Remembering The Shire’s greatest ever victory
Being a football fan in Falkirk these days is not much fun. Ever the optimist I have renewed my season ticket despite the catastrophic plunge that has taken the once mighty bairns down into the third tier when not so long ago we were knocking on the door of the premiership.
Things can hardly get any worse, can they? You bet they can! Spare a thought for the Shire who not long ago dropped out of the senior leagues altogether.
I had a look at the old Shire’s park in Grahamston this week and what a sad place it is, broken down and abandoned.
The pitch has disappeared among the grass and weeds and the terracing is unrecognisable in the undergrowth.
Quite a contrast with 18th August 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. 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 well over fifty years ago and while Clydebank flourished for a few years then died, the Shire survived despite a long run of poor seasons.
But a couple of years ago the good old club fell through the league trapdoor and now play in the Lowland Football League.
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 will always be honoured by Shire fans.
It is an event worth remembering as an early example of fan power but also as proof positive that it is better to ‘meddle wi’ the Deil, than the Bairns o’ Falkirk’ . . . even the ones in black and white stripes!
For the sake of the loyal fans let’s hope that both town teams battle their way back to their rightful places sooner rather than later.