Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Sporting Statues of Glasgow and the West of Scotland

Sporting Statues of Glasgow and the West of Scotland


I am a big fan of public art and I've written previously about the murals displayed on the walls of many Glasgow buildings and Partick Thistle giving away objects created by contemporary artists last season.


I would argue though, that sport and sports venues are now providing sculptors with their most reliable source of employment. Although it can be easy to sneer at many of these as dead-eyed simulacra, I have a bit of a soft spot for them. A 2014 study found that in Scotland, it was Glasgow which had the highest density of sports-related statues. I tried to have a quick look around all the sporting statues that I could think of in Glasgow and nearby towns, and have listed them below, but first a few quick thoughts on the whole notion of sporting effigies.

Some of the statues outside Celtic Park, Glasgow
Public art has been with us since the first caveman decided to celebrate catching a mammoth by daubing its image on the walls of his house. Early art works for public consumption could be regarded as PR exercises. Whether you are a Roman emperor showing the public your square jaw, chiseled in marble, or the church, the Kings and the Queens of yore able to pay the top artists of the day to reveal to the world all of your glory.

Royal art, for art's sake
Statuary of the rich and famous adorned many Victorian streets, including Glasgow's George Square. But by then, standing alongside royalty and the landed gentry you had other heroes of the age. In George Square we have Queen Victoria, but also Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott, inventor and engineer James Watt and chemist Thomas Graham. Glasgow has very few sculptures of real women (Queen Victoria, Lady Elder in Govan and Dolores Ibarurri/ La Pasionaria is it). There is currently a campaign to add to that number by funding a statue of Scottish political activist Mary Barbour. However since the last of Glasgow's female statues was erected in 1977, by comparison, there have been five football related statues of men put up in the city.

My holiday snaps of Ken Dodd in Liverpool...
...and Tommy Cooper in Caerphilly
Our modern day heroes being set in stone (or cast in bronze) are more likely to be entertainers and sportsmen (sorry, there are far fewer statues of sportswomen being built). Famous sons of Morecambe (Eric Morecambe), Liverpool (John Lennon, Ken Dodd) and Caerphilly (Tommy Cooper) are now becoming visitor attractions. In particular, creating sporting statues seems to be a growth industry, and on the whole, it is football leading the charge. 

Scotland's greatest footballing work of art - Kingsley,
the Partick Thistle mascot designed by artist David Shrigley


Sporting statues - the good, the bad and the ugly.


Many sporting statues seem to be not dissimilar in their general appearance. They are most commonly bronze, life-sized, and life-like in appearance. Intentionally expressionist or abstract renditions are rare. Unimaginative, safe, bronze zombies are common.

The commonest option appears to be immortalising the sporting hero in a formal pose, usually standing with a bit of sports equipment handy to give you a clue to who it is. Alternatively they can be rendered in an action shot - running, jumping or sliding. If poorly executed however, this runs the risk of making someone remembered for being fluid, fast and elegant, instead look accidentally leaden and heavy. Thirdly, a famous image can be recreated in statue form - holding a trophy aloft, aping a famous celebration or a classic photographic image.

Many sporting statues are famous for bearing no resemblance to the intended subject; for being weird, for looking more like the bust at the end of that Lionel Richie video than the intended sporting hero. The recently unveiled bronze bust of Ronaldo at Madeira airport maybe wasn't what they had envisaged when they ordered it, but I'm sure that their airport is now better known throughout the world than it ever was before.

Christiano Ronaldo at Madeira Airport. So bad it's good.
You do not get any weirder in the world of sporting statues than Mohamed Al-Fayed's decision to put a statue of Michael Jackson outside Craven Cottage. Once Al-Fayed lost control of the club it was removed from there and transferred to the National Football Museum in Manchester, a move Al-Fayed blamed for Fulham's subsequent relegation.

Michael Jackson statue at Craven Cottage
One statue that managed to stumble into all the available pitfalls in undertaking such an enterprise was Southampton Football Club's attempts to render former player, manager and director Ted Bates in bronze. The first effort was so embarrassingly bad that it was rapidly removed, and at great expense replaced with a less imaginative version.

Ted Bates version 1.0 and version 2.0
Some statues can be divisive. On attending a game in Sunderland a couple of years ago I came across the exuberant statue of Bob Stokoe outside the ground. He was the Sunderland manager who in 1973 led the club to their fist FA Cup victory in 46 years, the first time a second division team had won the trophy. His spontaneous run down the pitch, in trilby and mac, is captured in this statue outside the Stadium of Light in Sunderland. Some people are not keen on it, but it made me raise a smile when I saw it, and I think it is great.

Bob Stokoe statue outside Sunderland's stadium
Whilst Bob Stokoe looks full of energy the statue below, which I came across outside Twickenham rugby stadium in London I found just odd looking. Nine metres high and costing £455,000 to complete it shows a rugby line-out in full flow. It may well be an accurate representation of a moment in the heat of a match, but static, frozen, stationary, with best will in the world I could only see that the guy at the bottom was parting his colleague's buttock cheeks to look for his lost keys or something.

The point that I am clumsily trying to make is that a statue that makes a connection with you does not need to be the greatest work of art in the world, and if it is alien to you (like me and rugby), you just might not get it.

Rugby line-out statue at Twickenham Stadium, London

Sport statues in Glasgow and the West of Scotland - Football


When it comes to representations of real sports stars, it is the Old Firm that lead the way in the west of Scotland, and in particular Celtic FC. They have now redesigned the approach to Celtic Park from London Road, creating a path where fans can pay to have their name on a paving stone, alongside statues of several of the clubs heroes. The latest addition to their collection of statues is Billy McNeill. 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of McNeill captaining Celtic to European Cup victory in 1967, and there he is, looking down London Road with the cup held aloft.

Billy McNeill statue at Celtic Park
Nearby stand three other prominent figures in Celtic's history (or one sits and two stand, to be completely accurate). Sculptor John McKenna, who created the Billy McNeil statue, is also the man responsible for the statue of Jock Stein up near the main entrance to Celtic Park, again holding the European Cup. John McKenna also created the bagpipe carrying statue of AC/DC's Bon Scott, which now stands in Kirriemuir.

To confirm a slight "Lisbon Lions" tendency among Celtic statues, standing on Jock Stein's left is Jimmy Johnstone who played in the 1967 final. The Jimmy Johnstone statue has been here three years longer than his manager, being completed in 2008. It was created by Kate Robinson. She is also responsible for the statue of two figures which overlooks the M8 motorway in North Lanarkshire - Woman Man Sun Moon and for another statue here at Celtic Park. In 2005 she completed Celtic's first statue, the seated figure of "Brother Walfrid". Brother Walfrid was the Marist priest who founded Celtic Football Club. Originally from Ireland, but working in the 1880s at the Sacred Heart School in Glasgow, he proposed setting up a football club in order to raise money for the impoverished residents of the east end of Glasgow. In the overcrowded housing of the area many lacked food and employment, both the longstanding residents of the area and the new immigrants from Ireland, who also had to deal with discrimination. The new club played its first game in 1888, funnily enough, against Rangers.

Statues of Brother Walfrid, Jock Stein and Jimmy Johnstone outside Celtic Park
Jimmy Johnstone has previously been voted as Celtic's most popular ever player, and that maybe explains why there is another statue of him nearby. Six or seven miles east of Celtic Park, in his home village of Viewpark, Uddingston, Jimmy Johnstone stands with fist raised aloft. This is another John McKenna statue and it is clear that neither sculptor depicting him could represent someone known as "Jinky" in a stationary pose, as both statues try to get a bit of his movement into them.

Jimmy Johnstone statue, Viewpark, Uddingston
Just five miles away from Jimmy Johnstone's plinth in Uddingston, in the grounds of Hamilton Palace Sports Ground stands Davie Cooper. Born in Hamilton, Davie Cooper started his playing career at Clydebank, but found fame as a winger with Rangers FC in the 1980s. In 1995 he died suddenly from a brain haemorrhage at the age of 39. I have to say I don't think the statue really does him justice. Although the face is a good likeness, the proportions look a wee bit off. At least he is staring out over the football pitches at the nearby sports centre, ready to lay on a pass. The sculptor for this one, Kenny MacKay, has several other familiar sculptures that you might know. These include Donald Dewar at the top of Buchanan Street, the golden "Light and Life" figure atop the old Co-op warehouse beside the Kingston Bridge, and he moulded the leafy metalwork on the outside of Princes Square (designed by Timorous Beasties). 

Davie Cooper in Hamilton
The former Rangers captain John Greig is the other Rangers player who has a sculpture in the west of Scotland, although his is a far more sombre affair. Unveiled in 2001 as a memorial to the Ibrox disaster of 1971, he is depicted in a contemplative stance, with his left hand holding a football against his hip, and his head turned towards the direction of the entrance where many spectators died. A crush on the stairs here in the final minutes of a Rangers v Celtic match on January 2nd 1971 led to 66 people losing their lives, the youngest aged 9 years old, and 145 people being seriously injured. My uncle Ronnie and my uncle John were at the game together, each supporting different teams. They had left the match a few minutes before the end, and unaware of the later events they had headed off for a drink after the game. In the days before mobile phones let you track people down, their respective families were going crazy with worry until they rolled in later that night, oblivious to the disaster that had occurred at the match. Many other families did not have a similarly happy ending that night. Plaques on the plinth of the statue also commemorate those who lost their life in two other episodes at the stadium. Two people died on the same stairwell in 1961, and much earlier, twenty-five fans died during a Scotland v England game in 1902.

John Greig statue at Ibrox, commemorating the Ibrox disaster of 1971
Created by Andy Scott, it is a properly iconic statue. As a sculptor he has repeatedly demonstrated his ability to create great public art. Among his other popular works are the Heavy Horse beside the M8 near Easterhouse, and the fantastic Kelpies in Falkirk.

Despite Glasgow being the home of the Scotland national team, Partick Thistle, and Queens Park, that is it as far as footballing statues go in the city. Across Scotland there are a few other notable statues of footballers, such as a statue of Denis Law in Aberdeen and of a young, slim Jim Baxter in his home village of Hill O' Beath in Fife. Another destination oft visited by footballing tourists, particularly from Liverpool, is the village of Glenbuck in East Ayrshire, where a plaque marks it as the village that Bill Shankley came from.

Sport statues in Glasgow and the West of Scotland - Other Sports


There are not that many other commemorations of real athletes in this part of the world. Around Scotland we have boxer Dick McTaggart's statue in Dundee and racing driver Jim Clark in Kilmany, Fife. Golfers are represented by Ben Sayers in North Berwick, James Braid in Dalmahoy and Old Tom Morris at the Golf Museum in St Andrews. Runner Eric Liddell can be found in Edinburgh Old College and Hawick has motor cyclist Steve Hislop. However I was struggling to come up with many more in the west of Scotland, so I have been a bit loose with the definition of a sporty statue from hereon.

Clyde, the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games mascot, in Partick library
The Commonwealth Games of 2014 which took place in Glasgow included a varied arts program alongside the sport. Much of it feels a wee bit temporary now, a couple of years after the event. Across the city numerous versions of the games' mascot "Clyde" were placed during the games, all differently decorated by Glasgow schoolchildren. Twenty-two of these have now been re-located to various council premises across the city. You may have one at your local library or swimming baths.

"Big G" Commonwealth Games logo
The logo of the games, a "Big G" structure that stood in George Square, can now be found in Glasgow Green. It is very much just a marketing logo. I am not sure it really holds a warm place in many people's hearts and I don't think it will age well.

Rugby player outside Govan fire station
Glasgow's eleven fire stations had sculptures erected in their grounds before the Commonwealth Games, representing the various sports in the games. These were built by prisoners in HMP Barlinnie and are still on display around the city.

Hockey player at Calton fire station
Pondering other sports that might be commemorated with a statue I could not think of any horse racing or greyhound statues in the city. There are a few notable equestrian statues in the city that it may be worth mentioning however. The horseback Duke of Wellington statue on Royal Exchange Square, permanently topped off with a traffic cone, has become almost a symbol of the city. Two other slightly odd horsey statues are worth mentioning.

Buffalo Bill statue in Dennistoun
For four months in late 1891 "Buffalo Bill" Cody ran his Wild West show, featuring Annie Oakley and many more, at the East End Exhibition Centre on Whitehill Street in Dennistoun, off of Duke Street. This statue was put up in 2006 by the housing developer that built the nearby flats that year.  
Lobey Dosser statue on Woodlands Road
After several months of repairs (the statue gets repeatedly bent by people riding on it) the world's only two-legged equestrian statue is back in place on Woodlands Road, opposite West On The Corner, the former Halt Bar. Lobey Dosser, the sheriff of Calton Creek, was a character from Bud Neil's strip cartoon in the Evening Times newspaper from 1949 to 1956. Erected in 1992 by public subscription, the statue was created by Tony Morrow and Nick Gillon. Tony Morrow is also responsible for Dundee's statues of Desperate Dan and Minnie the Minx

Running Clock by George Wylie
What about athletics? Definitely a sport which appears to be underrepresented in statue form. One bizarre statue which Glasgow used to house, beside Scotstoun Swimming Pool, was of tracksuit wearing marathon runner and all-round weirdo Jimmy Savile. When his activities came under investigation by the police, his statue was discreetly vanished.

Although not the complete athlete, George Wylie's "Running Clock" statue outside Buchanan Bus Station is worth a mention, as running for a bus is probably the peak of physical activity that many of us do. It is rare in recent years that the council have managed to get the four clocks at the top of it telling the same time, but when I photographed it today, they were all actually telling the correct time too (plus five minutes to make you catch your bus). Another running man nearby stands outside what is now called Buchanan House. Some offices of Transport Scotland are housed here in what was built in the 1960s as new headquarters for British Rail in Glasgow. British Rail commissioned the sculpture to symbolise the "power and virility" of rail travel(?). At the time of its unveiling, journalists used this daft premise to ask, if that was the case why the sculpture was not anatomically correct, genitals having been omitted. Called "Locomotion" the sculptor was Frank Cossell.
"Locomotion" statue in front of Buchanan House
There is one more athletic sculpture I came across which once stood hereabouts, on the roof canopy of Bishopbriggs Sports Centre apparently. This picture below is a photo belonging to Hugh Barrow, one time runner and rugby player, taken from "The Sporting Statues Project" website. They report that the statue was atop Bishopbriggs Sports Centre from 1973 to 1995, and is in storage now. Three statues of "The Runner" were made in 1933, cast from a new aluminium alloy called Sindal. Originally modeled on Clydesdale Harrier athlete Bobby Gray, it was made by John Longden, a Baillie in Clydebank, who worked at Tullis's Kilbowie Ironworks. Apparently a plaster version of the statue stood in Clydebank Library for decades, but no longer. I am intrigued by him apparently being painted in Partick Thistle colours, but I am guessing that the red and yellow is in fact meant to be West of Scotland Football Club's rugby colours. Does anyone remember this statue? Where is he now?


Although football casts a long shadow, there are many other sports played in Glasgow. I have written about being a spectator at some of these previously, but speedway, ice hockey, rugby and basketball have yet to throw up a character sufficiently prominent in the public consciousness to merit a statue.

One sport however in which Glasgow has managed to produce champions that could take on anyone in the world is boxing. However there are not yet any sculptural reminders of these wee men on the city streets. A quick search of the internet finds that in boxing there have been 12 Welsh world champions and in Wales there are four statues of boxers. England has had 70 world champions, and has six statues of boxers, with one of Henry Cooper also on the way. Northern Ireland has had 8 world champions, and has four boxing statues.

Depending on who you count, Scotland has had between 13 and 18 world champions and has only two statues. It was briefly mentioned above that Olympic and amateur champion Dick McTaggart has a statue in Dundee. The other Scottish boxing statue that I could find commemorates the life of Newmains boxer, James Murray. The Scottish bantamweight champion died from a bleed to the brain after his last fight in 1995, aged just 25 years. Alison Bell is the sculptor who created this statue of him that stands in the centre of Newmains in North Lanarkshire, gloves raised and wearing his champions belt. A reminder of the risks boxers take every time they go into the ring.

James Murray, boxer from Newmains

Any more statues on the way?


In the past week I have had news on my Twitter timeline about fundraising schemes to build statues in Glasgow for comedian Billy Connolly, campaigner Mary Barbour, and in his hometown of Saltcoats, "Lisbon Lion" Bobby Lennox. This latter one has John McKenna penciled in to create the statue, as he slowly works his way through the whole 1967 Celtic squad.

Benny Lynch training for a fight, photo possibly taken at Firhill Stadium
One campaign that I think has a lot of merit, and already has some momentum behind it, is the push to remember boxer Benny Lynch with a statue. Like many of the sportsmen named above, Benny Lynch grew up in a poor neighbourhood, in his case the Gorbals in Glasgow, and his boxing ability was what lifted him to become champion of the world. Thousands of people came to greet him at Glasgow's Central Station when he returned home as champion, and carried him shoulder high. I hope that either in the station, or near his Gorbals origin, we soon see a statue to Scotland's finest boxing champion. You can find out more about the campaign here, including how to contribute.



If anyone can think of any other sporting statues near Glasgow that I have omitted, or any glaring factual errors in what I have written above, please let me know in the comments below.
For more info on much of this see The Sporting Statues Project.

1 comment:

  1. I used to read your blog but some how lost the link. I currently live in Shanghai but moving back to Glasgow next year and looking forward to following some of your routes.

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