More ups than downs at Glasgow’s ‘other’ team
Relegation helped ‘to cleanse’ Pollok but return has been garnished with cup final
PARTICK THISTLE, with their quirky mascot and other arty pretensions, like to style themselves as “the great Glasgow alternative”. Pollok FC must look at the sanitised all-seater surrounds of Firhill, the 20-odd quid admission ticket and Thistle’s top-flight fixture list and think they might just have a better claim on such a title.
For those becoming increasingly disenchanted with the way the professional game is going – the stooshie over Jose Mourinho’s “image rights” grated like fingernails down a blackboard – there is something refreshingly old-school about life in the Scottish junior ranks. And Pollok, a fixture on Glasgow’s south side since 1908, are one of its more prominent clubs.
Thousands will journey down the M77 to Rugby Park tomorrow for their first appearance in the ETHX Energy Scottish Junior Cup final since 1998 where Beith will stand in the way of a first Pollok success for 19 years. Like every club, their numbers will be bolstered by those who only turn up for the big occasions, but among them will be the hardcore rump of around 600 to 700 who are there every week to watch their team, drawn in both by the standard of football as well as the traditional matchday experience that is a far cry from the sterilised professional ranks.
“I started supporting Pollok in 1975 when I was 13 and there were only three live games of football on TV all year: the Scottish Cup final, the Scotland versus England international and the Scottish Junior Cup final,” recalled Stuart MacDonald, until recently the Pollok president and now their vice-president.
“Now you can probably watch three games from the Copa Libertadores on any given day on your Sky box. So the clamour and threat of televised football means we have to try to market the club in a different way, to make it more of a social experience.
“I think people who have an affection for a club will make an extra effort to come out for a cup final. But I’ve been tracking it since the beginning of the season and our attendances week in, week out – apart from a poor December – have been higher than five of the 10 matches in Leagues 1 and 2. So it’s not just about the 1645 who came out for our semifinal. We’ve actually had good crowds consistently throughout the season.
“On Sunday, Beith, whose average crowd is maybe 300, will likely bring 3000 as their whole village will come out. Pollok’s supporter base probably extends from the Gorbals up to Eaglesham, it’s not a village. People tell me Beith is bedecked in black and white and you won’t get that in Shawlands. But on a week-to-week basis we get double their crowds. I’m sure we’ll get a bump for the final but I’m delighted that on a regular basis we’ve got a very loyal following.
“I think that’s a reflection on the value for money – it’s only £6 for adults and £3 for concessions at a league game – and the team playing an attractive and successful brand of football. Plus, people can stand on terracing, you can move around and meet your pals. So we’re trying to create a family experience.”
There have been attempts to connect more with the neighbouring Shawlands and Newlands communities, including a Christmas food bank collection and a tie-in with the Pollok United soccer academy in Corkerhill. Trying to drum up interest in a city with four senior clubs – five if you include Clyde whose spiritual home remains Rutherglen – is not easy but Pollok will not stint in trying.
“A club can’t exist in a vacuum now, it’s got to be a part of its community,” added MacDonald. “We’ve tried to appeal also to floating fans, especially with Rangers and Celtic playing so infrequently on a Saturday at 3pm these days. I’ve got acquaintances who support the Old Firm and I try to get them along to Pollok whenever I can. And they’re always impressed by the style and standard of play.”
Pollok, perhaps surprisingly, have won the Scottish Cup on only three occasions, the dates – 1981, 1985 and 1997 – forming part of MacDonald’s Twitter handle. They have endured some difficult times of late, including relegation just two years ago, but MacDonald believes their subsequent renaissance has served them well.
“I became president at the AGM on April 30, 2014 and two days before we had been relegated,” he added. “But, with hindsight, it was probably the best thing that could have happened to the club. It gave us a chance to acknowledge things weren’t working, to do a bit of cleansing and make a fresh start.”
FOCUSED: Manager Tony McInally will look to deliver Pollok’s first Scottish Cup success since 1997.