This won’t mean much to many people outside of Whitehill Welfare, but Cliftonhill has a special meaning for supporters of the Lowland League side from Rosewell. As an East of Scotland League side, it was at Cliftonhill on a February night in 1987 that the Welfare recorded their only Scottish Cup win against a Scottish League side, managed by Tommy Gemmell. Perhaps a surprising statistic as Whitehill, a fairly big name in the non-League scene, and record winners of the old EOSL (16 times), have only once pulled off this feat despite some notable replays and keeping Celtic to 3 goals in 1996. The programme cover shows Tony Gallagher scoring for Rovers against Gala Fairydean the previous season.
What will not be a huge surprise is that it’s Rovers who have this unwelcome blot on their history, as for many years they have dwelt in the basement of Scottish football and have been the butt of many cruel jokes. A shame, since this friendly wee club is run by some fantastic, committed people.
Rovers can claim a history back to 1882 and the stadium’s opening dates back to Christmas day 1919. Some cruel observers might say that it hasn’t changed since. The photos below date from 1936 and 1950 and show that it has changed (a bit). It once held 27381 for a cup tie against Rangers in 1936. Of course the most famous man to wear the Rovers jersey (94 times in the late forties) was Jock Stein.
With its distinctive red and yellow main stand, Cliftonhill sits like a beacon above the town of Coatbridge and is easy to find. It’s one of those grounds which has English groundhoppers salivating while it’s always been fashionable in Scotland to dismiss it as a ‘dump’ and debate whether it’s worse than, say, Cowdenbeath or Alloa.
I first wandered along to the Wee Rovers in 1993. At that time the Rovers were regularly bottom of the pile in a 3 division setup, and will be thankful that there were no pyramid playoffs back then, otherwise who knows how they might have ended up. On that March day they lost 2-0 to Berwick Rangers and were to finish bottom with 22 points and only 6 wins. The League still had a year to go before expanding to 4 divisions and so there were no ICT, Ross County or Livingston, and the days of Meadowbank Thistle were numbered.
Back then it was still possible to watch games from the hill above the ground as my photos show, and a small number gathered there regularly, but nowadays a combination of new housing and mature trees makes this very difficult.
When ICT entered the League and progressed upwards, I had a few visits as an away supporter. The last time ICT were in town, football was the last thing on the mind of most people. The date was September 11th 2001. As we supped our pre-match pints the TV screen showed repeated footage of the Twin Towers collapsing and a few people even wondered if it was appropriate to be playing that night.
In the event ICT progressed to Round 2 of the League Cup with 2 late Paul Ritchie goals. Some wag in the Rovers support was continually shouting ‘Get into these pensioners!’ so of course when ICT’s first goal went in we sang ‘One-nil, to the pensioners’. Well I suppose you had to be there. ICT’s involvement in the Cup ended at Somerset Park in the quarter final, taking the lead through Ross Tokely then losing not only Tokely (a red card a minute later, for retaliation on Pat McGinlay) but five goals as well.
So for the purpose of this blog I decided to come back for another look since nearly 15 years had passed. Rovers were playing Motherwell in a pre-season friendly and I was tempted. Rovers had made history in 2013 by knocking ‘Well out of the Scottish Cup with a last-minute goal at Hamilton, and were now a League 1 side. I suppose a part of me hoped to see Mark McGhee, Motherwell’s very own Mr Grumpy, being even grumpier.
From bitter experience I knew about the road works on the A8/M8 at Newhouse so I devised a cunning plan and nipped off the M8 at J5, Shotts, then along a B-road and onto the A73, dodging past Airdrie by Calderbank. This actually worked too well and I was parking up before 2 o’clock so I sat and listened to Stuart and Tam for a while.
There were a few early ‘Well fans hanging around as the gates weren’t open yet. I had a walk round for some photos and surprisingly was able to walk in an open gate round at the East end. As I finished my photos I saw a steward starting to take interest in me so I gave him a friendly wave then left.
Calum Ferguson from ICT was playing as a trialist for Rovers and did some good work, robbing Stephen McManus and setting up Willis for a good finish in 25 minutes. He was subbed at half time but his contribution earned him a contract. However it was to be ‘No More Mr Grumpy’ as Mark McGhee’s side upped a gear and scored twice before the interval. In a flurry of substitutions they eventually strolled to a 3-1 win.
So what was Cliftonhill like? Well it was good to see the East terracing was getting some work done so it looked like reopening soon. Not sure what the score is with the large North terracing which has never been open in my memory. It was one of those summer days with sunny spells and torrential showers and I can confirm that the stand roof leaks quite badly 😀
However, speaking to the friendly staff, a lot is happening at Cliftonhill including a new shop and the club are trying to improve the ground despite obvious financial restraints and crowds of 600.