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How new home has reignited Clydebank's football dreams

One of the old famous names of Scottish football is gearing up for a new era.

By Kevin Scott

For most football fans, the name Clydebank conjures up images of Scottish legend Davie Cooper, Marti Pellow posing in the iconic Wet Wet Wet strip and the crumbling, dilapidated Kilbowie Park.

That was back in the mid-1990s when the Bankies plied their trade in the second tier of Scottish football.

They had enjoyed many successful years as a senior club, but a long period of decline began when Kilbowie was sold by the club's owners, the Steedman family, in 1996 with no concrete future plans in place for a new home within the town boundaries.

Clydebank spent the following six seasons playing their 'home' matches in Dumbarton and Greenock, chipping away at their loyal band of fans. Many of them did not have the time, money or enthusiasm to travel those distances every second week to offer their support.

The club was also sold to expat businessman John Hall, whose main motive, it was later discovered, was to relocate Clydebank to Dublin. The move sparked protests and was ultimately overruled by FIFA.

Local boys Wet Wet Wet were proud sponsors of Clydebank.
Local boys Wet Wet Wet were proud sponsors of Clydebank. SNS

The storm clouds were well and truly gathering, however, and the death knell sounded a few years later.

Further east into North Lanarkshire, the heavily indebted Airdrieonians FC were liquidated. Their attempts to rejoin the league as the newly formed Airdrie United faltered when Gretna FC were granted membership of the Scottish football league ahead of them.

But Airdrie spotted an opportunity in Clydebank at the end of the 2001-02 season. They made a bid to take over the Bankies' place in the Second Division, effectively moving the club to Airdrie and renaming it Airdrie United.

The bid was accepted by administrators despite a rival offer by Clydebank supporters.

Airdrie United did agree to sign over the club name and crest back to Clydebank, ensuring its timeline as an institution remained intact. But ultimately Clydebank FC were out of the senior game and dropped into the junior ranks.

They have been there ever since and start this season as members of the West Super League Premier Division.

"When initially (we) kind of fell away from the senior game, the first question was to get back in the game as quick as we can, but also the main aim was to get back into the senior game," said manager Kieran McAnespie.

"The avenues to get us back aren't as straightforward as we would like but there is certainly light at the end of the tunnel we can achieve that opportunity when it comes."

Kilbowie is now a retail park. Marti Pellow is performing summer concerts around the United Kingdom. And it's fast approaching the 25th anniversary of Davie Cooper's death; the ex Rangers and Motherwell star died of a brain haemorrhage in March 1995, just months before he was due to retire and become first-team coach.

Times have changed but Clydebank are preparing to embrace a brand new era, a new chapter in their journey to what they hope will culminate in a return to the senior game.

A huge crowd watched Clydebank v Rangers at Kilbowie in 1987.
A huge crowd watched Clydebank v Rangers at Kilbowie in 1987. SNS

"When it happened, 18 years ago, we went out the game and Airdrieonians overtook us - it was horrible," said supporter Stephen McLaren. "It just felt a big part of our life was taken away."

Those sentiments were echoed by fellow supporter Eddie Campbell, who said: "Obviously, depressing when things went downhill but since we came back to junior ranks it's been great."

This Saturday, Clydebank play their first home competitive league match at the redeveloped Holm Park, a ground they share equally with local rivals Yoker Athletic.

The Bankies welcome Kilwinning to their upgraded, permanent home, which features a 4G synthetic surface and new floodlights.

A small band of supporters have stuck with the club through all of the trials and tribulations of the last 18 years.

As the sun set over Holm Park on Monday evening, they reminisced about glamorous pre-season friendlies against Aston Villa, cup ties versus the Old Firm.

In the background, their side were taking on Yoker in the League Cup group stage.

The journey up Scottish football's pyramid system is a long one, but for those loyal fans this weekend marks another important milestone on that journey.

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