When people hear the term 'amateur football' they may think of their local non-league side with players that receive no payment to play but turn up, week in, week out, for the love of the game. Perhaps the club has a short history and plays on a council owned pitch that they are overcharged for and is slightly, or highly, uneven. Amateur football is a huge part of modern day society in the UK but there is one amateur club that play at a 50,000 seater stadium, in the third tier of Scottish football and even had Sir Alex Ferguson play for the club in the late 1950's. That club, is the unique and historical Queen's Park FC.
The club, based in Glasgow, is celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2017 and is therefore the oldest club in Scottish football. The stadium that I referred to in the opening paragraph is Hampden Park. Whilst most people will know this stadium as a UEFA Champions League Final venue, the Scottish national football stadium or the 2014 Commonwealth Games stadium, Queen's Park call it home for their domestic season. The club is packed full of history and throughout it's 150 years in football has never let go of it's amateur status, despite the rather dizzy heights the club has reached.
150 years of history gives a hell of a lot for people like me to talk about but there are some key things that should really be pointed out. Queen's Park, rather scarily nicknamed The Spiders, have actually won the Scottish Cup on ten occasions, only Rangers and Celtic have lifted the trophy more. Sure, the last time they lifted the trophy was 1893 but that speaks volumes about their domination of Scottish football prior to the 20th century. Professional clubs such as Hearts and Aberdeen have both been around for well over 100 years now but still have not been able to win the Scottish Cup more than Queen's Park, despite their 124 year dry patch.
For those without football knowledge that dates back to the 19th century, the club also were the runners up of the English FA Cup in 1884 and 1885. In those days Scottish clubs were often invited to compete in the competition but Queen's Park were denied the opportunity to win the most prestigious domestic cup competition in the world by Blackburn Rovers on both occasions. In 1899, Queen's Park were invited to play in the Charity Shield which, at that time, pitted the best amateur team against the best professional team. They played out a goalless draw in that match against English champions, Aston Villa. Oddly enough the clubs then shared the trophy for the next year, possessing it for six months each. No penalties in those days!
You may think that the Scottish FA have done something charitable by allowing the amateur club to have a home at Hampden Park but that could not be further from the mark. Believe it or not, Queen's Park are the owners of this UEFA category four stadium. The club has played at three Hampden Parks throughout it's history although the two previous versions were at different sites. As Ibrox and Celtic Park began to improve more quickly, the club purchased a plot of land in the rather exotic sounding Mount Florida area of Glasgow where Hampden Park version three was opened in 1903. The stadium was the largest in the world until 1950 when the infamous Maracana was opened in Brazil.
The national team played at Hampden Park even before its redevelopment and a record attendance of 149,415 was recorded when Scotland played England in 1937. Representatives of the club teamed up with the Scottish FA to rebuild the stadium in 1990 and bring it up to modern day standards. There is something rather charming about the fact that a club that has maintained it's amateur status throughout it's history, may no longer be the most successful club in Scotland but it has always played at the most impressive stadium. Despite average attendances of less than 1,000 rattling around in that big stadium, it is almost a nod to their former glory days that the club have been successful enough to command such a stadium.
Into more recent times and the club have been promoted three times since the turn of the millennium but as they have also suffered two relegations in that time, they currently find themselves in the Scottish League One, the third tier. The club has also recently had a knack for producing young talented Scottish players that have since gone on to bigger and better things and could find themselves back at Hampden Park playing for Scotland in the next few years.
Sir Alex Ferguson aside, the largest success story to come out of the club in recent years has to be that of Andrew Robertson who was about to start an undergraduate degree at university before he broke into the first team. He left Queen's Park in 2013 to join Dundee United managed then by former Scotland international, Jackie McNamara and became an instant hit. After one year in Dundee, he made the move to Hull City for £2.85m where he is now a first team regular in the English Premier League and has also become a regular at international level.
With a kit manufactured by Under Armour and a main shirt sponsor of Irn-Bru, you could be forgiven for thinking that Queen's Park are still the biggest club in Scotland when they run out at Hampden Park on a Saturday afternoon. It almost seems a little sad that they are now only able to draw in a crowd of around 700 for a home match yet in 1930 they were cheered on by more than 95,000 fans in a Scottish Cup first round tie against Rangers. The facilities are world class, the history is undeniable and they are located in a major city yet the Scottish public almost seems to have turned their back on the oldest club their country has to offer.
It is hard to see how the club could ever return to the glory they experienced in the 19th century. Football is now dominated by money and you would be hard pressed to find any players willing to give up a large pay cheque to play for a club that prides itself on remaining amateur. Promotion to the second tier of Scottish football may be possible, after all we witnessed Leicester City win the English Premier League in 2016 and so it is something that the club and it's loyal following should never rule out. Should the club ever reach the Scottish Premier League then that would be an achievement greater than any of their ten Scottish Cup triumphs as football is such a different sport in the modern world. Whatever happens to The Spiders over the coming years one thing is for sure. You will not find an amateur club anywhere in the world with a more impressive stadium, a more decorated history or playing at a level as high as they currently are. If I am ever in Glasgow I won't be attending Ibrox or Celtic Park, I will be going to Hampden to watch the oldest club in Scottish football as they step into the next 150 years.
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