.

The framed faces around the social club tell much of Maryhill’s story. Some of the larger photographs, taken here in Club 90, are from a more recent chapter. At the end of the 1980s, with the Lochburn ground and social club struggling financially, local businessman and regular team sponsor Fryderyk Duda, forever known in Maryhill as Freddie, became their saviour. Freddie, like many members of the exiled Polish military based in Scotland during the Second World War, had stayed to make a new life here. He went on to provide a more stable home for Maryhill, buying and redeveloping Lochburn Park in a modernising move that transformed the Junior side’s fortunes. Freddie died in 2014, and his son, also Freddie, stepped in to oversee the running of Lochburn and Club 90 along with his mum Irene.

The club is still a popular venue on this wet Saturday afternoon. Leanne’s attention is drawn by new customers, stamping drizzle from their boots, and I ask her if that sense of continuity is important to Lochburn staff, to Maryhill fans, to club members. “It’s one of the reasons why I keep coming back here to work,” she says. “Everyone at Club 90 feels a bit like family, really.”

Family and heritage are part of the Maryhill story. Gordon Anderson spent 28 years as club secretary. His father, grandfather, great grandfather and other family members were involved too, maintaining a thread of connection to Lochburn through four generations. When he and treasurer Gordon Boyd stepped down in the summer, it was with heavy hearts.

“I’d seen a steady decline in the numbers interested in running Maryhill,” says Gordon. “A committee of 25 had gone down to about four or five. It was difficult to keep it sustained, and we were looking at a different model, more of a community club with strong local ties through girls’ and boys’ football. The plan has the potential to help generate interest and playing capacity, it wouldn’t happen overnight but maybe over five years or so. We had started having conversations around this.

“For various reasons though, including growing pressures of work with my own job, it was becoming more difficult to stay involved. I decided it was time to step down and give others the opportunity to come in with fresh ideas and new energy.

“Lochburn Park is still owned by FD Properties, and they’ve put in a significant amount of investment over the years. Without Freddie and his mum, their family, and their kindness in allowing us to use that social club, I don’t think it would all still be going.

“I genuinely believe once a club gets licensed under the SFA scheme with a structure to work to, it becomes easier to make a stronger case for funding and support. The important thing is to generate enough finance to be sustainable, to build from grassroots up, to have boys’ and girls’ teams as well as men’s and women’s teams, to maximise local potential.

“With the changes taking place across football, Maryhill like all clubs have decisions to make about how to develop. There’s a big role for the Junior FA if they become part of that SFA pyramid, and Maryhill need to be in a position to take advantage of that. The club is not unique, the football landscape has changed so much. Many clubs must consider what their future may be in 10 years or so if they don’t adapt or use the opportunities now there.”

Amid this shapeshifting, with the SJFA targeting next season for joining Scottish football’s pyramid, a new committee dynasty has been forged at Maryhill. Allan Kelly, who spent 14 years in charge of amateur side Arthurlie United, took over as Lochburn manager along with assistant Kevin Lafferty.

Kelly’s appointment then led to the arrival of Hill’s new secretary David Ashcroft, who also has a strong junior football heritage.

“My dad Ian played junior football and everywhere he went, I went,” says David. “That meant Arthurlie, Pollok, Hurlford – and then he joined Beith as coach for five years. When he left, I stayed on as a Beith supporter and was on their committee before coming to Maryhill.

“I know Allan, the new manager here, and he asked me if I would be interested in becoming secretary. It’s been a learning curve, but I’m not doing it all on my own. There’s a core of about five of us on the committee, and the club president Tam Drew. Freddie, who is the go-to guy – he’s just bought the whole team and management staff new track suits.

“Maryhill’s future development is something we will be continuing to focus on over the course of the season. Right now, with groundsharing, we have a game every week through winter. Davie Scanlon does a great job with the surface but underneath, water can still be a problem. If we have two or three games off their fixture list and ours, then we face a busy schedule.

“Overall though, we’re very happy. When Allan came in, we had three weeks to our first game and just four signed players. He had asked all the players from last season back but some decided to move on to other clubs and others drifted away. We used all of our contacts, through my dad and our manager too, asking for help. We made a few friends along the way, teams sending on names or even players.

“To get 19 players, fully fit and the team gelled, it has been a challenge. At first things chopped and changed, but now over the last few weeks it’s been more settled, and we’ve won three league games in a row.”

Saturday, October 20. A dry week and it’s game-on at Lochburn. It’s the Bankies’ turn again, and although the weather takes a miserable turn in the afternoon, a 3-0 win over Largs cheers the home fans … always good news for Club 90. Social media brings another positive vibe, Maryhill have beaten Yoker 4-3 at Holm Park. Four league wins in a row and fifth place in the table. Suddenly, it feels like the clouds are clearing.

Meiklejohn’s fencing may have long since rusted into the soil, but there remains something precious about the ground here at Lochburn. As the Hill plot success on the pitch, their committee look to steer the club through that changing football landscape. Maryhill, Glasgow, can only benefit from a strong future for Maryhill FC too.

Shortly before going to press, came news of the death of Freddie Duda, who the club says “will always have a special place in the hearts of those who ran, played for and supported Maryhill Juniors.

This article first appeared in Issue 10 which was published in December 2018.

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