It is a pleasure to welcome talented writer Callum Tyler to gibfootballshow. Too often Glasgow is known as a two team town, as Callum describes that’s really not the case.
I’m sitting in the downstairs lounge of my local sports club. Having just finished watching Liverpool’s latest capitulation against Manchester United I dart over to the Sky box and discreetly change the channel to Leicester versus Manchester City (as a City fan this is what I’ve come to see).
Midway through the first half Partick Thistle manager Ian McCall wanders in with his young son. McCall is decked out in full red, yellow and black Thistle tracksuit gear having, I assume, just come from a training session. I’ve seen him around here a lot but I’ve never talked to him. He notices the City shirt I’m wearing and surprises me by starting up a conversation about City’s chances in the Premier League. We discuss football sporadically throughout the match. He’s clearly passionate about the game and knows his stuff.
I feel I’ve annoyed some of the local patrons here. Celtic are playing Berwick Rangers (glamour tie it isn’t) over on ESPN at the same time as this game. One older man cannot comprehend that I’d rather watch “poxy English football” over a member of the Old Firm hammering a team from the lower reaches of Scottish football. I politely explain to him my allegiances and that I was here first. He walks away shaking his head.
The Old Firm dominate football here in Glasgow and, indeed, the rest of Scotland. But there is a third team. The mighty… Partick Thistle.
Thistle were formed in 1876 in the burgh of Partick (later to become part of Glasgow). Despite their name they haven’t played in Partick since 1908 and actually play in Maryhill, in the 10,887 capacity Firhill Stadium. Because of their location they are usually referred to just as “Thistle.” Although other nicknames include the more commonly used “Jags,” “The Harry Wraggs” and the quite brilliant “Maryhill Magyars.”
The first game was on the 19th February 1876 against a side called Valencia, not from Spain but a local junior side. A report in The North British Daily Mail gave this historic moment little more than a single sentence, “Partick Thistle v Valencia – Played on the ground of the former and resulting in their favour by one goal to nothing.” With football still in it’s infancy as a sport Thistle would only play friendlies against other fledging clubs in the area. Still without a permanent home Thistle won their first trophy on the 15th April 1879. The West Of Scotland Association Cup against Marchton at Hampden. Thistle won the tie 1-0 and the day was aptly summed up in the Glasgow Herald, “The game, which was contested, with perhaps more spirit than judgement, ended in favour of the Partick Thistle, who accordingly take the cup.”
For most of their history the club have had little success. Their greatest achievements are the Scottish Cup (final against Rangers) in 1921 and the Scottish League Cup (final against Celtic) in 1971. Thistle were unfancied in both and yet in ’71 demolished Celtic 4-1 having lead 4-0 at half time. The team from that day include some famous name. Ex-Liverpool defender cum pundit Alan Hansen and Scotland goalkeeper Alan Rough were in that side. Rough is a Partick Thistle legend, notching up an incredible 624 games for the club between 1969 and 1982. He now co-presents a football phone in show on Real Radio.
Having spent a fair bit of time in the lower divisions Thistle’s best finish in the top flight is third place on three occasions. The latest in 1963. The most success they’ve had in recent times was at the turn of the century when the club was managed by John Lambie.
Lambie, in his third stint as Thistle boss, guided the club to successive promotions between 2001 and 2002 culminating in promotion to the SPL. Lambie is a Thistle legend and in his second spell in charge he gained promotion to the Premier League in 1992. Despite a pitiful budget he managed to keep them there for the next three seasons before leaving again for a new challenge at Falkirk.
Lambie’s Wikipedia page describes him; “Lambie’s outspoken views and quirky personality – including a fondness for cigars and pigeon racing – made him a favourite ‘character’ in the Scottish football media.” On the way into Firhill the legend “Johnny Lambie’s Red and Yellow Army!” is scrawled in red and yellow paint along a wall. He retired from football after the last season in the SPL in 2003. Despite this there were some calls for him to be reinstated for a fourth term as caretaker in 2007 but the Thistle board rejected this idea on account of Lambie’s poor health.
Thistle have broken a few records in their history. They were the first Scottish team to play in the Intertoto Cup. The club’s website describes the action, “While we didn’t make it beyond the group stages, matches in Austria and France were great experiences…. The hundreds who travelled to Metz, in particular, will never forget the march to the ground and the sea of red and yellow that welcomed the team onto the pitch…”
They were also the first club in Scotland to ever wear a pink shirt, during the 2008/09 season. They still wear a garish pink camouflage away kit today.
Unfortunately Thistle couldn’t continue the success they had with Lambie and were promptly relegated. Twice. Another record. Lambie’s work was undone and they wouldn’t be promoted again until 2007 via the new playoff system. That was when McCall was appointed manager (after an unpredictable run that saw 4 managers sacked including the bizarre joint player-managers Derek Whyte and Gerry Britton).
McCall’s first season was also my first with Thistle. 6th in the league and a good cup run that ended with a Quarter Final defeat to Rangers. I was in the away end at Ibrox in the first leg when we took the lead, albeit we only kept it for 90 seconds. That was the best match I’ve seen Thistle play. Rangers were held at bay as we, the hyperactive away fans, screamed abuse at the home support, a number of which go to my school. However it all fell apart at Firhill. We lost 3-1 despite the added fun of seeing the despised Nacho Novo miss a penalty.
It got even better the next year. With a side built around influential midfielder Gary Harkins Thistle exceeded expectation, finishing 2nd behind St Johnstone in the Irn Bru Scottish Championship First Division (quite a name). Commanding goalkeeper Johnny Tuffey also became the club’s first full international in several years, winning a cap for Northern Ireland. Again Thistle got Rangers in the Cup and held them at 1-1 right up until the second half of extra time when a sublime finish by Pedro Mendes sent us crashing out of the cup.
Thistle are a welcome antidote to Celtic and Rangers and pride themselves in being anti sectarian in a city where religion makes a good way to slag off the other team. I can count the number of Thistle fans at my school on the one hand. The club has recently gained a reputation as having quite a middle class fanbase. It’s popular with students from the nearby university and Firhill is used as a place for middle class parents to take their kids to watch football away from all the hatred of the Old Firm. At the moment the team are sitting a respectable 6th in the table.
I started going to watch Thistle when I was invited to come along one day by my neighbours who have a season ticket. The ground is but a five minute walk from my house. The great thing about Thistle is that I know a lot of the people that go and I see them a lot at the ground. The very fact that I can watch a “poxy English game” with the manager at the local sports club is all part of the attraction. I’ve been in the away end at Morton and Dunfermline and while they’re not my first team Thistle have a certain charm about them that I don’t think the Old Firm has.
Of course Partick Thistle will forever be firmly in the shadow of the Old Firm. In a way it’s a shame. The club will always be known as the lesser neighbours of the two great rivals. One Firhill chant sums this up rather well,
“There’s a well-known Glasgow football team;
They don’t play in blue; they don’t play in green.”
It was perhaps an inspired decision then to scrap Thistle’s dark blue kit in the 1930s in favour of the red and yellow.
If you would like to read more of Callum’s fantastic writing and worry that he’s only 15 and can only get better, please visit the wonderfully named Jens Lehmann’s Terms, you can also follow Callum on twitter and let him know what you think.