The Vale Ocoba

The Vale may not have intended to play any games in season 1929 – 30 anyway, but they had not intended to go out of existence completely. Whether the Committee had planned that the Vale would return to action in 1930 – 31 or whether they were just so annoyed by their high-handed treatment by the SFA that it spurred them into action, we no longer know. It doesn’t matter, because the end result was the same in either case. Season 1930 -31 saw a “new” football club emerge in the Vale – the Vale Ocoba. Ocoba stood for “Old Church Old Boys Association”, which Old Church and which Old Boys remained and remains unstated, no doubt intentionally (there were 2 churches with “Old” in their names in 1929, both Bonhill and Alexandria Parish Churches styled themselves “Old Parish” at that time, so maybe Ocoba included them both). The Vale Ocoba were accepted into the West of Scotland Amateur League in 1930, within a matter of months of the expulsion of Vale of Leven from the SFA and styled themselves “a senior club run on amateur lines”. They also became members of the Scottish Football Association.

It was all a front, of course, for a continuation of Vale of Leven FC under an alias. The Ocoba played at Millburn for the next 10 years in a couple of different leagues, and if its history was not quite as distinguished as its forbear, it was respectable enough in very difficult times.

The Ocoba, as the Club became known, started quietly in the West of Scotland Amateur League in 1930 – 31, keeping a low profile to begin with, even from the Lennox Herald. It was not until January 1931, halfway through the season, that there was as much as a mention of a result, far less a match report, in the local paper. The opposing teams were hardly household names, and no doubt the Ocoba officials and players wanted to feel their way to begin with, but they performed pretty well in the first season. By the beginning of season 1931 – 32 they could confidently announce that having “done very well” in its first season, Ocoba was here to stay.

By 1933 – 34 Ocoba could field a team capable of winning the Dumbartonshire Cup by beating Dumbarton, which was all the better because it ended a run of 4 successive years of Dumbarton FC winning that Cup. Better still, they repeated the feat in season in 1934 – 35, again beating Dumbarton in the final. Also in that season the ground record for an Ocoba game at Millburn was set at 5,500 when they played Dumbarton in the 1st Round of the Scottish Cup.

Seasons 1935 – 36 and 1936 – 37 were to prove very eventful and successful for Ocoba. To begin with, the Scottish Football Combination had been revived at the beginning of season 1935 – 36 and Vale Ocoba were invited to join it, which they did. The Combination turned out to be a two season wonder and was created to give three senior teams a league for their reserves to play in, with seven other teams, many from the old Third Division joining in. These teams included Stranraer, Dalbeattie Star, Bo’Ness, Edinburgh City “A”, Nithsdale Wanderers, so the travel expenses could not have been trivial. However, it did give Ocoba a chance to play at a higher level, although Ocoba also continued to field a second team in the West of Scotland Amateur League.

So, having stepped up a level, they were very happy to get a home tie in the first round of the Scottish Cup against a bête noire from the Vale’s past - Hibernian. Hibs immediately offered Ocoba £150 to transfer the game to Easter Road, but Ocoba refused to surrender home advantage and the game was played at Millburn. Perhaps in retaliation for this snub, Hibs objected to an unemployed gate, but the Vale appealed to the SFA. After being postponed because of the weather, the game was played on February 1st 1936. Hibs, who were in the First Division, won 3-1 but the Lennox reported that “Ocoba went down fighting, upholding all the fine traditions of the game in the Vale”. The goal-keeper, Dunlop, came in for special praise. The Vale Ocoba team that day was:

JW Dunlop, W Beattie and W Colquhoun; J Babes, W Ferguson and F Wreathman; G McCorquodale, SG Banks, J Boyd, JF Wood, and R Alan.

Apart from the result, one other disappointment was the size of the crowd. The attendance was 2,622 and gate receipts were £86 1/8d, of which half went to Hibs, after the deduction of match expenses. So instead of the £150 which they would have made from transferring to Easter Road, Ocoba made about £110 less by playing at Millburn. However, they had kept faith with the Vale public, a point which was still being made over 70 years later by one of that crowd, the late Forgie Shearer. Perhaps the fact that on the same day Dumbarton drew approximately 1,000 less to their tie against Burntisland Shipyard was some small consolation to Ocoba and their supporters.

In April 1936, Ocoba had the chance to make it 3 Dumbartonshire Cups in a row when they met Dumbarton in the final at Millburn. However, it was not to be and in front of a crowd of 1,500 Dumbarton ran out 1-0 winners. The Cup was presented to the winners by Mr Alex Lawerence of Dumbarton FC who was not only the last surviving trustee of the Cup (he had watched the first final 51 years previously) he was also the last surviving attendee of the meeting at which the Scottish League had been established. At the post presentation party which was attended by both clubs John Aitchison, the chairman of Dumbarton FC, lamented the financial difficulties facing Dumbarton and suggested that all senior clubs in the county merge to preserve one professional team – based in Dumbarton of course. Not a man to be sensitive to his surroundings.

Scottish Qualifying Cup (North) 1936

At the outset of season 1936 – 37 the Ocoba Secretary Mr Tom Ritchie of 98 Bank Street Alexandria announced that Ocoba were on the look-out for new players. As well they might have been because the Vale got the season off to a terrible start, losing 3-0 at Millburn to Bo’Ness and then 7-1 away to Dalbeattie Star. This was hardly the best springboard from which to launch their Qualifying Cup campaign. Even although their opponents in that Cup were the likes of Greenock High School FP, Glasgow University, Blairgowrie and Moorpark Amateurs Ocoba seemed to stagger and lurch from round to round, sometimes needing a replay to get through, sometimes by the odd goal.

However, by the end of November 1936 they found themselves in the final of the Scottish Qualifying Cup (North). Why North, when Ocoba had played teams from Glasgow and Greenock and when they were playing teams from the very south of Scotland in the Scottish Combination League? It was probably an arbitrary decision made by the SFA to balance the numbers in the North and South Qualifying Cup and on the map the Vale Ocoba must have appeared to lie right on the boundary between North and South. When Vale had won it in 1908 it was a national rather than regional competition.

The Final

Ocoba’s opposition in the Final was Keith from Morayshire, and while the game was to be played on a technically neutral ground, it was a neutral ground close to the home of the finalist lucky enough to have been chosen by the draw, in this case Keith. The ground chosen was Borough Briggs, then as now the home to Elgin City, which is not far from Keith. Since this was the biggest football event ever to have happened in the area, the owner of the Playhouse Cinema in Elgin decided to film what turned out to be the first game of the final, and that film ended up on the National Library of Scotland’s Film Archive, where a clip of it can be viewed at

The first game was played on 28th November 1936 before a crowd of 5,500. Vale had travelled up to Elgin on the Friday, which was a wise decision since a hard fought game lay in store. It ended 2-2, with Ocoba’s goals coming from Kennedy and Boyd. The replay was scheduled for the following Saturday 5th December 1936, again at Elgin, and again the Vale travelled up on the Friday. The result was another draw, this time 0-0, and a second replay was required.

This was arranged for Boghead Park, Dumbarton two weeks later, 19th December 1936. The two teams were obviously evenly matched because at full time in this third game the score was 1-1. The game went to extra time during which Ocoba took control to run out 4-2 winners. Boyd, the diminutive Ocoba forward, who was a regular scorer for them, was their best player, scoring a hat-trick. It was reported that justice had been done and that the better team had won – eventually. While obviously delighted to have won, Ocoba were perhaps a little disappointed by the size of the crowd and the gate receipts. At 2,650 it was only half the size of the one which had watched the first game at Elgin, and net gate receipts were only £93.

The Ocoba team in that third, cup-winning, game was:

J Jackson, JS MacDonald, W Colquhoun; D Beattie, W Ferguson, and W Zimmerman; W Kennedy, SG Banks, J Boyd, W Williamson and R Allan.

This game was played against the background of the Abdication Crisis which was pre-occupying the country at the time. For the trivia minded amongst you, Vale Ocoba was therefore the first senior football club to win a cup-final in Britain in the reign of George VI, the present Queen’s father. He had been formally proclaimed King in succession to his brother Edward VIII, exactly a week earlier on Saturday 12th December 1936. Edward had abdicated a few days previously so that he could marry the American divorcee Mrs Simpson.

This picture, provided by Graham Lappin, is from an old cigarette card from the 1930s of the Vale OCOBA football team.

Click Image to Enlarge

Information on the Card
Ardath Tobacco Co. Ltd
L to R back row:— D. McCrimmond (trainer), J. Babes, J. Burns, J. 
Dunlop, W. Colquhoun, F. Wrethman, W. Ferguson (Captain).
Front row:— G. McCorquodale, S. Banks, J. Boyd, J. Wood, R. Allan.

Vale Ocoba – The last act

In 1939 as the political temperature in Europe rose and war drew inexorably closer, football played on, to all intents and purposes unaware of what was going on in the wider world. The collapse of the Scottish Football Combination in 1937 had left Ocoba with only the West of Scotland Amateur League and 3 senior cup competitions to play in. So when in June 1939 they were invited by Babcocks & Wilcox FC to attend a meeting to discuss resurrecting the dormant Scottish Alliance League (to which the Vale had twice belonged previously, albeit for very short periods in 1892-93 and 1926 -27) they duly went along.

Ocoba already felt that with the improved financial situation in the area, the Vale could once again support a Senior team. Although it was Vale Ocoba who attended the meeting and agreed to join the Scottish Alliance, it was Vale of Leven FC who duly took out membership not only of the Scottish Alliance, but also of the Scottish Football Association. The Vale of Leven FC name was back in football, although in practice the spirit and organisation had never been away. At the same time, the Vale Ocoba disappeared from sight never to be heard of again.

Vale of Leven FC is back

The Match Secretary, James Forrest, immediately set about recruiting players for the new level during July and August 1939 for a League season which was kicking off on 26th August 1939. The very first player he signed for Vale of Leven FC was James McCaffer ex Airdrieonians. Forrest had players from Ocoba, of course, but he also continued to strengthen his squad and the players he assembled included:

Joe Jackson, goal-keeper ex Forfar and Dumbarton
Daniel Laverty from Londonderry, outside left
Armstrong, a forward
Arneil, also a forward
Dan Clancey, ex Dumbarton and Celtic
J Hamilton, centre forward, ex East Stirling
Bunty Kennedy, inside right ex Dumbarton
John Yuill, winger ex Dumbarton
Tom McInnes, centre half ex Renfrew
Bradley, forward ex St Ninian’s Thistle

At least a couple of trials / friendlies were played, including one against the RNTF, Alexandria before the League kicked off on 26th August 1939 with a game at Millburn against Queen’s Park Strollers, so in a sense history was repeating these games of nearly 70 years before . A good crowd of 1,500 turned up to see the Vale winning 4-1, although to be fair to Queen’s Park they had to play most of the game with only 10 men after one of their players was injured. A week later on Saturday 2nd September, the Vale played a benefit game against Celtic A which ended in 2-2 draw before a crowd of 800. The following day, Sunday 3rd September, Great Britain declared war on Germany and League football’s days were numbered. Vale managed one last Scottish Combination League game a few weeks later in September when they beat Babcocks & Wilcox 6-2.

Saturday 30th September saw them meet Dumbarton in what proved to be the last ever Dumbartonshire Cup tie, which Dumbarton won 4-2. The Vale team that day contained a number of players signed with a Senior status in mind. They lined up as follows:

Jackson, Costello and Gilmour; Glancy, McCaffer and Wallace; Taylor, Kennedy, Hamilton, Laird and Yuille.

At times Glancy is also spelt Clancey and Clancy, while Yuille is also spelt Yuill, and since we don’t know which of the spellings is correct, it’s only fair to mention them all.

The Vale’s final match as a Senior club was a friendly at Millburn against Rangers Reserves in November 1939 which Rangers won 4-2. And that was that as a Senior club: two League games, a Dumbartonshire Cup Tie and 3 / 4 or so friendlies were all they had to show for their re-appearance amongst the Seniors before war-time conditions imposed a new reality.

Next - The Vale Juniors >


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