TWO padlocks on a gate point to a grave secret inside: the first Hampden Park is facing an existential crisis.

Experts from Archeology Scotland arrived this week to continue excavating at the site which is located at Hampden Bowling Club in Glasgow’s south side amid general excitement about what they might find.

A looming disaster was not what they expected to uncover: the bowling club’s committee is set to stand down and the pavilion roof that will house their potential replacements is leaking badly, prompting fears among members that the club will simply cease to exist.

Recent heavy rain has highlighted long-standing structural damage to the roof and as such the bowling club has been deemed unsafe for use.

Conservative estimates place the repair bill at £150,000 but the club – which has charitable status – simply does not have the money required to fund the project on its own. Structural matters are also proving problematic inside the club where a potential power vacuum exists: without a new committee in situ there can be no vote on the next steps required to save not only the bowling club but also the first Hampden.

Glasgow Times: Digging continues on the old siteDigging continues on the old site

The venue’s historical significance is undisputed. It was the location of the first purpose-built stadium in world football and played host to a number of international matches between Scotland and England during the late-Victorian era.

It was also the home of Queen’s Park – the pre-eminent club of the day – between 1873 and 1883 and is the birthplace of the modern passing game as practised by the Scotch Professors.

The Scotch Professors included notable protagonists such as Andrew Watson, the first black footballer, Charles Campbell, credited with inventing heading, and James Weir, the so-called Prince of Dribblers.

Last year, Watson and Campbell’s contributions to Scottish football were enshrined in a mural on the wall of the more recently built pavilion at Hampden Bowling Club.

During their initial investigations earlier this year, archaeologists discovered the polished sandstone foundations of the original first Hampden pavilion, parts of wire fencing and beer bottles from the era in the Kingsley Rose Gardens that sit alongside the bowling club. Ground-penetrating radar also located the stadium’s boundary wall.

“It was the equivalent of finding the oldest football in the world inside the walls of Stirling Castle. It was a football goldmine,” says Graeme Brown, the outgoing bar convenor of the Hampden Bowling Club.

“That alone is amazing. Meanwhile, the world’s most important football building roof is sitting with a tarpaulin on it. Literally the roof – the original Hampden roof – has fallen in and the club has a shackle on the door.

"We need the community’s help. We need white knights to get involved. History is repeating itself as it has done with other bowling clubs but this is not any bowling club. This is the bowling club.”

Brown’s point is pertinent. You only have to look down the road to Mount Florida where residents have spent two years fighting its sale to a developer, while, across Scotland, greens have been closing at an alarming rate. Hampden needs an experienced committee to tackle the challenge facing it or it, too, will be forced to close or sell off part of the grounds.

That has prompted calls from members to ask for community help.

Will Moffat, Hampden’s residents’ liaison officer, says the fear is that their club will be left abandoned, and while he says it is a local concern there are wider ramifications for the rest of Scotland, too.

“There are a number of contexts. I’m a new bowler. It’s right on my doorstep, it’s a pleasant place, I like the people there. The bigger issue for people who live here is that we wouldn’t want to see it closed and we certainly wouldn’t want to see a block of flats built there. My message to the community would be: the doors are open. The club is very open to ideas, very open to any connecting things that can be built upon.

“I think the significance to the wider Scottish community is that we are trying our absolute hardest to hold on to a site that means so much to not only bowlers, because it is a very old, established club but also to people who have that football connection and the two things should be able to live together in some kind of harmony. In the longer term, it is a relationship that the club would benefit from and football people would benefit from as well.

“Some people arrived in the rose gardens on the day of the Archeology Scotland dig and they had photographs with them and they were showing them to people. They had been doing their own research and were so proud to be able to help add their little pieces to the jigsaw puzzle and add to the picture.

Glasgow Times: Hampden Bowling ClubHampden Bowling Club

"It’s about ensuring that momentum and vibrancy doesn’t get lost. Another picture is that the club merrily trails on as it is at the minute which will be towards self-destruction because they will not have enough money to fix the roof and the club will have to close.”

Ged O’Brien, founder of the Scottish football museum and author of the forthcoming book The Scottish Game: How Scotland invented world football, says the bowling club’s status must remain intact.

“It’s absolutely critical for the history and the heritage of both Scotland and world sport. Every country on earth that loves football has a legitimate interest in how Hampden Bowling Club survives because their football ultimately goes back to that patch of grass.

"I would reasonably hope that both UEFA and FIFA, with their exceedingly deep pockets, come to the aid of the building. After the Second World War, FIFA was financially gubbed. In 1947, to celebrate the return of the home nations to FIFA, a match was held between Great Britain and the Rest of Europe at Hampden and all the money from the 130,000-plus crowd went to FIFA. So, 75 years later, it would be really nice if FIFA helped out Hampden in the same way that the third Hampden helped them out 75 years ago.”

And if the wider football community is unprepared to help, O’Brien believes the National Trust or other heritage organisations should step forward because of first Hampden’s importance in a global and historical context.

“I regard the first Hampden in the same way as someone would regard the Palace of Holyrood. In fact, the site of Hampden is more important and has more meaning to the world than the Palace of Holyrood, fine though I am sure it is.

"Archaeology Scotland, through the work they have done, have shown for the first time we are getting an acceptance amongst official heritage organisations that football is a subject worthy of study and preservation so I would reasonably expect the art and architecture bodies of Scotland to be taking an interest here in something which is not nationally significant, it is internationally significant.

"I am a member of the National Trust of Scotland, this is the kind of thing they should be diving in to help with, we’ve got enough large houses that have been preserved, we’ve got enough castles that have been preserved. This is the mecca of world football.”

The final word is left to Brown, who has dedicated the last six and a half years of his life to helping to run the bowling club and establishing its provenance as the site of the first Hampden Park.

He has a powerful message to those who live nearby and the impact any change in circumstances might bring.

“This is the football equivalent of being beside the Rusacks Hotel which overlooks the Old Course of St Andrews. Kingsley Avenue overlooks the home of football and the world’s first international football pavilion. The majority of the world doesn’t know it yet. Imagine what happens when it does.”

And if the community does nothing?

“That’s it. Done. Dead. The magnitude of the work is enormous. Time is the greatest resource but the club needs to come up with a plan. They are a charity and their role is to make sure they provide that activity for the community and, at the same time, the community needs to step up and drive the future of this amazing club and site. The rewards for their efforts will be exponential.”