Barrowfield was the home of Celtic’s training for many years. The site still exists today, and the club are looking to convert it into a modern complex to complement Lennoxtown. It is dilapidated in its current form, but the great thing about Barrowfied was that fans could scale the fence or climb a tree to watch their heroes’ train.
Barrowfield was purchased by Celtic in the summer of 1959 and the club immediately prepared a series of red blaze pitches to establish a training ground which would be available when the turf was frozen at Celtic Park. It was a popular place with Jock Stein and his players, who enjoyed the novelty of training somewhere other than the stadium from time to time.
Some Celtic Boys Club matches took place at the training centre as late as the 1990s, before Celtic got their own in-house academy, then reserve games took place there when Celtic Park was unavailable.
The site is probably most famous or infamous for the incident between Tosh McKinlay and Henrik Larsson in November 1997. It was then, in the lead up to the first Glasgow derby of the season, that the pair got into a dispute at training and McKinlay headbutted the Swede. He was subsequently ordered to stay away from the club and was left out of the squad for the following game against Motherwell. However, the pair resolved the issue amicably and McKinlay was brought back into the fold after internal disciplinary procedures had taken place.
As the years progressed, Barrowfield became a bit of a problem in the sense that it didn’t boast the facilities that top European clubs had at their disposal. Players had to get changed at Celtic Park and then travel to Barrowfield. This wasn’t much of an issue in previous generations, and indeed there are some cracking images of the Lisbon Lions running along London Road in their boots. However, in more recent times with Martin O’Neill and Gordon Strachan in charge, it was a little bit unprofessional for the era.
The set up also allowed the press to camp outside Celtic Park and ambush the players. This fact was something that agitated Roy Keane in his short stint with the club, as he was used to the heavily fortified structure of Carrington, where players could train in peace. A newspaper in Antrim (Sunday Life) actually mocked Keane’s move to Celtic by stating: “If Keane caused a national scandal over the Republic of Ireland’s training ground in Saipan during World Cup 2002, wait till he gets a load of Celtic’s set up at Barrowfield, it’s Falls Park without the facilities.”
In May 2002, Blair Nimmo liquidated Airdrie Football Club and invited Celtic to purchase their £6.5m stadium to train on as, in his words, “It would be the perfect ready-made replacement for the dilapidated Barrowfield training ground.” Celtic already used Airdrie’s Broomfield Stadium for reserve matches at the time, but nothing materialised on this front.
Four months after being invited to buy Airdrie’s ground, Tommy Burns and then Chief Executive Ian McLeod went to visit Barnsley Football Club. The pair were given a guided tour of Barnsley’s Academy, seeking to gain an insight into setting up value for money training facilities.
The club had already been observing the situation around the training facilities for a number of years by this stage. Indeed, in December 2000, Martin O’Neill gave an interview to the Sunday Tribune, when he said: “I expect improved training facilities, including two extra pitches, at Barrowfield for the start of next season. I’d be looking at a building, a canteen where all the players, including youth ones can eat together. The building might only be temporary to start with but there’s room to expand.” At that time, Rangers had just approved a £10m training complex on the outskirts of Milngavie, which had prompted the interview with the journalist, such is the sad nature of “Old Firm” reporting at times. O’Neill, who was then quite new in the role, said: “They’ve planned it for some time – good luck to them. It would be fair to say we have plenty of catching up to do but there are teams in England who have state of the art facilities and they’re not winning as many games as they’re expected to.”
Certainly, by 2005 it was time to modernise as was reflected in the decision to submit planning permission for a relocation of the training ground to a site in Lennoxtown. Celtic’s Chief Executive, Peter Lawwell, said: “There is an inconvenience factor here. The problem isn’t the impressive stadium. It is the training facilities on the other side of London Road which are perfect in their proximity, but inadequate by most other measures. Players come here, get changed, get into a car and drive down to Barrowfield then drive back wet and sweaty. It’s just not right for a club like ours.” Lawwell went on to talk about the difference that Lennoxtown could make in terms of signing players but said that Barrowfield would be redeveloped if the Lennoxtown project wasn’t accepted, despite its limitations.
Of course, planning was approved, and Celtic moved to Lennoxtown in 2007, where they remain.
In July 2019, Celtic announced that they had applied for planning permission to launch a major re-development of its training centre at Barrowfield. The intended re-development would see the club unveil another first-class facility, including one of the largest indoor football arenas in Scotland, featuring a FIFA approved full sized artificial surface. The site will also feature a new gymnasium, extended parking and changing facilities, along with a refreshment and grandstand area for spectators. The thinking behind this idea is that it will complement Lennoxtown by offering the first team a better indoor alternative when the weather is poor, whilst the women’s and academy teams can utilise the facilities at other times.