Martin Donaldson with A Celtic State of Mind – Happy Birthday, St Roch’s

St Roch’s Football Club were founded in 1920 when Canon Lawton, a local priest at St Roch’s Roman Catholic Church, assembled a team to play in an inter-parish football tournament. The hastily pulled-together squad of players not only entered the competition, they won the tournament outright.

That victory provided an additional boost to the local community, which at the time was reliant on heavy industry from the nearby iron, cooperage and copper-works to name a few. These works, which played a critical role not only locally but globally, were powered largely by the significant immigrant population who had settled in the ‘Garngad’ since making the crossing from Ireland and travelling from the north of Scotland as part of the highland clearances during the 19th century. If this newly formed parish team was able to make an impact in the local competitions, could it be repeated in national tournaments under the junior football structure?

Decade after decade of change and urban renewal means that very few of the original employers or place names still exist in the area. However, in that small but proud district of Glasgow, to the north east of the famous River Clyde, the whirlwind entrance of St Roch’s to the junior set-up in Scotland is remembered fondly and will be celebrated as part of the club’s centenary season over the next 12 months.

Originally playing matches from their home of Milburn Park, the fledgling team set out to give the local hard-working community a team to be proud of on a Saturday. Entering the second tier of the Junior League set-up, St Roch’s wasted no time in securing promotion to the top flight by winning the Second Division at the first attempt. The following season, the team continued to perform significantly above their newly-formed status, winning the Junior First Division championship, sealing back-to-back titles. However, the new boys had their eyes on more silverware.

Only two years after their formation, St Roch’s had not only secured the title in the top division of junior football, but they had also reached the final of the Scottish Junior Cup. In the way of a unique double celebration were Kilwinning Rangers. The Junior Cup final was played at Firhill, home of Scottish League side Partick Thistle. St Roch’s won the final in front of a crowd of over 20,000 people, however, before the locals of the Garngad could begin celebrating, Kilwinning lodged a protest at the result and the match had to be replayed.

So, on the 3 June 1922, over 20,000 fans once again flocked to Firhill for the replay to watch St Roch’s achieve the league and cup double, coming from behind to win 2-1 with goals coming from James McGrory and Johnny Rollo. This time the celebrations were not restricted, as locals welcomed back their all-conquering champions.

Shortly after the famous victory at Firhill, the young striker who scored the equaliser in the final – James McGrory – was signed by Glasgow Celtic where he would go on to become not only the greatest goalscorer in the club’s history, but the most prolific scorer in British football.

For St Roch’s, the highs of those first 30 months in existence could not be matched again. Long overdue changes to cramped housing conditions and the scaling back of industry in Glasgow meant their fortunes changed as well as their home ground, moving to Provanmill Park, later renamed James McGrory Park.

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As the club approached its centenary season, the committee in charge of the club’s affairs started to look at celebrating the success of the club and their very existence in the community and the role it continues to play in a very different but all too familiar landscape in Glasgow. Even after 100 years, many of the same issues faced in 1920 Garngad are prevalent in modern day Royston and the local community St Roch’s serve.

The origins of the club helped to deliver pride in the local community and the many immigrants who found themselves in new surroundings in a far away land. There is no difference today as Glasgow welcomes families looking for a new beginning and fresh opportunity after leaving the land of their birth because of political or cultural upheaval. St Roch’s continues to provide a focal point to welcome refugees while reminding everyone that no person is illegal.

Over the summer, the club embarked on an impressive funding venture giving fans of the club the opportunity to write their name into the club’s history. For a few fans, the world over took up the chance to buy a commemorative centenary pin badge and to have their name added to the shirt worn during the centenary season. The scheme proved a success along with the kit sales, but it’s not all about the football, the club supports local children in their education with study groups and tutors available during exam time. This is one of many community driven initiatives run by the club throughout the year.

A visit to the home of St Roch’s on a matchday is a welcome return to standing on the terraces and watching a match unfold. The flags, murals and songs that add colour and social commentary at James McGrory Park make no mistake in highlighting the leftist cultural beliefs shared by fans there for a match. Over the last five years, attendance has been on the rise and, on occasion, you may even bump into a footballing legend from the Lisbon Lions.

Canon Lawton saw St Roch’s as a platform for the young talented players of The Garngad and surrounding areas to make their way into the professional game, it was also an exercise in building pride in an often overlooked and chastised community. Over the years a number of players have progressed from representing St Roch’s to making an impact at professional level, many of them for Celtic including Frank Brogan and Dom Sullivan. Jim Brogan, who played in the 1970 European Cup final in Milan, was signed from St Roch’s, but most famously of all was James Edward McGrory.

The way football has changed in the last 25 years means there are less players making the move from junior football to the professional game. However, I am sure Canon Lawton will be delighted that the club he helped pull together for the aid of his local community continues to serve up those same values 100 years later.

So, if your ‘big’ team in Glasgow don’t have a match, check in on St Roch’s and help them celebrate their centenary.

Twitter – @StRochsJuniors
Facebook – St Rochs Juniors
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Martin Donaldson

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