Find out about the voyages taken by football fans in the Falkirk area – by paddle steamer!
From Alloa to Bo’ness
Fans who travel to watch their club away from home, nowadays, will list three main modes of transport. Train, bus or car are the normal choices. All have their good and bad points but if they get you there, who cares?
Travel to football in the late 19th and early 20th century was not as rare as you may think. Not down to any great surfeit of money, but because the working men of Scotland had found something to grasp hold of, and take to their hearts.
At the time, the original “senior” club in Bo’ness was a prominent side in East and Central Scotland. The usual rivalries were forged and none more so than with Alloa Athletic, and that gets us to the reason for this story. How did the Alloa fans get to Bo’ness?
The first meeting of the clubs was on 14 September 1889, in an East of Scotland Shield tie at Bellevue Park, then the home of Alloa Athletic. A late equaliser for Bo’ness, in a very rough game, ensured a 2-2 draw and a replay at Newtown Park.
The replay was held on 05 October 1889 and a group of Alloa fans travelled on the S.S. Lord Erskine, a steamboat of the time. It was a taut little craft that sped its way down the Forth, with the ebbing tide. Amusement was limited to taking in the sights, having a nap, or the occasional burst into song! In little over an hour the boat arrived at Bo’ness, which could be seen from afar, the smoky columns of the industrial town a sure hallmark.
From there, a walk of fifteen minutes up the hill to Newtown Park was in order. The pitch was said not to be of the visitor’s liking, with gravel in the centre and a ditch, a foot deep, dug around the touchlines, helping to clarify if a ball was out of play. The visitors will have wished they had not travelled as they were on the receiving end of a 4-1 thrashing.
"The boat would have left at 6.30pm, giving visitors a chance to visit either local hostelries, or as noted by an observer, virtually ransack the local bakers for sustenance!"
Move forward a few years, to 1902, and the Galloway Saloon Steam Packet Company were the prime operators of excursion steamers in the Firth of Forth, with a regular service running between Alloa and Leith. Described as cheap pleasure sailing, a return fare could cost from one shilling to one and six. December 1902 saw roughly 100 fans from Alloa visit Bo’ness by this method and again were sent home unsuccessful, this time by 2-0.
April 1907 was the last time a steamer conveyed fans the whole way but boats still had their use. The Forth still had to be crossed and that was from the ferry pier, over the water, to South Alloa. In 1909 the amateur teams representing Bo’ness Distillery and the Calder’s Brewery in Alloa played an annual friendly and the short ferry trip followed by a “motorbus” was now the order of the day.
You may ask the question, did Bo’ness fans use the steamers to go in the other direction? The answer is no, for two inter-linked reasons. Firstly, the tides meant that the only boat going up stream would be at 8.30am. A little too early for most fans. Secondly, most of these fans still worked on a Saturday morning, especially in the mines.
By Don Burns, Great Place volunteer 2020.