South Scotland

Queen of the South v Hearts: A face in a record-breaking crowd

Queens game Image copyright British Pathe

Most of us can only imagine what it might have been like.

For the majority of football clubs across Scotland, you would have to be at least in your 70s to really remember their record attendance game.

A combination of safety regulations and competing attractions means such crowds will never be seen again.

But how was the match experience in the days when the whole town turned out to watch their team? John Paterson, from Dumfries, is lucky enough to know.

A lifelong Queen of the South fan, he was a teenager when he and 26,551 others packed into Palmerston Park for the visit of Hearts for a Scottish Cup tie in February 1952.

Image caption John Paterson vividly remembers the match from more than 60 years ago

He had first gone to see the Doonhamers with his father in August 1945 when they beat Hibs 3-0 and he has been "hooked ever since".

"In those days you had nine, 10, 11 thousand people going to the game - a poor gate was about 8,000," he said.

"But then again, there was nothing else, TV was just in its infancy and there was no Saturday afternoon sports coverage or anything like that.

"To go to Palmerston, walking down Buccleuch Street across Buccleuch Street bridge it was just a horde of folk going there and then a horde of folk coming back.

"For anybody trying to go in the opposite direction, it was impossible."

'Amazing day'

Queens had won promotion in the summer of 1951 back into the top division of Scottish football and there was optimism about their chances against a strong Hearts side.

"I think from memory we had drawn with Hearts 1-1 the week before and we turned up at this all-ticket game at Palmerston with a monster crowd," said Mr Paterson.

"It was amazing to see, there was hardly any room in the park. It was just an amazing day."

He watched from the left hand side of the main stand with high hopes that the south of Scotland outfit could get a result.

This was a side which the 80-year-old rates as "without question" the best Queen of the South team he has ever seen.

Image copyright British Pathe

They boasted goalkeeper Roy Henderson - voted the club's greatest ever player in a newspaper poll nearly 50 years after his career ended - and record goalscorer Jim Patterson, as well as Scotland international Billy Houliston.

"They were a formidable team," said Mr Paterson.

"The atmosphere was phenomenal, it was the first big game that I had been to," he said.

"I had been to a semi-final against Rangers at Hampden but this was in Palmerston and you didn't know how many people were going to turn up and 26,500 turned up.

"The Terregles Street end was absolutely packed, Portland Road end you couldn't move and the Coo Shed was full to the gunnels.

"Kids were allowed to sit inside the track."

Fantastic atmosphere

The game itself proved a step too far for Queens, they slipped two goals behind and, although they pulled one back, ended up suffering a 3-1 defeat.

"We anticipated we would be able to do something," said Mr Paterson.

"All football fans think their club can do it on the day.

"It was an anticlimax on the day but the atmosphere was fantastic.

"Maybe the occasion got to us, we hadn't played in front of 26,000 folk before - maybe that had something to do with it, I don't know."

Image copyright British Pathe

Like any football fan, Mr Paterson gets a little nostalgic thinking about those times.

"It was a simple game, they played with two full-backs, three midfield and five forwards - with the two inside forwards being the powerhouse, running back and forward - and two wingers, Bobby Black on one and Jackie Oakes on the other," he said.

"It's the most attacking type of football, wingers get the ball, race to the corner flag, cut the ball across for somebody running onto it."

'Get a buzz'

However, his passion for the game has not dimmed over the years.

"You just lived from one Saturday to the next," he said.

"Unfortunately - maybe that's not the right word - it is the same now.

"I still live from Saturday to Saturday and I still get a buzz on a Saturday when I know I am going to be watching Queens and I get a lot of pleasure out of watching them.

"Folk think I'm daft. If Queens are playing and I can feasibly get there, that's where I will be."

It is a love for the Doonhamers which he has transmitted to his family.

Image copyright British Pathe

"I took my son when I think he was seven years old to his first game, now he is vice-chairman of the club," he said.

"And his two sons, my grandsons, are there every Saturday home and away."

One thing they won't see, however, is a crowd like their father and grandfather saw inside the confines of Palmerston Park.

"For health and safety reasons you can't get more than about 8,700 I think," said Mr Paterson.

"We are never going to draw those kind of attendances on a regular basis, unfortunately.

"If we could do that we could possibly see ourselves improving and being able to compete at a higher level."

Last season's average attendance was just a little over 2,000, which means every single one of them would have had to take a dozen friends in order to match the club's record crowd.

We modern day supporters must accept that we will never know that kind of atmosphere.

But we can still take time out to talk to fans like John Paterson to get a flavour of what it was like to be there.


Did you or a close member of your family attend your club's record attendance game? Share your memories of the day or what they told you about it via email togiancarlo.rinaldi@bbc.co.uk.