DUMBARTON were one of the original powerhouses of organised Scottish football, winning the first two league titles (one shared with Rangers) and reaching six Scottish Cup finals between 1881 and 1897.
What this romantic history lesson does, though, is obscure the fact the Sons of Dumbarton Rock were also a significant force in the 1970s, when Scottish football was internationally acknowledged as being strong. Between 1976 and 1980 they finished fourth three times in the second tier beneath the new 10-team Premier Division, and they had a terrific record in the Scottish Cup.
There hasn’t been too much champagne spilled into the Leven since but, unlike Albion Rovers, who have reached the quarter-finals for the first time in 80 years, Dumbarton actually have plenty of fans who can remember the days they considered a May trip to Hampden to be within touching distance.
In the five seasons between 1974/75 and 1978/79, the Sons reached the quarter-finals of the cup a remarkable four times, and, in 1976, went as far as the last four. Gilbert Lawrie, the Dumbarton chief executive, recalled these halcyon days yesterday, and reminded us lest we had forgotten – we had – that one Walter Smith played a key role in this dramatic chapter, before he turned his hand to management.
“I was at the last quarter-final [Dumbarton’s 1-0 defeat to Partick in 1979] and also the semi-final against Hearts when we got there back in 1976,” Lawrie recalled at the Dumbarton branch of tournament sponsors William Hill.
“My good friend Walter Smith will not thank me for reminding him that we drew the first game 0-0 when [Hearts keeper] Jim Cruickshank had one of those days when nobody was beating him, and then we were going well in the replay until Walter put a diving header into his own net. We went on to lose that one 3-0, but it was great to get to a semi-final and it would be wonderful to be there again, albeit it won’t be at Hampden, unfortunately.
“In the quarter-final before that Hearts game we beat Partick Thistle 1-0 at Boghead. Even back then there was a sense of disbelief, even though the gap wasn’t as big as it is now. To get to a semi-final, for a club of our status, in today’s football economics is a major achievement.”
Dumbarton are a part-time outfit and don’t be fooled by their respectable position in the Championship. Ian Murray masks have been sported for comic effect up and down the high street this week in the build-up to Saturday’s quarter-final against Aberdeen. The citizens of the “Ancient Capital of Strathclyde” consider the former Hibs captain to be something of a Messiah right now.
Pittodrie has seen its fair share of giant-killings in recent seaons but nobody in Dumbarton fails to acknowledge that their men are up against it. But they are proud of their club again, and grateful to manager Murray.
“When Ian came in in November 2012, we were basically resigned to relegation but he turned us round and, given what he did towards the end of last season, we were confident going into this season that we could give a good show of ourselves,” added Lawrie. “One of the big things I think he has managed to do is reduce the gap between part-time and full-time football and I think he’s really worked wonders for us.”
Lawrie hopes the Sons will be accompanied by as many as a thousand fans on Saturday, a quota that would fill half of their own modest, single-stand Bet Butler Stadium. Dumbarton look like sticking around for the Championship that will almost upstage the Premiership next season, with Rangers and Hearts almost certain to be involved. So how high are they aiming?
“It’s a big jump to go to full-time football and, in the current economic climate, it’s one thing that you’d have to make with a great deal of care,” said Lawrie. “Revenue next season doesn’t really give us the same big impetus as other clubs, because of the capacity limits we have. We’ll be investigating with the council whether it’s worth putting up any temporary stands next season. But we’ll just be delighted to be among those teams.”