The small North Lanarkshire town of Coatbridge just outside of Glasgow’s city limits has had Albion Rovers as a Scottish League club in continuous membership since 1919, although they first gained election in 1903. The “Wee Rovers” or more recently shortened to just “The Vers” were formed in 1882 from a merger of Albion and Rovers, and despite that long history have enjoyed very few days in the sun. Their undoubted greatest day came in 1920 when the club reached the final of the Scottish Cup. The Wee Rovers bested mighty Rangers in a semi final that went to a second replay, but succumbed bravely in the final to Kilmarnock. An incredible crowd of 95,600 witnessed the final at Hampden which Killie won by three goals to two.
Only a few months prior to that final Albion had moved into Cliftonhill Stadium on Christmas Day 1919. The stadium is on the Main Road in Coatbridge. Nowadays only the main stand and paddock are used for most matches giving a capacity of just over 1,200. The old stand was augmented by a canopy for the paddock in 1994 which, while offering additional covered accommodation, hinders sightlines further from the wooden seats which already had several load bearing pillars obstructing the view. Given the dereliction of the covered terrace opposite it seems scarcely conceivable that in February 1936 27,500 people were somehow shoehorned into Cliftonhill for a Scottish Cup tie with Rangers. Even this seasons 2,950 crowd against Motherwell could not be housed at Cliftonhill, the tie being switched to Hamilton’s New Douglas Park. The 1994 stand extension was a precursor to turbulent times for the club, the board had voted to move away from Cliftonhill and groundshare with Airdrieonians. The fans of the Wee Rovers mobilised and eventually ousted the incumbent board, voting to remain at their beloved Cliftonhill.
Floodlights had come to Cliftonhill in 1968 but the current system was acquired from Cardiff Arms Park when that stadium was cleared to make way for the Millennium Stadium.
Today’s match had a fairly even opening half with the visitors marginally on top. The closest the Spiders came to opening the score came when a Ross Fisher header crashed against the crossbar. The visitors were still in the ascendancy when Liam Cusack capitalised on some poor defending to open the scoring moments before the break.
It was the Vers that dominated the second half and it was no surprise when they doubled their lead on 69 minutes, Chaplain bursting clear of a square defence and slotting past the keeper with some aplomb. The visitors gave Albion some nervy final minutes when a fired in free kick from Fisher was haplessly headed into his own net by Micky Dunlop. An equaliser did not, however, materialise and as the unrelenting rain battered the leaky old stand roof it was the Wee Rovers that trudged off the muddy field deserving victors.
Cliftonhill is undoubtedly in a state of considerable dereliction, but it has character in every pore and crumbling terrace block. I’m sure the 500 odd that gather for most home matches would not have it any other way.
Scottish Professional League Division Two – Saturday December 28th 2013
Albion Rovers (1) 2 (Cusack 44, Chaplain 69)
Queen’s Park (0) 1 (M.Dunlop og 84)
Attendance: 538 (at Cliftonhill Stadium)
1. Neil Parry, 2. Alan Reid, 3. Ross Dunlop, 4. Barry Russell, 5. Ciaran Donnelly (c), 6. Michael Dunlop, 7. Liam Cusack, 8. Scott Chaplain, 9. Mark McGuigan, 10. Christopher Dallas, 11. Gary Phillips.
Subs: 12. David Crawford, 14. Jordan Allan (for 11, 75 mins), 15. Josh Flood, 16. Martin Maguire, 17. Matthew McGinley, 18. Kevin Nicoll (for 8,88 mins), 19. Ryan Tiffney (for 10,88 mins)
1. Lucas Birnstingl, 2. Ross Fisher, 3. Bernard Coll, 4. James Brough, 5. Scott Gibson, 6. Michael Keenan (c), 7. Blair Spittal, 8. Gavin Mitchell, 9. João Periera Vitoria, 10. Liam Gormley, 11. Paul Gallacher.
Subs: 12. Conor McVey (for 8,75 mins), 14. Ricky Lamie, 15. Thomas Collins (for 11,80 mins), 16. Lee Davison (for 9,88 mins), 17. Shaun Rooney, 18. James Baty, 20. Blair Lochhead.
M.Dunlop, Russell, Reid, Phillips (all Albion), Brough (Queen’s Park)