THE table in a Glasgow hostelry is covered with maps and plans as if preparations are being made for battle.

In a way they are, except there is no general in attendance. Instead, sitting across from me is the grey-haired Ian Alexander, semi-retired from his job in the construction business, and now full-time chairman of Third Lanark.

Yes, that Third Lanark. The club from Glasgow’s southside which ceased to exist in 1967. Indeed, today is the 50th anniversary of their last ever match, a 5-1 defeat at Dumbarton, which came three days after the once iconic Cathkin Park witnessed its final game, a 3-3 draw with next-door neighbours Queen’s Park.

Except April 25, 1967 might not be the last time Third Lanark play at their spiritual home.

The club started up again in 2008 – “I would prefer to say we want to sleep for a bit,” says Alexander when the subject was broached whether the Hi-Hi were in fact “died”. To the contrary, Third Lanark are not only alive but are kicking a ball around.

“We have been slowly gathering momentum and are now a juggernaut to the extent that we are having to slow things down a little bit,” Alexander says with such enthusiasm that it’s hard to suppress a cheer. “The crux of the matter is we have re-established an institution as a community-based football club, the community comes first and the football relatively speaking comes second.

“Over the last 18 months our amateur team is growing both on and off the field. We won the third division of the Greater Glasgow Amateur League with games to spare. Young men are phoning up to join the club, they have a team manager [Davie Ampleford] who will shortly becoming a part-time employee with us, ultimately leading to full-time employment, and from the start of next season we will have two amateur teams.”

This raises the obvious question: Does this mean Third Lanark are attempting to get back into the senior leagues?

“We are considering that because one must have a purpose,” said Alexander. “Team spirit dictates, no pun intended, you need to have a goal and that is to continue the growth of the amateur team, to then get into the Lowland or Caledonia League, which would be the foothills of the pyramid system and gradually work our way up. The support is there, the finance is waiting in the wings and so I can’t see any reason why this can’t happen. So that’s the plan.”

And the plans are in front of me. A football remains pitch at Cathkin Park but the main stand is long ago and trees and shrubs have all but taken over the crumbling terraces, which gives the place an eerie quality. 

However, ambitious proposals have been drawn up to rejuvenate what is a large piece of land. It would be a real shame if it did not. 

“Cathkin Park is our spiritual home,” said Alexander. “It lies there like a mausoleum. It’s used spasmodically. We want to get back to Cathkin, to rejuvenate the pitch and start community activities. We want to create changing facilities, the plans are all drawn, we have costed it up, but we are relying on a leap of faith from Glasgow city council to grant us a lease to go back home.

“The park would be used on a daily basis by the community and local schools, the schools being very interested in what we are trying to do. We have to recognise the majority of children in Mount Florida, Cathcart, Govanhill live in traditional tenement flats and can’t play in the streets.

“And, yet, we have one of the largest football grounds in Scotland lying fundamentally dormant. It doesn’t sit easily with members of the community and also our great football club. We have entered serious negotiations with the council to get it back, they need to tell us they are going to it, and if they can’t do it then we need to move on somewhere else.”

Alexander speaks of the pitch being used for cricket and other social activities. He hopes his plans will bowl the locals over.

There are plans for five- and seven-a-side pitches, car parking, a 2000-seater stand and the terraces back to their former glory. For all this passion, it’s hard not to feel as if Alexander is going to end up disappointed.

“I can see that,” he said. “But, and it’s big but, the name Third Lanark comes with a pound note prefix. We have major investors waiting in the wings. 

He speaks of 12,000 supporters who has registered an interest and, while that might be stretching things, it’s important to remember this club were attracting much bigger crowds before things went very, very wrong half a century ago. “Third Lanark were founder members of the Scottish League so had been around for a great number of years and then, for want of a better word, corruption ensued beginning in 1966 through to the following year,” recalled Alexander. 

“The board of trade put the club into receivership and at a stroke the southside of Glasgow lost a community based football club with an average crowd of 25,000 supporters. It was devastation. The club’s good name was tarnished and tainted with corruption.

“Mr Hiddleston [the owner who died in November 1967] literally asset-stripped the football club. We understand, and this is obviously a long time ago now, the surreptitious deal was to sell the ground for housing development, but that didn’t happen. The players were on pennies, the water was turned off, there was one particular bad debt which couldn’t be honoured, so the plug was pulled and Third Lanark were put to sleep.

“And now we have the Marie Celeste of Scottish football. The park is still there. I frequently walk around this ground with my wife and to quote Willie Nelson: “The presence fills the air”. You can still hear the supporters. These fans were denied their club. This is what it’s all about.”
At the time the supporters had heard rumours and read the papers so it was no secret that their club was in trouble. But nobody felt 50 years ago that it was the end.

And it would have been as well had Pat McGeady, uncle to Aiden, decided to get the club going again nine years ago. There are 27 players signed to the amateur team, teams that will be formed in the near future, and there are some 95 boys and 15 coaches in the academy. They currently pay their games at Vale of Leven’s park in the Tollcross area of Glasgow; however, the hope is that will change soon enough.

“When I first came to the club, the word ‘Cathkin’ was used all the time,” said first-team manager Ampleford who took over for “just a few weeks” five years ago. “Then after a bit that chat went quiet and I thought that was it. But everything changed when Ian became chairman.”

“And you get some older men coming down, with their Third Lanark scarves on, looking on with real pride when their team with the colours and badge run out onto the pitch again. They can get really emotional. All they ever wanted was their club back.”

The last word goes to the chairman. If only Ian Alexander had been around in 1967.

“Why shouldn’t this club grow again?” he asks. “This is a good football story. This is not about paying players £50,000 a week. This is about getting involved, it’s about health, self-esteem and morals.”