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Third Lanark died in 1967, but the Hi-Hi spirit lives on in haunted Cathkin Park

While football stadiums across Scotland welcome supporters for this weekend’s Scottish Cup matches, one pitch in Glasgow remains empty. It’s been that way since the summer of 1967 and yet, more than half a century later, the story of the club that occupied it remains as compelling as ever.

Third Lanark should have celebrated their 150th anniversary this year. Instead, they exist only as a reminder for those who are enough to remember them, and as a curiosity for those who aren’t.

The continued presence of Thirds’ home, Cathkin Park, is a big part of its fascination. Situated on a sweetly beaten 3-wood woodland of Scotland’s national football stadium, amid the rapidly gentrifying south side of Glasgow, the derelict site – formerly known as the second Hampden Park – today exists as a burial ground of sorts, the final resting place of the so-called ‘ Hello Hello’.

Alex Harley (right) runs with the ball for Third Lanark against Dundee during the 1961-62

Alex Harley (right) runs with the ball for Third Lanark against Dundee during the 1961-62

The spirit of the club continues to loom large over the park. As you walk around it, there are memories that you can see with your own eyes – large tracts of terraces complete with crush barriers, for example – and also many that you cannot see.

It feels as if the speculative attacks, the savage tackles and the improbable saves fill the air, hiding in plain sight, suspended from a parallel existential plain.

It’s a haunted, eerie place that continues to haunt due to political whims, a Glasgow City Council ordinance protecting the park from otherwise unavoidable urbanization.

Third Lanark, founded in 1872, was the founder of both the Scottish Football Association and the Scottish Football League. They were champions of Scotland in 1904 and to date are one of only four clubs to have beaten both halves of the Old Firm in the Scottish Cup final.

Yet it was during the finest hour of Scottish football, the glorious summer of 1967, that the club went under.

That year, on 28 April, two weeks after Scotland’s sensational win at Wembley over reigning world champions England and just weeks before Celtic’s European Cup victory and Rangers’ run to the European Cup Winners’ Cup final, Thirds was humiliated by 5 -1 away to Dumbarton on the last weekend of the Scottish league season.

Drew Busby provided some consolation that day for Bobby Shearer’s Thirds, an unspectacular attempt that Dumbarton goalkeeper Andy Crawford should have handled. He didn’t know it at the time, but Busby had just become the answer to a future pub quiz question: who scored Third Lanark’s last goal?

Busby, now the landlord of The Waverley Bar in Dumbarton, just a short walk from where he scored that goal, shakes his head and smiles remorsefully at the thought.

“It was a shock,” he says. “The kind of thing goalkeepers would be hanged for today. It didn’t matter either. We are battered. It was a crappy way to end the season. All in all a miserable experience.’

Two months later, the ax fell on the club. On 7 July 1967, the chairman Lord Fraser concluded before the Court of Session in Edinburgh that the club’s liabilities far outweighed its assets, and as there was no sign of that position changing any time soon, he had no choice but to one to dissolve the club. With one thud of his hammer, Third Lanark died.

There has been speculation about Third Lanark’s finances for some time, and no wonder. Club accounts were withheld from shareholders; players’ wages were unpaid; opposition clubs went without their share of the gate money, and when they got it, the checks were often returned. The visiting players were so concerned about the chaos that they would bring their own toiletries to Cathkin, to prevent such basic supplies from being withheld from their squeamish hosts.

Cathkin Park is now a derelict site after Third Lanark's folded in the summer of 1967

Cathkin Park is now a derelict site after Third Lanark's folded in the summer of 1967

Cathkin Park is now a derelict site after Third Lanark’s folded in the summer of 1967

The former Prime Minister of Scotland, Henry McLeish, has experienced it firsthand. A footballer before becoming a politician, McLeish was part of the East Fife team that traveled to Cathkin during the 1965-66 season.

“It was a thoroughly depressing experience on all fronts,” he recalls. “Everyone knew that this once great, still proud club, with such an illustrious history, was in terrible shape. We even had to bring our own light bulbs and soap on the team bus as we were told they weren’t available in the away team’s locker room.

“I was only 17 or 18 at the time and although my worldview and ideas were not yet fully developed, I still understood how bad the conditions were. I can honestly say it was one of the worst days of my football career.’

Under the ownership of Glasgow businessman Bill Hiddelston, a former season ticket holder at Cathkin, Thirds redefined what it was like to be frugal. When young striker John Kinnaird dislocated his shoulder during a match at Clydebank, Hiddelston intercepted the ambulance before it left for hospital.

“Tell the doctor to pull the sweater over his head,” he demanded. “Whatever you do, don’t fucking let him cut it. We need that comic for next week.’

Player socks were so commonly used that it was more unusual to find a pair without holes in the toe than those that did. Even footballs were considered avoidable costs. Under league rules, clubs were required to supply a new ball for each match. Instead of doing that, Hiddelston devised a cunning plan.

“The idea was pretty simple,” explains former fullback Tony Connell. “As soon as possible after the start of the game, we were ordered to move the ball to one of our large half-halfs and it was their job to hoist the ball out of the ground. At that point, someone from the team in the back room would pick it up, save it for the next week, and throw on a replacement piece of leather, an old, tattered piece of leather that had been painted white to make it look like new. It sounds unlikely, but trust me, it happened. I should know 0 I made the painting! It was ridiculous.’

The ruse was only messed up one particularly wet night when a player jumped to his head and was rewarded with a thick white streak of paint smeared across his forehead.

“I remember Hiddelston joining us that night after the game,” said striker Mike Jackson. ‘I said, ‘Excuse me, Mr. Hiddelston, but you see, aside from the soap, is there any chance you could get us some turpentine too?’ He didn’t see the funny side.’

And yet, for all the ridiculous frugality, no one in Hiddelston’s innermost sanctuary knew the perilous position the club was in. Only when it was too late.

Ally MacLeod goes home and gives Third Lanark victory over Rangers in a packed Cathkin Park

Ally MacLeod goes home and gives Third Lanark victory over Rangers in a packed Cathkin Park

Ally MacLeod goes home and gives Third Lanark victory over Rangers in a packed Cathkin Park

The findings of a Board of Trade investigation published in November 1968 exposed the extent of Thirds’s problems—and it put the blame on Hiddelston. In its damning summary, the report concluded that the club had been run by him for years as “an inefficient and unscrupulous sole proprietor.”

At almost every turn, it seemed as if Third Lanark’s finances had been misappropriated. In October 1965, for example, records showed that a supply of red whin chips was paid for with club money and delivered to Cathkin. Except they weren’t. Instead, they were delivered at 108 Fernleigh Road – Hiddelston’s home address.

Evidence was forged. Gate money was missing. Wages were unpaid. Transfer charges were mishandled. It was criminally chaotic.

To the dismay of former players and supporters alike, Hiddelston escaped punishment. After Third Lanark went bankrupt in the summer of 1967 and the Board of Trade investigation was still ongoing, he quickly and quietly moved with his family to St Annes, an affluent coastal destination on the Fylde coast in Lancashire. He bought the Braxfield Hotel close to the city’s seafront, which he planned to convert into luxury villas or a renovated luxury hotel. He never got the chance. On November 12, 1967, it was announced that he had died of a heart attack.

In the intervening years, several attempts have been made to bring Third Lanark back to life in one form or another. Currently, a side bearing the club’s name and crest plays in the Central Scottish Amateur Football League, roughly the ninth or tenth tier of the current Scottish football pyramid. For many supporters, bringing Thirds back to the higher ranks lies somewhere between the realms of ambition and castles in the air.

Cathkin Park, however, holds up. Mike Jackson, who still lives in south Glasgow, has become a regular visitor to the wasteland.

“I probably go up once a month,” he says. “It’s nice to stand there and be alone with my thoughts and my memories.

“I can see myself pulling at the top, tying my shoelaces and running onto the field. There are tens of thousands of people watching and I pinch myself that I used to stand between them.

“Sometimes I close my eyes and make an effort to hear the crowd. If I listen very carefully, I can almost distinguish them. “Hello,” they call. “Hi-Hi…Hello-Hi…Hello-Hello.”

“Ah,” he says softly. ‘Good times.’

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