Glenbuck and Liverpool will forever be linked with one man, and they unite this week with the aim of reviving grassroots football in the Ayrshire community of his birth. The village of Glenbuck now lies derelict and overgrown, but the Glenbuck Football Academy now hopes to tap into the legend of Bill Shankly to nurture the footballing talent of the future.
It is something which the Anfield legend would surely have proudly approved of, as the Shankly Family Foundation joins hands with the Scottish Mine Restoration Trust to promote the grassroots game in both of the communities where the Shankly name is still idolised.
This week a charity bike ride leaves from Glenbuck for Merseyside, on the 20th anniversary of a charity walk made by a Liverpool fan in the opposite direction. After a ceremony at the Anfield Gates, attended by former Liverpool greats and family, the ride will make the return trip to coincide with a match between two select XIs from Liverpool and Ayrshire.
Former Clyde player and coach Robert Gillan runs the Glenbuck Football Academy at nearby Douglas, where the match will be played. He has strived over the years to maintain awareness of the spirit of Glenbuck, and to instil some of this in the next generation.
Sunday’s event sees Shankly’s old village team, the Glenbuck Cherry Pickers return to action for the first time in over 80 years. Gillan hopes they can become a name once again in Ayrshire grassroots football, even to restore and play on the side’s original Burnside Park pitch, where so many great footballers learned their trade.
Glenbuck was once a small, thriving industrial village, but had a unique trait for churning out talented footballers. There was Shankly himself, but also over 50 professional footballers down the years, including nine full Scotland internationals. For a village which barely ever registered much more than 1000 people it was an astonishing and unique ratio of talent to population.
“There’s been nowhere else in the world with that talent pool”, Gillan says, “Glenbuck was just a wee village. You’d need a quarter of a million people in London for 40 years to recreate that average. We had a conveyer belt for players here. There was something we were doing right.”
What they were doing comes straight from the mines where so many future footballers once worked. Gillan points to the one ethos which gave Shankly his entire world view, and which is central to his vision for the Glenbuck Academy.
“Shankly believed that you win and lose as a team, that the collective will to succeed is stronger than individuals. You never give up. It’s what drove his great sides, and it’s what created great players from Glenbuck.
“Those are great ideas to get over to the young people of today, whether they carry on to be successful footballers or not.”, he says.
“There’s so many avenues you can go down now in football. If you don’t make it as a footballer you can still go into coaching, scouting or physio. Young people can learn about diet and fitness. We want the kids to learn about football, but also become better people.”
Glenbuck still receives an annual swathe of pilgrims from Merseyside, with a plaque to Shankly there unveiled by Ron Yeats paid for by Liverpool supporters. Plans are now proposed for a visitors’ centre close by, along with a range of community developments. Gillan hopes his football academy can take centre stage in the project.
“It’s an exciting time, but we are aware of the funding challenges. We hope to do something worthy of Glenbuck’s memory and this weekend will be a great way to continue that.”, Gillan says.
“To benefit from the funds raised means so much and the money will have a tremendous impact on the youngsters at the academy.”