Shire’s fans show mettle

Shire Team that played at Clydebank for one season
Shire Team that played at Clydebank for one season

Walking through Grahamston this week I passed the end of Firs Street and decided to take a peek at the old Shire’s park.

It was a mistake because what a sad and forlorn place it is today, broken down and abandoned, and a far cry from the theatre of dreams of yesteryear.

The pitch is a patch of mud and, with the stand gone, only a trace of the grass covered terracing and a couple of broken turnstiles remain.

What a contrast with August 18, 1965, when hundreds marched behind Muirhead’s Pipe Band from the Shire Club in Grahams Road to welcome their team back from exile in far off Clydebank.

It was the culmination of an amazing struggle in which the Shire’s supporters fought tooth and nail to keep the club in Falkirk where it had been since 1880.

East Stirlingshire FC started life in Bainsford and played at Burnhouse, Randyford and then Merchiston until the move to Firs Park in 1921.

By then they had been in the Second Division for over 20 years and a decade later achieved their best ever result by winning the Championship.

Now they faced up to Celtic, Rangers and the rest and predictably finished bottom of the League.

In later years there were a few more high spots but plenty of low ones and the fans developed the resilience that is the mark of the true believer!

The events of 1965 proved just how strong the bond was. Faced with falling attendances and lack of ready cash, two directors, the Steedman brothers, Jack and Charles, hatched a plan to merge the club with Clydebank Juniors and move to the west coast as E.S. Clydebank.

The new club would take the Shire’s place in the Second Division and play their games at Kilbowie Park. Shire fans went completely bananas but the move went ahead and the team began season 1964-65 away from Falkirk.

Protest meetings were held in the town and an East Stirlingshire Shareholders Protection Association was formed, chaired by the formidable Jimmy Middlemass who led the fight back.

In the end the dispute turned on the ownership of shares and was decided in the Court of Session.

After eight days of argument Lord Hunter came down on the side of the objectors and soon the Shire were on their way back to Firs Park.

Their exile had lasted just one season and their return was greeted by that triumphant march in August.

That was nearly 50 years ago and while Clydebank flourished for a few years then died, the Shire survived despite a long run of poor seasons. And, of course, the battle goes on even without the old ground which was vacated a few years ago in an effort to keep the club afloat.

Many of those who fought the good fight back in the 1960s are gone but the names of Jimmy Middlemass, Robert Turpie, Willie Muirhead and John Crozier among others will always be honoured by Shire fans.

My friend Tom Scott, a great Shire enthusiast living in London, is writing a new account of the Clydebank saga and it should be available next year.

It is an event worth remembering not only as an early example of fan power but also proof positive that it is better to ‘meddle wi’ the Deil, than the Bairns o’ Falkirk’ ... even the ones in black and white stripes.