Iain Murray shares his memories of watch East Stirlingshire FC and going to matches at Brockville Park.
My Dad used to work on Saturdays – and most of my early football memories revolve around my Grandad, Archie Fleming. By the time we started to go to football together my grandparents lived in Adam Street, near Victoria Park in Falkirk.
I loved going to their house – and was spoiled rotten when I was there. On Friday nights we would stay up late and watch black and white classic horror films like Frankenstein. I slept on the couch as they only had one bedroom and waited for Saturday morning. My Granny would always feed me till I burst, porridge (sugar not allowed) followed by well fired rolls with square sausage and tea. Later in the morning there was often wrestling to watch on TV – Kent Walton commentating and all the famous wrestlers of the day, Jackie Pallo, Mick McManus, Kendo Nagasaki and many more.
Before we headed out to the football, there was time for lunch. This was normally tripe with mashed potatoes. My Granny would start cooking the tripe on a Friday in order to tenderise it. The end product was a thick soup-like dish to which we added well-mashed potatoes. Long before BSE and very tasty!
East Stirlingshire FC
When I was younger my first experience of football was going to Firs Park to watch East Stirlingshire. I look back and think that this was probably due to my Grandad thinking that the larger crowds at Brockville would be more of a hazard. We’d normally stop off to see my uncle and aunt who lived in King Street – at that time they had an outside toilet at their back door, but Falkirk Town Council eventually installed indoor bathrooms. Uncle Jack would occasionally come along with us, but more often than not he would have a “homer” – laying bricks outside of his normal working week. He was a very keen photographer and this photo.
Just across Thornhill Road was the start of Firs Street and the turnstiles came into view, I remember the painted white wall with East Stirlingshire and the club badge above the turnstile gates.
My Grandad always “lifted me over” the turnstiles – he’d squeeze me in front of him, pay his cash and push us through into the ground. Opposite the gates lay the small grandstand, but we never went in there, the terracing was much more fun. I don’t remember much of the banter from those early days, but my Grandad was fairly well known in the area and someone always seemed to want to talk to him. If we were behind the Stewart Road end goals, I’d find myself squeezing behind the stand into the sidings area where the Scottish Rail Preservation Society used to keep their engines and carriages before eventually moving to Bo’ness. I was always out before the kick-off to see the teams emerge from the tunnel in the stand. Time to start cheering for the Shirey-Pirey!
I don’t remember any details of matches I saw – apart from one hammering at the hands of Hibernian, on a freezing cold, dark, misty afternoon or evening. I remember being frozen and miserable and suffering from chilblains!
Half-time was always something to look forward to. This was usually time to go to the refreshment hut to queue up for a bottle of lemonade, taking the bottle back saw a returned deposit and a chance to buy sweets – often supplemented by a penny or two from Grandad’s friends. There were a couple of brothers from a local large family who would act as a two-man recycling company and collect all the bottles from the men who couldn’t be bothered to return them and pocket the cash.
In 1964, the Shire moved to Clydebank and we never went to watch the team then. I think it was at this time that we started to go to Brockville on a regular basis. Before the match, we would go “up the town” and walk down Hope Street, past Aitken’s Brewery where I loved to look through the windows and watch the beer bottles being filled. Across the railway bridge and into the queues for entry – “lifted over” as usual.
One of the first matches I recall was against Aberdeen. The crowd was like nothing I’d ever experienced before, and there was even a pop band playing before the match started and at half-time. There seemed to be some sort of stage built at the front of the main stand. We started off at the Hope Street end – close to the goals and the loose shots coming from the field.
Around ten minutes before the match started a gate in the centre of the enclosure opposite the main stand would open and a convoy of sky blue “invalid carriages” would drive in and park behind the Watson Street goals. The men in these vehicles would rarely emerge from their seats during the match.
At that time, it was normal to move to behind the goals your team was shooting towards – to see “the goals going in”. This saw a good proportion of the crowd traversing a small footbridge that crossed the entry for the “invalid carriages” – this was normally good-natured and I don’t ever recall any trouble. There were no restrictions on alcohol at the matches and it would be common to see men drinking from cans and bottles.
Apart from the grandstand, everyone stood to watch and depending on the size of the crowd there might be a coordinated movement or swaying of the crowd against the crush barriers that were placed around the terracing.
Charity Sheets and Score Codes
Around ten minutes before halftime the lines for the refreshment kiosks would start and pies and Bovrils would appear around you. Most weeks there would be a charity collection – “the sheet”. A group of men would carry a bedsheet, stretched between them and coins would fly towards them from the crowd. A few followers from the charity would pick up any money that had missed the sheet. These people would be followed by the turnstile operators, with bags of cash that had been collected as admission and heading towards the secretary’s office in the stand.
Just before the players came out for the second half a group of men would appear with a pile of boards with numbers on and a copy of the match programme. Along the fence at the Hope Street end were a row of letters – if you had a match programme you had the code for the halftime scores of other matches being played – so you would get Match A – score 2-0! No pocket radios or smartphones in those days and it was usual to buy a pink or green extra newspaper that carried the final results, although television did broadcast the scores.
Later Football Memories
My allegiance to Falkirk started that year – but I did attend the parade that was organised to celebrate the return of East Stirlingshire to Falkirk in 1965 – and was amazed to discover the photograph of me at that parade around 6 years ago. From then on, I would often go to the home matches of both teams but the larger crowds at Brockville were more of a draw and as I became older, I was more aware of the improved quality of the football played.
I remember an occasion when I went to Ochilview to watch a match featuring Stenhousemuir. The halftime interval seemed to be dragging on a bit when the main gate to the ground opened and the local undertaker’s hearse drove into the ground and around to the external stairs of the stand. A coffin was taken up the stairs and a body retrieved. As the hearse left the ground the players returned to the field – never seen such a thing since.
One memory of Brockville was of an opposition player, I’m sure it was Stevie Nicol of Ayr United, giving the Falkirk winger a torrid time. After quite a nasty tackle – an elderly man ran out of the stand enclosure, kicked the defender’s backside and casually walked back to his place. There were no dramatics, no police involvement, just a puzzled look on the defender’s face and loads of amusement from the crowd – difficult to contrast with what would occur these days.
By Iain Murray, Great Place volunteer 2020.