Club history ...
Football clubs sprang up all over Britain in the 1870s as the working classes took to the game as Saturday half-days, the expansion of train travel and the need for high-density sports in urban areas created the opportunity. Football soon outstripped cricket, bowls and quoits in popularity and helped put an end to the miners’ pastime of hainching (throwing whinstone balls along the highway).
The first football club in these parts was Shotts (founded by 1876) and the first game in West Lothian when the Shotts men travelled to West Calder two years later. Scottish FA Annuals and Hynd-Brown say Armadale FC dates from 1879.
The club adopted navy blue as its colours and played home matches at Mayfield on what was then the southern edge of the town and handy for the works and workers’ houses in Bathville. The first recorded match was actually the 2nd XI losing to their Bathgate counterparts on 4 September 1880.
First committee: (September 1881): captain, J Sprott; vice-captain, J McKenzie; secretary, H Russell; treasurer, J Goldie; committee, J Sprott, C Scott, J White.
Oldest surviving team line-up was (November 1881 against Greenburn Hibernians) W Love; J McKenzie, W Easton; T Johnstone, Walter Wilson, W Walker; J McDonald, W Kerr, R Mathieson, R Smith, J White.
First cup: 1886 Linlithgowshire Cup, with a win over Broxburn Shamrock. However, an Armadale team won the Greenock and District Junior FA Badges for 1882-83 season, which the SFA regards as the first official junior competition.
Armadale entered the Scottish FA Cup in 1886, going down to St Bemards in the third round. Junior football was also thriving in the town with Armadale Athletic and Armadale Thistle (not the present club but a recurrent name) starting up by 1887.
Armadale had their biggest game of the Victorian period when they drew Hibernians in the Scottish Cup in 1889. A special train brought supporters of the Edinburgh side, who won 3-2 despite a spirited fight back from the ‘Dale.
It was the 1893 legalisation of professionalism that spelled the decline of senior football in Armadale. Star player William Booze was poached by Burnley and a new era had dawned. Armadale joined a number of middling clubs in the short-lived Eastern Alliance. Armadale’s scale and the cyclical nature of incomes dependent on mining and other heavy industries meant they couldn’t compete, however.
The club had severe financial problems, so much so that they ‘folded’, with Armadale Thistle taking over their players and fixtures and then dropping the ‘Thistle’. As a way of warding off creditors it seemed to work, but the reality was Armadale FC spluttered into extinction. Armadale Volunteers took up the challenge and entered senior competitions. Armadale Daisy joined the list of local juniors, filling the gap as Volunteers went upstairs.
Volunteers, though, scratched from the Scottish Cup in 1899 and were expelled from the Association Football continued as the domain of juniors – Armadale Thistle, Armadale United, Armadale Rising Star, Woodend Jubileans (renamed Woodend Athletic) and Woodend Excelsior. Juveniles were also to the fore Arniadale Rangers, Annadale Northern and Armadale Unity.
Senior football returned to Armadale in 1910. A.rmadale Thistle juniors committee men had been asked to help start a new senior outfit and a public meeting in March 1910 agreed to a proposal from Thomas Russell and Kenneth Moffat. Thomas Pow, Andrew Anderson, James Russell, James O’Brien and R ilendry formed the committee. The club joined the Scottish Union but opened the 1910-11 season with a friendly against Rangers, losing 2-0.
First team: Black; Easton, J Ballantyne; McCall, Mulhearn, Blair; T Ballantyne, McGuire, Taylor, Cunningham and Haddow. The East of Scotland Consolation Cup was won and election to the more prestigious Central League was achieved.
Money was spent on creating ‘stripping apartments’ and improvements to the park but debt was the inevitable outcome. This was solved by conceding home advantage to Aberdeen in the Cup. Cups began to be won in numbers a Armadale won the Central League championship in 1914 and 1915.
In December 1915, Armadale were being billed as the only unbeaten team Britain. The championship (a third in three years) was secured and a cup double achieved with a win over St Bernards.
Football struggled to sustain itself towards the end of the war. Armadale suspended operations, leaving only Armadale Lonie Boys and Atlas Rovers.
Armadale emerged from the war with something of a flourish, floating through the Qualifying Cup of 1919-20 to the main tournament ushering in what were called the Scottish Cup ‘Shock Days’. Clyde were the first famous name to come to the Volunteer in January 1920. Out they went. Hibernian were next. Armadale had lost only two home games in the previous four years. An early Prentice goal saw off the Edinburgh men.
Armadale then led 1-0 Ayr United until close to the end when a penalty gave the visitors a thaw and a Somerset Park replay. A Glasgow Evening News advertisement for the all-Ayrshire quarter final with Kilmamock spurred the ‘Dale for a Gordon goal near half time meant the Killie would visit West Lothian. The team’s exploits were captured on film and shown the next week.
In the quarter final, goalie Willie Robb fisted out an effort after Killie had hit the underside of the bar but a (disputed to this day) goal was given and the game lost 2-I. Famously, the referee was smuggled out in a kit hamper to deny Armadalians be opportunity of expressing views on the matter.
Armadale’s Cup reputation was enhanced the following season when they went to Paisley and beat St Mirren, disposed of Bo’ness and lost only after four games to Albion Rovers. There followed elevation to the Scottish League as the second division was revived.
The club was finally floated and Armadale Football Club Limited came into being on 18 June 1921. Contracts were struck with Redpath Brown and John Forsyth to create a 700-seat grandstand. New Blackridge turf was laid.
The first league match was against St Bemards (won 3-0): McLeod, Hopewell Dryburgh, Atkinson, Mclnally, Gibson, Stalker, Glen, Fleming, McNeilage Campbell. A good home record meant the ‘Dale were in the promotion hunt for a long time but eventually finished third with only one going up.
Twenty-fifth best club in Scotland, a recent Scottish Cup quarter final and fearsome cup reputation: Armadale had reached a high water mark. The crippling poverty in the town and the effects of the General Strike created a downward financial spiral for the club. By the end of the l920s, Armadale was employing mainly local lads on expenses and trying to avoid re-election.
Armadale were among the main protagonists of an unemployed gate with reduce (6d) entry. A number of clubs, notably Celtic, agreed but the League wouldn’t budge. A Cup run offered the best hope of financial help.
When, in 1931, Rangers came out of the hat, there was much rejoicing. Armadale even signed two ‘robust’ old pros for the game. The boys’ gate was opened 11 am to enable them to watch the Glasgow side – including Bob McPhail and Alan Morton – win 7-1. One of the Robust Two, former international Hamilton, was sent off after fifteen minutes. The last truly big senior game Armadale saw the ‘Dale represented by Watson; Findlay, Hamilton; Joe Polland, Fyfe, Hailstones; Fleming, Stout, Brannan, Livingstone, John Polland.
1931-32 saw a feeble Armadale team fulfil fixtures rather than compete, and re-election was avoided only on goal average. Armadale were behind with guarantee payments to visiting clubs. The League also got itself into an absolute lather about the one way Armadale had of improving its finances – hosting whippet racing. A nationwide crackdown on dog racing was ordered. If poverty and the advent of professional football had spelled the end for the first Armadale FC, it was poverty and the SFA’s view of dog racing that ended Armadale’s involvement in senior football this time.
Armadale struggled through to November 1932, being pursued for guarantee payments and by Sheriffs Orders. Armadale lost 5-1 to Raith Rovers on 19 November with Harry Michie netting the club’s last goal. An expulsion order from the League arrived for William McDonald at the Masonic Arms a few days later. The visit to Forfar was cancelled and Armadale’s record expunged. Berwick Rangers ‘helpfully’ offered to take over Armadale’s membership.
Armadale fulfilled one last commitment, a home Scottish Cup tie with Dundee United. Wilkinson; Boyle, Scott; Hamilton, Forrester, Fleming; Connelly, Mclnally, Michie, Miller and Imrie were the last eleven to represent senior Armadale. A 2-0 defeat was incidental.
Armadale Juveniles were started as soon as the seniors folded with Jim Hill and Bob Knox who had been on the seniors committee joining the new outfit – playing in blue at Volunteer Park. They were good enough to reach the semi-final of the Scottish Cup and win the County Cup in their first season and another Scottish semi was reached the following year. Success prompted Armadale to move up to the junior ranks for season 1935-36. A decision was made to adopt the longstanding Thistle name and four players stepped up to the new level.
Armadale Thistle’s opening match was on 27 July 1935 at Ormiston. This eleven recorded a 2-0 defeat: Easton; Reston, Spalding; O’Hare, J Pollock, McAlpine; Welsh, Ross, Newman, AN Other, Murdoch. Wallyford Bluebell provided the first victims at the Volunteer and Charlie Brynes had the honour of scoring the new club’s first goal. The town was encouraged, though, and a supporters’ club was established to raise funds. A first trophy – Leith Burgh Cup – was won with a 3-2 win over Linlithgow. Armadale were exciting to watch, scoring over a hundred league goals four seasons in a row – but inconsistent.
Season 1939-40 saw a real change of fortune. The first fourteen league games were negotiated unbeaten and the club progressed to the quarter final of the Scottish Cup, losing to Maryhill in a replay. There was compensation, though, in the form of a league championship trophy with six straight wins at the end to seal it, clinching maters with a 4-3 win at rivals Tranent on the last day. The side that day was Johnstone; Anderson, Forrest; Inglis, Welsh, Peden; Henderson, McConnell, Swan, Banks and Russell.
Armadale reached the Scottish Junior Cup final at Firhill on 12 April 1941. Armadale’s XI was Johnstone; Dryburgh, Inglis; Deans, McNeil, Peden; Henderson, Nicol, Hadden, McKinlay and Banks. Nicol and Hadden each scored equalisers and coach Lachie McMillan seemed well satisfied with the effort of his young team (only Johnny McNeil over twenty, he claimed).
The replay at Firhill featured a late penalty miss by Tammy Nicol that caused him hurt for the rest of his life. The second replay at Tynecastle saw Swan come in for Nicol but Armadale went down tamely. Ironically, Pat McKinlay — the official penalty taker – scored with a spot kick. Armadale then lost the finals of the St Michael’s Cup and Thornton Shield. However, the league championship was retained with only one defeat.
After this, football became more difficult as the war hotted up. Men were called up, buses hard to find and coupons were needed for everything. But Armadale continued and won a total of eleven trophies in the war years. Armadale United also won the Scottish Juvenile Cup in 1943.
Armadale shared very fully in the post-war football boom featuring big crowds, good cup runs and a smattering of trophies. Armadale were among the aristocrats of the junior game for a decade after the end of the war. In the late ‘40s, Jocky Robertson became the club’s custodian and despite his lack of height soon proved to be perhaps the most popular Armadale player of all time. Capped by Junior Scotland, he eventually went senior with Third Lanark.
Robertson helped Armadale to a first post-war title in 1950. This team won the decider against Arniston at Dalkeith: Robertson; Watson, McKay; Marshall, Johnston, Niven; Anderson, Ferguson, Black, Scott and Glen. The Holy Grail of the Scottish Cup was pursued with some cause for belief. A semi-final with Petershill at Hampden in 1951 and another with Kilsyth in 1955 (losing in an Ibrox replay) was the nearest it came, though. Another league championship and several other cups was some – but not enough – consolation.
Without doubt though, it was the most sustained period of excitement and success the town’s club had known. For a while, Armadale were a feeder club for Hibernian – a relationship fostered by Gavin Dunn – meaning that a number of young stars were fanned out to the Volunteer: Joe Baker, Johnny McLeod, and Jackie Plenderleith. Crowds were huge and hundreds attended the AGM with fiercely contested elections for office bearer positions.
This eleven played before a West Lothian record attendance in a cup-tie against Broxburn in 1955: Armstrong; Murdoch, Folan; Marshall, Lawrie, Baird; E Perry, Fox, R Perry, Freckleton and Murphy. It was another high water mark in the fortunes of the club. Over three hundred attended an AGM that introduced a largely new committee. The installation of floodlights kept Armadale’s name to the fore and attracted glamour midweek friendlies, thanks to the efforts of Alex Duncan, chief electrician at UFP and other volunteers.
Financial reality beckoned, though, and despite the sale of the club car, a delegation had to be sent to the Town Council to secure a donation of £50. With greater prosperity and mobility and the arrival of television, men’s habits slowly changed so that going to the game on a Saturday was no longer so automatic and, anyway, might now mean Ibrox or another league ground. Big crowds still turned out for Scottish Cup matches and there was a light sprinkling of trophies, including the most prestigious non-national competition, the East of Scotland Cup in 1962. Cohn Stein – the last really big name to come through the ranks at the Volunteer – was signed from Broxburn Strollers in 1963.
Defeat in a Cup replay at Whitbum – future club president, Sam Park, saving the day for the claret and ambers – was a bitter pill to swallow as Whitburn reached the final of 1966 and began to outgrow Armadale thanks to a successful social club. Armadale, with no social club, were now looking at others in the role of junior aristocrats. League reconstruction in 1973 saw Armadale in the B division. New committee men gingered things up and a modest social club was established inside the ground but this was only a partial success and closed in 1985.
But worse was to follow – a disastrous fire in the pavilion in the summer of 1988 following a break-in. For the first time since formation, the junior club faced extinction. But a new committee rallied round. President Jimmy Hamilton and Councillor Danny Main were only the most prominent of those who organised a recovery. Some £8,000 was quickly raised, half from the Council.
New coach Bobby Ford brought a fresh professionalism to the club, Mike Korotkich scored 42 goals in 1988-89, and promotion was secured. A cup win over Bo’ness with a Kevin Hepburn winner in the last minute was a highlight for a new generation. There have been a few downs since then but Armadale have since sustained a plateau of respectability.
C Company Volunteer Battalion Royal Scots moved their HQ from Torphichen to Armadale around 1880. They had a hall in South Street and trained at the Volunteer field in North Street. In 1881, Armadale Star FC were granted use of the park provided they joined the Volunteers. They did and changed their name to Armadale Volunteers FC. The ground became the home of Armadale FC in September 1889. The volunteer training moved to Heatherfield. It is one of the oldest football grounds in the country. It holds the attendance record for West Lothian and has been a popular venue for schoolboy internationals and cup finals.
The south end of the ground was raised in 1920 using builders’ nibble from the new Council houses in the Greig Crescent area. The terracing was raised again in 1955 but lowered and flattened out in the early 1990s. A grandstand holding 700 was erected in the early 1920s but destroyed by fire in the mid-1930s. A covered enclosure was created in 1950 and 103 tip-up seats and twenty forms from the Star Theatre installed although these were gone by the early 1960s. The enclosure was part funded by the sale of land to the Town Council to create a boundary wall and lane to the new Burns Avenue scheme. Floodlights were installed in 1954 – mostly for glamour friendlies – though, in 1956, Armadale hosted Rosewell Rosedale in the first floodlit competitive junior match.
Latest aerial pictures showing new roof (fitted 2018)
Thanks to Lockhart Cambell for the superb aerial shots of the Volley,sent by Kenny Stewart .