Football in the Vale of Leven
When we started to write the valeofleven.org.uk website we took a conscious decision to put the story of Association Football in the Vale in the last 130 years quite far down the schedule. This was done not because we thought that it was not a good story or that people would not be interested, quite the opposite in fact. It was simply that there really is so much information to collect and sift through, that there are so many stories and that so many people have a tale to tell and a point to make that we were worried that once we started on football we would never get beyond it and on to any other subject. Well, it’s time to find out!
This is the first instalment of what we hope will grow to be a very full history of the great game in the Vale covering the senior, junior, amateur, juvenile, schools and women’s football. This first instalment covers the history of Vale of Leven FC in much more detail than it does Renton FC. Renton will be the main story in the second instalment.
Over the years there has probably been more written about football in the Vale of Leven than on any other Vale-related subject. Given the passion for football in Scotland in general and the Vale in particular, that is hardly surprising. Indeed given the part that Vale teams and Vale people played in the development of Association Football in Scotland from its earliest days, it’s inevitable that there is rich seam of Vale football to mine and many have done so. Along the way, both the Vale of Leven FC and Renton FC have carved niches for themselves in Scottish, and arguably British, football history.
The story has a very modern feel to it involving as it does not only fine athletes and exemplary sportsmen on and off the park, outstanding football ability and epic struggles on the park, but many of the less savoury characteristics of football – refereeing controversies, club politics, hypocrisy, mendacity, self-interest, illegal payments and financial problems. Just about everything that makes headlines in to-day’s game, in fact, except sex, unless you include the teenager who planted a kiss on Chummy Gilmour’s cheek as he carried the Junior Cup into the Gilmour Institute in 1953. Clubs and people from the Vale of Leven played key roles in many of the events which helped to shape the development of the game, and experienced all of its problems first time around.
But the main story is, of course, of Valemen and football. Great games, great victories, great sportsmen on and off the field. And of the people of Renton and of the rest of the Vale who placed their football teams at the very heart of their communities. There are, too, the many Valemen who left the area to excel in playing the game up to the highest levels for clubs across the UK and for Scotland. And the back-room men who played an important part in organising football’s development in Scotland. It is true that the prominence of the Vale’s Clubs at a highest level had all but disappeared by 1900, but thereafter a string of individuals took on the mantle. The Vale of Leven can well justify its claim to be “The Cradle of Scottish Football”.
Renton FC after being moribund for many years formally disbanded in 1921, never to re-appear. Vale of Leven FC followed suit as a Senior team in 1929, when it was expelled from the SFA for failing to play a Qualifying Cup tie. That doesn’t mean to say that the organisation and the players disappeared from the scene, however, and obviously Millburn Park didn’t either. The members of Vale of Leven FC simply adopted a disguise and played as Vale Ocoba throughout the 1930’s, reappearing under their own name of Vale of Leven FC in 1939, very briefly as a Senior team, and then with the outbreak of WW2, as a Junior team. It has remained a Junior club to this day, but to-day’s Vale of Leven FC is the direct linear heir of the great Vale teams who help to create football in Scotland.
As well as the headline teams of Renton and the Vale, there have always been a host of teams at grassroots levels from primary schools to secondary schoolboys, to juvenile, amateur and welfare. Right from the start there was a great turnover in clubs and players, and although some are mentioned no attempt is made to keep track of them all. However, the enthusiasm and passion remains with to-day’s teams. So too, fortunately, do most of the football parks. The Vale has been blessed with foresight from earlier Councils, particularly the staff and councillors of the old Vale of Leven District Council. In the Wylie Park in Renton and perhaps even more so in the Argyll Park in Alexandria, the Vale has playing surfaces which are as good as anything which can be found at just about any level anywhere in the UK. At Millburn Park is to be found the football playing pitch and surface by which all others are to be judged, anywhere.
As has been said, there already is a great deal in the public domain about football in the Vale and we shall attempt to avoid repeating too much of it here, but to tell the story some of the same ground must be covered. However, existing sources contain considerably more detail and the most important of these are listed at the end of this piece. A final word; sometimes the Vale FC is referred to in the singular i.e. “it”, other times in the plural. There is no hard and fast rule but broadly when the team, players or officials are being referred to, even implicitly, then the plural is used. If the Club is referred to, then the singular is used, but there will be inconsistencies no doubt. Apologies to those who find this a bit irritating.
So when you have to watch in horror from behind crossed fingers as Scotland struggles to beat the might of Liechtenstein, take heart from the fact that its doesn’t have to be like this – and it certainly didn’t used to be like it in the Vale of Leven – The Cradle of Scottish Football.