The Forgotten Vale of Champions

When West Dunbartonshire Ruled The World

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BY JEFF WEB

It’s hard today to remember a time when Scottish Football wasn’t ruled by the two big Glasgow clubs. However, there was a time when they didn’t.

In 1873 the Scottish Cup was first played and the first competitive game in Scotland kicked off at 1450 in Crosshill Park, Glasgow. The game was played between Renton FC and Kilmarnock where the West Dunbartonshire side ran out winners 2-0.

This game started a 20 years period where a small area of West Dunbartonshire would go on to rule the world.

It all started in 1872 when three clubs were formed along the small six mile stretch of the river Leven. The river which connects Loch Lomand to the river Clyde. Leads from Balloch in the north where Vale of Leven FC were formed, through the small village of Renton where Renton FC were formed, before it joins the river Clyde at Dumbarton where Dumbarton FC were formed.

In the first 20 years of the Scottish Cup, the three teams from West Dunbartonshire appeared in 13 of the first 20 Scottish cup finals, winning the cup 6 times.

In the early days, the Scottish Cup belonged solely to Queen’s Park when between 1873-74 and 1875-76 they won the cup each time. In the cup of 1876-77 Vale of Leven defeated defending champions Queen’s Park in the quarterfinals 2-1. That victory not only put the club through but also inflicted upon Queen’s Park their first ever defeat in competitive football.

After the victory Vale strolled past Ayr Thistle 9-0 in the semi’s to set up a final against Rangers. The final was ended in a 1-1 draw between the two sides. The replay at Hamilton Crescent in Glasgow’s Westend was the last cup final to be played at the ground where the world’s first international took place. That game also ended 1-1.

So, for the first of only four times in the cup final went to a second replay this time at Hampden. After a quarter of an hour Vale took the lead through an own goal. After the break  they conceded twice within two minutes and Rangers held the lead until the 70th minute when Vale pulled themselves level and then in the 88th minute Bob Paton one of the six forwards on the pitched scored a rebound after a Jackie Baird shot was parried by the Rangers keeper. In doing so Vale of Leven became the first club other than Queen’s Park to lift the cup.

This victory over Rangers was the start of Vale’s dominance over the next three season they would win the cup on each occasion. After defeating Ranger in 1876-77, they would go on to defeat Third Lanark in 1877-78 and Rangers again in 1878-79. In the final of 1879 Vale once again went to a replay against Rangers, Rangers who in the first game that ended 1-1 were angry that a goal they believed was legal had been chalked off by the referee so they stated that unless the SFA step in and correct the score they would not take to the field and play the replay. The SFA didn’t step in so Rangers refused to play, so Vale won their third Cup.

After this third cup Vale wouldn’t win it again but would continue to get through to cup finals but the baton was handed over to Dumbarton to become the leading light for West Dunbartonshire. In 1880-81 final Dumbarton got to the final for the first time but were defeated by Queen’s Park 3-1 after the first game was abandoned because of crowd encroachment.

The following season Queen’s Park and Dumbarton fought out the final again and this time after a 2-2 draw the game went to a replay where Queen’s Park came out on top 4-1.

Finally, though in 1882-83 Dumbarton won the cup after a replay beating local rivals Vale of Leven 2-1 after a 2-2 draw in the first game. Vale would go to the next three cup finals after this defeat. Losing to Queen’s Park the following season, they suffered another defeat in 1884-85 to rivals Renton when they beat them 3-1 in a replay after a 0-0 draw.

Renton would get to the final again the following season but were defeat 3-1 by Queen’s Park. After that Dumbarton got through to the final in 1886-87 but suffered defeat to Hibernian 2-1. 

In 1887-88 Renton won the cup again by defeating Cambuslang 6-1. This allowed Renton to take part in the “World Championship Game”. This was a game played between the winners of the Scottish Cup and the English FA Cup West Bromwich Albion.

Renton were massive underdogs going into the game. The English side were all professionals, this though didn’t seem to bother the Scots as Renton a team of amateurs from a village in West Dunbartonshire with a population of only 3000 people won the game 4-1. In doing so becoming Champions of the World. A few months later to compound their title they went on the play the invincible Preston North End in a friendly winning 4-1. After this victory the club had a steel sign commissioned stating they were world champions which was kept up above the pavilion at the clubs ground.

In 1890 the Scottish Football League was formed, and all three clubs were founder members. However, all three would have extremely different first seasons.

Dumbarton went on the win the title as joint champions with Rangers. Vale of Leven survived relegation by getting re-elected to the league after winning only 5 games all season. Renton on the other hand they were expelled from the league.

Renton were expelled for playing a friendly over playing a league game. After which the SFA expelled the club, not taking this lying down the club took the SFA to the court of session in Edinburgh and succeeded in winning and getting themselves back into the league for the following season.

In the 1891-92 season Dumbarton won the title again, this time outright. Renton would finish sixth in the table. However, Vale of Leven were terrible not winning a single game all season a feat that is only matched by Brechin City in 2017-18. During that dreadful season Vale conceded 99 goals in just 22 games.

Over the following few season’s Renton would slowly follow nearby neighbours Vale of Leven in falling out of the league system. By the turn of the century neither Vale of Leven nor Renton would be playing in the senior leagues. Apart from a couple of seasons after the First World War the teams spent their remaining time in local leagues before finally dwindling crowds and higher travel costs combined to finally shut the doors on these two pillars of footballing history.

Renton finally folded in 1924, 35 years after they had been World Champions the club sadly folded. In Renton’s 52 years they had gotten to five cup finals winning two and being World Champions once.

Vale of Leven struggled on a little longer before finally falling foul to the great depression in 1929 when the club sadly followed suit and folded. During Vale’s 57 years they had got through to seven cup finals winning three times.

Dumbarton on the other hand, despite not being as successful in the cup as their local rivals are still with us to this day. They haven’t been able to match the success they had back in the 1890’s but they still fly the flag for West Dunbartonshire in modern football.

In the years since, people have forgotten about how this small yet, largely forgotten part of the country made such a big impact on the modern day game in Scotland and how at one point in history a small village in West Dunbartonshire was home to football’s World Champions.