The Final Whistle
by Robert Gilmour – June 2006
In the 1950's and 60's children of all ages would play football games in the Lochwinnoch Public park, next to the railway banking. Some of these games could befifteen-a-side. As a train passed we would hurry to score a goal, or make a spectacular save, to impress or entertain the silent mobile crowd in the carriages as they entered or left the platforms. We used to imagine that there could have been a football scout on one of these trains, who may just be on the search for some new found talent to grace the national stadium.
At aged 19, I made my way to that same football mecca. This was the year of the world cup in England. Brazil were playing Scotland in a pre-competition warm up in a near 75,000 (official) crowd. Household names were on show. For Scotland – John Greig, Billy Bremner, Charlie Cooke and Jim Baxter. For Brazil – Jairzintto, Gerson, Amarildo and Pele. Scotland gave the reigning world champions a tough work out in a creditable 1 – 1 draw. Steve Chalmers scored in the first minute, with Servilio equalising in 16 minutes. Later in the game, my namesake Gilmar, brought out a superb save from a potential match – winning shot from Chalmers. Most of the Scottish team that night would make up the eleven who would put the champions – elect England, in their place 3 – 2 at their Wembley home, the following year.
As I made my way back to Mount Florida station to catch a train back to Glasgow city centre, the noise of the crowd still rang in my ears. I had finally seen the Brazil of my boyhood dreams. I checked my ticket stub for the second part of my journey home – Glasgow St Enoch – Lochwinnoch and the date, the 25th of June 1966. Almost 40 years to the day. A day that was to live for ever in my memory. It was to be an important day for Lochwinnoch as well although I was quite unaware of it at the time.
As the train arrived back into Lochwinnoch station, I threw my carriage door open to be confronted by a reception committee. Black crepe paper garlands draped the station buildings. People on the platform were wearing black rosettes. Mr & Mrs Taylor, their daughter Sheila, the Mackie twins and others whose names now escape me shook my hand, hugged me and the other passengers from the train. A young man jumped from a carriage, shook everyone’s hand and produced a bottle of whisky from a rucksack. He dispensed drinks all round and jumped back on the train. As it made its way out of the station we all stared after it until it disappeared into the distance. Nobody really spoke. Doctor Beechings’ railway closures had finally sliced their way through a part of Lochwinnoch’s history. I unwittingly had been on the last official passenger train to Lochwinnoch.
In 1840, the Glasgow, Paisley, Kilmarnock, Ayr line (GPKA) had opened with a station at Lochside. They amalgamated with other railway companies in 1850 to form the Glasgow and South Western Railway (G&SW). It was G&SW which opened the Johnstone North loop from Elderslie Junction to Brownhill Junction Dalry in 1905, calling at the new stations of Johnstone North, Kilbarchan, Lochwinnoch and Kilbirnie. The Lochside station closed on 25th June 1966 again leaving Lochwinnoch with only one station.
With the increasing ownership of cars and more freight finding its way onto the improving roads system, rail use was declining. The government had stations like Lochwinnoch in its sights. The Taylors and their friends had fought in vain to keep it open. They were now to turn their attention to the re-opening of Lochwinnoch lochside and were successful. They are all now unsung heroes of the battle.
On that June evening, as the little group of passengers and protesters made its way down the west subway, I thought of what it must have been like before this branch line opened. Most of what was then the village had an uninterrupted view of Castle Semple Loch and the beautiful green hills beyond. What become of all those planners, engineers and labourers who had uprooted from England and all over Ireland and Scotland to come and work and stay in Lochwinnoch? Some had moved on, some stayed. They probably have descendents in the village. Were their ghosts on that last train as it took its last journey down the line? As we reached Church St, some boys were making their way out of the public park. They were kicking a football back and forth. As the train sped its way towards Kilbirnie, did they also hear its whistle in the distance, signalling the end of the game.