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City celebrate 90 years at Borough Briggs home

By Robert Weir

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ELGIN City are celebrating 90 years at Borough Briggs.

City’s home ground was known as the "Public Park" from 1888 to 1921. The ground was opened on August 20, 1921, when Elgin defeated Inverness Citadel 3-0 in a Highland League fixture, Willie Raitt scoring the first goal at the Lossie Green end.

The new ground included a 600-seat wooden grandstand, which was built at a cost of £1,300 jointly with the Morayshire Farmers’ Club, who would hold their annual agricultural show at the ground during the last week of July until 1946. Changing rooms, boardroom and referee’s room were built at the rear of the grandstand, while the north side of the ground was banked up with earth.

In 1922, the Lossie Green (East End) was banked. On January 13, 1923, the ground staged its first Scottish Cup tie, when St Mirren were the visitors, the Paisley side winning 3-0 before a record 5,000 crowd. In 1926, the Haugh (West End) was banked, and in January 1927 Elgin claimed their first win in a Scottish Cup tie when Second Division Albion Rovers were defeated 1-0 thanks to a goal from Henry "Lossie" Duncan, before a crowd of 3,400. In the next round Elgin were defeated 4-2 by Clyde (Little did any one now at the time but it would be 84 years before the "Bully Wee" would return to Borough Briggs in a competitive match !).

Borough Briggs - home of Elgin City
Borough Briggs - home of Elgin City

On August 20, 1932, exactly 11 years after the opening game, former Elgin, Queen’s Park, Rangers and Scottish international, R.C. Hamilton, the then now Lord Provost of Elgin, unfurled Elgin’s first Highland League championship flag. Later the same year, the ground staged the first Scottish Qualifying Cup (North) final to be played at a Highland League ground, when Inverness Thistle defeated Penicuik Athletic 4-2 before a crowd of 4,150.

As well as the Union flag, the Stars and Stripes flew over Borough Briggs on September 1, 1934, as the Pennsylvania State College team played City in a friendly. It was Elgin who won the trans-Atlantic challenge 5-4.

On April 13, 1935, the ground saw its first major crowd disturbance as the Elgin District Cup final, between City and Forres Mechanics was abandoned with the score at 1-1. After a quiet first half, the game exploded into a rough-house after the break, and Keith referee Colin Harrower appeared to lose control. When he blew the final whistle, the home fans, who had seen favourite Ronnie MacKenzie suffer unpunished ill-treatment from the Forres players, invaded the pitch and took out their wrath on the referee and the Can-Cans’ players, who refused to go back out for extra time because of the crowd trouble.

In 1936, the payboxes were replaced by six turnstiles (still in use today!)

A pillbox was built into the banking at the Lossie Green end in 1939, to halt the German advance over the Lossie to Elgin? It was only removed in the summer of 2000.

Between 1939 and 1945 a number of matches were played at Borough Briggs to keep spirits up during the dark day’s of World War II. Servicemen from Scotland and England played "International" games in front of crowds of up to 4,000. Such illustrious names as Bert Williams, Bill Shankly, Harold Hobbs, Stanley Matthews, Stan Mortenson, Les Smith, Bobby Ancel, Jimmy Simpson, Joe Mercer and Tommy Walker graced the Elgin enclosure.

In the summer of 1949 the North side banking was replaced by concrete terracing and the first loudspeaker system was installed.

In the close season of 1953, having been spoken about since the 1930s, the centre section of the North enclosure was finally built. It was 160ft long with accommodation for 2,000 spectators.

On April 19, 1954, the ground played host to its first European visitors in the shape of the crack Austrian side, Admira Vienna. A crowd of over 5,000 fans saw an Elgin/Rothes select defeat the Austrian side 3-2 with goals from Logie (2) and Baird.

In the summer of 1960, the North enclosure was extended east by 80ft to hold a further 1,000 spectators.

On the 28th January 1961, City were involved in a Scottish Cup thriller against Airdrieonians, when another piece of history was made as the Black and Whites made their debut on the box. Along with 7,690 spectators at the game, STV cameras’ were there to capture the highlights for screening on "Scotsport" but, only in the Central Belt. The match finished 2-2, City going down 2-0 in the replay under the lights at Broomfield Park.

In the spring of 1963 the enclosure roof was extended to the west to give cover for some 4,000 spectators. That gave Elgin the largest covered terracing in North football.

During the autum of 1966, eight floodlight pylons were erected, each with eight lights. They were switched on for first time for the Scottish Cup 2nd Preliminary Round (replay) against Hawick Royal Albert on January 23, 1967. Before a crowd of over 5,000 fans, City won 2-0.

During the 1967/68 season a new cantilever stand 122 ft long, incorporating new dressing rooms, boardroom, office, referees’ room, gymnasium, and social centre was built. However, the original bench seating from 1921 wooden structure remained. The Scottish Cup campaign of 1967/68 saw the name Elgin City reach a nationwide audience, with wins over Albion Rovers, Tarff Rovers and Forfar Athletic. Borough Briggs was packed on February 17, 1968, by a new record attendance of 12,608 for the visit of promotion-chasing Arbroath. In another thriller, goals from Jimmy Anderson and Bryan Thomson gave City a 2-0 win, sending Elgin through to a Scottish Cup Quarter-final clash with Morton at Cappielow. However the cup fairytale ended in a 2-1 defeat to the Greenock side.

The social club was officially opened by Scotland’s national team manager Bobby Brown on March 20, 1969.

During the 1978/79 season the social club was extended to the east of the grandstand, taking in a restaurant and games room.

The floodlights were upgraded to UEFA standard, they were switched-on by Jock Wallace, who took his Leicester City side to Elgin as part of the deal that took Ian Wilson from Elgin to the Filbert Street club. In an entertaining match, Chico McHardy gave City the lead, but Leicester equalised thanks to a Gary Lineker strike before over 2,000 of a crowd.

For the first time in 45 years major crowd trouble returned to the terraces at Borough Briggs, on the 15th November 1980. Fans of Buckie and Inverness Thistle clashed at the Scottish Qualifying Cup final. After this segregation of rival fans at major matches at the ground became common place.

Sadly one of the least cherished memories at Borough Briggs took place on April 29, 1993, as the Highland League management committee – sitting in judgment inside Elgin’s own boardroom – stripped City of the 1992/93 Highland League Championship, in the Black and Whites centenary year, for alleged fixture rigging.

In 1999 Scotland defeated the Republic of Ireland 1-0 before 3,816 spectators. This was the first time that a non-League ground in Scotland had staged an U-21 International match. Having failed to gain Scottish League status in 1974 and again in 1994, Borough Briggs did see joyous celebrations in 2000, when City were elected to the SFL.

Much work had to be done to the old stadium to meet SFL standards. The old pillbox was demolished, sections of concrete terracing were built behind both goals and new 550 lux floodlights installed among other things. Thanks to Norman Green and his brother Ian, "Spud" and Colin Thomson some 600 seats were collected from Newcastle United’s St James’ Park, 478 of which were installed in the grandstand.

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