Remembering Clyde v RC Lens
On this day 60 years ago, The Bully Wee played their first ever competitive game in Europe, in the short lived Franco-Scottish Friendship Cup.
European football was on the rise in that period. The inaugural European Cup and Inter-Cities Fairs Cup were both held in the 1955-56 season, and five years later UEFA created the Cup Winners’ Cup. This came two years too late for Clyde’s class of 1958, who could have tested their mettle against the likes of Bayern Munich, Lazio, Athletic Bilbao and Porto had a tournament for domestic cup winners been around then.
Another European tournament was in the offing though. The French Football Federation came up with a concept involving eight of their clubs playing against eight sides under the combined banner of Scotland and England. The Scottish League rejected this however, so two Friendship Cups were created instead; one for the English to compete against four French clubs, with the other four taking on Scottish teams. The format was unusual in that there would be no progression to a semi-final or final; whichever country won the most games would be declared the winner.
Clyde were invited to take part after a fine 6th place finish in the old First Division in 1959-60. They were paired with Racing Club de Lens, who also finished in 6th position in the French League. The town of Lens, in the north of the country, was famous for its coal mining, and the club were financed by the Lens Mining Company. The first leg was played at the Stade Felix-Bollaert on a Sunday afternoon; not only would this be Clyde’s first ever European game, but it also be the first time they played a competitive fixture on a Sunday.
The Clyde travelling party flew from Renfrew Airport on the Friday and the delegation included Frances Dunn, daughter of chairman Willie. She put her linguistic skills to good use and acted as a translator, much to the relief of trainer Dawson Walker, who was worried about trying to converse with the hotel chef regarding his carefully planned meals for the team!
Johnny Haddow selected McCulloch, Walters, Haddock, White, Finlay, Clinton, Wilson, Herd, McLaughlin, Robertson and Gallacher to represent Clyde in their first foray into European football.
The Bully Wee broke the deadlock through Archie Robertson five minutes before the interval and John McLaughlin added a second just two minutes later. The Sang-et-Or (Blood and Gold) tried to hit back early in the second half and French international Michel Stievenard had Tommy McCulloch beaten, but his effort came back off the crossbar. The Lens defence then started to tire, and McLaughlin took full advantage to score a further two goals to complete his hat-trick, and record an excellent 4-0 away win.
Despite the result the hosts proved to be very courteous after the game. Each Clyde player was presented with a cigarette lighter in the form of a Davy lamp as a memento of the match, and the directors were given a larger one for the Shawfield boardroom.
The return leg took place seven-and-a-half weeks later near the end of September, under the Shawfield floodlights. The visitors took a look around The Bully Wee’s home on the morning of the match but decided against holding a training session, preferring to keep themselves fresh for the evening kick-off.
Haddow made two changes to his team from the first leg, with John Cameron taking the place of Joe Walters, who was nursing a broken leg, and Brian Callan came in on the left-wing for his debut, the latest player to try and fill the void left by Tommy Ring. The Shawfield staff put on a show, kitting the ballboys out in new red outfits with white caps and gloves. The Glasgow Police pipe band played both national anthems and a large French tricolour was unfurled before kick-off.
Only 7,000 spectators turned out on a cold crisp evening and the standard of football on display didn’t do much to warm them up. Lens took an eighth minute lead after McCulloch allowed a high ball to slip out of his grasp and sneak over the line, but it didn’t take Clyde too long to hit back, as George Herd rifled home a corner from Alex Wilson. McLaughlin capitalised on a defensive error just before half-time to give The Bully Wee victory on the night, as well as on aggregate, to maintain a 100% record in Europe!
In the other matches, Motherwell saw off Toulouse and Dundee recorded a victory over Valenciennes, which meant Sedan beating Celtic was only a consolation for the French. The Scottish clubs had won the trophy! The Franco-Scottish Friendship Cup ran again the following season but this time without Clyde, who suffered relegation from the Scottish top flight. A lack of interest from fans resulted in poor attendances and only three of the four ties were played, before the tournament was consigned to the history books.