More ups than downs at Glas­gow’s ‘other’ team

Rel­e­ga­tion helped ‘to cleanse’ Pol­lok but re­turn has been gar­nished with cup fi­nal

The Herald - Herald Sport - - SCOT­TISH JU­NIOR CUP FI­NAL - GRAEME MACPHER­SON

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.”

Pic­ture: Mark Gib­son

FO­CUSED: Man­ager Tony McI­nally will look to de­liver Pol­lok’s first Scot­tish Cup suc­cess since 1997.

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