Vale of Leven

Vale of Leven founded 1872

The first ever match that the Vale of Leven played was against the Queen’s Park FC on the Recreation Ground 21 December 1872. I would say, the pitch was mostly on the site of the New Victoria Hospital. According to the legend, the Spiders had heard that they were thinking of taking up rugby, when they were founded and asked them to reconsider. Doesn’t sound legitimate, but they were founded as a football club, anyway. Many teams were founded in 1872/1873 - all supposedly due to the excitement of Scotland inventing international football.

They became one of the three great clubs in the Vale: that wee bit of land running from Dumbarton up to Loch Lomond. Fun fact: the River Leven is supposedly the shortest river in Scotland, being only about 10 kilometres long.

QPFC played the Vale, four times in a row. I guess they wanted to cement football in the Vale hearts. The return match took place at the Vale’s new ground Cameron’s Park, in Alexandria. Reports suggest that play had to be stopped to allow the QPFC players to explain some of the way the game should be played to the Vale men. It was still a shinty playing area, so the Vale team will have been well used to the core ideas of playing a field team game. Football was well known to this area, which is why I have my doubts about one another one of these legends. More likely, is that QPFC were explaining the finer points of the rules that they had perfected, after taken all the other football rules into account.

One could say that the Vale were fast learners, but you know better. Queen’s were playing a modern version of what had been played in Scotland for centuries. It is not possible that Scots could somehow become brilliant in a game which they allegedly knew nothing about and which had died long ago. Yes, Charles Alcock: I am thinking of your lies about Scottish football.

John Ferguson of the Vale became the first provincial cap, when he turned out for Scotland v England in 1874 and was the first provincial player to score for Scotland in 1876 in Wales’ first ever game.

A artistic to enjoy is their 2-1 defeat of QPFC in the Scottish Cup Final of 1877. This was the first Scottish defeat of QPFC. Think of that. The most influential club in the world was beaten by a team which was four years old. More than anything, it shows that football was not a new thing to the men of the Vale. They did a hat trick of wins in 1877, 78 and 79. All possible, in the days when clubs were supposed to be amateur. There was no point in going elsewhere if you were not going to be paid to play.

Fun fact: note that the internationalists had taken their rampant lion from the Scotland shirt and placed it on their club shirt. That’s why there are so few old shirts about.

The Vale were a founding League club, but professionalism in England in 1885 was the first blow. They lost three players in 1884. McLintock, Friel, R. McCrae and J. McCrae left for Burnley. Burnley had a cracking explanation at the time. When they played amateurs, no-one came to watch them. No surprise, when you could go to Blackburn to see Olympic or Rovers, or a little further to see the Scotch Professors of Preston North End. All professional.

It is alleged that the Vale had been paying players, but they were from a small area. The costs must have been heavy. They also had to compete with two brilliant teams in Dumbarton and Renton. The English clubs from big cities, or mill towns, kept stealing all their players. That was the reality.

The Scottish Football League was a disaster for them. 1891 - 2
nd from bottom of ten teams with their rivals Dumbarton joint winners with Rangers. They were only third from bottom because Renton were expelled and their games erased from the statistics. 1892 they gave up the ghost and resigned their membership of the League. They finished bottom and were not re-elected. Dumbarton were champions.

This was the reality, once big city teams started paying players wages no small town team could afford. Still, for a decade at least, the Scotch Professors of the Vale were arguably the best team in the world.


Giving History a Sporting Chance