Why Clyde FC aren’t so Bonnie anymore
In the 1967 film “Bonnie and Clyde”, Bonnie Parker said “What would you do if some miracle happened and we could walk out of here tomorrow morning and start all over again clean?”
What if your club was homeless and almost bankrupt? If your club had to walk out of their stadium, and start all over again?
This is the fate awaiting Clyde FC, currently in the Scottish Third Division, and things don’t look good, or ‘bonnie’ for them right now. This is the team who almost four years ago to the day defeated Celtic 2-1 in Roy Keane’s debut match, and was made famous for both this and Du Wei, another Celtic debutant, being subbed at half-time, never to be seen again.
Clyde also are the team who failed at the last hurdle in 2003/04 to gain promotion to the Scottish Premier League, and played in their first cup final for 48 years in November 2006.
They are also the team who have been relegated twice in two years, are rock bottom of Division Three and can barely field a team. It was announced on the 9th December 2010 they would have to relinquish their lease on their current stadium due to lack of funds, and at the time of writing, they don’t have anywhere else to go.
To gain a better understanding of Clyde’s recent troubles, I think it’s worth looking at the club’s history.
Clyde were formed in 1877 and were originally associated with an area covering Rutherglen in South Lanarkshire and the South East of Glasgow. In 1898 they moved to their second home, Shawfield Stadium, the stadium a lot of fans still consider to be their spiritual home. They owned the stadium until 1935, when they sold it to the Greyhound Racing Association (GRA), but they continued to play as tenants until 1986, when the GRA evicted them to allow them to redevelop the stadium.
The club shared stadiums, firstly with their archrivals Patrick Thistle for five years, then Hamilton Academical for two and a half years until they moved to Broadwood, a purpose-built stadium in the town of Cumbernauld in 1994.
North Lanarkshire Council approached Clyde in 1990 to ask them if they would move to Cumbernauld in South Lanarkshire, an area with a population of over 50,000+ without a professional sports team, and they moved into Broadwood in 1994. Clyde and Cumbernauld both thought this was ideal, as it would allow both the club and the town to grow.
Coincidentally, their debut game was played against their old landlords, and a capacity attendance of 6,000 watched Clyde lose 2-0 to Hamilton. Clyde then floated between divisions until 1999, when they were promoted to the First Division, after incredibly signing a squad full of junior league players the year before.
As previously mentioned, the 2003/04 season was the season that on the field at least, everything finally came together. They just missed out on promotion by one point, and looked set for next year’s promotion push.
Off the field however, we had a different story. Broadwood did not meet Scottish Premier League (SPL) criteria at the time(stadia capacity had to be at least 10,000 seats, Broadwood had 8,006 after a third stand was built in 1997), and Clyde were teetering on the brink of liquidation, as they simply could not afford to pay their creditors. The chairman, Billy Carmichael, had the choice of paying his player’s wages, or his creditors. He chose the players. The SPL eventually agreed to relax the rules for Clyde, as SPL rules stated the 10,000 capacity had to be available for the start of the season, however they agreed to give Clyde more time as long as they built a fourth stand, which their landlords North Lanarkshire Council were happy to do, and actually started work on the stand, until Clyde’s financial difficulties came to light. At this point, the landlords halted the work, never to be completed.
The chairman couldn’t afford to put any more money into the club, and at the end of the season, he sold the club to the newly formed Clyde Supporter’s Trust, who with the help of funds they raised and the Clyde Development Consortium, helped the club enter a Company Voluntary Arrangement to clear their debts.
On the pitch, the club started to slide down Division One mainly due to a lack of funds to replace players but they completed the CVA in June 2005, and the future started to look a bit brighter.
As previously mentioned, 2006 was one of Clyde’s best ever years, beating Celtic 2-1 in the Scottish Cup and getting to the Challenge Cup Final, losing only on penalties.
They carried on until the 2007/08 season where they only stayed in the First Division after winning a playoff against Airdrie, however next year they were relegated and their financial problems once again came back.
In June 2009, they actually released their full first team squad in a bid to stave off administration, as the landlord threatened legal action in order to recover unpaid rent. Their squad was rebuilt for Division Two on a drastically reduced budget. Unsurprisingly, they were relegated again.
SO WHAT WENT WRONG?
Moving a team around a 30 mile radius hasn’t helped their cause. This doesn’t sound like a long distance, but to the elderly and to those relying on public transport, it is. And let’s be honest, how many of us honestly drive to the game every week? Being a team originally based in Glasgow, the lion’s share of people support the Old Firm anyway, so Clyde do not have the luxury of say, a Inverness Caledonian Thistle moving 30 miles down the road. Caley would still be the only team in the area, so will still keep their fan base.
Also, Clyde unfortunately lost a lot of their fans in the late ’60s. The area they covered at this time had a lot of slum housing knocked down and the fans were moved to other areas of Glasgow and beyond, never to return. Public transport at that time simply was not as readily available as it is today, and Clyde has never financially at least fully recovered from this.
They have never been a hugely successful club, and apart from 1951/52 to 1961/62 when they won the Scottish Cup twice and the Scottish First Division three times, have never done anything of note in Scottish football. Even before the Glasgow Slums were knocked down, they never had a huge fan base that could recover from being moved to different areas and to different stadiums later on.
Teams need to own their stadiums. In the space of twenty years, Clyde have played in three stadiums, soon to be four. How can a team expect to keep a loyal fan base when the fans keep getting shunted around and expected to go along with it? Also, due to not having the funds to build a new stand to meet SPL criteria, had Clyde gained promotion to the SPL in 2003/04, they were going to play in Kilmarnock for a season, another 40 miles away! The last team who played a long distance from home in the SPL when they got promoted was Gretna, and we know what happened there.
Lanarkshire already had four teams in Motherwell, Hamilton, Airdrie, and Albion Rovers, who play in Coatbridge, when Clyde moved to the area. All these teams have very loyal fan bases and apart from Motherwell, very small fan bases. Football fans do not switch allegiances. Also Cumbernauld was built as a new town in 1956 to cater for overspill of residents from Glasgow. Again, people moving here already had their own team to support, and with Clyde not moving into the area until the early 90s, this would not change who people support.
The following stats show recent attendances figures in the Lanarkshire area:
Clyde’s average attendance over the past three years:
2007-2008: 1,303 – 2.6% of Cumbernauld’s town population of 50,000
2008-2009: 1,237 – 2.5%
2009-2010: 633 (Division Two) – 1.3%
Albion Rovers (Coatbridge town population 41,000)
07-08: 306 (Division Three) – 0.7&
08-09: 339 – 0.8%
09-10: 360 – 0.9%
Airdrie United (town population 36,000)
07-08: 981 (Division Two) – 2.7%
08-09: 1,357 (Division One) – 3.8%
09-10: 1,081 – 3.1%
In my opinion, the experiment to move to Cumbernauld simply has not worked. What can Clyde do now? Move towns again? What’s the point ?
In 2003/04, Clyde chased the dream and went for promotion to the SPL in order to entice back old and new fans, using money they did not have. Leeds United chased the dream of Champions League and Premier League glory and it is common knowledge what happened there. Leeds have only now recovered from the setbacks caused by mismanagement.
Clyde have never fully recovered from their own financial mismanagement, not just in the early 2000s, but for even longer before that. As a club, they haven’t been run properly for a long time. Indeed, the only reason Shawfield stadium was sold in the ’30s was to make sure the club survived. Clyde had reported money problems in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s too.
Repeated efforts to bring in new faces, new fans, and new money never seem to quite come off for them. Clyde FC aren’t scraping the bottom of the barrel now, they’ve worn a hole through it and started digging into the concrete below. They were once a club who, at least in the middle of the last century, had potential to be a big force in Scotland.
Now, they’re nobodies.
Now, they barely have a squad.
Now, they are penniless.
Now, they are homeless.
Just like Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, I fear the story for Clyde FC will not have a happy ending.