By Bill Heaney

Now that we have a new council controlled by the Scottish Labour Party in office at West Dunbartonshire Council, what changes for the better can we hope to see across the community?

The first one we would all like to see is an end to the scandal of hungry children and the shameful policy of the SNP government and the SNP council’s threat to recover through debt collection methods unpaid dinner money by skint parents who would pay but can’t pay what they owe.

However, there are so many other important issues affecting not just the physical health of local people, but their mental health too.

It’s a matter of misery for many for example that entertainment in Dumbarton has suffered badly during the last five years of SNP maladministration.

When they were given a promise of £20 million from Boris Johnston’s “levelling up” scheme to regenerate the town centre, the SNP council admitted they hadn’t a clue what to do with the money.

So, they agreed to call in consultants to speak to local people and ask them what they would like to see replace the concrete ‘Sixties architecture of Dumbarton Town Centre and the crumbling monstrosity  that passes for a shopping centre in Mitchell Way, Alexandria.

Well, I am no expert on these matters and I fully accept that neither are our elected representatives on the Council.

Just as they haven’t a clue what to do about the price of petrol and diesel which has the price indicator spinner ever upwards on the pumps.

Surely, however, they must have a few ideas up their sleeves.

For example, they could re-open the Civic Theatre and start to stage live entertainment on a regular basis as well turn it into a temporary cinema to replace The Rialto in order to screen films on a couple of nights a week.

That happens in other places which have far smaller populations, but are able to sustain it all year round.

And The Rialto, which is on sale at a bargain basement price right now,  could be demolished and the contiguous site of Dumbarton Bowling Club taken over for a new health centre to replace the current one which is well past its sell-by date and falling apart.

Bowling clubs are having a hard time recruiting members these days, so it wouldn’t be impossible to merge the ‘Big Green’ with the Dixon Bowling Club at Kirktonhill, which has been forced to half the number of greens it has available for playing on there.

Then there the ongoing issue of Dumbarton Football Club. Having been relegated to League Two, there is once again widespread speculation locally that the club could sell its stadium at the Rock for house-building, making the new owners a handsome profit in the process.

But where would that money go?

Few people believe that it would be be kept in the office safe at whatever and wherever becomes the new Boghead, but that could happen if only there was the will in the community for that.

And the cash in the stadium safe from the deal with the house builders was tucked away nicely in the bank.

The time is right for a new relationship to be formed between Dumbarton FC and West Dunbartonshire Council.

A relationship that would prove beneficial to both parties, of course.

Club chairman Neil Mackay, pictured right, said: “We can very much relate to the frustration of our fans at the moment. The significance of this occurring in our 150th anniversary year is not lost on us.

“We are all invested in this club, whether by parting with hard earned cash at the turnstile or by spending many hours each week working behind the scenes.

“The very real challenge is that, like many clubs at this level, we operate on a very tight budget, relying heavily on the goodwill and the efforts of volunteers who give so generously of their time – we are hugely grateful to them.

“The club’s owners have ambitious plans which, if successful, will provide us with significant revenue and much improved facilities.”

But what are the plans? The last lot of plans submitted to the council,which involved a move to Young’s Farm on the Renton Road, were a loser from the start

Dr Mackay said: “Independent of this, however, and mindful of the need to work to effect change in the areas over which we do have influence, the board will continue to expend considerable effort to implement disciplines and strategies to ensure the financial stability of the club with the ultimate aim of improving the fan experience both on and outwith matchdays.

“We are now midway through the period of our current strategic planning cycle and have made substantial progress towards creating a stable financial platform with significant debt reduction and a healthier bank balance when compared to a period approximately three short years ago when there was very genuine anxiety as the club approached its overdraft limit.

“In simple terms, if we continue to exert careful control on expenditure, whilst maximising income through sponsorship, business partnerships, event hosting and providing an attractive matchday experience, the ultimate beneficiary is the playing budget and the quality of the performance on the park.

“Essential to all of this is the reputation of the club and the brand which we are working hard to promote – we all have a part to play in this.”

These are fine-sounding words, but I for one don’t believe they will save the Sons of the Rock.

The only way to save a football club is to get the crowds back.

And the only way to attract crowds in their thousands as happened in the Seventies is to win football matches.

The only way to win matches is to put good players on the park, players who can score goals and stack up points.

That’s what Sons did in the Seventies when they attracted players from senior clubs such as Celtic and Rangers to play for them at Fatal Boghead. Some were free transfers.

If they sold the present ground, they would have the money in the bank to do just that, to attract the likes of Davy Wilson of Rangers and Charlie Gallagher into the team.

Success has never been brought to any club be anyone by selling pies and programmes and flogging tickets for half-time draws, although these things are unquestionably a great help to the club.

No one can accuse Dumbarton of doing nothing. Dr Mackay says: “Significant progress has been and is being made in a variety of other areas. For example, our aging and unreliable floodlights have recently been replaced by energy-efficient LED equivalents, and we have just taken delivery of GPS tracking vests to monitor player performance and fitness.

“A new website with greatly improved functionality is under construction, from which event and match tickets will be able to be purchased, as well as via a mobile phone app.

“Effective fan engagement is a priority. We have, in recent months, extended invitations to the Sons Supporters Trust to engage in regular meetings with the objective of developing a collaborative partnership in a spirit of openness and transparency and the board of Dumbarton Football Club still hopes that this might come to fruition.”

Openness and transp;arency are weasel words in the mouths of politicians. They promise the earth and deliver a wasteland or a swamp. Sons have to do better than that.

Dumbarton FC could sell the land to the builders. They could move to Millburn Park in Alexandria where Vale of Leven Juniors were once a force in the land, but they would need financial assistance and co-operation from the Council to do that.

However, if the SNP council could afford to give, not lend, Exxon, one of the biggest and richest oil companies in the world £6 million to clean up the land they themselves had polluted at their old tank farm and terminal at Bowling, they should be able to find enough in the kitty to buy Millburn Park and build a new stadium for Dumbarton.

It was St Peter who said: “Upon this Rock …”

I know it will take pounds and prayers to put Dumbarton back at the top of the league, but it’s worth trying.

At the very least, it’s worth talking about in the Council as something that would be worthwhile if the mental health of the community were given a boost and if the football results being announced at 4.40pm on a Saturday ceased to end with the soul destroying words Dumbarton nil.

Dumbarton Football Club May 1972 Manager Jackie Stewart and players celebrate promotion to old First Division Boghead dressing room

The Sons team in 1972 celebrate the kind of success the club now desperately seeks.

One comment

  1. If you look at old maps of Dumbarton you will see that much of the land around the Dumbarton Rock is actually reclaimed land from the river estuary and like the landfill site on the other side of the river there may be questions about the suitability of these sites to build house on.

    There may also be questions about how landfill reclamation has affected the hydrology of the river.

    Considering this consideration should maybe be given to turning the east and west banks of the mouth of the river Leven into bespoke recreational areas. Most certainly Sandpoint could be utilized for that purpose and could be used to create river – water sports facilities, tourist attractions like a heritage centre, outdoor barbecue facilities, and potentially an iconic foot bridge linking the town and the Levengrove Park could be added.

    Indeed, with a new gymnasium nearing completion at the end of Woodyard Road to replace the decrepit Marinecraft gym the area is crying out for more of that type of development. Good quality development that will enhance the area, make the area more attractive to visitors.

    The area could also be used to create some good quality Clyde side moorings where boats could arrive and moor over the course of a day or two stop to visit the Castle and maybe nearby loch Lomond. Yacht and power boat facilities are growing all along the Clyde. The SECC, the Braehead Centre, the Glasgow Casino all have moorings. But they are far up the tidal Clyde whereas Dumbarton, albeit still tidal, is nearer. Why couldn’t Dumbarton be used as a gateway for boats to arrive and visit the environs. And yes, a football club, in the town, in the shadow of an iconic rock fortress, is very much a part of the town.

    As so for the Son’s, is their ground really so bad, or is it the owners just want to sell the land on for housing and land that may not actually be suitable for housing. These are the discussions that the community needs to have.

    Truly the area could be so much more and Dumbarton FC should be part of it.

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