Thousands turned out to welcome the Scottish Cup team home to The Fountain.
From Two Minutes Silence, a book by BILL HEANEY
Football had learned its lessons from the First World War about having to cope with wartime conditions which meant restrictions on travel and the availability of players who had been conscripted to fight for their country. All national league and cup competitions were suspended and they acted immediately to secure their survival. In December, 1939, they stepped back down a level from Senior to Junior, joining the Central League in place of Springfield Athletic who had just become defunct. Surprisingly, perhaps, especially in view of the war-time circumstances, the vote that admitted them to the Central League was remarkably close. On 13th January, 1940, Vale of Leven played their first game as a Junior team in a Central League match against Vale of Clyde at Millburn. The crowd of 1,500 was excellent for a Junior game in January in war-time and the spectators were given an entertaining match to watch, which the Vale won 5-3. A good start had been made at the Junior level, where the Vale continues to play today. There were many changes in personnel from just a few months before, most brought on by wartime conditions. For instance, Match Secretary James Forrest had joined the Forces and elected in his place was Alex Galbraith, 13 years later March Secretary of the Scottish Junior Cup-winning side.
Back: John ‘Chum’ Gilmour, Robert McMichael, John McKenzie, Jimmy Moran, Maurice Buchanan, Willie Gailey, Alan Mayberry, Frank McKeever, Willie Cassidy, Jackie Moffat, John Borland.
Because of restrictions with wartime travel, all but 2 of the players were local lads, and the playing squad in 1940 included: Robert Barrie, Barteloni, Willie Findlay, Dan Clancy, John Maule, Jim Murray, J Curley, Archie Taylor, I McRae, John Blair, McClure. Stepping down to the Juniors was the best thing that the Vale could possibly have done. It positioned them to play at a level which matched their economic and playing resources, and allowed them to regularly draw in crowds of 1,000 plus in the post-war period. That in turn attracted good players to the club and in 1947 the Vale won the Evening Times Central League Championship. The big prize was, of course, the Scottish Junior Cup, a notoriously difficult trophy to win. However, the Vale had built up an excellent back-room staff, led since 1941 by President Hugh Craig, who was also a County Councillor in Alexandria. By 1951, Hugh had seen enough to realise that a wee bit of tweaking to the organisation would help their on-field performance and he proposed that a single person rather than the Match Committee should be managing the team. should be managing the team.
He convinced his management committee to appoint Alex Galbraith as Match Secretary, which was a common but inappropriate title because he was in fact the manager of the team. This was an inspired choice. Although Alex’s father and his brother played for the Vale, and his two sisters played hockey for Vale FPs, Alex himself was happy to admit that he had never played for anyone. No matter, within two seasons Alex had built a formidable team which was a mixture of many talents. In fact, most of the players did not come from the Vale, but that did not matter, they certainly played for the Vale. By season 1952–3 it looked as if that team might achieve something in the next few years, although with a notable exception nobody seems to have expected it to be in 1953. If urban myth is true, and it probably is in this case, that exception was Charlie Stewart, who became the newsagent in Bridge Square. It is said and was widely believed that Charlie backed the Vale to win the Cup before the season started and continued to back them with his winnings in every round, making enough money in the process to buy the shop. We can only hope that this story is true – it’s too good not to be.
There must have been times in the Vale’s march to the Hampden cup final that Charlie’s heart was in his mouth, but maybe less so as they progressed through the rounds. By the time they reached the semi-final, you had to be a true believer or think they had run out of luck when they were drawn against the much-fancied pride of Glasgow, Ashfield. The semi-final game was played on Saturday evening May 2, 1953, at Ibrox Park. Special trains had taken a large contingent of Vale supporters to the old Ibrox Station, and this swelled the crowd to 33,000. The game turned out to be much easier for the Vale than expected. They never gave Ashfield time to settle, and a hat-trick from their talisman, centre-forward Willie Cassidy saw the Vale run out 3-0 winners. This was in addition to the two goals which he had scored in the quarter-final win over Dunbar United by 2-0 at Millburn. Crowds waited at the Fountain for the return of the officials and the few local players – a mild foretaste of what was to come.
Annbank United, the Vale’s opponents in the final, were favourites to win the Cup. They had a big strong team – bigger man for man than the Vale – and they were a very good passing side. They had perfected the offside-trap en route to the final. The Hampden crowd was variously put at 53,000 and 56,000, but in any event the Vale villages and the town of Dumbarton were pretty well empty of people on that Saturday afternoon, May 23, 1953. The Vale team was exactly the same as the one which had beaten Ashfield three weeks before: Chummy Gilmour
(captain); J McNicol; John McKenzie, Jimmy Moran, Maurice Buchanan and Willie Gailey; Alex Mayberry, Frank McKeevor, Willie Cassidy, Jackie Moffat, and John Borland. Match Secretary: Alex Galbraith, Trainer Gordon Conway. The referee was the same person who took charge of the Vale’s semi-final against Ashfield – EH Youngson of Aberdeen
Unfortunately, the crowd didn’t see a very good game, partly because the Vale didn’t play particularly well, but mainly because of the negative off-side tactics of Annbank. They were springing the trap almost on the half-way line and the crowd was not impressed. Both sides missed chances, but with ten minutes to go, Willie Cassidy scored with a fine left-foot shot. The Vale managed to see out the last 10 minutes and then the party began. Win or lose, arrangements were already in place for a procession through Renton and Alexandria and a Civic Reception in the District Council headquarters in the Gilmour Institute in Gilmour Street.
Vale of Leven’s 1953 Scottish Cup winning team pictured at the Gilmour Institute in Alexandria.
Pictures courtesy Vale of Leven History website at valeofleven.org.uk
The team bus stopped at the Renton War Memorial, at that time out at the Howgate, where the Renton Pipe Band fell in and led it and the entourage of following the coaches through the streets of Renton, lined with cheering crowds. At Burnbrae, Bonhill Parish Pipe Band, still the reigning Cowal Games champions, fell in ahead of Renton Pipe Band and took over leadership of the procession. The Main Street had crowds on both sides, but progress was relatively easy. As they approached the Fountain, however, the crowds thickened and from Mitchell Street and Overtoun Street to Gilmour Street it was a real struggle for the police to keep a passage-way clear. Tom Glen was busy taking still photos and Charlie Wingate was equally busy taking cine-film, which was made into a film about the Vale and the Coronation and shown at the Strand in Bank Street. The output from both of these sources shows quite clearly the density of the crowd. The police estimated that in the area of the Fountain and Gilmour Street there were 7,000 people, so when you include Renton and the rest of Main Street Alexandria, just about the whole of the Vale had turned out to welcome the returning heroes. The Coronation was to take place just a few weeks later, and many street decorations and floodlights were already in place for that. The Fountain and the Gilmour Institute were floodlit, and a nice touch was provided by the Admiralty as dusk approached – they turned on the Torpedo Factory’s Coronation floodlights and illuminations in honour of the Vale’s success. After the Civic Reception, the team also took the Cup on a tour of the Vale before returning it to the Gilmour Institute for safe keeping. That was a very long and happy Saturday night in the Vale.
The Vale only held on to the Scottish Cup for another five months because in a third round second replay against Clydebank at Boghead on November 28, 1953, they lost 2-1. The official attendance for this match was 14,000 which was in reality wide of the mark. Most people who were there, be they Sons of the Rock, Bankies or Jeelie-Eaters put the attendance at over 20,000 and this game is unofficially regarded as the ground record for Boghead Park, which is held for a Sons’ cup tie against Raith Rovers. Although the Cup season was over for the Vale, honours still came the way of the players. Cassidy and Mayberry were selected to play for Junior Scotland and Moran, Gilmour and Gailey were reserves. A measure of just how popular football became in the Vale and surrounding areas in the period immediately after the founding of Vale of Leven Football and Athletic Club is the number of other clubs which were formed, and the number of different locations in which these clubs found pitches on which to play. Some of them became quite successful for a short time playing in the Scottish Cup, but not quite competing with the mighty Vale and Renton. Quite a few survived into the 20th century, but only Renton Thistle and Renton Victoria of this list of smaller clubs, survived in continuous existence into the 1920s. A host of other clubs emerged, of course, in the 20th century, playing at different levels to take their place in the Vale football spectrum. The included Dumbarton FC. Formed 1872. Colours (1876) dark blue jerseys, white knickers with blue stripe and red hose. 1885 Black and gold vertical striped jerseys, white knickers. Grounds: (1876) Lowman’s Park, Glasgow Road Dumbarton. 1877 Private Park, Townend. (1879) Boghead Park. Helensburgh. Formed 1874. (1876) blue and yellow jersey and knickers, black hose. (1885) Blue jersey, white knickers. Grounds (1876) Ardenconnel Park (1877) Kirkmichael Park, Old Luss Road. (1885) Mossend. Helensburgh survived until well into the 20th century, and were for a period a Senior club. They were leaders of the Scottish League’s Third Division when it collapsed in 1926 and but for that collapse would have been promoted into the Second Division where they would surely have survived for even longer. For all their efforts over 50 years or so they deserved a better fate than that. There were 2 other Helensburgh teams from this period. Helensburgh Union which was in existence around 1895 and probably earlier, and Victoria (1878). The information for this article was culled, with the permission of Bryan Weir, from the excellent valeofleven.org.uk website which has voluminous information on football in the Vale during the past century and more. It covers the full history of the great game in the Vale covering the senior, junior, amateur, juvenile, schools and women’s football. Given the part that Vale teams and Vale people played in the development of Association Football in Scotland from its earliest days, it is inevitable that there is such a rich seam to mine. The story is told in great detail and has a very modern feel to it, involving as it does not only fine athletes and exemplary sportsmen on and off the park, outstanding football ability and epic struggles on the park, but many of the less savoury characteristics of football – refereeing controversies, club politics, hypocrisy, mendacity, self-interest, illegal payments and financial problems. The website deals with “just about everything that makes headlines in to-day’s game, in fact, except sex, unless you include the teenager who planted a kiss on Chummy Gilmour’s cheek as he carried the Junior Cup into the Gilmour Institute in 1953.”
Look at the crowd – Vale of Leven v Annbank United from Ayrshire.
The 1953 Scottish Cup winners reunite to celebrate Vale’s golden jubilee in 1989. Back (left to right) Angus Wallace (Treasurer), Willie Cassidy, Jim Campbell (President), Willie Gailey, Jackie Moffat, Maurice Buchanan, Frank McKeevor, Jimmy Moran, John McKenzie. Front – Harry McCulloch (Vice President), Alex Mayberry, John Borland and James Brown (Match Secretary).