In the second part of our series looking back at the history of Queen’s Park football club and their role in the Scottish game, Sports Editor Jack Haugh links up with Alan Rhodes to detail the club’s close connection with the national stadium.
The sight of 500 or so Queen’s Park FC fans congregated into one end of Scotland’s national stadium every second week remains one of the most unique features of our game. Whilst the national team have faced the likes of Denmark, Lithuania and Germany at Glasgow’s Hampden Park in recent times, Queen’s Park have welcomed Arbroath, Livingston and even the Kilmarnock Colts side. Worlds apart, but eternally linked, Queen’s have played a prominent role in our national stadium for over one hundred years.
Formed in 1867 and having spent much of their early years playing at Queen’s Park Recreation Ground, where the New Victoria Hospital now stands, the growing interest in the game eventually led to a desire by Queen’s to have their own ground to meet their requirements. Having already played host to the first ever international match in 1872 between Scotland and England, albeit in a different venue, Queen’s had already established themselves as the nation’s premier club. With the SFA not formed until 1873, the international friendly, and the financial responsibility for it, was solely borne by Queen’s.
Although Glasgow City Council rejected their first request for land in April 1873, the club were subsequently granted permission in October of that year to lease three acres of land next to their existing home. For the pleasure, the club would pay a monthly rate of £20 for the next six months, which may not sound like a lot, but at the time Queen’s had a mere £3 and 12 Shillings in the bank and just 65 members. Built in an area called Prospecthill, Queen’s eventually settled on the name Hampden after a recently completed row of terraced houses overlooking the new ground. Thus, the most famous stadium name in Scotland was born. Whilst the exact location of the ground is unknown, it most likely lay east to west, with the western end now covered by the Cathcart Rail Line and the eastern end by what is now Florida Avenue.
The first game to be played there was a Scottish Cup tie on 25th October 1873, just five days after the lease was agreed, and Queen’s defeated Dumbreck in a Scottish Cup tie by seven goals to nil. All of the proceeds from the match were used to build the ground. By 1878, Queen’s had added in a stand and a brick pavilion at their own cost, with the club now boasting over 600 season ticket holders.
As Glasgow continued to expand and the Cathcart Railway was built, Queen’s were told that the lease wouldn’t be extended beyond May 1884, leaving the team without a pitch for a short period and temporarily playing at the Clydesdale Cricket Club. But, upon its completion, the club moved into the second Hampden, a mere 500 yards from the first one.
The first match at the second Hampden drew a crowd of 7,000 to a goalless friendly match against Dumbarton, and with Queen’s building two stands they were keen to buy the land rather than lease it, but several attempts to do so were refused by the landowner.
Reluctant to invest the money in a stadium where they could be evicted with no recompense for their expenditure, and with footballing matches now regularly being attended by five-figure crowds, Queen’s decided not to invest in the expansion of the stadium and instead moved out in 1903. They were replaced by one of their arch-rivals at the time, Third Lanark, who moved from their old ground and renamed the second Hampden Cathkin Park.
Homeless once more, Queen’s moved to the other side of Prospecthilll Road and bought 12 acres of land at a massive £850 per acre. The area was a natural bowl shape, now synonymous with Hampden, but required massive investment by the still amateur club. Over £10,000 was spent on preparing the ground and £5,000 on a new main stand, all from the club’s own back pocket.
Over the years, Queen’s have expanded their land to include the western side of the stadium, where Lesser Hampden now stands, the home to Queen’s training pitch and their youth sides.
The move would prove to be hugely beneficial to Queen’s over the next fifty years. When they first entered the professional league setup in 1900, albeit maintaining their amateur status, attendances averaged at around 8,000 per match with games against their local rivals at the time, Rangers, Celtic and Third Lanark well into five-figures. In January 1930, a massive 95,772 swarmed to Hampden to watch a Scottish Cup tie between Queen’s and Rangers, but this would prove to be the beginning of the decline in Queen’s position as one of the nation’s powerhouses.
By the early 1950s, with Queen’s now in the Second Division and no games against their local rivals to entice Glaswegians to the stadium, the average attendances steeply declined to below 5,000, and further to an average of 1,500 a mere ten years later. By the 70s, attendances stood at a seemingly inconceivable three figure sum and have remained at roughly the same number ever since.
Long gone were the halcyon days of Queen’s dominating Scottish football in terms of both attendances and their trophy haul, with the early pioneers of the game seemingly being consigned to the history books.
But, the story of Queen’s and Hampden didn’t end there, with the club the only side to regularly take to the heralded green of the Hampden turf. The reason? The professedly tiny amateur club with their League One level attendance are still the owners of the second biggest stadium in Scotland and its surrounding areas.
Following the financial issues with the rebuilding of the stadium in 1997 to 1999, the Scottish Government insisted that the SFA take over management and operation of the stadium for a period of 20 years from March 2000, with an option to extend that for a further 20 years if the SFA wish to do so.
The bottom line, the club still technically own the stadium and maintain the right to play all of their first team competitive matches there; although they have given up their home on several occasions for the greater good, including between November 2013 and December 2014 for the Commonwealth Games. Unlike the former stadiums where Queen’s were the tenants, now it is the SFA who pay a fixed rental sum to the club every year in order to use it.
It remains a story often untold, but one which links the whole of Scottish football to the small Glaswegian club formed in 1867. The nation owes a huge debt to Queen’s for investing in the creation of an arena fit for the national game, perhaps even to the detriment of the club. When Queen’s welcome the likes of Airdrieonians, Albion Rovers and Peterhead to Hampden over the coming months, they will do so as not just as a League One side, but as the owners and founders of the national arena.