GLENESIS ‘in the beginning’
Flow gently sweet Afton among thy green braes
Flow gently, I’ll sing thee a song in thy praise!
My Mary’s asleep by thy murmuring stream
Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream
The football void that had been left in the coal-mining community of New Cumnock following the demise of the Junior side New Cumnock United in 1928 was only occasionally filled by ‘local’ success in the senior grade of Scottish Football. Kilmarnock were enjoying their best run in the Scottish Cup since 1920 when the team, including New Cumnock miner Thomas Hamilton triumphed in the Hampden final against Albion Rovers. In the semi-final of 1929 Celtic were defeated by a solitary goal and then in April, Rangers were rumped by two goals to nil in front of a crowd of 114,708 at Hampden Park. Although there were no New Cumnock connections in this cup-winning Killie side, their goalkeeper Sam Clemie, who saved a Gers’ penalty was a blacksmith from Lugar and a former Lugar Boswell player. Up front was centre forward Harry Cunningham, Killie’s top goalscorer, who played with Cumnock Juniors in 1920 before turning senior with Ayr United. How many supporters made the trip on a football special from New Cumnock to Glasgow is not known, but hopefully in those days more were supporting their local team than the Glesca one!
In the beginning – in the summer of 1929 – a group of local elders in the parish of New Cumnock beckoned like-minded followers, eager to lead Junior football out of the wilderness, to a public meeting. They were to congregate at the football field, Connel Park, no need to bring guddled fish from the nearby Connel Burn or loaves from Murray’s Store at Connelbridge, only their good selves and their opinions. They flocked to the field in large numbers and James McQue presiding was preaching to the converted when he asked if there was anyone interested in starting up a new team –‘Aye’ said, Tam; ‘Aye,me tae’ said Dick and ‘Aye me anaw’ said Henry – the Ayes had it.
A new name was needed for the football club, for to retain the name New Cumnock United would have meant inheriting not the earth but the U’s debts. It was Alex ‘Major’ Clapperton, a well known local wit from the Boig Road, that proposed the name that carried the day – Glenafton Athletic. The inspiration behind the Major’s name has been lost. Clearly though it is a reference to the glorious Glen Afton, the most picturesque of glens in Ayrshire. To the miners that hewed coal underground and their families that lived in the tightly knit rows amid the man-made coal-bings the sights, sounds and smell of the glen must have been like heaven on earth. Of course the Afton Water had been immortalised by our national bard Robert Burns, his work in turn had inspired many a hardened coal-face poet to put into words their love, admiration and respect for Mother Nature; her that as everyone knew stayed up the Afton.
The three wise office-bearers were duly proposed and elected, namely James McQue (Chairman), Archie Park (Secretary) and Paddy Burns (Treasurer). John Grant (trainer) would tend to the needs of the players and Wull White (groundsman) had the unenviable task of looking after the ground. Glenafton Athletic Football Club, perhaps had not been created in the exact image of New Cumnock United, but they would resurrect the U’s old football jerseys from the holy hamper and play on the same hallowed slope of Connel Park.
The football field still belonged to New Cumnock Collieries and it had fallen into a state and a half of disrepair. A work-horse of a committee had taken shape no Simons or Peters but instead Jocky Walker, Straver Allan, Jim White, Hugh Brown, Pinkie Stewart, Jack Orr, Walter Rogerson, J. Kelly, and Davie Grant were among their number.
Fund raising and volunteering was critical to kick-start the new football team and it was to the Bank, the Bank School that is, to start the ball rolling. Headmaster Bert Watson organised a fancy dress parade for his pupils to take collection boxes (not plates) round the doors. Dances were held in the Town Hall where fun and funds waltzed to the same big band and Paddy Burns was soon counting his coppers as well as his blessings.
Steady progress was being made in preparation for the start of next season and no doubt there would be scouting missions to the variety of Junior and Juvenile cup competitions taking place in the district.
Sadly, the talk at corner of the Store Row, a favourite meeting place at Connel Park, of potential signings and progress at the football field fell deadly silent in early November as news of the first fatality in the pits for five years quickly spread about the rows. Robert Wilson a married man from Stepends Row (known also as the Washer Row) was killed instantly when a large stone fell from the roof while he was working at nearby Knockshinnoch. A month or so later, on the 16th December only a few weeks before Christmas the community was once again in mourning when 15 men were badly burned following a gas explosion at Bank No. 2 pit. Three men, Archibald Freeburn (31), John Cockburn (34) and John Breckney (24) all later died of their injuries in Kilmarnock Infirmary.
This bleak mid-winter gradually turned into the Spring of 1930 and come May the Office-bearers and Committee of Glenafton Athletic Junior Football Club were gearing up for the season ahead. Gladly, their Minute Book of that season has survived to give the generations that followed a fabulous living record of the birth of a club in an Ayrshire coal-mining community and its first steps into the unique and wondrous world of Junior football.
The Minute Book is not some grand hard-backed ledger but a simple school Exercise Book, with road safety tips on the back page and the ubiquitous array of arithmetical tables on the opposite side including those that no scholar could do without such as Apothecaries Weights, Cloth Measure, Hay and Straw Weight, Imperial Dry Measure. The ‘jotter’ is bright red in colour, a prophetic touch perhaps that would take on greater meaning in the new testament of the club to be written thirty years hence.
The names etched for eternity on the opening page of the Glenafton Athletic Minute Book were those of the Office-bearers J. McQue (President), J. Grant (Vice President), A. Park (Secretary), P. Burns (Treasurer) and the Committee of T. Kilday, T. Hastie, J. Allan, J. White, A. Robertson and D. Blair.
The journey begins at the Football Field, Connel Park on the Monday, 12th May, 1930.
Minute: Connel Park football ground
Monday 12th May 1930
The meeting was held in Connel Park football ground on the above date, Mr. McQue presiding. The chairman opened the meeting by asking the Secretary & Treasurer to tender their reports regarding their visit to Mr McGregor. They reported that Mr McGregor agreed that the ground would be placed at their disposal, and he also gave permission to make the proposed collection through the pits. This report was accepted by the committee as being very satisfactory.
Mr. McQue & Mr. Grant then gave report of donations received from tradesman. They reported they had still a few people to interview, but up to date they had collected the sum of £3. This was handed over to the Treasurer.
Messrs Burns & Park agreed to canvas the remaining tradesman. Mr. Grant stated that Mr. Lynn had offered the use of his hall for Whist Drive. It was decided to accept this offer at some future date. 1st Whist Prize also offered. It was also decided to postpone the collection in the pits until after the Castle Race.
Messrs Allan & White gave a report of their interview with Mr. McGinn regarding hamper. He claimed compensation for storage but agreed to leave the amount and date of payment to the discretion of the committee.
Some players were then considered. It was decided to approach the following – T. McDonald, Wilson, J. Ferguson, W. Telfer. W. Gray, J. Flynn, J. Campbell, M. Walker, R. Kilday, Davidson, D. Ferguson, J. Carmichael, S. Kilday, Sim, Somerville, Blair, Jackson, Torrance, two McCalls, Dick, McCaig, and J. Burgoyne.
It was decided to hold our next meeting on Sunday 18th May at 5pm at the Hatchery .
[1.] Duncan McGregor, joined the New Cumnock Collieries as General Manager in 1925, taking his place on the board in 1929.
[2.] John Lind the owner of the Afton Hotel.
]3]. The plan to have the next meeting at the Fish Hatchery which was at the Connel Burn up near Coalcreoch was washed out due to heavy rain, so it was back to Connel Park the following Sunday.
Minute: Football Field
Sunday 25th May 1930
Messrs Park and Burns reported that Mr McGinn intended to hold the kit hamper and claimed £1 for storage. It was moved that he receive 15/-, with 5/- to be paid on receipt of hamper. Treasurer reported 10/- donation had been received from Co-operative Society and 12/6 from other donations. It was agreed to sign players as soon as possible and with a signing on fee £1, to be paid during the season. It was also agreed to try and obtain nets from an influential club.
Minute: Football Field
Sunday 15th June 1930
J.Allan moved that no stuff should go out the hamper to the juveniles in the meantime. A. Park and McCann  to see Juvenile Committee regarding players. Lift in office to come of on Friday June 20th P. Burns to see books were sent in from the pits to the office on Monday. Old Pit and New mine – A. Park ‘Nock’ mine – J.Hastie Burnfoot. Committee to start work on Football Field on Wednesday first.
1. Charlie McCann, a recent addition to the committee
2. Old Pit & New mine. Bank Pits
2. Nock Mine is Knockshinnoch mine
Minute: Football Field
Sunday 22nd June 1930
Report given on goalkeeper White from Old Cumnock. Terms 10/- down rejected. Agreed to write letters to various clubs re. goal nets. Agreed to ask Mr McGregor for paint for the goalposts. Discussions on game with Cumnock and a barricade on football field left over to later meeting.
Report then given on the prizes donated for Whist Drive and Dance scheduled for Afton Hotel  on 27th June (Admission 3/- Couple, 2/- Gents, 1/- Ladies). Gents 1st prize: Smoking outfit, 2nd prize: Shaving Outfit. Ladies 1st prize: Trotter’s Prize (7/6) 2nd Prize: Pair of vases. It was agreed that the donated Ox tongue would be raffled.
[1.] Afton Hotel , at the Nith bridge in the town.[ 2]. Trotters Shop
Minute: Football Field
Sunday 29th June 1930
Reported that the lifts taken in the pits had been very small and agreed to inform Mr. McGregor. Agreed to send delegate to Annbank to get nets. The takings from the Whist and Dance were reported as £2-6s-6d and it was agreed that the draw for the ox tongue would take place at the Afton Hotel this coming Saturday. Secretary reported on players and stated that J. Campbell  wanted £1 down and it was agreed to let him go. Messrs Park and Robertson agreed to lift money from pit office on Monday 30th and to discuss letting of Football House.
1. No record of the lucky winner of the ox tongue!
2. The club complying with their policy of not paying signing-on fees up front, but rather later in the season.
Minute: Football House
Sunday 6th July 1930
The Secretary reported back on the letting of the Football House and that arrangements were to be made with Mr. Allan. Reported that amount received from lift was £4 16/-. Secy also reported that the party was working when he visited Annbank to discuss nets and that he had left his address. It was agreed to write to Catrine and Sorn [1= (who were down) regarding nets and failing that to write for catalogues.
It was also reported that Cumnock Juniors had offered to play opening game and this was accepted. It was agreed to sell tickets for the opening game and to interview Mr McGregor regarding barricade for football field.
. Catrine Rangers and Skares Juniors
Minute: Football House
Sunday 13th July 1930
It was decided that if we failed to get nets from Auchinleck we accept from catalogues at £3. Secy then gave the fees for the various Cups, this was considered by the Committee and agreed to enter all Cups. C. McCann to interview Secy of Cumnock & Mauchline Assoc regarding entry fees. J. McQue report on player Davidson agreed to try and get him re-instated , agreed to try and get player Hodge and that J. Grant interview player White. Agreed that Committee Meetings be held on Sundays throughout the season. A. Robertson and T. Kilday to get donations from various pits. J. Grant moves that no stuff go out of hamper unless to a player connected with the club.
[1.] John Davidson had played with senior side Stenhousemuir
With their first season only a few weeks away the Club Officials and Committee of Glenafton Athletic had been active on a number of fronts. On the playing side several players had been approached but those that wanted their £1 signing on fee up front were turned away. Mr McGregor, manager of their landlords New Cumnock Collieries, had been approached for paint for the goalposts and discussions held regarding erecting a barricade around pitch, but despite approaching Annbank, Auchinleck, Catrine and Sorn, chasing down a set of nets was still proving to be elusive and it looked like they would need to spend £3 for a new set from the catalogue. Thank goodness for the local donations and the fund-raising activities – but who did win the ox tongue at the raffle in the Afton Hotel in July 1930?
The Cumnock Chronicle of Friday July 18, 1930 contained two small snippets that linked the past, present and future of Junior football in the parish of New Cumnock.
A brief report appeared on the Glasgow House Trophy tie (Glasgow House was a shop in Old Cumnock) between New Cumnock United and Townhead Thistle (of Cumnock) played at Auchinleck. The United side of Wilson: Kilday & Park; J. Carmichael, R.Kilday & W. McMann; Whiteford, Robson, McCaig, A. Carmichael and Orr triumphed by three goals to nil over their Old Cumnock neighbours thanks to a double from Andrew Carmichael and a single from McCaig. But of course this was no Junior tie, the ‘U’s’ were now one of a healthy host of Juvenile clubs in the district.
The Junior season had yet to start but preparations were well under way and the Chronicle heralded that there was a new name for followers of this code to become acquainted with as well as an old one to reacquaint themselves with.
‘New Cumnock’s new club Glenafton Athletic and the revived Glenbuck Cherrypickers are forward with the entries for the Cumnock and Mauchline Cups, which association hold its AGM tomorrow’.
Representing Glenafton Athletic at the Cumnock and Mauchline Football Association AGM, held at Cumnock Town Hall on the Saturday afternoon was John Allan meeting up for the first time with the representatives of the other clubs – Messrs. Pringle and McCartney (Cronberry), Messrs. Davidson and McLean (Lugar Boswell); Messrs. J & D. Steele (Auchinleck Talbot); Messrs Stitt and Kyle (Kello Rovers); Messrs. McGregor and McCall (Cumnock Juniors) and J. Brown (Glenbuck).
The annual report made favourable reading with the income of £72 8s 5d outstripping the expenditure of £72 17s 1d, leaving cash-in-hand of just over 30 shillings. Some rule change proposals were also considered. Cumnock’s request that none of the semi-final or final ties were to be played outwith the county was rejected, while their proposal that each team contesting a final should get £3 instead of 15 railway fares, which appear to have been a common currency, was accepted. Kello Rovers were successful in having a rule implemented that ensured cups would not be handed over to the ‘winning side’ until the protest period had elapsed. Protests were a common feature of cup games, which if upheld would result in a game being replayed. Other matters that gained agreement included increasing the entry fee for each competition to 10 shillings and that the engraving of past winners names on the cups be updated.
Minute: Football House,
Sunday 27th July 1930
J. Grant gave report of the Ayrshire League Meeting. Agreed to leave team till Weds first to play Kello Rovers. Robertson and Park to see McGregor about barricade . C.McCann to see price of tickets, bills, team sheets and draw tickets. J. Allan moves that Mrs
Robertson get the washing. Agreed that A. Robertson be hamperman Gateman elected Burns, McCann, Allan, Robertson, Kilday and White. Trainers McQue and Grant
1. A winding rope was supplied by the NC Collieries
John Grant’s report would have included intimation of the league fixtures for the first two weeks of the South Ayrshire League as follows –
Saturday 2nd August
Auchinleck Talbot v Cumnock Juniors
Glenafton Athletic v Kello Rovers
Glenbuck v Cronberry Eglinton
Saturday 9th August
Cronberry Eglinton v Glenbuck
Cumnock Juniors v Auchinleck Talbot
Dalmellington United v Benquhat Heatherbell
Kello Rovers v Glenafton Athletic
Local derbies were the order of the day and were to be played over back-to-back week-ends, only Lugar Boswell of the nine-team League was yet to have a fixture fixed.
Coal Mines Act (1930)
New Cumnock Collieries as landlords of the Connel Park ground and the employer of many of the committee members and players alike of Glenafton Athletic had played their part in facilitating the return of Junior football to the parish. The Board of Directors unlike the aforementioned committee and players and of course the throng of tenants in the company-owned miners rows could be forgiven for not being completely consumed by the fast approaching opening game for the new club, for on the eve of that match, Friday 1st August, the Coal Mine Act (1930) came into being. Some four years had passed since the Mining Industry Act had given colliery owners statutory rights for seeking out and implementing amalgamations. This new act put in place a quota scheme of market shares in order to combat competition within the industry, strengthen prices and hopefully limit increasing unemployment.
In age-old fashion Saturday followed Friday and Glenafton Athletic played host to Kello Rovers from Upper Nithsdale in neighbouring Dumfriesshire, who were no strangers to Connel Park, having competed there against New Cumnock United on many occasions. The ‘changing room’ known locally as the Clachan was situated on the main thoroughfare through Connel Park on the New Cumnock to Dalmellington Road. From there the two teams had to run along the two hundred yard tunnel-like Football Row, their studs clattering off the pathway on the way to the playing field of Connel Park, sandwiched between South Boig farm (the Boo’ in) and the railway branch line to Knockshinnoch mine.
Many of the residents of the Football Row that day, along with hundreds more, would have already paid their entrance fee and taken their place behind the newly erected rope barricade at Connel Park to cheer the two teams into the ground and on to the field of play.
NOW’S THE DAY AND
NOW’S THE HOUR and a HALF!
Scots, wha hae wi’ Wallace bled,
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led
Welcome to your gory bed
Or to Victorie!
New Cumnock United were no more, it was now Glenafton Athletic’s responsibility to fly New Cumock’s standard on the playing fields of Junior Football. It wasn’t Rab Bruce wham led the ‘aften’ that day but probably centre-half Rab Kilday. It wasn’t Bannockburn field, but the glaury bed (for the rains came that afternoon) of Connel Park, that the first victorie was claimed.
South Ayrshire League
Connel Park, New Cumnock
Saturday 2nd August, 1930
GLENAFTON ATHLETIC 1
KELLO ROVERS 0
GLENAFTON BEAT THE ROVERS
Many New Cumnock folk braved the rain of last Saturday to see how their new club, Glenafton Athletic, would perform in the opening League fixture with Kello Rovers at Connel Park.
Playing against the storm, the Athletic did well to hold out their opponents. They have got a strong half-back in Torrance and the forwards did their share manfully. Half-time – No scoring. The second half was started in a thunderstorm, and seven minutes had gone when the winning goal came the way of the home team. From a raid by the whole attack Flynn slipped the ball to Sim who sent in a ball that gave the goalie no chance. A lot of mid-field play followed with no more scoring, and the Athletic deservedly win the points by 1-0.
Glenafton: Wilson; Park and Davidson; Fletcher, R.Kilday, and Torrance (Lugar); Ferguson, Campbell, Sim, Flynn and Dick Keggans
Kello: McDonald; Livingstone and Kerr; McLeod, Rorrison and Eadie; Whiteford, Hendron, Keggans, McLeod and Stevenson
Referee: W. Conn
Source: Cumnock Chronicle, 8th August 1930
Mrs Mag Allan of 17 Football Row made the tea for both teams at full-time, a gesture that was particularly appreciated by the visiting Rovers. The honour of scoring the first competitive goal for Glenafton Athletic fell to local lad 18 years old John Sim, like his father John, he was a plumber journeyman and lived at the Bank Glen.
Glenafton Athletic went on to win the Ayrshire South League, losing only 1 game in the seasom.
The New Cumnock side also won three cups -the Coylton Cup (beating Glenbuck Cherrypicker 5-1 in the final), the Mauchline Cup (beating Cumnock Juniors 2-1 in the final) and the Irvine District Cup (beating Cumnock Juniors 2-1 in the final).
An historic year for the parish of New Cumnock and for Glenafton Athletic.
In 1960 the club relocated to Loch Park in the heart of the town. The miners rows are all but gone and nothing survives of the Connel Park pitch other than the
The Valuation Rolls
Below I have transcribed the ‘head of the household’ and their occupation for three of the rows – The Football Row, the Long Row and the Store Row. Some of the names appear in the text above and I hope some of them mean something to you.
The Football Row
The Long Row
- My late father was brought up as Bobby Neil with the family of David Neil and Mary McLatchie at 10 Store Row.
- National Library of Scotland http://maps.nls.uk/index.html
- Scotland’s People at http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk