Last week I watched a TV programme fronted by Jonathan Meades which was an annotated travelogue through post-industrial Scotland. Meades’s starting point was the almost poetic litany of the names of Scottish football clubs as heard in the results on Saturday afternoons.
Unlike those from England, very few of whom have names that are geographically indeterminate, at least at first glance* (the exceptions are Arsenal, Aston Villa, Everton, Queen’s Park Rangers, Port Vale, Tranmere Rovers; at a pinch Crystal Palace) and most of which are relatively prosaic (Swindon Town, Derby County, Bristol City) – only Nottingham Forest, Sheffield Wednesday, Plymouth Argyle and Crewe Alexandra have any rhetorical flourish – a disturbingly large number of Scottish teams’ names give no clue to their geographical location.
*I know Arsenal were once Woolwich Arsenal and that Everton is a district of Liverpool – as Tranmere is of Birkenhead – but Port Vale (the club plays in Burslem) isn’t on maps any more – if it ever was – and the Crystal Palace is long gone: which just leaves QPR and Villa – which may well be a Birmingham geographical locator of which I am ignorant.
The list of obscurely named Scottish clubs is much longer.
I have already, of course, mentioned Kirkcaldy’s finest, Raith Rovers (dancing in the streets of Raith.) There are two Saints – of Mirren and Johnstone (and until World War 2 there was a third; of Bernard’s) – a Clyde, a Hibernian, two Queens, Queen’s Park and Queen Of The South – famously the only football team mentioned in the Bible – an Albion Rovers and two Easts, of Fife and Stirlingshire, which could be located anywhere in their respective counties. In the case of East Stirlingshire their peregrinations actually took them as far west as Clydebank for a season before returning to their Firs Park home in Falkirk, which they have now had to leave; renting space at Stenhousemuir’s ground nearby.
In this context Rangers and Celtic do not count as their full names include the prefix Glasgow. Similarly it is Greenock Morton. While Midlothian as a county no longer exists, Heart Of Midlothian – the actual heart of the county is in the centre of Edinburgh, not off Gorgie Road; and there is a mosaic over the spot which is supposed to confer luck if you spit into it (Edinburgh is not quite the douce place you might take it for) – are named for a Walter Scott novel, apparently via a local dance hall. Likewise the County of Ross is no more; in any case the eponymous club plays out of Dingwall. Was there ever a county of Stockport by the way? Yes, and no. A county borough apparently.
There is a Raith estate in Kirkcaldy – and a former Raith cinema – so the name makes some sense; but it’s not on any maps of Scotland. Clyde are somewhat disappointingly so called because they first played by the banks of that river, though they now rent a ground in Cumbernauld from the local council.
The Paisley club St Mirren are named after the local Saint, Mirin; St Johnstone from Saint John’s town (of Perth,) and the now long defunct St Bernard’s after a local well by the Water of Leith.
East Fife are located in Methil in – err – east Fife. Like (Glasgow) Celtic, Hibernian FC’s name reflects the Irish roots of its founders but otherwise has no relevance to Edinburgh, or Leith if you must, where they are domiciled.
Albion Rovers play home games in Coatbridge and were formed from a merger between teams called, rather prosaically, Albion and Rovers.
Queen’s Park is obvious but its city isn’t. (Compare Queen’s Park Rangers.) There was, too, once a King’s Park club, but that was in Stirling. Queen Of The South is an epithet given to the town of Dumfries by the poet David Dunbar. The club which took the name amalgamated in 1919 from other teams in the area including 5th Kircudbrightshire Rifle Volunteers and 5th King’s Own Scottish Borderers. In this regard the former Third Lanark team (based in Glasgow, not Lanark) were also geographically obscure, and were again derived from a military source, the Third Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers.
Historical teams in this vein are Northern, whose ground was in Springburn in Glasgow, and Thistle who also played in Glasgow at Braehead. This last is not to be confused with Partick Thistle whose ground is actually in the Maryhill district of Glasgow and not in Partick itself. Other former Scottish League clubs Solway Star, Nithsdale Wanderers and Mid-Annandale (originally Vale Of Dryfe!) had, though, some geographical pointer in their names, albeit to a wide area.
The daddy of all such non-geographically named teams is Royal Albert, for two and a half years in the 1920s members of the Scottish League. Based in Larkhall, they now play junior football. The name comes from a ship their founder also owned. They apparently bear a relationship to the Hawick team, Hawick Royal Albert, who were founded by a man from Larkhall.
I hope all is clear now.