Scotland’s oldest club face eviction from the home of Scottish football
Queen’s Park FC is the oldest association football club in Scotland. Although the club currently ply their trade in League 2 – the fourth tier of Scottish football – their lowly status actually belies the scale of their past successes. From their formation in 1867, they were the victors of the Scottish Cup 10 times in a mere 20-year-period towards the end of the 19th century, and they hold the distinction of being the only Scottish club to appear in an FA Cup final, rubbing shoulders with the big boys down South on two occasions in 1884 and 1885. They were one of the early hegemonies of Scottish football, alongside the likes of Third Lanark and Renton, that carved the path for the nation’s game before the Old Firm were even in existence. They are even recognised as one of the forefathers of the “passing game”, a tactic that national sides of yesteryear would utilise to nullify the Auld Enemy who were quicker, stronger and three feet taller.
Today, they are the only fully amateur club in the entirety of the Scottish Professional Football League – their motto Ludere causa Ludendi (to play for the sake of playing) – and they now find themselves hopping between the lower tiers of the SPFL. While principle will no doubt come into the decision to leave players unpaid, a club that welcomes around only 700 or so fans every second week will not be digging into the war chest too often. This is where one of Scottish football’s biggest conundrums rears its head. Although a club in the bottom tier will be left unsurprised at the lack of supporters turning up to matches, Scotland’s national stadium of Hampden Park is the home of The Spiders. This means that for each home game played, the club will have to account for approximately 51,000 vacant seats, with just over 1.3% of the seats are full. This is a fantastic oddity, albeit one among many concerning football on these shores, but it is no mistake. Queen’s Park, this tiny football club in a tiny footballing nation, are the owners and proprietors of what is arguably the most historical and illustrious sporting venue in the country.
In the latter half of the 20th century, they faced a near perpetual battle to keep the stadium within their remit. The late 1970s saw Hampden start to crumble and of course the funds drummed up by the club were insufficient. As alcohol was banned from football in Scotland, Queen’s faced what seemed to be a losing battle to keep Hampden on their hands. They managed to partly redevelop the stadium on the cheap in the early 1990s but a further facelift was still needed. The Scottish Football Association required an all-seater stadium to host World Cup qualifying matches, and as it looked like Murrayfield would become a permanent venue, the British Government stepped in at the eleventh hour to save the day with a grant of over £3 million provided to temporarily steady the ship. The arena was given life anew shortly before the turn of the millennium, this time thanks to significant National Lottery funding, and this is what punters travelling to Glasgow will now recognise on Cup final away days.
Once more though, Hampden’s integrity has been called into question. With the SFA deliberating whether or not to stay put in Glasgow, the planned destination again being the rugby capital of Edinburgh and Murrayfield, the aforementioned National Lottery grant has come back to bite the club in the nastiest way possible. Queen’s Park will now face an uphill struggle to stay in Mount Florida. Needless to say, when one offered the club a total of nearly £60 million to fix the seemingly endless foibles of Scottish football’s spiritual home, they would no doubt have bitten the hand off of Dale Winton and co. However, stipulations regarding a hitherto hypothetical SFA exit from Glasgow would see the club due to clear a sum of nearly £16 million, money that they obviously do not have. That future has now become an all too uncomfortable present. It seems that the only viable option would be to sell to the SFA, who would be unlikely to happily maintain what has sometimes been viewed as an unwelcome tenancy.
Hindsight is a beautiful thing but the warning signs have always been here for this city’s fourth team. For all the talk of oddity and charm, which still rings true, of a fully amateur outfit playing in a stadium of 50,000+, it doesn’t really sit on even standing with the profit-driven parameters of modern football. “Lesser Hampden” sits just outside its big brother and would seem to be the sensible option for the amateurs to play on. The often outspoken Davie Provan had his say last year in the Scottish Sun, railing that a game between Queen’s Park and Brechin had rendered the turf unplayable for Scotland’s World Cup qualifier against Slovenia. He ranted that the fate of the men’s national team was being endangered for the sake of “two men and a dog”. Scotland went on to win that particular match. It’s hard to side with Provan here. While there may only be hundreds of fans rather than thousands, they are among the most dedicated in the country. They could follow any other of the local teams in the shape of the Old Firm, but they do not. The fans are included in the club’s ideology of taking part for the sake of the game. They take big away supports with them wherever they travel and let’s not forget that without this club, there would simply be no Hampden. No infamous Roar, no Dalglish against England in ‘76, no Zidane volley in the Champions League final. They bought the farm which has become what it has today and for them to be evicted point blank, would be a draconian decision which has unfortunately become all too common when we discuss the SFA. We should perhaps count ourselves lucky that it is Queen’s Park and not yet them, that still have the final say.