Standing free; the ancient story of women’s football in Scotland; (Part Two)

Two hundred and forty five years on from that first historic account at Carstairs, a happy scene played out on another Lanarkshire green, less than nine miles distant. The date was 26th August 1873 and a party of the Turfholm Industrial Female School, to the number of 125, enjoyed their annual summer excursion with a visit to Birkwood Castle near Lesmahagow. Birkwood was the residence of John Gregory McKirdy, whose father had purchased the estate after amassing his wealth as a merchant operating out of Demerara in British Guiana. As was common in the mid-Victorian era, the gates of grand estates like that of Birkwood were thrown open in the summer months to host a wide range of organised excursions, from Sabbath School pupils and juvenile abstainers to factory workers. As with many of these excursions the girls at Birkwood were treated to a picnic and enjoyed an afternoon of games. Significantly, one of the games is clearly listed in the Hamilton Advertiser as being football,

After devoting a short time to foot-ball and various games, the happy party were entertained to a substantial tea, set out on tables arranged on the lawn adjoining the castle. Games were then resumed, and kept up with much enthusiasm for a few hours.

The front edifice of Birkwood Castle, Lesmahagow, South Lanarkshire

When perusing the almost countless references to excursions across Scotland for much of this era it is useful, for the purpose of this article, to divide them into four categories. The first category relates to examples where girls are clearly excluded from playing football. These are quite numerous although far from universal. Typically, within this category, the boys and girls separate into distinctive groups for their games. For example, with a Sabbath School excursion to Pitreavie Castle near Dunfermline in 1861, one article writes of ‘the boys running races, playing at hand-ball, foot-ball, etc, and the girls finding plenty of amusement for themselves in their own peculiar games.’ In the age of ‘Muscular Christianity’ there were certainly prevalent views of football as a masculine activity which mirrors attitudes surrounding the codified game at the end of the century.

The second category relates to mixed games involving males and females and the third relates to female only games, like that of Birkwood. The fourth and final category, which is significant in number, relates to football activities at excursions where males and females are present but where no reference to the gender of the players is given. An example of this can be found with a Sabbath School visit to Kerse House at Grangemouth in 1868 where ‘refreshments were subsequently supplied to the children, and the afternoon was passed in a very pleasant manner by playing at football and various other sports.’ For the purpose of this article, I will primarily highlight examples that can be found relating to the second and third categories.

First, however, one potentially large body of references needs, in my opinion, to be acknowledged but discounted.  These are the annual excursions of the British League of Juvenile Abstainers. Organised by John Hope (founder of the first known football club in 1824), large groups of girls and boys enjoyed annual trips out to the estates of prominent landowners. The annual excursion for the girls was planned on a separate day from the boys and, as the memorandum for the visit of the girls to Dirleton Castle in 1863 suggests, the evidence, on the face of it, looks very promising as football appears to be on the list of activities…

10. A supply of footballs will be found at the League cart. The Assistants are requested to apply there for the same, and to do what they can to promote the games and the happiness of the children.

However, the printed programme of events from the same excursion tells a different story…

20. The games for the females will consist of hoops, skipping-ropes, ball &c.; and the games for the males will consist of foot-ball, hand-ball, leap-frog, cross-tig, races, drill, &c., &c…

My only explanation for this anomaly is that Hope, who was well known for his thrift, effectively used the same memorandum for both excursions. If so, this would relegate the football reference (including all of the other British League annual excursions) into the first category (exclusion). Certainly, for the opening of his playground at Stockbridge in 1854, Hope advocated football being one of the games recommended exclusively for boys with alternative games being advocated for girls. The reason for highlighting this discrepancy is simply to bring it to the attention of anyone looking to research the subject. I, of course, stand to be corrected if this is proved to be a wrong assumption.

Now back to some tangible examples of games. An excellent illustration of a specific game for girls can be found at the Grangemouth Band of Hope excursion to Kerse House in 1862. Like with other excursions, the boys and girls were split up for the games with a football being produced for the former to enjoy. However, as the article goes on to explain, the latter would also have an opportunity to enjoy a game…

Meanwhile the girls have doffed their cloaks and bloomers, and are amusing themselves in forming large rings… Here Mr Allan produced a handsome coloured ball, for the especial delectation of the girls, and they were at it immediately almost as frantically as the boys, skipping over the green lawn, here and there and everywhere – perhaps a chance kick sending the ball among the flower-beds, to the silent consternation of Mr Weir, who imagined his followers would receive small share of attention during the scramble that ensued to obtain possession.

A curious and fascinating reference comes from a football club established at Spa in Belgium in 1863. Created primarily by two wealthy Scottish families, the Hunter-Blairs and the Fairlies, while on a holiday stay in the town, the club appears to have involved many members of both families. At the top of the document, underneath the illustration of a football is the following Latin inscription, IN PEDE VIS VIRTUS (which translates as In Foot, Power and Strength). The original document detailing the membership of the club, is displayed at Blairquhan Castle (the home of the Hunter-Blairs) in Maybole, Ayrshire.

I have taken care not to overplay the significance of this discovery, interesting though it may be. The creation of the club as part of an extended family activity suggests that it was not something more formal in standing or long lasting. In the document, Sir Edward Hunter Blair is listed as Patron with Lady Hunter Blair, a Mrs Fairlie and a Miss Fairlie listed as Patronesses. Intriguingly Miss Fairlie is listed as Treasurer. There is a list of four Honorary Members (all female) and 10 Members (all male). Although the 10 members (presumably the players) are male, the wider testimony contained within the page provides an interesting early connection between women and the organisation and patronage of recreational football. Although I have issued a cautionary note when highlighting the existence of the document, I do appreciate that for others the listing of a female football official from such an early period, could be argued as being something of much greater significance.

Document detailing the Foot Ball Club of Spa, Belgium, 1863

Moving back to Scotland, we have an example at Bonskied House near Pitlochry in 1868 of a game where the boys are matched against the girls. The excursion involved the scholars attending the Day and Sabbath Schools connected to the Free Church in Pitlochry. In this case,

The most exciting game was football, where the girls, supported by Mr Alex. M’Laren – a thorough enthusiast among the children – opposed the boys. The ground was very much in favour of the former.

The following year a mixed game was observed during the excursion of the Hutcheson Band of Hope to Langbank in Renfrewshire. A sizeable group of children estimated to be upwards of 400, headed by the Thistle Flute Band, were brought to a large field beside the village where ‘all over the field an endless variety of games were being prosecuted by the boys and girls – such as foot-ball, cricket, rounders, leap-frog, etc.’

Similarly mixed games were evidenced at Roseneath in Argyll (1870) and St Brycedale in Kirkcaldy (1871). The first example was an excursion involving around 200 children from the Govan Sabbath School where ‘Football, races, and other “jolly” games, equally shared in and relished by boys and girls, filled up the remainder of the day.’ The second example was an excursion to the policies of St Brycedale held by the local Links Mutual Improvement Society with an estimated turnout of 250 members. At this event, ‘Football was carried on with the utmost vigour not only by the young men but even by the young women.’

These examples are most certainly the tip of the iceberg and the case of the St Brycedale game which took place in May 1871 is a good example of the importance of detail in the observation. The above article, taken from the Fife Free Press and Kirkcaldy Guardian gives clear reference to young women playing football (as well as the young men). However, a report in the same newspaper of an excursion involving the same organisation to the same place a few months later (August 1871) does not provide specific details as to the players, but simply states that ‘between three and four hundred individuals took part in the amusements, which comprised foot-ball, jingo-ring, dancing, &c.’ On the basis of the previous excursion, one might assume that women as well as men would have been involved in the football activity but the lack of detail is not helpful.

A couple of months before the visit of the Turfholm Industrial Female School to Birkwood Castle, an excursion of Arbroath’s High Street Free Church Choir to Gannochy Bridge near Edzell, provided another example of football activity. The report in the Arbroath Guide states that,

After doing ample justice to the repast, games were commenced – swings, football, &c., which were heartily gone into by both sexes. The latter half of the day was occupied in visiting the gardens and beautiful surroundings of the Burn estate.

The story of women’s and girl’s football, from the first account of 1628 to the end point of my research in 1873, still largely remains hidden but enough examples have already emerged to demonstrate that it did exist and at times even thrived. Much work needs to be done on the subject and without doubt there will be new discoveries along the way. Hopefully these two articles, brief though they may be, serve as an introduction to a long and proud tradition.

Standing free; the ancient story of women’s football in Scotland (Part One)

On a warm and sunny day in August 2018 the little green at Carstairs village in South Lanarkshire became the centre of attention for representatives of Scotland’s sports media. They had been invited to attend an event which marked a significant milestone in the history of women’s football in Scotland. The 21st August 2018 marked the 390th anniversary of the first recorded evidence of women playing football in Scotland. It also marked the first record of women playing football anywhere in Europe. Supporting the event that day was Rose Reilly, a pioneer and superstar for the women’s game in Scotland, Vivienne MacLaren, Chair of Scottish Women’s Football, Aileen Campbell, the local constituency MSP, and Karen Fraser, a PhD student from the University of Stirling, who has devoted her academic studies to the history of women’s football in Scotland.

Vivienne MacLaren, Rose Reilly, Aileen Campbell and Karen Fraser mark the 390th anniversary at Carstairs village green

For the past twenty years or so the women’s game has gone through a significant degree of restructuring and expansion which has culminated in significant breakthroughs at club and national team level. A new generation of trailblazers have been created. And yet there is a much older and largely hidden history of the game which is just starting to emerge. Through the research of Dr Jessica MacBeth, Stuart Gibbs, Karen Fraser, Professor Jean Williams, Dr Fiona Skillen, Steve Bolton and many others, a wider understanding of the rich history of women’s football in Scotland, is being reached. Certainly, women played the association game in Scotland from the late nineteenth century and throughout the twentieth century despite having to put up with systematic and institutional discrimination for much of that time. Women’s football was not recognised by the Scottish FA until 1974 and the women’s national team did not come under Scottish FA control until 1998.

As can be attested by the gathering at Carstairs in 2018, it is a story much older than what was once known and one that the current and future generations of devotees to the association and rugby code can look back on with pride. The story starts then on 21st August 1628 with the withering remarks of a kirk minister…

The same day, Mr John Lindsay, minister at Carstairs, having regretted the break of the Sabbath by the insolent behaviour of men and women in footballing, dancing and Barley Breaks, ordains every Brother [Minister] to labour to restrain the foresaid insolence and break of Sabbath, and to that effect to make intimation thereof into their several kirks next Sabbath day.

The minister’s ire was not so much raised by the fact that women were playing football. He appears to be equally concerned with the men. It is more the fact that they chose to play football and indulge in the other activities on the Sabbath day, a day which the Scottish Church of the early seventeenth century expected to be kept solemn and devoted solely to God. It is down to the refusal of the local people of Carstairs village to accept the restrictions placed on them by the kirk that we have this notable early reference.

Move forward 28 years and just a few miles to the south we find the next reference to women playing football. Once again we have the reference thanks to the anger of a local kirk minster. This time, however, it is not the breaking of the Sabbath that causes the upset, but the celebration of a pre reformation festival – ‘Fasting’s Even’ (Fastern’s E’en or Shrove Tuesday). The kirk session minutes from Lamington in Lanarkshire is dated 28th January 1656 and states the following…

The session considering one superstitious and abominable custom that has continued still in this parish, that men and women used promiscuously to play at foot-ball upon Fasting’s even; and also considering what evil and sad consequences has followed there upon, viz. uncleanness, drunkenness, and fighting, they do unanimously discharge and inhibit the sad old superstitious and abominable practice. And hereby makes and ordains, that whatsoever person or persons shall contravene this present act, they shall be censured with the censure of the kirk. And the minister be desired to publish their present act out of pulpit on next Lord’s day, that none pretend ignorance.

The old kirk at Lamington in South Lanarkshire

Whilst I will not pretend that there are lots of early references to women playing football, I do think that the close proximity of both dates (only 28 years apart) and the close proximity of both locations (less than 10 miles as the crow flies) combined with the references to men and women playing football together, may suggest a localised culture based around festivities. The first account takes place on the Sabbath but also happens to be during a period of harvest (the ‘barley break’ referenced in the account is a traditional game which formed part of harvest festivities). The second account links to the traditional Scottish festival of ‘Fasting’s Even’ (Fastern’s E’en).

The first recorded evidence in Scotland of an all-women’s football game can be found in 1786 at Lennel, Coldstream, in the Scottish Borders. An article appearing in the Berwickshire News and General Advertiser in 1889 quotes from an old edition of the Berwick Museum or Monthly Literary Intelligencer. Due to the significance of the information, I have reproduced the full article as it appears within the newspaper,

WOMEN PLAYING FOOTBALL – Football is one of the chief pastimes of the youth of the present day. From history we know that the game is not one of yesterday but has been a favourite out-door amusement for centuries. The general contests, which are still to be witnessed on Shrove Tuesday at Alnwick and elsewhere, enable us to realise very vividly the lively character of these struggles before either Rugby or Association regulations were thought of. But in olden times this game was not played by men alone, but as shared by the gentler sex. After reading the following extract from the Berwick Museum of 1786, we fancy all will admit that our sisters of the present day, “mannish” as they may be, are a great improvement upon those therein described. The extract is thus headed:-

“Petticoats Run Mad: or, The World Turned Topsey-turvey.” – A Real Story.

We are happy to inform the public, through the channel of the Berwick Museum, that the ancient game of football, which seems to be neglected by the men of the present age, is likely to be handed down to posterity by the women; a match at that athletic diversion having been played with uncommon keenness on Ash Wednesday by the jolly wives and buxom lasses of Lennel, Coldstream. Caps, handkerchiefs, petticoats, and every other article of female attire, suffered a general wreck in the hardy contest. Darkness prevented victory being declared on either side; but we are told the parties mean to retake the field on Easter Monday. Our heroines, when daylight no longer served them, retired to the ale-house, where they spent the evening over that exhilarating beverage commonly called a “hot-pot;” not, however, in broils and battles, as is the custom of their lordly masters on such occasions, but with that cordiality and glee so congenial with the gentle feelings of our fair help-mates. So that for that night at least petticoats may be said to have reigned supreme in Lennel.

Several points of interest can be gleaned from the passage from 1786. The first one is the comment that the game was in decline locally amongst the men and that football was ‘likely to be handed down to posterity by the women.’ There therefore appears to have been female pioneers promoting football centuries ago. The second point is that the game took place on a festival day. This time Ash Wednesday, which followed on from Fastern’s E’en. The reference to ‘wives’ and ‘lasses’ may suggest that the teams were divided into married women and single women. As will be seen, this method of dividing players was used in another all-women game from the late eighteenth century period and, for the men, ‘married v single’ contests were also a common sight at annual festivals. The enthusiasm of the players speaks volumes as they only stopped due to the approach of darkness. A final observation is that the 1786 commentary, whilst containing references to ‘Petticoats run mad’ and ‘buxom lasses,’ is actually positive around the staging of the game. There is no criticism of the match being played, and the description of the women collectively taking to the ale-house and deciding to play again on Easter Monday does not so much as raise an eyebrow.

The next example of a football game has been more widely quoted and is therefore better known. It can certainly be viewed in an equal light by way of importance to the game at Lennel. In the Old Statistical Account of Scotland, Reverend Dr Alexander Carlyle, writing in 1795 about the Parish of Inveresk in East Lothian, provides an illuminating account of the community of fish wives based in the coastal port of Fisherrow at Musselburgh. There is a whole section entitled ‘Occupations of Women’, which in the main is devoted to the fish wives. The commentary points to a strong and energetic workforce of women who command a great deal of authority within the wider community as well as within their households. The minister states that,

As they do the work of men, their manners are masculine, and their strength and activity is equal to their work. Their amusements are of the masculine kind. On holidays they frequently play at golf, and on Shrove Tuesday there is a standing match at foot-ball, between the married and unmarried women, in which the former are always victors.

Map of Musselburgh from 1824 detailing ‘Fisher row’ harbour and links
(Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland)

To bring the first part of the article to a close, it is interesting to note that only a matter of a few miles along the East Lothian coast from the port of Fisherrow there is an example of a young female member of the landed gentry enjoying football as an activity. The young girl in question was Mary Hamilton Nisbet, who was born in 1778 and grew up on the Archerfield Estate at Dirleton. Her father, William Hamilton Nisbet, was an important landowner and her mother, also called Mary, was daughter to Alexander Hamilton and heiress to several estates. As a child, Mary Hamilton Nisbet kept a diary and in the early 1790s records ‘foot ball’ as a favourite pastime alongside pony rides and taking a dip in the sea. Whilst this example is isolated and does not represent a wider trend within the upper levels of society it does perhaps, when viewed alongside the examples at Lennel and Fisherrow, point to a more tolerant view of football as an activity for girls and women within the south east corner of Scotland during the late eighteenth century. This is certainly in striking contrast to many of the views on women playing organised football 100 years later.

The story of 1868 (Part Two); the rugby game in Scotland

A memorable visit to London a few years ago included a trip to Twickenham to visit the World Rugby Museum. The stadium was preparing for the Rugby World Cup and it was fascinating to be able to get a behind the scenes tour ahead of such a high-profile event. The visit to the museum was very enjoyable and is highly recommended. I set aside a few hours to do some research within the museum and the visit certainly threw up several important discoveries. In particular the collection of John Lillywhite’s Football Annuals, dating from 1868 were of great interest (The Scottish Football Museum has a run of them from the 1880s onwards but I had never viewed the early editions). It was at this visit that I discovered the existence of the Dumfriesshire clubs, in particular the Kinmount and Springkell clubs (which are referred to in the first part of this article). A bigger discovery, however, was finding a set of playing rules which had long been thought to have been lost.

Numerous publications covering the history of rugby football in Scotland refer to a set of rules drawn up by clubs in 1868 which sought to bring uniformity to the game. There was, however, great sadness that a copy of the rules did not appear to have survived. These rules were informally known as the ‘Green Book’ due to the colour of the original cover. Their official title, however, was ‘The Laws of Football as played by the principal clubs in Scotland.’ On turning the pages of the 1869 Lillywhite Football Annual, this very title caught my eye and I knew immediately that I had found something of great importance.

By 1868 rugby football had become established across central Scotland and up into Fife. The starting point for the game can be placed at Edinburgh Academy. R. J. Phillips in his book, The Story of Scottish Rugby, suggests that its introduction to the Academy came in 1851. The centenary history of Raeburn Place suggests that two brothers, Alexander and Francis Crombie, who arrived at the Academy around 1854 from Durham School, played an important part in introducing the game. Whatever the exact date of the introduction of rugby football into Scotland, what can be said is that by the late-1850s it had spread out from Edinburgh Academy to other educational institutions and led to the creation of former pupils’ clubs.

Edinburgh Academy, birthplace of rugby football in Scotland

The first former pupils’ club was the Academical Football Club (Edinburgh), which formed late in 1857. They would be joined by school and former pupils’ teams representing the Royal High School, Merchiston Castle, Loretto and Craigmount. In addition, Edinburgh University had its own rugby football club by 1867. St Andrews in Fife was also an early innovator of the game. The university football club at St Andrews (referred to as St Salvator), like the Academical Football Club, was an early pioneer and can be dated back to the late 1850s. Other educational institutions in the Fife town set up football clubs, including Abbey Park and Madras College. By 1868 a group of St Andrews men resident in Edinburgh had formed St Andrews Wanderers and two years later St Andrews Rovers based at Peckham Rye in London were playing against the leading rugby football clubs in the metropolis.

Over in the west, Glasgow Academy embraced the rugby code at an early stage, leading to the formation of their former pupils’ team, the Glasgow Academical Football Club, in 1866. One year earlier, Glasgow’s oldest existing football club, the West of Scotland club was formed. By the time that the Green Book was being printed the rugby game had reached as far west as Ayrshire with a club forming in Kilmarnock and possibly also in Ayr. The current rugby and association football clubs of Kilmarnock share the same ancestor as they split from each other in the 1870s. The spread of the game via the educational network also meant that by 1868 a club existed at Blairlodge Academy near Falkirk. Beyond these identifiable ‘rugby’ teams, I have encountered numerous other clubs without, to date, being able to ascertain whether they played to the rugby code, the association code, or to their own code. It is, however, likely that several of them would have been aligned to the rugby code or may have, at least, experimented with the rules.

The archives of Edinburgh Academy include a fascinating letter written by George Todd Chiene in his capacity as secretary of the Academical Football Club and addressed to Hely H. Almond, the famous headmaster of Loretto school. The Letter is dated 8th February 1868 and suggests from the content that the discussions over the rules were at an advanced stage. A number of changes, based on previous discussions, are proposed including the deletion of one of the rules ‘as both you [Almond] and Dunlop [of the West of Scotland club] object to this Rule.’ Another rule, about the awarding of a try, is also recommended to be taken out of the rules by Cheine and left ‘as a note at the end, making it a matter of arrangement whether the try shall count.’ This is recommended on the grounds that ‘The West of Scotland and A.F.C. [Academical Football Club] are strong in favour of it. There is indeed a note at the end of the official rules of 1868 which states…

In the event of no goal being obtained by either side, or an equal number of goals being obtained by both sides, it may be matter of arrangement whether the match shall be decided by the number of tries obtained by either side.

This decision, as I briefly allude to in a previous article (‘the love of your life has a past you don’t know about’) led to a degree of confusion with respect to the recording of results for games. Some results are referred to as being ‘drawn in favour of a team’ if the team in question was tied on the number of goals but had achieved more tries. In other games the tries were used to determine an outright ‘winner’, or they were not counted at all. However, a degree of compromise was necessary to secure agreement amongst the early clubs.

The letter therefore provides a fascinating insight into the importance of reaching agreement collectively, and, if necessary, allowing for an element of flexibility, in the drive towards uniformity. It could be difficult enough for two clubs to agree over rules ahead of a match so having representatives from up to five clubs involved in creating a longer-term solution must have been a challenge. Indeed, in the letter Chiene, when referring to Merchiston and St Andrews, states that ‘I hope the two former will adopt them though I have considerable doubts about Merchiston doing so’. The letter refers to five clubs by name and I have come across some accounts which suggest that the rules were drawn up principally by club administrators linked to three schools in the Edinburgh locale (the Academy, Loretto and Merchiston) with the West of Scotland club and St Andrews University providing some support. Only the Glasgow Academical club, of this original group of ‘heavyweights,’ is not mentioned in the letter.

An important point appears at the very end of the letter by way of a postscript…

P.S. I think we may put on the title page The Laws of Football “as played by the principal clubs in Scotland.”

In its completed format the Green Book had 34 rules, providing much detail in the way that the game should be played. Whilst some of the information covered by the rules is quite precise there was also scope for compromise. For example, Rule 2 states that…

Before the Captains toss for choice of goals or kick-off, an agreement shall be made when the match is to stop, and whether goals shall be changed at stated intervals, or after a goal is won.

The rules banned rough and dangerous practices like ‘throttling’ but did allow for a degree of hacking as long as it was ‘below the knee,’ although this rule was qualified with the following note at the end…

An agreement can be made before a match that hacking and tripping shall be totally disallowed.

Moving forward there would be diverging views on this rule; some games took place with a degree of hacking permitted whilst others banned the practice. Again, this example shows the difficulty of reaching agreement between clubs in the move towards full uniformity and demonstrates a degree of pragmatism. Similar issues were experienced in England during the winter months of 1863 when the fledgling Football Association in London attempted to outline its set of playing rules. The decision to exclude hacking from the rules famously led to the departure of the Blackheath club.

As a pragmatic compromise, the Green Book would help to galvanise the rugby game in Scotland, eradicating many of the problems encountered when clubs used to playing to different rules tried to face each other on the field. The rules were robust and clear in some areas but left a degree of flexibility in others to enable clubs to find compromise. With Scotland hosting the first international match of 1871 these rules may have formed the basis of the rules that were applied in that historic game. By 1871, beyond the substantial increase in the number of clubs in and around Edinburgh and Glasgow, the game had started to spread out across other parts of Scotland. It could be found at Langholm and Dumfries in the south of Scotland, at Paisley, Helensburgh and Rothesay in the west, at Clackmannan in central Scotland and was already pushing north with clubs appearing at Glenalmond in Perthshire, as well as at Dundee, Broughty Ferry, Montrose and Aberdeen.

Castle Green, Broughty Ferry, home park of Dalhousie Football Club from 1871

As an aside, I think there is some merit in the view that the rugby and association codes experienced similar issues in their journeys towards uniformity. From examples of individual disputes between clubs, to initial attempts to rally round a uniform set of rules (for the association code in Scotland, this struggle was taken on by Queen’s Park as the leading club prior to the formation of the Scottish FA in 1873), then, finally, disputes at national level between governing bodies. For both the rugby and the association codes, disputes at international level between Scotland and England would lead to international bodies being formed to ensure uniformity. Coincidentally, the International Rugby Football Board and the International Football Association Board were officially instituted in the same year – 1886.

The story of 1868 (Part One); the association game in Scotland

The year 1868 was an important one for the two codes of football in Scotland. For the embryonic association game, this year saw a challenge match take place in Glasgow between Queen’s Park and Thistle FC, which unquestionably provided a major boost to the morale of the former club. It also witnessed the emergence of a parallel but unconnected association football culture in Dumfriesshire. For the more developed rugby game, 1868 saw a hugely important development for the leading clubs in the creation of a uniform set of Scottish playing rules – the Green Book. This topic is split into two articles which outlines the fortunes of both codes. Part One looks primarily at developments in the association game.

One of my favourite documents in the collection of the Scottish Football Museum is a letter from 1868 organising the first known challenge match involving Queen’s Park. For many years we thought that this game was the first under the association code (or at least a variation of it) to be played in Scotland. The game against Thistle FC, who were based at Glasgow Green, took place on the Queen’s Park recreation ground on 1st August 1868 and resulted in a 2-0 win for the home side. The letter which makes the arrangements is one of three that are known to exist. Two of these sit within the Queen’s Park FC collection at Hampden Park whilst a third independently came up at auction a number of years ago. The one sitting on display in the museum is the actual letter which was sent to the secretary of Thistle FC. The other letter in the Queen’s Park FC collection and the one that was sold at auction are the original ‘committee’ copies from 1868 which would have been circulated at the time of arranging the match.

A view of the Queen’s Park recreation ground looking across to Hampden Terrace

The displayed letter is dated 29th July 1868 and was written by Robert Gardner, in his role as secretary of the Queen’s Park Club. A very influential man within the early development of association football in Scotland, Gardner captained Queen’s Park and later Clydesdale FC, playing in the inaugural Scottish Cup Final in 1874. In 1872 he was handed the captaincy of the Scotland national team with responsibility for selecting the team in the first official international match. He also served as a committee member at the inaugural meeting of the Scottish Football Association in March 1873 and in December of that year captained one of the teams in an exhibition match which introduced the association code in the rugby heartland of Edinburgh.

The content of the letter tells us some interesting details about aspects of the game as played by Queen’s Park at the time. The number of players, for example, was set at 20 a side. The club was certainly experimenting and learning during this early period. Queen’s Park would alter the number of players in subsequent games. These differing numbers will have been the outcome of negotiations with the clubs involved and may, in part, have been due to the ability of the opposing teams to get sufficient numbers onto the field of play. For example, in 1870 when the Drummond Club turned up a couple of players short for their game with Queen’s Park, two members of the neighbouring Deaf and Dumb institute had to be invited to make up the numbers.  It would be 1872 before the club began to embrace 11 a side as the preferred number although in this year a match against Airdrie FC was played at 10 aside and a reserve match against Southern FC involved 13 players on each side.

What is clear from the letter of 1868 is that a negotiation as to aspects of the game was necessary. One area which needed agreement, and which wasn’t covered in the rules, was the duration of a game. Robert Gardner states in the letter that “We consider, however that two-hours is quite long enough to play in weather such as the present, and hope this will be quite satisfactory to you.” There is also a recommendation with respect to changing ends “so that both parties may have the same chance of wind and ground.”

Letter arranging match between Queen’s Park FC and Thistle FC, 1868 (Queen’s Park FC Collection, Scottish Football Museum)

Up to 1871, the embryonic football culture that was centred around Queens Park was limited to Glasgow and the neighbouring county of Lanarkshire. The clubs which joined Thistle in playing against Queen’s Park during this period were Hamilton Gymnasium, Airdrie, (both Lanarkshire based), the Drummond Club, and Granville FC (both Glasgow). Queen’s Park did consider meeting a club from Ayr but this game would never materialise. After a year of internal practice games the first match against Thistle was hugely important, adding an impetus to the efforts of the club to continue to look beyond their own horizon. They remained committed to pursuing and promoting the association code and after a period of hard work and patience their endeavours really started to bear fruit in 1872 when the high profile FA Cup match against Wanderers and their staging of the international football match in Glasgow did much to capture the imagination of the public. The club’s ‘missionary’ work helped to bring in clubs from Dunbartonshire (an early powerhouse for the association game alongside Glasgow), Ayrshire and, by the end of 1873, the aforementioned exhibition match brought the alternative code to the attention of the Edinburgh public. This tireless work meant that Glasgow would merge as the centre for the association game in Scotland and within a few short years its influence would reach out far beyond Scotland’s borders. Briefly, however, clubs from another region independently championed the association code in Scotland and evidence of their games, although limited, show at least two challenge matches taking place prior to the Queen’s Park v Thistle encounter of August 1868.

The second notable area for the association game in Scotland in 1868 was Dumfriesshire. The reason for this largely appears to be down to the efforts of an important nobleman – John Douglas, 9th Marquis of Queensberry. Douglas was an all-round sports enthusiast. He set up the Amateur Athletic Club in 1866 and the following year lent his name to the famous “Queensberry Rules” which would go on to serve as the standard set of rules for boxing worldwide. As a young man he spent two years at Cambridge University (1864-66) but left to head back north to his family estate at Kinmount in Dumfriesshire. Douglas certainly kept his interest in sport while in residence at Kinmount; an entry in John Lillywhite’s Football Annual of 1870 suggests that on arriving home in 1866 he established a club under association rules named Kinmount FC.

The Lillywhite Football Annuals actually suggest that a small cluster of clubs were playing to the Association code, covering Kinmount, Annan, Dumfries and Springkell. This cluster emerged during the period running from the late 1860s into the early 1870s. To date I have only been able to trace two games between these clubs and both involved the Kinmount Club and Annan Football Club. In the two articles Kinmount FC is referred to as the ‘Marquis of Queensberry’s Team.’ The first match between the clubs was played at Kinmount on 14th March 1868 with a return match taking place at Annan on 21st March. Both games were played at 15 a side. The influence of the Marquis on the creation of the Annan Club (which is seperately recorded as being formed in December 1867) is evident from one of the match reports which states that,

The revival of the game, which a good many years ago formed the favourite sport of the men of Annan, is chiefly due to the Marquis of Queensberry, who has lately taken a deep interest in the other pastimes of the town.

The Marquis made a notable impression in the first game, scoring both goals in a 2-0 win. This match was set for a duration of two hours. Annan gained revenge in the return match, winning by an identical score line although the serious injury to a member of the Kinmount side may have helped to tip the balance in favour of the home side.

Less is known of the two remaining teams who are listed as playing to the association code in this area. According to Lillywhite’s Football Annual of 1870 the Dumfries Club was formed in 1869, had 50 members and were based at Dock Park on the banks of the River Nith. Interestingly, the entry states that they had recently been playing rugby rules but had now changed to association. A Dumfries Rangers Football Club was formed in 1870 which perhaps leads to speculation that there was a split in the committee of the original club. Such a split may have led to the ‘rugbyites’ leaving in order to start up anew. This would, if true, mirror in part the experience of Kilmarnock Football Club during the early 1870s.

Dock Park, Dumfries, the registered playing field for Dumfries Football Club

The fourth association club is Springkell Football Club, located on the Springkell estate near Eaglesfield. It is first recorded in the Lillywhite Football Annual for 1870 but the date of origin is registered as being about ’30 years ago.’ This would mean a formation date of 1840. Very little can be found to back up this vague claim but there may be a simple explanation. Sir John Heron Maxwell, owner of the Springkell estate and, according to the 1870 entry, Patron and President of the football club, organised annual football games on New Year’s Day on the grounds of his mansion house, for his estate workers. I have found an article on one of these games dating back to 1856 and the tradition was still going strong by New Year’s Day 1873. Perhaps this tradition of hosting an annual football game at New Year explains the claim of being 30 years old (in 1870) although, as a football club playing to the association code, their existence would of course have been much more recent.

Springkell House and estate grounds, the home venue of Springkell Football Club

Without question the rapid growth and success of the association game in Scotland can be attributed to the efforts of Queen’s Park operating from their Glasgow base. The association game in Dumfriesshire which ran in parallel to the football culture emerging under Queen’s Park clearly doesn’t have the same legacy to boast of. Beyond Glasgow and Lanarkshire, Queen’s Park were in contact with a club as far down the west coast as Ayr during the late 1860s but there is no evidence of any contact being made with the Dumfriesshire clubs. There may, however, still be a legacy of sorts for these pioneering Dumfriesshire clubs.

Rugby football, as a game, was far more established and more widely played across Scotland. By the early 1870s it was spreading into the Scottish Borders and had a foothold in Dumfries. A club playing to the rugby code was also established in the small town of Langholm, situated on the eastern edge of Dumfriesshire, by 1871. This club was founded by people linked to the local Tweed industry who had been educated in England. Langholm enjoyed cross border matches with Carlisle and would soon be joined by rugby football clubs in the nearby communities of Hawick (1872) and Westerkirk (1873). Moving deeper into the Border region, rugby was also being played at school level in Jedburgh and Melrose. And yet the spread of the rugby game, so impressive in many parts of Scotland, does not appear to have had as much success in pushing westwards across the rest of Dumfriesshire and into Galloway. There is also no evidence to suggest that the growing football culture emanating from Queen’s Park had reached south west Scotland during this early period.

By the end of the 1870s the Scottish Football Annual could boast of clubs like Queen of the South Wanderers from Dumfries (formed in 1872) as a member club. There were other association clubs from the south west region including Wigtownshire clubs like Tarff Rovers from Kirkcowan and, of course, Stranraer FC, who list their year of formation as 1870. The question then is whether the emergence of a small but enthusiastic football culture in Dumfriesshire so early on prevented a westward expansion of the rugby code?

Whether this has any bearing or not – 1868 would be an important year for association football in Scotland. In that year there was no guarantee that the game would take off in quite the way that it subsequently did. After a year without an opponent Queen’s Park finally met another team on the playing field, which must have been a massive boost to the club’s morale at the time. It is also fascinating to know that, in the same year in another part of Scotland, two teams were also meeting under the association code. In the long history of the game in Scotland almost nothing was known about this parallel development. Hopefully, in time, the story of the Dumfriesshire clubs will also find a space in the general history of the association game in Scotland.

The Ba’ Green – Scotland’s ancient playing field

For a few years now I have been drawn into the field of etymology to try to understand the origin of place names which may, or may not, suggest a connection between physical locations and ball games like football. It has to be said that for centuries football and numerous other sports were widely played in all manner of locations. Examples of these vary from castle courtyards and town streets to coastal links with numerous accounts of village greens, haughs and meadows, even church yards and frozen rivers. Whilst all of these locations hosted sports, they are not connected by a permanent place name but simply by individual references to the events. One interesting place name, however, which did throw up some examples of football activity was ‘Ballgreen.’ To someone like me who was deliberately searching for evidence of ball games it seemed obvious at first glance as to the reason why these locations would be so named. But is it true? The question which needs to be answered is whether such connections are simply coincidence or whether there is indeed an early relationship between the activity and the location which resulted in the name being formed.

There are three main variants of the term. These are Ballgreen, Balgreen and Ba’green. However, other, less common, derivatives include, Ball-grene, Balgreene, Bagreen, Bawgreen, Balgrene, Balgrein, Balgreine, Balgreene, Boggreen and Baa Green. There are also some alternative place names with suggested connections to football activity such as Ba’ Muir, Ba’ Lea, Ba’ Hill and Ball Field. These are not as numerous or widespread. Ballgreen (including its variants) accounts for at least 35 known place names across a wide sweep of Lowland Scotland, running from Stranraer in the south west to Aberdeenshire in the north east and extending up as far as the Orkney Isles and the Fair Isle.

Now, some words of caution. There are alternative explanations to consider. Etymologists have suggested three possible explanations for the ballgreen name. The first two suggestions are derived from Scots Gaelic. Firstly, it has been suggested that it is a combination of ‘baile’ (a farm town or place) and ‘griain’ (gravel) which equates to ‘Baile na Griain’ (place of gravel). Secondly, combining ‘baile’ and ‘grèine’ (sun or sunny) to make ‘Baile na Grèine (sunny place). The third potential reason which is attributed to Lowland Scots, and which is of particular interest for this article, is a direct use of ‘ball’ and ‘green’ to mean a green where ball games are played.

For those who are interested in this particular discourse, there is an article on the Balgreen place name by Peter Drummond from the University of Glasgow in the Journal of Scottish Name Studies (Vol 12, 2018, Pp 89-95).

Another important trap to avoid is to attribute all references to ball or ba’ exclusively to football. Football is indeed referred to in numerous accounts as being a ba’ game but the term could also include a variety of other sports, most notably shinty, hand ball and, to a lesser extent, golf and bowls. As a wide variety of games and activities appear to have taken place in public spaces like greens, I have carefully chosen a generic title for the article to reflect this.

As a starting point then, there are several sites which have been linked to ball games. My own introduction to the subject started off when reading F.P. Magoun’s article on Scottish Popular Football as he refers to an incident from 1610 which took place near Drumlanrig Castle in Dumfriesshire. A complaint made by Sir James Douglas and his eldest son against William Kirkpatrick of Kirkmichael and several accomplices relates to a case of harassment and imprisonment. For ease of reading, I have translated the passages below which can otherwise be difficult to follow.  According to the complaint, Kirkmichael and his accomplices,

…almost continually since April 1610 have worn hagbuts and pistolets, under the pretext of the playing of a wood fute ball came to the land of the ball green of the lands of Campbell, not far distance from the gate of the place of Drumlanrig, and in a bragging manner made provocation to the complainers.”

A further statement from the case asserts that,

…Reidhouse was upon the Ball-grene, playing with him, Kirkmichael, the whole day, and so possibly could not be concealed as before in the day; and the pursuer is not able to affirm that they were concealed after the bonspiel broke up.

Image of Drumlanrig Castle, Dumfriesshire

Bonspiel refers to a gathering of people for sport and is most famously connected to curling but can, as in this case, be attributed to football. This example certainly appears to link a form of football to a ballgreen although the title of the green has not survived as a place name on later maps. A more enduring link can be found at the village of Maybole in Ayrshire. A town green can still be found bearing the name of Ballgreen and it has a connection stretching back several centuries. The earliest record that I have found to the name within the little town is in 1736 when it is referenced in receipts pertaining to the costs of the neighbouring schoolhouse. James Gray in his book, Maybole, Carrick’s Capital, states that,

Football is another favourite game which has been played by the young men in the town for generations. In the 18th century the schoolmaster in the small school at the foot of the Ballgreen complained bitterly about the damage caused to the building by the boys kicking balls against it when playing ‘Futeball’. (It would seem every game was played at the Ballgreen, even ‘gowfe’, before proper pitches and courses were formed, and there must have been great difficulty in separating the footballers from the bowlers and the archers from the golfers).

The Ballgreen of Maybole, South Ayrshire

Other examples lend support to a connection. For example, at Kirkcowan in Wigtownshire, Ballgreen House, is described in the Ordinance Survey Name Book, as being ‘A thatched & indifferent cottage situated upon a piece of ground which was formerly allotted for schoolboys (playground).’ Local side Tarff Rovers FC, dating from 1874 and, in their day, one of the oldest clubs in the area, was based in the vicinity at Balgreen Park. At Fossoway in Kinross the link to football is very evident, with the OS Name Book providing the following description,

BALL GREEN – ‘This name applies to a portion of a large field, situated between Cowden Knowe and Palace Brae. The game of Foot Ball used to be much practiced here, which gave rise to the name.’

At Biggar in Lanarkshire an account states that below the bridges… ‘is the ba’ green, supposed at one time to have been the public park of the town, where, among other pastimes, football was played…’ At Rendall on the mainland island of Orkney a long-established Yule day game is described in 1864…

At an early hour, the boys – those ardent patrons of the football – began to congregate on the Gorseness Ba’ Green, having no objections to a breathing before breakfast. No doubt the young fellows looked upon eating and drinking as only worthy of secondary considerations “on sic a day.” At and after noon the “lads o’ larger growth” and greater age came in groups to the scene of action. Old men and young men and men of middle age are then assembled. About one o’clock the friendly combatants had all arrived, and from this time till dusk the ba’ has a hard time of it. Old and young men equally interested and animated.

This account paints an enduring picture of a connection spanning generations between a game, a festival day and a physical space. Newspaper reports in the nineteenth century often refer to such games as being played ‘since time immemorial.’ In other parts of Scotland, the loss of traditions surrounding these festivals, including the accompanying ba’ games, may point to a reason as to why the original purpose of some of the greens were lost although as place names they remained visible on maps many years later. Large parts of Scotland experienced social and economic upheaval with mass migration and immigration over the course of the industrial revolution. More remote places like the Orkney Isles may have been able to shelter from the worst of these storms, holding onto many of their customs and traditions and, certainly in the case of the community at Rendall, retaining the true meaning of their ba’ green.

There is a wide body of evidence which suggests that ball games, much more than being a simple recreation, formed an important part of Scottish popular culture. Control over such games mattered and attempts were made to control the activity within a hierarchical structure. At St Andrews, the university tried to control the game by presenting footballs to their students for the festival of Carnisprevii (Fastern’s E’en). In 1537, when the Bedellus (an office bearer) removed a football attributed to the Dean which had been taken by the students, much consternation ensued, and the university reacted by putting a stop to the privilege of issuing the balls. In the Hammermen’s Craft in Perth, football was intricately linked to the organisation as a symbol of status. A fee for ‘football and banquet’ had to be paid before an ‘unfreeman’ (a workman) could be elevated to the rank of a master.  Apprentices were forbidden from going to the ‘Inch or any other place when the master takes any football of a brother of Craft’ and had to instead remain behind at the workplace. These examples place the activities of football and festival celebrations at the heart of communities and the control of these by those in authority was clearly important. The phrase ‘more than a game’ comes to mind here. Such a culture may have placed an importance on these parcels of land which could explain why some of the names endured long after their original use. There are certainly examples of land being specifically set aside. For example, at Panbride in Angus, in 1527 Robert Maul, Lord of Panmure,

…took pleasure in playing at the fut bale, and for that cause the muir of Bathil [Ba’hil?] was appointed, and during his days it was not castine [cultivated], but only reserved for that game…

In some cases, there is a placing of ‘the’ before the place name in old texts implying a purpose to the land. The account of 1610 refers to the field in question as ‘the ball green of the lands of Campbell.’ An account from 1632 mentions ‘the Balgreene of Mousbrigdyike’ near Lanark. As will be seen later, at Hamilton the reference is to ‘…a piece of unlaboured ground called of old ‘The Balgreene…’ At Ancrum a reference to the development of a family estate refers to an area of land ‘where the old balgreen was.’ The same letter, dating from 1632, extols the virtues of football ‘and these exercises which young men must have a place for’ and suggests clearing land for the development of an ‘vtter [outer] green for football.’ At Dalgain in Ayrshire there is a reference to ‘the green called the Balgreen.’

At Inverurie in Aberdeenshire John Davidson, writing in 1878 in his book, Inverurie and the Earldom of the Garioch, provides an interesting description of the old use of the ballgreen in the town…

A household of the immemorial Bainzies, with possibly one or two Fergus and Johnston neighbours, had their thatched abodes upon the line now occupied by the Town Hall, and stood many a summer afternoon, under their eaves, criticising the play going on among the leisurely burgesses upon the Ball Green, which came up to their doors, and in winter, looked out upon the skating rink of Powtate, and the snow-ball practise pretty sure to be exhibited when the school discharged its boisterous tenants.

Staying in Aberdeenshire there is a fascinating map dating from 1778 for the little town of Kincardine O’Neill. It relates to the location of markets in and around the town at the ‘Bartle Fair’ (a fair held on St Bartholomew’s Day). An explanatory note on the map refers to the Ballgreen…

The rest of the foot mercate [market] therefore stands at the back of the kirk on what is called the Ballgreen which is marked on the draught with the letter F and is shaded green on the sketch, and measures one Rood and thirty falls… The said Ballgreen is quite distinct from the Burying ground, as will be seen from the draught, the burying ground does not extend further than in a line with the south wall of the kirk and does not appear to be filled up by greaves [graves].

Plan of the town of Kincardine O’Neil & locations Of Bartlefair Markets, 1778
(Reproduced with the permission of the National Records of Scotland)

The location of the ballgreen at the heart of the village (between the kirk and the public house and close to the Market Cross) suggests that it played an important role at the heart of the community, being part of a market at the Bartle Fair and perhaps being a place to gather on other festival days as well as a place for recreation. There is evidence of ball games being played in and around ‘kirkyards’ dating back to the pre-reformation era.

A general observation on the various ball greens covered in this article is that they are all quite different – some were in, or close to, population centres while others were located in more remote locations. Some appear to have been large and open while others were smaller and more defined as a space. I have visited several of the locations, some of which have been linked to ball games and others which do not have supporting evidence. I have been struck by the fact that, by and large, they appear to be situated on relatively level areas of land. Even the site near Crawfordjohn which is remote and rural and situated amongst some hilly terrain looked to be a reasonably level ‘haugh’ flanked by two burns (streams). One site which raised an element of doubt in my mind, however, was a location near Lochwinnoch which was situated up a hillside. Only a small area of land which the farmstead (named Balgreen) sits on could be considered to be level.

Looking downhill from the road to the low lying ‘haugh’ of the Ba’ green near Crawfordjohn

The Ballgreen in my hometown of Hamilton has been of great interest to me although I never knew of its existence until just a few years ago. The survey map below is from 1855 and shows a relatively flat area of land at the edge of the town with a property occupying part of the site. The land is beside a prominent slope which in 1855 descended to the level of the ‘grand avenue’ (an ambitious avenue which was built to connect the Duke of Hamilton’s palace with his hunting lodge at Chatelherault).

Plan of the town of Hamilton & its environs from a survey by Thomas Boyd, circa 1855
(Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland)

The area has since been significantly built over, but the topography doesn’t appear to have changed all that much. This area of land is referred to in a charter signed by Anne, Duchess of Hamilton in 1659. The location of it is on the edge of the historic centre of the town. There is some interesting information in the following extract from the charter…

CHARTER by Anne Duchess of Hamilton…assigns whatsoever, of the ten shilling land of Haughhead, with houses, outbuildings, yards and pertinents, and the lands of Couperscroft, with a piece of unlaboured ground called of old “The Balgreene,” lying within the barony and parish of Hamilton, and sheriffdom of Lanark… and reserving also to the said Duchess’s farmers and tenants of Avonmylne, the use and benefit of the “schilling hill” and liberty to them to winnow grain on the said lands of Balgrein in all time coming according to use and wont…

Of interest, to its consideration as a field for recreation, are the facts that even by 1659 the name ‘Balgreene’ had been long established at this site, and the land was ‘unlaboured’ meaning that it had never been cultivated for crops. Given that the site was on a relatively level area of land, it would not be too much of a stretch of the imagination, based on other examples, to envisage a place for recreation for the local inhabitants as well as a location to ‘winnow grain.’

There certainly needs to be a lot more research into this particular subject and I am sure that there will be strongly held alternative views on the origins of these place names but hopefully this article  at least serves to make a contribution towards the wider debate and highlights evidence that a fair number of these Ba’ greens had a role as playing fields for local communities.

The oldest football trophy? The story of the 1851 football medallion

The discovery of a football medallion from 1851 has to go down as one of the greatest ‘finds’ of my museum career. There is perhaps an irony, however, that when the item was discovered it had been sitting all along in a museum collection rather than being secretly squirrelled away for decades in someone’s attic or basement. The ‘discovery’, therefore, must be put into context; it was a find for the sports heritage community but the museum in question clearly knew of its existence, they were just not as aware at that time of its significance as an exceptionally historic piece of sporting silverware. The start of this story goes back a number of years when I first picked up on a Bell’s Life in London article (via Adrian Harvey’s newly released book, Football: The First Hundred Years). The article highlighted a match played in 1851 between the Edinburgh University Football Club and the 93rd Regiment (Sutherland Highlanders). It was just the type of thing to include in the database.

The report on the match provided some fascinating information. It took place at Holyrood Park on level ground behind Holyrood Palace (in 1851 the Sutherland Highlanders were stationed in Edinburgh Castle on the opposite end of the Royal Mile from the palace). In the Bell’s Life article the park is referred to as Queen’s Park and it has also been known as King’s Park as its title traditionally depended on the gender of the reigning monarch (which happened to be Queen Victoria in 1851). The game was played at 20 a side, not an uncommon number to have for a football game around this time. In the proceeding couple of decades, 20 a side would be widely used within rugby football (north and south of the border) as well as in early games involving Sheffield FC, and in Queen’s Park’s first challenge match with Thistle FC in 1868.

A view of Holyrood Park looking across to the Salisbury Crags

The match was played to the best of five games (goals) with the regimental team winning decisively by 3 goals to 0. The article suggests that better coordination between the soldiers gave them an advantage on the field of play…

The students looked all confidence and appeared active, fine, athletic fellows. The Highlanders, with Lieutenant and Adjutant M’Donald as their chief, took their places coolly but with resolute determination, arranging themselves in a manner which displayed excellent training… The students played with courage and desperation, but they wanted that order and discipline which their more crafty opponents evinced.

Of particular interest, was the agreement struck by the two teams before the game to play ‘…for a handsome gold medal, a prize which will be presented by the losing party to the successful competitors.’ Whilst it was a fascinating account of a game, I naively assumed at the time that the medal, if it had existed, must be long lost as surely something so early and so important would be known and celebrated within the sports heritage community. The article was typed up and filed away in the database.

Roll on a few years and a meeting in the museum café at Hampden Park with John Burnett, the then Principal Curator of Scottish Modern History at National Museums Scotland and an expert in sports heritage. During our conversation John brought up the subject of the 1851 article and of course the matter of the medal. The conversation renewed sufficient interest in the game for me to look over the article once more later that day. I was still unconvinced that the object existed at all or, if it had existed, that it hadn’t survived the intervening years – the scepticism remained that we would already know about the medal if it did exist or, if it was hidden away in an attic somewhere, we would have no way of knowing where to start looking.

As the article confirmed that the regimental team had won the game it was more than reasonable to assume that if a medal did exist, then they would have received it. On doing a quick check I learned that the Sutherland Highlanders later merged with the 91st Regiment (Argyllshire Highlanders) to form the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. I was aware that the old regiment had a museum at Stirling Castle and decided to contact them directly to raise the subject of the game with them and to ask if, by any small chance, they happened to have anything connected to it. A week or so passed by and thoughts of the game once more started to drift out of my mind.

When the regimental museum did reply, shortly afterwards, it was to confirm that they did indeed have a medal from the game within their stores.  They emailed across the images that appear on this page. From memory, they were slightly taken aback by my wild excitement!

The front side of the medallion (I tend to refer to it as a medallion as it is large enough to cover the palm of my hand) has an engraving of a scene from the game which is quite exquisite in its detail. In the background the engraving shows the backdrop of the Salisbury Crags. The two teams are very distinguishable, the soldiers in their uniforms and the students in typical attire, including caps, for the period. The reverse side provides some important details, identifying both teams and adding the date of the contest – 25th January 1851.

Front side of the Medallion (Image courtesy of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders’ Museum)

The hallmarks on the medallion tell us that its year of origin is 1846. However, it must have sat in the jewellers shop for some time afterwards as it would have been ‘finished’ (engraved with the football scene and descriptive information) soon after the match in 1851. Most likely a member of the University Football Club would have picked it and paid for the engraving work to be done. We also know from the hallmarks that the medallion was made by James McKay, a jeweller based in Edinburgh.

An obvious difference between the description of the medal in the article and the medal that exists is its composition; the article suggests that the medal was going to be made of gold but the actual medal is cast in silver.

It may at first appear strange that an item in a museum collection which is of considerable interest to the sports heritage community would for years remain a secret beyond the immediate knowledge of the custodians of the regimental museum. However, having had an opportunity to visit the Argyll’s Museum and get an idea of the scope of their collection it is understandable that the object was not an obvious headline item within the overall history of the regiment. Museums can only display a small percentage of their collections and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders’ Museum has an awful lot to cover in a long history stretching back to 1794 (when the 93rd Regiment of Foot was raised). From the Napoleonic era and the Crimean War through to the First and Second World Wars there are many core stories for the museum to cover within its exhibition space. Since its wider discovery, the museum has very kindly loaned the medallion out for numerous external displays and I very much look forward to visiting Stirling Castle one day soon, when circumstances allow, in order to visit the revamped museum and view this wonderful item in its permanent home.

So, what is its significance? This is something that may draw different conclusions from different people although there is little doubt that anyone involved in sports heritage will appreciate and acknowledge it as an outstanding piece of early silverware for the sport of football in its generic form. In my opinion, for what its worth, the medal should be acknowledged and classified as a sporting ‘trophy’. A medal, yes, but also a trophy. In the modern era, football trophies are presented to teams and medals are presented to individuals but this medal (or medallion) was for the entire team. We also have to be careful not to rely on modern sports culture when attempting to classify items from a much earlier period. For example, it would be misleading to discount a medieval ‘football’ from being a football on the grounds that it is too small and irregularly shaped (being crudely made up of a pig’s bladder encased in leather) when compared with a modern size 5 football or rugby ball.

Reverse side of the Medallion (Image courtesy of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders’ Museum)

Importantly, it was agreed before the game that the losing side would present a medal to the winners. The wording on the medal may say that it is in ‘commemoration’ of the match, as it was presented retrospectively, but the fact remains that the two teams, from the outset, competed against each other in the knowledge that they were playing for the medal as a ‘prize.’ It certainly can’t be classified in the same light as the presentation pennant or commemorative gift of the modern era which team captains and office bearers pass over to their counterparts on the occasion of an important game.

As previously alluded to, one argument might be that a football ‘medal’ doesn’t meet the criteria of being a football ‘trophy.’ In the modern culture of football we may have a preconceived view of what a trophy should look like. Beyond the fact that it was awarded to the regimental team, rather than an individual, there are a wide variety of items which historically have been used as trophies in different sports. For example, a small (yet iconic) urn is coveted as a major trophy in cricket and a silver serving vessel (the world-famous Claret Jug) is an iconic trophy for golf. Less well known is the ‘Silver Ball of Rattray,’ a small silver ball dating from the early seventeenth century which was presented as a prize for a hand ball contest. Why not then a silver medallion for football?

If it is a trophy then, as far as I can determine, it appears to be the oldest surviving example of a trophy for football (in the generic sense of the term). It may well remain as such until a future day when an older prize is unearthed, perhaps after decades of concealment within a dusty basement or, who knows, hidden in plain sight within a museum store!

The love of your life has a past you don’t know about

Scene from the first international football match of 1872 (association rules) within the Scottish Football Museum

This phrase was adopted by the Scottish Football Museum back in 2001 to advertise the opening of our new premises at Hampden Park. As a headline it was intended to firmly grab the attention of the reader. Its deliberate use, within the context of opening the new exhibition space, reflected on the fact that to many fans the general history of the game in Scotland was relatively unknown.

The football museum acted as a platform to promote the general history of association football in Scotland although some subjects like the history of women’s football were relatively undiscovered at the time. In the case of women’s football, past decades of discrimination had resulted in a complete dearth of publications, making the initial research task an exceedingly difficult one. The team assigned with taking on this subject worked very hard to ensure that it was represented within the history galleries by the time of opening.

Back in 1999, when I joined the research team, another area of mystery was the subject of the origins of the game in Scotland. There was an aspiration for this subject to be covered within the museum but the relative scarcity of published material on the subject at the time and the lack of physical objects within the collection ultimately meant that this could not happen. The first history gallery of the museum therefore starts at the year 1867, when Queen’s Park Football Club was formed. This organisation, more than any other, nurtured and developed the code of association football within Scotland during the formative years.

I was handed the ‘origins’ subject as one of several research tasks, and it is an area of research that I have enjoyed studying ever since. There were only a few brief research notes on the subject when I started out and the sources that did exist within the museum archive and library suggested that ‘organised’ football was a relatively new development in Scotland. Indeed, this view is put forward in the first ever edition of the Scottish Football Annual in 1875. Compiled by William Dick, the Secretary of the Scottish Football Association, the opening article of the book acknowledges that ‘Foot Ball is one of the very oldest, if not the oldest of our athletic games,’ but goes on to state that…

This sport was gradually brought into the general form it possessed in the middle of the present [nineteenth] century. At that time there were many modes prevalent in England, while in Scotland it seems to have almost died out.

William Dick was an important figure within the Scottish FA at a time when Scottish clubs and the national team were beginning to experience remarkable levels of success on the playing field. Indeed, in the same year that the above words were penned for the Scottish Football Annual, Queen’s Park defeated Wanderers of London, one of the outstanding association clubs of England during the 1870s, by the emphatic score line of 5-0. Dick was the referee at first Hampden Park three years later when Scotland recorded a 7-2 victory against England. Tragically, by 1880 he was dead, succumbing to consumption aged just 29.

When initially taking on the origins research task, I was struck by a simple question scribbled within the early research notes which was posed by one of my colleagues. It centred on the incredible success of the fledgling association game in Scotland…

How could they have gone from no clubs to brilliant clubs in the space of 10 years if they didn’t have a culture of ‘football’ to build upon?

Whilst of course acknowledging the views held in early publications like the Scottish Football Annual, this is a question which I feel can now be satisfactorily answered not only from the research that I have been amassing but from the excellent work of many others. The simple answer is that there was indeed a culture of football to build upon.

My original endeavours to better understand the origins of football in Scotland were admittedly undertaken from the perspective of better understanding the subsequent development of the association game in Scotland. However, I quickly realised that the rugby football game had the same origins story to tell, certainly up to the point where the rugby code started to get a foothold in Scotland (around the early 1850s). Beyond F.P. Magoun’s article on Popular Football in Scotland, some important articles from Stirling University’s Dr Neil Tranter, John Robertson’s book on the Uppies and Doonies and Peter Baxter’s Football in Perthshire, I was very much indebted during the early stage of my research to Sandy Thorburn and his History of Scottish Rugby which provided a valuable timeline on the origins subject.

Today we use the term ‘football’ when talking about the association or ‘kicking’ game and ‘rugby’ when talking about the ‘handling’ game. However, back in the 1870s both codes were simply referred to as football in newspapers with a caption often being added when required to distinguish ‘association rules’ from ‘rugby rules.’ Add to this the fact that the oldest clubs in Scotland who play to the rugby code, like the Edinburgh Academical Football Club, have never used ‘rugby’ in their title and the fact that the national governing body for rugby, which was founded in 1873, was originally known as the Scottish Football Union and did not feel the need to change its name to the Scottish Rugby Union until 1924, just one year before the opening of Murrayfield Stadium.

A quick glance at the emerging rugby and association codes in Scotland in the late 1860s and early 1870s, certainly throws up clear distinctions, particularly over offside, but also reveals a closer parity between the rules when compared with those of today. There is evidence, for example, that a ‘fair catch’ rule was used in both games, allowing a player to catch the ball out of the air and kick it on without being impeded. When the ball went into ‘touch’ the first player on either side to touch the ball was permitted to return it back into play with one of the provisions from both rules being that the ball re-enter the field at a ‘right angle’ to the touch line. The original shape of the rugby ball was much rounder when compared with the ball of today, making it easier to kick when on the ground. The Queen’s Park ‘associationists’ of 1867 could score ‘touch downs’ if the ball went wide of the goal posts. A poem from 1869 describes a Queen’s Park match where players use their fists to strike the ball. As mentioned earlier, the ball could also be caught out of the air and kicked on, thanks to the fair catch rule, although carrying and throwing the ball was completely forbidden. The rugby football adherents of the ‘Green Book’ in Scotland were prevented in 1868 from lifting the ball up off the ground in order to carry it in their arms. They could use hands to stop the ball when it was on the ground, ‘but not in any way to move it’ and could only run with the ball in their arms if they caught it when it was ‘bounding.’

The Queen’s Park touch down was used as a scoring method which determined the winner only ‘in the event of no goals being got on either side’, while the touch down in the rugby game was used to enable a ‘try at goal’. The rugby try therefore was not in itself regarded as a scoring method at this time; it was the resulting kick over the cross bar which led to a goal being awarded and that is what officially counted. However, if games were drawn in terms of the number of goals kicked, then tries were often unofficially taken into consideration; in such circumstances the games were referred to as being ‘drawn in favour of’ a team if they shared the same number of goals but had achieved more tries.

The database records all of this information and I hope that when it is finally completed it will be of great interest to the followers of both codes. It would be impossible to try to fully understand the early history of football in Scotland without acknowledging all forms of the game. These intertwined connections can be demonstrated by highlighting the reaction in Scotland when Charles W. Alcock, Secretary of the Football Association, arranged the first of his series of London based football internationals in 1870. The match involved teams representing England and Scotland and took place under association rules, with the Scotland team being made up primarily of players of Scottish extraction (to varying degrees) who were resident in London. Andy Mitchell’s insightful book, First Elevens, covers this in great detail.

Scotland side at Raeburn Place for the first international football match in 1871 (rugby rules)

This prompted a response from the captains of the leading rugby football clubs north of the border who, in their own words, were ‘representing the football interests of Scotland.’ They published a joint letter laying down a challenge for a return match to be played under the rugby code. Simply put, their view was that ‘the football power of the old country was not properly represented in the late so called international football match.’ This challenge was not accepted by the Football Association but it did ultimately result in the first rugby football international match being organised in Edinburgh when teams representing Scotland and England met at Raeburn Place in 1871. This fixture celebrates its 150th anniversary today (27 March). It was therefore down to Queen’s Park (who else) to pick up the gauntlet on behalf of the early association clubs in Scotland and organise the first official international match under association rules the following year.