Blanefield Thistle

village activities

A true tale of footballing fortunes.  Your recently-formed village football club obtains the priceless opportunity to play one of the nearby city’s leading clubs after a good first run in the Scottish Cup against rival local teams. As this is likely to provide good exposure as well as earnings, the team prepares earnestly and enthusiastically for the encounter. And then things start to unravel…….

First the Strathblane Football Club mis-manages its travel arrangements, getting lost and arriving too close to kick-off time. But the team starts strongly, playing with ‘great dash’ according to the report in the Glasgow News. By half-time the senior team, as it happens Queens Park FC, led by 3-1: not a disastrous performance for the villagers by any means.

However by full-time the scoreline reads 10-1 in the Glasgow club’s favour, or as the newspaper put it, they had ‘lowered their opponents’ colours seven times’ in the second half.

As this match took place in November 1879, this depressing outcome has been long forgotten. However today’s local club, now called Blanefield Thistle, is a consistent contender in the Forth and Endrick Football Association’s League. Its management committee are at the time of writing (October 2023) drawing up ambitious plans to replace their timeworn pavilion and changing rooms on the King George V Playing Field.

But back to the beginnings of the village’s footballing history and that first Strathblane FC. According to Alison Dryden’s Strathblane 1870-1970: Century of Change, the club was formed in 1876 and ran for nine years under the captaincy of Alexander Benson Junior and the secretary was a Mr Thomas Thorpe. However it did not manage to find a regular pitch to play on, and unsurprisingly folded, although in 1883/4 the village team, now named Strathblane Rovers, reached the semi-final of the Stirlingshire Cup.

Matters improved in 1908 with the creation of the King George V field alongside the then-Glasgow-Aberfoyle railway line which is today the popular Gary Wright Way walking and cycling path. And two years later saw the formation of the Forth and Endrick Football Association, comprising Aberfoyle Rob Roy, Ballikinrain, Buchlyvie United, Drymen United, Gartmore, Killearn and Vale of Endrick, which later became Balfron Rovers. A local merchant, DR Cameron, offered a cup as a prize and so the annual Cameron Cup competition began – and continues to this day under the organisation of he same Forth and Endrick FA, with the inclusion of Blanefield Thistle.

However Thistle did not come into existence under after WW2, in 1947. Before then a variety of more informal local clubs came and went. The first was, according to the faithful Stirling Observer, called the Blane Valley FC and up until the outbreak of WW1 it played a variety of games against other local sides such as Cadder FC and Mugdock Rangers.

A good insight into those early playing days was provided by Alex Urquhart, whose memoires  were published by Strathblane Heritage in 2020 under the title The Strathblane Notebooks. Here’s an extract:

“There was often a football match in the public park beside the Blane Burn. Matches were played against the other valley villages on summer evenings and during the official out of season months. The railway bank at the side of the pitch made a grandstand for squatting on-lookers and the touchline was surrounded by a crowd ready to watch any game.

“At 15 years I would play about with the village boys, but at school I had become a member of the first eleven, playing on the wing to avoid injury because of my age. This Strathblane team was composed of men from the farms, chauffeurs, other estate workers and regular weekend visitors from town. They were all too hefty for me.

“I was astounded one Saturday, when I appeared as a spectator, to be invited to play. They were a man short and it was a vital game. I had to take the position of right back, a position unknown to me but I was promised physical support by the six- footer at left back. Whether they were all afraid that they would step on me or knock me over, I know not but I found myself free to play a marvellous game, acclaimed by the touch-line crowd and many games followed.”

Strathblane Football Team c1914 (Alex U on right of seated row)

(Note: Alex continued to play for the team and appears in this pic, around 1914, by which time he was much heftier. He is at the right of the row of players seated on the bench.)

After the war the Strathblane Comrades team was formed and, according to Alison Dryden, played for a few years. The Stirling Observer notes that in December 1922 they beat the Anglo-American Oil Company team 6-1. The players then were listed as R Love, C. Donnelly, W Anderson, J McPherson, R Adams, A McKay, J Dunn, R Chisholm, J McCall, D Currie and F Raeside.

On April 26 1947 the first Blanefield Thistle side took the field against Killearn, the match ending in a 1-1 draw. From the outset Thistle were very much part of the Forth & Endrick FA league, which had expanded to comprise no fewer than seven competitions for different cups, and now had 11 teams on board. This league is affiliated to the Scottish Welfare Football Association which in turn is a division of the SFA.

Undated early picture of Blanefield Thistle
Blanefield Thistle 1950
Blanefield Thistle 1952

The Blanefield side first won the Cameron Cup in 1952. But this early success was not followed up. One particular disappointment came in in the late Sixties when Thistle was leading the League only to have most of their points deducted because it transpired one player, who had played for the club for some years, turned out to live one mile outside the Forth & Endrick area, this side of Campsie Glen.

Since the late sixties the team’s policy has been to play local boys first. Each season the team aims to sign approximately 25 to 30 players. The season runs from April to September and matches are normally played on Saturday afternoons and Tuesday evenings.

So the Club took time to settle and find a consistent bank of players who lived within the area covered by the league. It was unable to field sides in 1953, 54, 59 and 60. And more trophies proved hard to come by – until 1972 which is reckoned to be the year that Blanefield Thistle began to deliver a reasonably consistent run of goals, wins and trophies.

That year the club won both the Cameron Trophy and the overall League Championship for the first time. And over the rest of its first half-century, until 1997, Thistle have sustained a strong position in the various Forth & Endrick competitions, winning the Cameron Trophy 12 times, the League Championship 11 times, including successive years 1995, 96 and 97, and other trophies no less than 24 times. However it must be said that the Noughties have not brought the same level of success: the Club has been trophy-less since 2008.

They also managed to have fun while winning dozens of games a year. On at least two occasions in the 1960s and 70s a Ladies team was recruited to play the men in a ‘friendly’ match. The scores are not recorded, although a report of the match organised by the Blane Valley Athletics Club says merely…..”their novelty game brought a great deal of laughter from the crowd, even if their football skills were not evident”.

Ladies Specials: Jimmy Gibson, Alice Gibson, Liz Brown, Senga Farrell, Phyllis Nicholson, Tibby Gair, Alison Dryden, Beatrice Leckie, Donald McDonald. Front Row: Liz Halliday, Sheena McDougal, Jean McKellar, Patsy Andrews, Joyce Smith, ?, Susie Andrew. This is thought to have been a fund raiser in 1972/3 for the rebuilding of the pavilion.
This picture must be from around the same time: BACK ROW 1.Walter Demster 2.Jimmy Gibson 3.Jim McKellar 4.Dan McDonald 5.Joe Pllu 6.Billy McDougall 7.Ian Morrison 8.Duncan McKellar 9.Joe Gove. MIDDLE ROW 10.? 11.Betty Hassie 12.Tibby Gair 13.Alice Gibson 14 Chrissie Benson 15.Margaret Benson 16.Sheila McSporran 17.Anne Ryan 18.Jean McKellar 19.?. FRONTROW 20.Nina Leslie 21.Linda Grey 22.Patsy Andrews 23.Rosemary Adams 24 Angela Curry 25.Liz Brown 26.Barbara Morrison 27.Sheena McDougall. (NB. Transcribed from faint handwriting. Please contact the website if you have additions or corrections or an exact date!)

Of course behind the teams lies a great deal of work carried out by volunteers who formed the Club’s management board. It is they who handle the hum-drum of fixture organisation, from the drafting of match programmes right down to the cleaning of kit. There’s also the assembly of annual dinners, at which trophies are formally presented, and of course the eternal search for funding.

As with so many amateur sports clubs, this is a constant challenge. Thistle’s approach to date involves an annual fund raiser event with the aim of covering the cost of maintaining the pavilion, and a constant push to find sponsors to pay for the basic essentials of strips, balls etc.  The players make a payment each week and this covers the cost of strip laundry, referees fees and other miscellaneous items. Players also pay £5 per week if they are picked to play.

More often than not it is the former players who go on to give their time and energies, whether it’s on coaching duties or committee work. Three such stalwarts who between them served an astonishing 150 years playing and working for Blanefield Thistle retired as recently as 2019. They are Andy Orr, John Pllu and Sandy McIntyre.  Others whose names regularly occur in the history of the Club during its last 30 years include Duncan McKellar, Joe Gove, John Muir, Matt Linning, Dan McDonald, Jimmy Greenock, Joe Pllu, Craig Dunn, Ian Wright………a full list of the many people who have helped to build Thistle into an enduring as well as successful sports organisation would fill the rest of this page!

Look at the Trophies, proudly displayed by (from left), Andy Orr, Duncan McKellar, Francis Malcolm, Alan McFarlane, Sandy McIntyre, Stuart Aitken, Bobby Gray, Brian Perry, Dan McDonald and John Pllu

However support for the club has dwindled. In the days when the majority of the current committee members played, 10-20 years ago, a sizeable crowd would watch the games on a Saturday evening and then retire to one of the local pubs where relationships were struck through the sharing of a beer or two amongst the differing age groups in attendance. Despite trying to advertise when games are played, shop window adverts, local press bulletins and social media postings, hardly anyone, not girlfriends, wives, mothers, fathers nor any other locals come to watch the games and offer their support to the youngsters who make up today’s team.

If there’s one other challenge that has hung over the Club in the last 30 years, it’s the issue of finding a better playing surface on the King George V park – and more latterly, of repairing and ideally replacing its 60-year-old pavilion and changing rooms. The field is dangerously close to the water level of the adjacent Blane Burn and in wet weather has been apt to flood easily – although recent drainage work undertaken by locally-provided contractors has helped.

One complicating issue is that ownership of the field now rests with Stirling Council, to whom it was transferred from the National Playing Fields Association around 1987. The council clearly lacks the cash to do anything significant to improve the facilities, but also needs to be engaged in any development plan for the facility.

The question of the pavilion is also tricky. It was built by and donated to the Club in 1974 by Glasgow construction magnate and football afficionado John Lawrence, who at the time had just completed the Kirkhouse Estate, was living at Levern Towers to the west of the village and also happened to own Rangers FC. It replaced a series of basic wooden huts with no running water or electricity and came as the proverbial Godsend. But now it has more than served its time and badly needs replaced. The current management board, led by chairman James Hutchinson, with treasurer Craig Dunn and secretary Alan Morris, has ambitious plans to raise funding for a replacement pavilion and an all-weather pitch.

If you can add any dates or details to the photo captions, please contact the website.


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