News, Culture & Society

The future of the original Hampden hangs in the balance  

A padlocked pavilion on the south side of Glasgow is all that remains of the world’s first purpose-built football stadium.

The terraced slopes, changing rooms, turnstiles, season books and player baths of the first Hampden Park set the template for Wembley, the Maracana, the Santiago Bernabeu and the San Siro to follow. And at the Annual General Meeting of the Hampden Bowling Club on Sunday night, the old place could be mothballed forever.

A tarpaulin sheet covers a roof riddled with asbestos and leaking Victorian tiles. The doors of the iconic pavilion are now double bolted. And, 24 hours after the third and current Hampden plays host to 50,000 fans in a World Cup qualifier against Israel, the fate of its older sibling will be placed in the hands of the local community.

A registered charity, the bowling club – and the history it entombs – will be wound up unless new committee members raise their hands in the air. For anyone bold enough, the task thereafter is to raise the £150,000 needed to restore the building which sheltered Andrew Watson, Charles Campbell and the revolutionary Scotch Professors – inventors of the passing game – from the wind and rain.

The original Hampden Park, the first purpose-built football stadium in the world,  is at risk of being demolished as members of the bowling club need to raise £150,000 to save it 

‘Sunday is D-Day,’ says Fifer Graeme Brown, stepping down as club secretary after six-and-a-half years. ‘It’s massive. We have an AGM and the 70-plus members are invited plus members of the community.

‘At the end of the meeting, the existing committee will stand down and we will try to re-elect at least five new trustees of the charity.

‘If we can’t do that, the bowling club – and the first Hampden – will be lost on Sunday night.

‘I think we will get a committee. But it needs the right committee to drive it on.

‘The bowling club is owned by City Properties, an arm of Glasgow City Council. If we don’t exist, the lease will be terminated and revert to City Properties.

‘The best case scenario is for someone with a football interest to come along and throw a ring of steel around it for a while until we sort out what happens next.’

When Brown moved home to Kingsley Avenue in 2011, he knew nothing of the origins of the lawn bowling club across the road. Responding to a flyer through the door appealing for new members he joined the club as a social member a year later. The obsession which would fuel his every waking hour was taking root.

‘When I joined as a social member I walked past three framed pictures,’ he recalls. ‘Alec Gray was a retired member and he asked me if I knew the history. I’m actually a Glenrothes boy who moved to Glasgow when I was 17 and never left.

A drone shot shows the stricken bowling club (bottom) and the current Hampden Park (top)

A drone shot shows the stricken bowling club (bottom) and the current Hampden Park (top)

‘I had no idea of the history and he said to me: “You’re sitting on the site of the first Hampden”.

‘He then brought through the three pictures. One featured the first Scottish Cup final, played here. The second was a picture of the first Hampden pavilion with the Queen’s Park committee sitting outside in 1878. The third pic was the scorecard from Wanderers vs Queen’s Park in 1875.

‘He told me the ladies changing room as it is today was the England team’s changing room. And we were sitting in the Scotland changing room filling out my membership form.

‘I said: “What you on about? Hampden is up the road…”

‘He said: “No, no, that’s the third Hampden built. Cathkin Park was the second and this was the original”.

‘The problem, Alec told me, was that there was no map to prove it. No one believed them.’

It took time and dogged detective work to find proof that the bowling club was indeed the home to Queen’s Park and Scotland’s national team for a decade between 1873 and 1883. Confirmation arrived on Saturday March 11, 2017; the 135th anniversary of the day Scotland thrashed England 5-1 in a victory now marked by a striking mural on the back wall of the pavilion.

‘Ged O’Brien, the Scottish football historian, had been looking for the site of the original Hampden for 30 years,’ Brown explains. ‘The problem the bowling club had was that there was no ordnance survey map which actually showed where the first Hampden was.

‘Members of the club had gone through the National Library of Scotland and all the maps done at the time only showed the bowling club, with no mention of a football ground.’

Some suspected the first Hampden had actually been located on the Queen’s Park Recreation Ground across the road. Recognising the impact a positive ID might have on the ailing fortunes of the bowling club Brown set about solving the riddle.

‘I wrote to the National Records of Scotland when I got fed up of people saying: “Prove it”.

‘All we knew was that first Hampden was in the shadow of Hampden Terrace.

‘The other clue was that the Cathcart Circle suburban railway was built right through the middle of the old Hampden, forcing Queen’s Park to move. The railway paid for the flit to Cathkin Park – the second Hampden – and I thought there must be a record of that.

‘The entire record of the construction of the Cathcart railway line is in the National Records of Scotland.

‘So I asked if they had anything referencing the section of track where the bowling club was.

‘After a couple of months they got in touch to say they had found two maps.

Graeme Brown is stepping down as secretary following six-and-a-half years with the club

Graeme Brown is stepping down as secretary following six-and-a-half years with the club

‘When we opened the A4 roundabout, there it was. ‘Football ground’ and a log underneath explaining it had a grandstand, slopes, pavilion, baths and named Richard Brown, president of Queen’s Park FC.’

Further confirmation has come from remnants uncovered during excavation work performed by Archaeology Scotland this summer and Brown – a proud Fifer – means no disrespect to the home of golf when he claims that the original Hampden should be treated with the same reverence as the Old Course at St Andrews.

‘We now have 100-per-cent cast-iron proof that the club is the site of the first Hampden,’ he says. ‘To me, the first Hampden is as important, if not more important, than St Andrews.

‘Look round the planet and there are more people play and follow football than golf. This Hampden is not recognised because it is the first one and not the third one.

‘But it really should be. It demonstrates Scotland’s role in football as we know it today. And to me this now should be a world heritage site. What we had here was the first football ground; the world’s first ever football pavilion.

‘It was the template for every football ground ever built since.

‘There should be a museum here with statues of pioneers like Andrew Watson and the original Scotch Professors who gave birth to the passing game. There should be a walk-through experience telling the story of football for future generations to enjoy.’

The current Hampden Park site is the third stadium that has been home to the national team

The current Hampden Park site is the third stadium that has been home to the national team

The story is already partially known to rail commuters on the Cathcart Circle thanks to the mural painted by artist Ashley Rawson, marking the famous Scotland 5-1 win of 1882.

Vandalised in February 2020, brewers Tennent’s stepped in to fund repairs with security measures installed to protect the work from future damage. The cost of protecting the bowling club – and the first Hampden – from extinction will be much higher.

‘We got quotes for repairs for £150k,’ says Brown. ‘It’s £100k to do the roof alone and a bowling club lives year to year. You don’t put money aside for refurbishment.

‘A white knight will only work if the community undertakes to keep taking care of it. No one is going to give money to a club if it doesn’t have the skill set to fix things.

‘The building is completely shut now. There is tarpaulin on one end and leaks on the way into the gent’s changing room. We had to close the season early because we couldn’t have people walking round a building with a leaking roof.

‘The community needs to wake up. If they don’t it’s a dead bowling club and you run the risk of developers coming in.

‘It wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to imagine a developer seeing the opportunity to market a block of flats called Hampden Heights. If the bowling club were to wind up, then that’s it. The first Hampden unwinds as well.’

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