Grounds for revival of Third Lanark
IT WAS one of Scotland's most famous football teams, playing in a stadium that also hosted other sports until ailing finances forced it into bankruptcy.
But plans will be unveiled this week to revive Third Lanark Athletic Club in the Cathkin Park ground where the young Bill Shankly once plied his trade.
Behind the plan is actor Simon Weir, who has appeared in Taggart and River City. His great-grandfather John Weir played for the team from 1916, and now his descendant dreams of reviving the fortunes of the club that last played 44 years ago on Glasgow's Southside.
After moving into the area two years ago, Weir, 37, has spent every Saturday morning trying to restore a historic ground left to crumble by its local authority owner although the pitch - once regarded as Britain's best - is still playable.
This week, as chairman of Third Lanark Athletic Club Ltd, whose name he bought last year, Weir will submit a 300-page proposal to Glasgow City Council for the redeveloped ground to become a community resource, and the re-formed club to re-enter the semi-professional game.
Although the Cathkin Park pitch is let out to another club, Weir wants an end to that, as it forces the amateur side that still competes under the Third Lanark banner to play home games in Cambuslang. He hopes to convince councillors his club has a sound enough business plan to deserve a long-term lease and to play at and restore the old ground.
Weir said: "The dream is that we have the keys to the stadium, which would mean that we can rebuild it. The council will always own the pitch. We just want to base a football club there. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have Third Lanark back where they belong, properly funded and playing a decent level of football?"
Wheels are already in motion. At Lesser Hampden on Saturday, a fund-raising dinner, billed as the biggest gathering of former Third Lanark players in 44 years, will be held. It has been organised by Pat McGeady, vice-president of the emerging club, and uncle of former Celtic winger, Aiden. Pat played for Third Lanark juveniles in the 1960s, and has been trying for years to instigate a revival, holding anniversary parties, running amateur teams and, in one self-confessed stunt, requesting an application for re-election to the Scottish Football League.
"Guys like him have kept the torch burning all these years," says Weir. "People think Third Lanark are a dead club, but they never really went away. The people who have tried to keep it going just ran out of funds or energy. Now things are happening. It's starting to feel like a real club."
Initially, Weir's passion was for the ground only. He sees it as an important historical site that ought to be preserved. Originally home to Queen's Park, it was called Hampden Park until the amateurs moved to the current national stadium in 1903. One of his ambitions is to recreate at Cathkin one of the Scotland-England games held there at the end of the 19th century, with players in Rosebery colours, baggy pants and tackety boots.
Weir says the stadium's ruins combine with history to move many visitors. "When you come over the hill and you realise that this amphitheatre is still there, it takes your breath away. To stand in the centre circle and look round at this bowl of a stadium is really quite awe-inspiring.
"It should be a World Heritage site. I mean, this was the second Hampden, opened in 1884. It was the best playing surface in Britain. Benny Lynch fought there three times, Peter Keenan four times. It's where Scotland and England played rugby. It was a cricket pitch as well. Not everyone is interested in Third Lanark, but everyone is interested in Scotland's national venue."
So far, Weir has restored much of the wall around the pitch, and painted the original crush barriers in the red of his team, but the long-term plan is to recreate the Victorian pavilion and the main stand that burned down in the 1970s. He also wants a museum, a caf and a club shop in a retro-style stadium that satisfies the demands of modern fans.
But he wants more than just the ground to rise from the ashes. Third Lanark were one of Scotland's most successful clubs until mismanagement led to their demise in 1967. They were Scottish champions in 1904, and League Cup finalists as late as 1960. "It is still the most famous defunct football club in the world," says Weir. "Founder members of the Football League, founder members of the SFA, they were at the start of everything. In 95 years of history, only 12 were spent out of the top division.."
Included in Third Lanark's submission will be a petition with 3,500 names on it, plus letters of support from Sir Alex Ferguson and Alex Salmond, the First Minister.
Kieron Dempsey, former community director with Partick Thistle, has been recruited to advise on developing local footballers and McGeady talks of a sustainable alternative to the Old Firm for youngsters in Govanhill.
"Failure doesn't bear thinking about. It would be soul-destroying," says Weir. "But the work has to count. It would give this club a second chance. That's all we are asking for."
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