The Yuletide Games of Old

Football activity was significantly linked to winter festivals in Scotland. One such notable event was the festival of Yule, originally an ancient pagan celebration that marked the winter solstice. With the establishment of Christianity across northern Europe, this pagan festival was largely subsumed by the Christmas season. For many communities, football formed part of the festivities although it is unknown exactly how far back the connection goes. Another important event in Scotland was New Year’s Day and football again was a traditional feature of this notable day in different parts of the country. An often confusing point, however, when trying to pinpoint the actual day when many of these games were played is the variation between the “old-style” observance of Christmas Day and New Year’s Day and the “new-style” observance.

The old-style observance was based on the older Julian calendar (named after Julius Caesar) which was the main calendar used across Europe for over 1,600 years. In 1582 the Gregorian calendar (named after Pope Gregory XIII) was brought in to correct a deficiency in the accuracy of the Julian calendar which was increasingly becoming out of step with the solar year. The relatively simple tweak of adding a leap year every four years and correcting the “drift” from previous centuries aligned the Gregorian calendar with the solar year but inevitably led to the Julian calendar being significantly out of step. Scotland did not adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1752 and even then, the use of the Julian calendar often continued when it came to observing festival days. By the start of the nineteenth century the difference in the span of days between the Julian and Gregorian calendars was 12 days. On the basis of using the Gregorian calendar, the “new-style” arrival of Christmas Day of course fell on 25th December but the “old-style” observation was not reached until 6th January (in some parts of Scotland 7th January was observed). Likewise, the 12-day span between both calendars meant that the old-style observance of New Year’s Day fell on 12th January.

Traditionally, there was a strong connection between football activity and Christmas Day celebrations in the north of Scotland. John Robertson in his excellent book, the Uppies and Doonies, lists many football games that were played on Christmas Day (old-style and new-style) across the Northern Isles. On top of this is evidence pointing to a pattern in other regions, suggesting that Christmas Day games were played across large parts of the north, including Caithness, Ross-shire, Inverness-shire, Nairnshire, Morayshire, Strathspey and Aberdeenshire.

An elevated view of Elgin Cathedral, traditionally referred to as the ‘Chanonrie Kirk’

The earliest recorded evidence of a Christmas Day game appears to be at Elgin Cathedral in Moray in 1600 while perhaps the most famous account of a Yuletide game can be found in a poem from 1738 entitled The Monymusk Christmas Ba’ing. This poem, penned by Reverend John Skinner, provides a long and detailed account of a football game in a little Aberdeenshire village and points to a rough affair which is perhaps best summed up by the final verse…

Has ne’er in Monymuss been seen

Sae mony weel-beft skins:

Of a’ the bawmen there was nane

But had twa bleedy shins.

Wi’ strenzied shouders mony ane

Dree’d penance for their sins;

And what was warst, scoup’d hame at ee’n,

May be to hungry inns,

And cauld that day.

Whilst New Year’s Day football games were widely played in the northern regions where Christmas Day football activity can be found, it appears to be the case that football on New Year’s Day was played in other parts of Scotland too. Additional examples range from Argyllshire in the Western Highlands to Perthshire, Stirlingshire, Lanarkshire, Inverclyde, Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders. For example, Alexander Carse’s painting of a football match involving the Doonies versus the Croonies on New Year’s Day, which dates from 1810, appears to be located somewhere along the Berwickshire coast. However, large parts of Scotland’s east coast do not appear to have any Yuletide connection with football activity, be it Christmas Day or New Year’s Day.

The numerous examples of football activity that fall under Christmas Day and New Year’s Day can be quite diverse. For many, these events were genuinely old annual customs which had been played since time immemorial. Others, however, appear to be more recent innovations. Some of the games were carefully managed affairs involving patronage from landowners but there are numerous games that were organised by local people and by youths with no obvious links to the landed classes. Finally, as will be seen, there are also examples of competitive football contests where teams competed for prizes.

A long but excellent description of a traditional Yule Day football game can be found on the Island of Unst, the most northerly part of the Shetland Isles. The game described below dates from the 1820s and was played on Yule Day, observed in this instance in the old-style (6th January)…

“Almost the only out-of-door game known, or at least practised, was football, in which boys and lads, and once in the year – on Yule day – many middle-aged men who had boys and lads of their own, engaged with splendid vigour and spirit… Another invariable and important preparation for Yule was the making of the football, Yule being always the inauguration day of the season. The bladder of the ‘mert,’ or pig, had been previously secured, carefully salted – very likely in an old brown teapot – and set away in the most remote corner of a cupboard. We shaped and sewed the leather covering ourselves; but to get the ‘quarters’ cut of the proper shape to secure a perfect sphere, which we considered a matter of the utmost importance, was an affair of great anxiety and study. We had certain rough rules for shaping the pattern, but were not always successful in giving it just the proper curve. The leather was not obtained from the shops, for two reasons: it cost us more than we could conveniently afford out of our slender pocket-money; and we found, or thought we found, that ‘Scotch’ shoe-leather – the only description procurable in the shops – was very spongy and too heavy; so the leather we used was native tanned – and, indeed, our boots and shoes were for the most part made of the same material… The thinnest parts of the tanned hide were always secured for our football…” After Yule breakfast… “Almost immediately thereafter, football commenced. Most of our masculine neighbours, boys and lads, and men up to well-nigh fifty years of age, were wont to be invited; and when all were assembled on the spacious lawn, my uncle appeared, made a little congratulatory speech, and distributed drams to the seniors, and cake to all comers. Healths were drunk, and hearty Yule greetings exchanged; and then two – perhaps three – sets of players were arranged; goals were set, and the play began. Our uncle and father looked on and watched with interest the progress of the game. When goals were changed, there was sure to be another round of drams, to keep up the spirit and energies of the players, and because, as my uncle would say to his well-pleased audience, ‘every day was not Yule day;’ and so the game went on fast and furious till close upon the dinner hour – three o’clock – when light failed… For a week the feasting continued – the football by day and dancing at night, with sometimes a rubber at whist; for, young as we were, we had learned the noble game, and were keen and by no means bad players…”

Relatively modern customs based around the patronage and goodwill of landowners can also be found. For example, a game at Lochgair in Argyllshire in 1857 which took place on Old New Year’s Day (12th January) was permitted on the lawn in front of Lochgair House. In 1873, at Springkell House in Dumfriesshire the New Year’s Day game organised for the tenants and cottars of the estate came off in the park in front of the mansion. It was referred to as a 26 year old custom.

The park in front of Springkell House, Dumfriesshire, annual venue of New Year’s Day football games

A large and well organised New Year’s Day football game took place at Newton Stewart in 1816, a little more than a month after the famous Carterhaugh game. Judging by the pageantry involved, Carterhaugh may have offered a degree of inspiration for the game which followed in Wigtownshire. Important patrons for the Newton Stewart game included Sir John Heron Maxwell who provided a field for the contest. Selected leaders, a committee and match judges were all involved. An account of the game states that,

“The players were formed in regular order, the march was directed by the advance of music and colours to the front, viz. the Orange and Blue flags. In a short time they were upon the field of contest, the most delightful road course of Kirrouchtree, the property of Sir John Heron Maxwell, Bart. The ground having been previously arranged, the different sides took their stations, decorated with the badge of the opposite leaders.”

Played over the best of three games [goals], the day was carried by the ‘Blues’ who triumphed by two goals to one. Similarly, the New Year’s Day game at Lanark racecourse in 1862 provides an example of a well organised game played in front of a large crowd…

“Great Game at Foot-Ball – At twelve o’clock noon on New Year’s Day, thousands had gathered on the Race Course to witness a foot-ball match played between sides chosen by two celebrated players, Mr Murray, superintendent of works to Mr Freeman, and Malcolm Macmillan, of Lanark. The latter having won the toss for choice of ground and kick off, the competitors stripped and went to work in right good earnest, each individual doing his very best for the honour of his side. At three pm three goals were gained, which, after a severe struggle resulted in favour of Mr Murray. All who witnessed this match, admit that it was one of the most exciting and keenest contests ever witnessed by them at this manly and exhilarating game. It would be invidious to particularise any one person in this match, where all did so well; but we feel sure that all will agree, without the least envy, that Messrs Murray and Macmillan were the heroes of the day. The kicking of Mr Murray was terrific, for at one time he sent the ball spinning through the air, far up and away, almost out of sight, which called forth tremendous cheering from the spectators; on the other hand, Macmillan, who is the bean ideal of a hardy Highlander, made some magnificent spurts at running, carrying away the ball from his opponents amid bursts of applause. At the finish an ample supply of refreshments were served, and given to the competitors, who regaled themselves most heartily. The best feeling and harmony prevailed throughout. The amusements wound up by Mr Lamb kindly undertaking to get up some foot races, for which prizes were liberally awarded by a collection made by gentlemen on the ground.”

Lanark race course, scene of the New Year’s Day game in 1862

Competitive contests were certainly evident at the Redhall Christmas Games which took place on Old Christmas Day at Redhall House in Aberdeenshire in 1851. Teams picked at 10 a side (or 12 a side depending on the source) representing Fordoun and Lawrencekirk competed for a “satisfactory prize.” Lawrencekirk took the honours, winning the contest by two goals to nil. In 1856 the little coastal town of Lossiemouth in Morayshire was the scene of animated football contests. A newspaper article gives some background to the activity…

“With the view of affording amusement to the Public upon Old Christmas and New-Year Day Holidays, a Committee of Gentlemen connected with the National Sports’ Association have resolved to have Individual and Party [team based] Games of football at Lossiemouth, on those days.”

The individual games took place at the Stotfield Links and the committee noted distinctions between amateur competitors and those willing to play for remuneration. The amateurs therefore were not to receive a cash prize for taking part. The rules for the individual competition as reported in the local newspaper was straight forward…

“Any two individuals may start against each other from a given point, and at a given signal, each finding his way as he best can to the winning post; and the party whose ball shall first cross a line to be drawn at the winning-post, will be declared the winner.”

The team based or “party” games took place on sands to the east of Lossiemouth harbour to the following rules…

“Any two individuals may start as leaders or Captains, and will have the power of choosing from among those assembled, alternatively, individuals willing to enlist in the contest, to any number not exceeding on each side. The Combatants being mustered in rank and file, the field of contest will be marked out and fixed by the judges, and the winning posts at each end put up. The Captains will toss up upon the centre of the field for the first kick of the ball; and fifty yards of clear space in front shall be allowed for his exercising this privilege. Prizes will be awarded to successful parties according to the period of time within which the Games shall be won…”

Lossiemouth, as viewed from the sands to the east of the harbour

Another fascinating example of a competitive game can be found at Loch Rannoch in Perthshire in 1871 and the newspaper article is quoted in full below…

“RANNOCH – FOOT BALL – On old New Year’s Day and exciting match at “foot ball” was played betwixt twenty four men from the north side of the Rannoch, and the same number from the south side.  The bet was £4 and a gallon of whisky – a good part of the money being for the benefit of the poor of the district. A large number of the inhabitants turned out, well knowing that the contest would be a keen one, and few doubted but the “Bratach” would, as in former years, become victorious. The umpires were the Hon. G. J. Eliphinstone, Inverchadden, and Mr Cameron, merchant, Kinloch. At half-past two Mr M’Donald, captain for the north side, led his men against Mr M. McGregor, farmer, Tempar, captain for the south side and his men. A severe contest then ensued, “Bratach ne mocan” gained a slight advantage with the first run or two; yet the north side soon recovered their lost position, and the ball was driven towards the south side hale where it mostly remained during the match. It now became evident to all present that the north would win; and after an obstinate resistance the ball was happily kicked through between the poles, and a loud cheers was given for the north. The best of three had now to be won, and both sides entered for the second game as eagerly as for the first. The ball was kicked hale in about five minutes time by the north side, and consequently they became the victors. After receiving the decision of the umpires a good deal of cheering was given for the north side men, who then marched four deep, headed by a piper, to the village hotel, where they had a bumper of the “mountain dew”.

A picturesque view of Loch Rannoch from Kinloch Rannoch village

This article is intended to provide a brief insight into the important football activities of old that were enjoyed over the Yuletide season. Admittedly a time of celebration for many, we should perhaps finish with a note of sympathy for Mr Fraser who in 1871 was compelled to contact his local newspaper in Inverness to thwart attempts to organise a game on his land…

Source: Saturday Inverness Advertiser, 30/12/1871. Image courtesy of the British Newspaper Archive.

Glasgow Before The Explosion: the role of migration and immigration in the development of football cultures in the city prior to 1873.


The purpose of this paper is to highlight ongoing research suggesting that numerous football cultures existed in Glasgow and the surrounding area prior to what the Scottish Football Museum has termed as the ‘football explosion’ – referring to the rapid rise of Association football in the city in the aftermath of the first official international match under Association rules on St Andrews Day 1872.  

In doing so it seeks to question existing historical narratives, such as, for example, the opinion held by the Scottish Football Annual of 1875 that football in Scotland by the mid nineteenth century had ‘almost died out.’ 

This paper will present evidence implying that a variety of football traditions were imported into Glasgow by migrants and immigrants over the course of the nineteenth century as well as highlighting an existing culture by people native to the area. This research has been drawn from a database developed over a 21-year period which catalogues and maps the origins of football in its many forms across Scotland from the earliest records up to 1873. 


The staging of the first official international football match under Association rules on 30th November 1872 had a profound influence on the subsequent rapid growth of the game in Glasgow as well as within the surrounding communities of west central Scotland. This seismic expansion in the weeks and months following on from Scotland’s encounter with England at the West of Scotland Cricket Ground in Partick is referred to within the exhibition space of the Scottish Football Museum as the ‘football explosion’. The chapter entitled Glasgow: football capital of the nineteenth century in Professor Tony Collins’ publication, How Football Began, provides a clear insight into the unprecedented scale of expansion over the course of the 1870s and 1880s.

What is less well known is the general story of football activity within Glasgow in the decades leading up to this historic milestone. Several of the early prominent clubs in Glasgow, both Association and Rugby, have published histories which have been valuable and Dr Graham Curry in his book, The Making of Association Football, has a chapter entitled Glasgow; From Whimper to Crescendo which provides a study of the football scene in and around the city from the 1850s through to the 1870s. More recently Andy Mitchell in his popular Scottish Sports History website has written an interesting article on John Burns Connell, a notable early pioneer of football in Glasgow during the 1860s and 1870s.

My own interest in the subject stretches back to my earliest days working at the Scottish Football Museum. One of my first tasks on joining the organisation in 1999 was to study the little-known story (at that time) of the origins of football in Scotland. During the initial period of research two quotes stood out because they appear, on the face of it, to be completely at odds with each other. The first quote is taken from an article in the inaugural Scottish Football Annual, published in October 1875. The second quote, which relates to the 10-year period leading on from the formation of Queen’s Park in 1867, was handwritten by a fellow staff member on a short note.

This sport was doubtless 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.

Source: Scottish Football Annual, 1875, P7.

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?

Source: Research Note, Scottish Football Museum, 1999.

The first quote certainly appears to chime with the viewpoint that there was limited football activity within the city prior to the four-month period over the winter months of 1872 and 1873 which witnessed the international match being staged and the Scottish Football Association and Scottish Cup competition instituted. That, however, provides no explanation for the question posed by my colleague and can be countered by other references which are more contemporary. For example, this observation from 1856, relates to Glasgow Green,

Cricket, rounders and foot-ball, the sports most popular here, are now practised as extensively as at any former period. On Saturday afternoons, when the mills and public works are stopped, King’s Park presents a most cheerful and animating spectacle, with its numerous groups of youthful operatives, after the toils of the week, all earnestly engaged in these healthful and exciting games.

Source: MacDonald, H; Rambles round Glasgow, Glasgow, 1856, P26.

This paper aims to highlight that there was indeed a football culture, or more accurately ‘cultures,’ in and around Glasgow. If the first official international match signalled the lighting of the touch paper to create a football explosion, then there had to already be a large powder keg waiting to be ignited. This paper will outline the following points in order to explain the reasons for the post 1872 football explosion in Glasgow,

  • From the 1850s through to 1872 thousands of boys and youths were actively engaged in playing football. This activity included the poorest sections of society.
  • An eclectic network of organisations, from cricket clubs to the local rifle volunteer corps provided organisational support as the early football clubs began to form.
  • The early Association game in Glasgow, as it developed through the influence of Queen’s Park FC, was from the start ostensibly a working-class game.
  • The emerging game not only connected with the native working-class population but appealed to migrant and immigrant communities.
  • Due to these factors, organised club football initially under the leadership of Queen’s Park was able to expand significantly once the touch paper was lit.

Parameters to the study

The period covered by this paper runs from 1850, aligning with the ‘mid-century’ timeframe quoted in the Scottish Football Annual, and concludes at the end of 1872 with the hosting of the first official international match under Association rules. The paper attempts to analyse the underlying appetite for Association football prior to the international match of 1872 and therefore has an emphasis on the early clubs, including Queen’s Park FC, which played to that code. However, as the starting point for the introduction of Association football to Glasgow only dates to 1867 with the formation of Queen’s Park, general football activity will be studied in some detail including the emerging rugby football game. This is needed to provide a more rounded view of the football cultures emerging in and around the city. Finally, Glasgow by the 1850s was already interconnected with many towns and villages beyond its border. These connections would strengthen throughout the period through the expansion and improvement of the early passenger rail networks. The communities of Partick and Govan, which today are synonymous with the city, were distinctive and separate entities throughout the period but were very much connected. Further to the west of Glasgow, the Renfrewshire town of Paisley, a major centre for textile production, had a passenger line running into the city by 1840. Out to the east, the neighbouring Lanarkshire towns of Airdrie and Coatbridge, major centres for coalmining and iron production, were connected by passenger rail to Glasgow by 1862. The emerging culture of football clubs was not restricted to the city but to a ‘Greater Glasgow’ network incorporating sports organsations, educational institutions and volunteer corps. Finally, as the title suggests, an emphasis will be placed on highlighting migration and immigration, particularly with respect to the emerging Association football culture.

Social experience of Glasgow

An analysis of the football cultures in and around Glasgow needs to be set within the wider social and economic context. In 1750, around the start of the industrial revolution, Glasgow’s population was estimated to be approximately 23,500. By 1801 the figure had increased to 83,769 and by 1851 it had jumped significantly to 329,096. The twenty years following on from the 1851 census would see a continued expansion of the population through a combination of higher birth rates and increasing levels of migration and immigration. For most people living in the city life was precarious; the poorer sections of society lived in overcrowded conditions in slum housing. Despite the increase in births, disease was a major factor in high mortality rates and low levels of life expectancy and the cholera epidemics of 1848 and 1854 devastated the city. The parish-based system of welfare in Scotland, minimal as it was in smaller rural communities, was often overwhelmed in the larger towns and cities. In Glasgow, the biggest city of all in Scotland, there were inevitably high levels of destitution and pauperism, but important work was undertaken, particularly in the field of education, to reach even the poorest sections of society.

The role of working-class education

The introductory article in the Scottish Football Annual of 1875, whilst bemoaning the lack of football activity from the mid nineteenth century, also provides some evidence for its existence.  The article goes on to say that football “seems to have been confined to the schule green.”1 Glasgow in the years leading up to 1850 was at the forefront of educational reform through visionaries like David Stow, a merchant and educationalist who was responsible for creating Britain’s first teacher training college in 1837. Stow, whose introduction to the education of the poor started off as a teacher in a sabbath school in Glasgow’s impoverished Gallowgate, saw first-hand the impact that poverty and destitution had on the moral corruption of the poor. A passionate advocate for introducing playgrounds at schools, he recognised that organised outdoor activity helped to instil discipline which, in tandem with the classroom, supported the moral wellbeing of children. As early as 1832 he wrote a short article on “Moral and Physical Training” which connected the playground to moral culture.2 His views certainly caught on; by the 1850s a variety of sports and games were being routinely enjoyed by children and youths across Glasgow and the surrounding towns and villages. The outdoor game of football was one of the beneficiaries and is recorded within the activities of sabbath schools, parish schools, industrial schools and religious societies. The slide below provides a list of 49 education-based organisations which have references to football activity within the 22-year period under consideration.

Slide 1: List of educational organisations linked to football activity

Significantly, sport, including football, is also recorded at refuges. These institutions catered for children drawn from the poorest sections of Glasgow’s society which Stow referred to as the ‘Sunken Class.’ A report on the Glasgow House of Refuge for Boys in 1862 provides an insight into the recreations provided for the boys,

“The directors encourage in and out-door amusements. The playground is daily an exciting scene of youthful sport and recreation. Foot-ball, shinty, bowls, cricket, dragon flying, and other games in their season, are eagerly engaged in. Drill occupies an important place in the boys’ physical training. Their marching and various evolutions would be no discredit to some of our more advanced volunteers…”

Source: Glasgow Courier, 20/02/1862, P2.

Football, as an activity, was enjoyed by all sections of society and the education system helped to ensure that even children from impoverished backgrounds could participate in games. This degree of inclusivity was perhaps best demonstrated in the annual excursions during the summer months which were a notable feature of the school system of the 1850s and 1860s. The numbers involved are certainly significant. Generally, the young people attending such outings were numbered in their hundreds. One gathering of the Glasgow Foundry Boys Society in 1871, had as many as 1,300 in their party.3

Temperance Movement

Healthy outdoor recreation was popularised by the temperance movement as it was viewed as being a useful alternative to the vice of drunkenness. Glasgow was no different to other cities and groups associated with the ‘Teetotal’ movement enthusiastically promoted sport within their portfolio of activities. At the very outset of the period covered there are examples. For instance, in 1850 under the title ‘Temperance and Recreation,’ the Glasgow Chronicle highlights the visit of the Hamilton Total Abstinence Society to the deer parks of the Duke of Hamilton where,

“…the foot-balls and other preparations for amusement were in speedy requisition, and the unbounded hilarity which prevailed unequivocally showed that the most extensive degree of enjoyment is compatible with entire abstinence from strong drink.”

Source: Glasgow Chronicle, 17/07/1850, P6.

The Total Abstinence Association’s links with football were not limited to the Lanarkshire town. Branches at the Gorbals and Bridgeton in Glasgow and Paisley in Renfrewshire also encouraged football games as part of specially planned events.4 Nationally, the Band of Hope movement embraced football as a positive diversion from alcohol and other vices for its young members. Within Glasgow and Lanarkshire, the Band of Hope branches at Hutcheson, Newarthill and Chapelhall are linked to football activity.5 The most productive organisation within the temperance movement, however, was the Glasgow Abstinence Union. This organisation was quite prolific in organising excursions where football was often a popular activity. Newspaper adverts promoted up and coming excursions with, for example, the twelfth excursion of 1863 (to Ferenze Braes in Renfrewshire) proclaiming that “Foot-Balls and Hand-Balls will be provided.”6 The organisation opened a public park in 1862 which was named Gilmorehill Gardens and promoted “Bowls, Quoits, Football, Skittles, Aunt Sally, Volunteer Handicap, Jack’s Alive, Croquet, and a great variety of other games.”7 The promotion of football, however, would be short lived at the park after complaints were received that the game was “interfering with the comfort of visitors.”8

Other football activity

The excursions of the summer months were not just restricted to children and youths. A study of newspapers indicates that work outings were also a popular activity and must have been a source of much anticipation and excitement for iron workers, coal miners and factory workers alike. The range of employers that support football activity during these excursions vary, from a Flour Mill and a Wholesale Stationer in Glasgow to an Iron works in Coatbridge and a colliery in Hamilton.9 One excursion that stands out is the outing of the employees of William McLennan, boot and shoe manufacturer in Glasgow, who, in 1861, enjoyed a trip ‘doon the water,’ travelling by steamer to the picturesque town of Dunoon situated on the Cowal peninsula. At the holiday residence of their employer the party of excursionists enjoyed “…dancing, foot-ball, and various other games…”10 The Ancient Order of Foresters friendly society and the Independent Order of Good Templars also organised outings in different parts of Scotland. In 1869, a “Grand Demonstration” at Elderslie House saw members of the Paisley and Govan courts enjoy an afternoon of “football, racing and jumping” while in 1871 at Chatelherault, near Hamilton, local members of the Cadzow Templars Lodge enjoyed a day out involving “cricket, football and other sports.”11

Finally, football activity was recorded in the network of asylums across Scotland. Montrose Asylum in Angus even had its own football club by 1869.12 In Glasgow and the surrounding locality sport was encouraged as an opportunity to support the wellbeing of the inmates. The report from commissioners in 1867 commented of the Glasgow Royal Asylum that 173 men and 87 women resident in the asylum attended amusements while an additional 10 visited the institution for the same purpose. Cricket and football were listed as popular summer activities.13 Excursions were also undertaken and in 1871, through the undertaking of the Barony Parochial Board in Glasgow, the Barnhill Asylum enjoyed a visit to the asylum’s newly acquired property at Woodieliee, near Lenzie, located to the northeast of the city. The newspaper report states that as well as the majority of the inmates, omnibuses conveyed a considerable number of children with football being listed as one of the activities enjoyed by the party.14 Paisley Burgh Asylum enjoyed a similar arrangement during the latter part of the 1860s although their choice of location was Greenfield, not far from the Gleniffer Braes in Renfrewshire.15 At the Paisley Asylum excursion to Langbank in 1870 the article states that “Football, a pastime which many love, was well patronised, and dancing was engaged in by a few.”16

Football and the social elite

Beyond the importance placed on patronage by early football clubs, there is evidence to suggest that football was played by youths and young men from more advantaged backgrounds and from the ranks of the ‘socially mobile.’ There is evidence that football was played on the college green at Glasgow University decades before the time period that we are studying.17 As early as 1851 there is evidence to suggest that the university had a football club.18 That being said, the type of football activity being played at the university, as described by former students, certainly suggests that the games could involve large numbers with limited rules. For example, David Murray in his book, Memories of the Old College of Glasgow, quotes from the University Review of 1884, about the traditional games at the university and adds his own thoughts,

Football continued to be played on the College green every session until 1870 when the migration to Gilmorehill took place. “It was a rough and tumble game in which the contending sides swept across the low green from Blackfriars Street to the New Vennel and back again like the hordes of Atilla.” This refers to 1855 and the few preceding years. It was the same in my time, 1857-65.

Source: Murray, David; Memories of the Old College of Glasgow, 1927, P442.

An article from 1860, written by a former student, paints a somewhat different picture, hinting at a degree of skill with games being arranged between faculties on Saturdays.

The Glasgow University, having extensive grounds attached to it, affords great opportunities for outdoor amusements, and students are distinguished there, not only for their knowledge of Greek and readiness in reply, but also for swiftness in the race and skill at foot-ball. Here, too, a rivalry exists between the students of Art and the students of Medicine: and well do I remember the Saturday matches, in which Art alternatively conquered and succumbed to Medicine.

Source: Dunfermline Press, 27/03/1860, P4.

This latter description might fit in better with the story of Reverend James Barclay, born in Paisley in 1844 to a wealthy family, who attended the local grammar school before heading to Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh, where he played rugby, and then onto Glasgow University. Barclay was described as being “captain of the Glasgow University cricket and football clubs at the university for some years” before graduating in 1865.19 An all-round sportsman, he would go on to become captain of the Gentleman of Scotland cricketers and was a notable pioneer of Association football in the south of Scotland where he played for the Dumfries and Canonbie Football Clubs.20

A decade or so before Barclay’s time at the university, some students native to Paisley and educated at Glasgow University, would go on to form the Paisley Football and Shinty Club in 1855. The social standing of the founders of the club is hinted at in the article which covers the inaugural meeting of the club, the Paisley Herald and Renfrewshire Advertiser stating that “the gentlemen present were not numerous, but very respectable.”21 At least three of the committee members would become legal writers, a fourth, David Brewster, was the nephew of notable scientist Sir David Brewster while others appear to be sons of Paisley’s wealthy merchant class. The club, which leased a field at Greenhill (not far from the current ground of St Mirren FC), mainly played internal matches but the article outlining the inaugural meeting does suggest that a game was being organised against the officers and men of the local militia, although it is not mentioned whether the game was to be football or shinty. The club appears to have been short lived as it only features in the local newspapers in 1855 and 1856 but it does present football as an organised sport a full decade before the emergence of the principal Rugby and Association clubs in Glasgow.

A read through the minute books of the Glasgow Academical Club, from the first meeting of 1866, provides an illustration of the high level of organisation behind one of the early powerhouses of the rugby game in Scotland. Established as a former pupils’ club, the inaugural set of minutes finely details the reasoning behind its creation which was influenced in part by the success of the older club at the Edinburgh Academy and by the fortuitous development of an area of land being leased by the Directors of the school for outdoor sports.22 Structures were quickly put into place with committees being created for the cricket and football teams. The West of Scotland Club provided strong opposition locally and the Glasgow Academical Football Club, as it came to be known, ventured out to the east to play the leading rugby football clubs in Edinburgh as well as the Edinburgh and St Andrews University clubs. By 1869 Glasgow University had its own rugby football club and within a couple of years additional opponents could be found in Glasgow as well as in Paisley and Greenock. In 1870 the Academical Club embarked on the first cross border tour, visiting Liverpool and Manchester, and two years later would emulate the West of Scotland Club by visiting Belfast to play the North of Ireland Club.23 With the obvious strengths of the club, in terms of its organisational ability and, more importantly, its on field success, there is perhaps little surprise that the Glasgow Academical Club would be so well represented within the early Scotland teams that faced England in the rugby football internationals.

Cricket and other sports clubs

Richard S. Young’s book, As the Willow Vanishes, provides a detailed account of the close association of cricket clubs in and around Glasgow with the development of many of the early football clubs. The associations are significant and far reaching. Cricket was organised as a sport much earlier than football in Glasgow. The oldest surviving club in the city is the Glasgow University Cricket Club which formed in 1829.24 When Queen’s Park FC were making the arrangements for the first official international match in 1872, they chose the West of Scotland Cricket Ground as the venue. When the Scottish Football Association was instituted in 1873 Archibald Campbell was elected as the first President. Archie, originally a native of Hawick, had founded the Clydesdale Cricket Club in 1848 and this club would successfully extend its influence into the sports of Association football, Rugby football and hockey. Clydesdale Football Club, formed in 1872, would oppose Queen’s Park FC two years later in the inaugural Scottish Cup Final.

Naismith’s Post Office Directory for 1878 lists the Hamilton Thistle Cricket and Football Club in its pages with a formation date of 1862. Very little is known, however, of the club although there are references in newspapers to cricket matches involving Hamilton Thistle from the late 1860s. The West of Scotland Cricket Club, which also formed in 1862, was, from the off, a major influence within the Glasgow cricket scene. According to Richard S. Young, ‘the West’ had ambitions to be a Scottish equivalent of the MCC in London.25 The founding of the club brought together businessmen under the patronage of Colonel Buchanan, a major supporter of cricket in the western districts of Scotland, whose own club Drumpellier, near Coatbridge, was an important sports club of the era. Buchanan was the first president of the new West of Scotland Club, a post he held until 1903. In 1865 an offshoot to the club was created with the formation of the West of Scotland Football Club. The new outfit would have had their own “in-house” playing rules but they were influenced by the emerging rugby code. The creation of the Glasgow Academical club in 1866, a natural early rival, and the arrival of W.H. Dunlop from Edinburgh in the same year would have firmly planted the rugby flag at the door of the West. Dunlop had previously been secretary of the [Edinburgh] Academical cricket and football clubs from 1864 to 1866. A number of other football clubs connected to cricket would follow the lead of the West of Scotland and play to the Rugby code.

However, as the Association game began to develop under the close watch of Queen’s Park FC a number of cricket clubs were drawn to this alternative game when establishing football sections. Ahead of Clydesdale FC was Dumbreck Football Club and Granville Football Club, both formed around 1871. A study of the earliest team lines available for the Granville Football Club connects a significant number of its players with the first and second elevens of the cricket club.

Another notable side which faced Queen’s Park in the late 1860s and early 1870s was the football section of Hamilton Gymnasium. The sports club had been formed in 1866, in part out of a wider campaign to establish a public park in the Lanarkshire town for outdoor sports. A report in the local newspaper states that,

Now, however, something of a definite character has at last been resolved upon. From a paragraph in our local column, it will be seen that at a numerously attended meeting held in the Lesser Town Hall, on Tuesday evening last, the question of a public park was discussed. The meeting, which we understand, was most enthusiastic, were of opinion that the formation of a society for field sports, such as cricket, football, rounders, &c., would in the meantime, to a great extent supply the desideratum which has been so long felt. Accordingly, those present agreed to unite themselves under the title of “The Hamilton Gymnasium,” for the promotion of the objects indicated, and a provisional committee was appointed to carry out the necessary preliminary arrangements.

Source: Hamilton Advertiser, 12/05/1866, P2.

Hamilton Gymnasium quickly got up and running; within a year of their formation the club recorded 95 members and by 1868 their list of honorary members included two local MPs, a Provost and Colonel Buchanan (of Drumpellier and West of Scotland cricket fame).26 Few details of the club’s membership survive but of those committee members who are recorded, they were local youths and young men who were mainly born within the town or within the county. Like many other of the emerging organisations, the footballers of Hamilton Gymnasium would have organised internal matches involving their members. Occasional games against other clubs like Queen’s Park did happen and were important but regular football activity was organised internally. This can be seen with the advertisement in May 1869 which states that “the Gymnasium is to be opened for the season on Monday evening, first, when cricket, football, and other manly exercises will, as usual, be provided.”27

Rifle Volunteer Movement

The Rifle Volunteer movement arrived in Britain in 1859 amidst concerns over an escalating European war and the perceived threat of a French invasion. The movement was very popular in Scotland, as elsewhere, and units were widely established over the course of the 1860s. Beyond military drills and shooting practise, wider sporting and social gatherings became associated with the movement. The most famous volunteer unit to be linked with Association football in Scotland was the Third Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers who were based in Glasgow and commenced as a Corps in 1859. The football club bearing the name was formed in 1872 and would go on to emerge as a major force in the Scottish game. Football as an activity, however, has an earlier place within the story of Third Lanark. For example, in 1866, when the volunteers were camped outside the village of Inverkip, there is evidence of football being enjoyed as a recreational activity…

Near the beach, in front of the tents, a game at football is going on, and over the sward come the merry voices of young ladies who are moving about, slyly peeping underneath the canvas, and surprising some bashful young hero in his devotions to the culinary god.

Source: Dundee Courier, 19/07/1866, P4.

The social side of the movement and the connections with football can also be found with the 16th Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers, Hamilton’s local volunteer corps. An annual picnic for the 16th LRV took place at Calderwood Castle in East Kilbride where football alongside racing and dancing were amongst the highlights of the outing.28 The village of East Kilbride, just a few miles to the south of Glasgow, had its own volunteer corps by 1867 who were instrumental in the establishment of an Association football club in 1871. The meeting to form the football club was called by Major Graham of Limekilns, who also led the 103rd LRV Corps. The captain of the football club was Private Alexander Warnock whilst Colour Sergeant Andrew Calderwood played in goal and Private Archibald Scott was a committee member. The connection can also be seen in 1873 with a social meeting in the Parish School room of what was now the East Kilbride Cricket and Football Club. The article commends the decoration on the walls…

“…while on the wall at the head of the room were arranged the cricket bats and football, supported on each side by a large bayonet star constructed by Sergt. J. Ramshaw, and kindly granted for the occasion by the 103d L.R.V.”

Source: Hamilton Advertiser, 12/05/1866, P2.

While many other volunteer corps would create football clubs in the months and years leading on from the notable football events of 1873, the 5th Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers Football Club, from Glasgow, were already undertaking regular football practise on Saturday afternoons at 3pm at their drill field by the end of 1872.29 Another volunteer corps, the 105th Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers, or Glasgow Highlanders, will be covered under the section devoted to migration.


Migration into Glasgow and the west of Scotland was significant over the span of the nineteenth century and accounts for much of the population rise. With insufficient welfare provision and often turbulent economic prospects the danger of destitution was a threat for many arriving in the large towns and cities. Associations and Societies rapidly sprang up in response, providing migrants with an opportunity to meet up and interact with people from their place of origin. This experience was not unique to Glasgow but the scale of this development was significant. In many respects these societies were mutual aid organisations as a major part of their existence was to support people if they fell on hard times in the city. The accompanying slides provide examples of the migrant societies existing in Glasgow from 1850 to 1872 and their geographic representation of Scotland as a whole. As well as being a provider of welfare, the societies also did much to promote and celebrate the traditions and cultures of their native land. There are examples linking some of these societies to the promotion of traditional sports, including football, within their activities.

Slide 2: Examples of migrant societies in Glasgow, 1850 to 1872
Slide 3: Geographic representation of Glasgow societies, 1850 to 1872

Glasgow Celtic Society

The Glasgow Celtic Society was a hugely influential organisation within the city which supported people from the Highlands coming to Glasgow. Instituted in 1856 the society was established for,

“…preserving the language, literature, music, poetry, antiquities, and athletic games of the Highlanders of Scotland, for encouraging the more general use of the national dress, and also for establishing a fund for affording temporary relief to destitute and deserving Highlanders, and to assist worthy persons coming from the Highlands in quest of employment.”

Source: Stonehaven Journal, 12/02/1857, P2.

The promotion of traditional sports, which included shinty and football, was certainly a notable part of the activities of the organisation. The college grounds of Glasgow University, situated just off the high street, were originally used for the hosting of athletic games. Excursions also formed part of the wider activities of the Glasgow Celtic Society. In 1859 a gathering on the grounds of Elderslie House in Renfrewshire, which involved society members from Glasgow, Greenock and Port Glasgow saw games of shinty and football being played. Two matches at football were played with teams dividing into red badges against blue badges.30 The following year a special trip by steamer was made to Arrochar at the head of Loch Long. A field was provided so that a series of games could be enjoyed including “two games at foot-ball.”31

Glasgow Orkney and Shetland Association

From an early period of the nineteenth century migrants from Orkney and Shetland appear to have been arriving in Glasgow in large enough numbers to necessitate the formation of a dedicated society. The Glasgow Orkney and Shetland Benevolent Society was established as early as 1837 with the separate Glasgow Orkney and Shetland Association being formed in 1862. This latter organisation supported annual gatherings for its members which included sports. For example, in 1868 the Association organised a joint trip with their Edinburgh counterparts to Linlithgow where amongst fishing, boating and walks around the palace, a game of football was organised.32 The following year the Glasgow Association visited Lennoxtown to the north of the city where younger members of the excursionists enjoyed football as part of the activities.33 Beyond the specific events of the Orkney and Shetland Association in Glasgow, there appears to have been wider activities involving the migrant community. Over the course of the nineteenth century New Year’s Day in Orkney and Shetland was traditionally observed with ball games being enjoyed by communities across the islands. In 1866 Orcadians living in Glasgow organised and enjoyed a New Year’s Day football game on Glasgow Green. One newspaper concluded its brief report of the event by stating that,

“The old house associations seemed to kindle in every bosom, and the fun and frolic was kept up for upwards of three hours, when they returned to the city, highly gratified with the proceedings.”

Source: The Orcadian, 16/01/1866, P2.


Perthshire migrants were certainly active in football contests within the city, forming early football clubs based at Glasgow Green. One of the first opponents of Queen’s Park FC was the Drummond Club which was founded in 1869. This football club was formed by Perthshire migrants who wore Clan Drummond tartan caps. It is not known if the members of this early club were connected to the Glasgow Perthshire Society (whose name was later adopted by a junior football club which still exists today). However, they were linked to a branch of the rifle volunteer movement in Glasgow. In this case the 9th company of the 105th Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers, who were more commonly known as the Glasgow Highlanders. This volunteer regiment was formed in 1868 by Highland migrants in Glasgow and at its peak consisted of 12 companies. Football was already part of the recreational activity of the professional Scottish regiments. Indeed, a game in 1870 involving members of the Drummond Club and the football team of the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders provides evidence of the connections,

A match at football was played in the King’s Park, Stirling, on Tuesday, between the members of the Drummond Club in connection with the 105th Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers and an equal number of the 93d (Sutherland) Highlanders. Three games were played, the first of which was finished in twenty-five minutes, the second in eighteen minutes, and the third in eight minutes, and all resulted in favour of the Glasgow Highlanders, the 93d having apparently not yet got into right condition for such a contest.

Source: Scotsman, 09/04/1870, P7.

The matches between Drummond FC and Queen’s Park throw up an example of different football cultures. The Drummond Club played a rougher style of game which included tripping. Queen’s Park did not. The matches between both clubs proceeded on the agreement that tripping be banned.34


Football as an activity had an important cultural value in the little town of Callander and this would radiate south as the young people of the area migrated into the urban centres of the central lowlands. The area was renowned for the annual Handsel Monday football game, an activity which was slowly starting to decline but which continued to be observed throughout the period in question. Speaking in 1872 at the third annual reunion of the Natives of Callander and Vicinity Resident in Glasgow, the Chairman, Mr Robert McLaren, reminisced,

…when I was a boy, I often heard it said that no district could compete, man to man, with Callander at the game of football… The practise of this manly game had fallen off considerably in our day. Yet we all remember how the sound of the bagpipe on Handsel Monday set all the village on tiptoe.

Source: Perthshire Advertiser, 29/02/1872, P2.

As a child back in 1852 William McGregor, the future father of the Football League, attests to the reputation of Callander for football.

A large house was being built for the late Earl Cairns at Duneira, Perthshire. The stone for this mansion had to be drawn a distance of twenty miles, and as a consequence the masons engaged on the work often had a little spare time. They amused themselves by playing football, and were fairly expert at the game, coming as they did from Callander, where the pastime had a hold.

Source: Catton, J.A.H; The Real Football, London, 1900, P71.

The football experts from Callander certainly made an impression as migrants in Glasgow. By 1872 a Callander Football Club was playing matches on Glasgow Green. This club were the first opponents of Rangers FC in 1872 and took part in the inaugural Scottish Cup competition in 1873.

John Burns Connell

As mentioned earlier, Andy Mitchell, in his website article, covers the story of J. B. Connell. Dr Graham Curry also devotes some attention to this notable pioneer of football in Glasgow. Connell’s story deserves to be briefly covered here because it provides an example of the football journey of a migrant arriving in Glasgow. Connell was born at Doune in 1846 and raised on a farm near the Port of Menteith close to the town of Callander. As a youth he played in Callander’s famous Handsel Monday football game before arriving in Glasgow around 1863. In a retrospective account of his football career, he claimed to have brought the first football for public use to Glasgow. Players had to pay a fee for the upkeep of the ball before taking part.35 Connell was a member of the Thistle Football Club that played Queen’s Park FC in Glasgow’s first known challenge match under a form of the Association code in 1868. The date of Thistle’s origin is unknown, but they certainly appear to be well established by 1868. Connell’s connection with the club and the fact that they were based at Glasgow Green suggests that there could be a strong Perthshire connection. He was a founder member of the Drummond Football Club in 1869, a club of Perthshire migrants which, as has been stated earlier, had a connection to the 9th company of the 105th Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers (Glasgow Highlanders). An all-rounder, he was captain of the Glasgow Highlanders team which met the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders at Stirling in a game played under rugby rules in 1871.36 Connell features in some of the early games involving Callander FC, appearing in the earliest match reports dating from 1873 although the spelling of his name varies in some of the reports. He moved on to Eastern Football Club, a rising team based at Glasgow Green, and was rated highly enough within local football circles to be selected to represent Glasgow against Sheffield in 1875.


Gary Ralston’s in-depth study of the early history of Rangers Football Club sheds a lot of light on the Argyllshire connections of the famous old club. Three of the four ‘founding fathers’ of Rangers came from the village of Rhu at Gare Loch. Another early member, Tom Vallance, a future Scotland internationalist, was also from the Argyllshire village. Only a few months before the formation of the club at Glasgow Green, Rhu had hosted its annual athletic games. The event, which featured traditional games like foot races, putting the stone and the high jump, took place on New Year’s Day 1872 and culminated with a game of football.37 By March 1872 the brothers Moses and Peter McNeill along with Peter Campbell, all natives of Rhu, were setting up their football club which they named Rangers. A fourth founder was William. H. McBeath, a native of Callander, who was a neighbour of the McNeills and lived in the same tenement block at 17 Cleveland Street.38 McBeath looks to have played for the Callander Football Club, appearing alongside J. B. Connell in the earliest known team lines for that club in 1873. What is particularly notable about the early formation of what would become a future giant of the Scottish game were the young ages of the founders. Moses was 16 years old, his brother Peter was the oldest at 17. Peter Campbell and William McBeath were just 15 years old. This illustrates similarities with the experience of some of the other clubs highlighted in this study and demonstrates the desire for youths, in some cases not long out of school, to continue enjoying football as a recreational activity.

Morayshire and Aberdeenshire

The final example relates to Queen’s Park FC, a club which would be regarded as the ‘senior’ or ‘premier’ of the clubs playing to the Association code in Scotland due to their influence in the early development of the game. Richard Robinson’s history of the club, first published in 1920, provides a useful insight into the early years while Andy Mitchell has delved even deeper into the story of the original pioneers with his website article entitled Football’s Founders from Fordyce. Many of the early founding fathers of the club were from the north of Scotland, particularly around Morayshire and neighbouring Aberdeenshire. As Andy Mitchell establishes in his article, three of the founders went to the same school, Fordyce Academy in Aberdeenshire. The first of these scholars was William Klinger who was born at Portsoy in Banffshire. The remaining two were brothers, Robert and James Smith, who were originally from Morayshire. Other notable northern members of the Glasgow outfit included Donald Edmiston who was originally from Aberdeenshire, Lewis Black, who was born in Cullen, and James C Grant who originally hailed from the village of Duthil in Speyside. The geographic connections are reflected in the naming of the club. The contending names initially were The Northern, Morayshire and The Celts. When an agreement could not be reached Mr Grant suggested going with Queen’s Park in recognition of the local public park and this narrowly won through after a series of divisions by a single vote.39 There were members from Glasgow and other parts of Scotland that served on the committee but the northern representation running from Morayshire across to Aberdeenshire appears to have been particularly important at the earliest stage of development. The wider story of the club is well documented and its importance in the emerging Association game in Scotland has been covered in many publications. From the humble early days of playing matches on the Queen’s Park recreation ground, the club would go on to organise the first official international match in 1872, providing the Scotland team from within its own membership. The club organised the meeting that created the Scottish Football Association and instituted the Scottish Cup in 1873 and built Hampden Park, Scotland’s first purpose built Association football ground. Through their influence, the distinctive playing style of the club would quickly develop into a Scottish style which would go on to influence the game of football far beyond the borders of Scotland.

Irish Immigration

Irish immigration into the city of Glasgow and the leading towns of Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire was significant over the course of the nineteenth century. The experience of those arriving could differ greatly. Many Irish Protestants, coming from the Ulster Scots tradition, shared religious values and ancestral links with much of the native Scottish population of the Lowlands and were able to assimilate more easily into society. Irish Catholics, to the contrary, did not have a smooth transition into Scottish society. Religion was at the centre of the friction, but perceived cultural differences and racial stereotyping were also factors. Irish Catholic immigration into Scotland existed prior to the 1840s but the Great Famine, which ran from 1845 to 1852, substantially increased the number of immigrants arriving in Glasgow and at many other communities across west central Scotland. Hostility and open discrimination existed and large sections of the Irish Catholic community in Scotland were crowded within the worst slum conditions in the expanding towns and cities. The formation and integration of a football club of Irish Catholics into Scotland’s developing Association game during the late 1860s and early 1870s therefore stands out as being notable. The club in question was formed in 1868 and initially played on ground at the Rochsoles estate in Airdrie.40 A retrospective article entitled Memories of Football in Airdrie, which appeared in the Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser in 1945, suggests that the owner of the estate, Major Archibald Gerard, who was a prominent member of the Catholic faith, looked sympathetically on the requirements of the new club.41 The Rochsoles estate, two years earlier, had hosted an excursion, which included games of football, involving the sabbath schools associated with St Margaret’s Christian Doctrine Society, a Catholic organisation connected to the local church in Airdrie.42

The club was named Airdrie Football Club and would become a member of the Scottish Football Association. Although they do not appear as a member club for season 1873-74, they are listed as a member by the time of the publication of the first Scottish Football Annual in 1875. Airdrie were nicknamed the ‘Hammer Drivers’ and were one of the first clubs to play against Queen’s Park when both sides met in home and away matches in 1870. Like many other clubs of the period, in the era before the universality of playing rules, Airdrie had their own views on how to play the game. As with the game against Thistle FC in 1868 and Drummond FC in 1870, Queen’s Park had to negotiate although the 1945 article, quoting from an unknown source, states that the first match of 1870 was played under “London Association Rules.”43 Hibernian Football Club, formed in Edinburgh in 1875, would face discrimination at the hands of the Scottish Football Association not long after their formation when they were initially denied membership as they were deemed to be, to all intents and purposes, a ‘foreign’ club. There is no evidence to suggest that Airdrie experienced this type of discrimination when it applied to become a member club of the same Association. This may have been down to something as simple as their choice of name. Hibernian of Edinburgh would become the first great Irish immigrant football club of Scotland and were an inspiration for the dozens of clubs that followed in their wake. The story of the Irishmen from Airdrie, however, is notable as it indicates that immigrants were involved from the very earliest period of the fledgling Association game in Scotland.

Adverts for football equipment and football grounds

With significant football activity being recorded among a variety of organisations across the city of Glasgow and the connected communities in Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire, there had to have been evidence of commercial enterprises to meet with the demand. Whilst, unlike Edinburgh, there does not appear to be a dedicated sports outfitter in Glasgow prior to 1873, there were numerous retail outlets where footballs could be purchased. During the 1860s adverts for footballs at the Royal Polytechnic Warehouse in Glasgow’s Jamaica Street appeared, not only within Glasgow newspapers, but within newspapers covering Paisley, Greenock and Stirling.44 A rival Glasgow store, Wilson and Matheson’s Retail Department based in Glassford Street were also advertising footballs by 1861.45 In 1869 T.C. Barlow’s of St Vincent Street in Glasgow, no doubt looking at the bustling summer excursion market, were advertising for sale or hire, amongst other things, 120 tents and marquees, 400 skates and 20 footballs.46 Glasgow’s Reid & Company, in 1870, were promising newspaper readers that they were “…the place for cricket bats, croquet, foot-balls &c…”47 Towards the end of the period Millar’s Family Hat Warehouse in Glasgow’s Queen Street were advertising, among an assortment of other headwear, cricket and football caps.48 It is perhaps fitting that the employees of John Leckie & Co, Saddlers from Glasgow, who were enjoying a game of football during their work outing to Largs in 1868, would, judging from subsequent newspaper adverts, be busily engaged in producing footballs, “Association and Rugby,” in the months that followed on from the international football match at Partick in 1872.49

Towards the end of the period there is evidence of adverts being placed for renting football grounds. In 1870 an advert appeared in the Glasgow Evening Citizen, placed by an anonymous football club, appealing for a ground in the vicinity of the New City or Great Western Roads.50 The following year an area of land was being advertised to “cricket, football or bowling clubs” near Queen’s Park on the southern edge of the city.51 In 1872 another advert appeared in the Glasgow Herald. The advert simply stated “Park wanted for Foot ball; use on evenings and Saturday afternoons. State terms…”52

List of clubs

The following slide provides a list of football clubs for Glasgow and the surrounding localities which are covered in this paper for the period running from 1850 to 1872. They have been referenced either in contemporary articles or in retrospective accounts. Checking and verifying the dates of early football clubs, from personal experience, can be very difficult. A number of clubs, for example, bearing the name “Southern” appear in the early newspaper reports and football annuals with varying years of formation given. One of them even claimed to play to both the Association and Rugby codes and it is possible that this club has been duplicated within the lists. Other clubs have different years of formation listed in the football annuals from one year to another making the task a challenging one. With a few of the examples almost nothing exists other than a solitary reference whilst others have plenty of material to support the claim for their foundation year. Many of the clubs do not appear to have lasted very long, but this can be said of many clubs in the immediate years following on from 1873.

Slide 4: List of football clubs in the ‘Greater Glasgow’ area, 1851 to 1872.


The four-month period leading on from the staging of the first official international match at Partick witnessed the beginnings of the rapid rise of Association football across Glasgow and the surrounding communities of west central Scotland. The formation of the Scottish Football Association in March 1873 and the institution of the Scottish Cup tournament brought the necessary organisation and focus that the game would need as new clubs started to form. Queen’s Park Football Club, without question, was the driving force north of the border during the formative years. The subsequent rise of the Association game is all the more dramatic when contrasted with the first few humble years of the club’s existence, arranging matches between members on the recreation ground at Queen’s Park and seeking out opponents. The rugby football game in Glasgow certainly had an edge over their Association counterparts during the late 1860s with the West of Scotland and Glasgow Academicals having access to strong competition from the numerous clubs in Edinburgh and the east of Scotland as well as the formation of clubs closer to home. The future success of the Association game in Glasgow lay in its working-class foundations. A game that could pair Queen’s Park FC against a team of Perthshire migrants, in the Drummond Club, or a team of Irish immigrants, in Airdrie FC, was one that could appeal to much wider sections of society than the emerging rugby game which had a closer association with students from the universities and former pupils from the leading grammar schools and academies. The first international football match in Partick was the spark that ignited the powder keg because it put Association football firmly on the centre stage in Glasgow, appealing to a largely working-class audience, who not only possessed an appetite for the game but had a working knowledge of it.


1. Scottish Football Annual, 1875, P7.

2. David Stow’s tract on Physical and Moral Training, quoted in Fraser, William; Memoir of the Life of David Stow, London, 1868, Pp120-5.

3. Greenock Advertiser, 16/05/1871, P2.

4. North British Daily Mail, 07/06/1852, P2, Glasgow Constitutional, 18/05/1853, P2 and Paisley Herald and Renfrewshire Advertiser, 19/06/1869, P4.

5. Paisley Herald and Renfrewshire Advertiser, 19/06/1869, P4, Hamilton Advertiser, 08/08/1863, P2 and Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser, 11/08/1866, P2.

6. Glasgow Herald, 25/07/1863, P8.

7. Glasgow Herald, 20/05/1862, P1.

8. Glasgow Morning Journal, 08/05/1862, P1.

9. Glasgow Herald, 14/08/1867, P5, Paisley Herald and Renfrewshire Advertiser, 04/08/1860, P2 and Hamilton Advertiser, 12/08/1871, P2.

10. Glasgow Herald, 25/06/1861, P2.

11. Paisley Herald and Renfrewshire Advertiser, 11/09/1869 and Hamilton Advertiser, 06/05/1871, P2.

12. Dundee Advertiser, 12/01/1869, P4.

13. Reports from Commissioners: (16). Lunacy; (Scotland). Session 19/11/1867 – 31/07/1868, Vol 31, P172.

14. Glasgow Herald, 09/09/1871, P4.

15. North British Daily Mail, 02/07/1869, P3.

16. Paisley Herald and Renfrewshire Advertiser, 02/07/1870. P1.

17. Murray, David; Memories of the Old College of Glasgow, 1927, P535.

18. Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle, 06/04/1851, P6.

19. Sulte, Benjamin; A History of Quebec, Its Resources and People, Vol II, Montreal, 1906, P629.

20. Glasgow Herald, 11/12/1876, P6.

21. Paisley Herald and Renfrewshire Advertiser, 24/11/1855, P4.

22. Minute Book of the Glasgow Academical Club, 1866 – 1878, Glasgow Academy Collection.

23. Glasgow Herald, 08/01/1872, P5.

24. Young, Richard S; As the Willow Vanishes, Consilience Media, P78

25. Young, Richard S; As the Willow Vanishes, Consilience Media, P39.

26. Hamilton Advertiser, 21/09/1867, P2.

27. Hamilton Advertiser, 01/05/1869. P2.

28. Hamilton Advertiser, 03/08/1872, P2.

29. North British Daily Mail, 21/12/1872, P1.

30. North British Daily Mail, 21/02/1859, P2.

31. Scottish Banner, 07/07/1860, P4.

32. Orkney Herald, 09/06/1868, P3.

33. Glasgow Courier, 02/05/1861, P1.

34. Robinson, Richard; History of the Queen’s Park Football Club, 1867-1917, Glasgow, 1920, P36.

35. Capel-Kirby W. & Carter F. W.; The Mighty Kick; The History, Romance and Humour of Football, London, 1933, Pp 194-5.

36. Falkirk Herald, 13/04/1871, P3.                                                              

37. Greenock Telegraph and Clyde Shipping Gazette, 03/01/1872, P3.

38. Ralston, Gary; the Gallant Pioneers, DB Publishing, P109.

39. Robinson, Richard; History of the Queen’s Park Football Club, 1867-1917, Glasgow, 1920, P12.

40. MacArthur, John; New Monkland Parish, Glasgow, 1890, P408.

41. Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser, 13/10/1945, P11.

42. Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser, 04/08/1866, P2.

43. Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser, 13/10/1945, P11.

44. Glasgow Herald, 14/12/1860, P1, Paisley Herald and Renfrewshire Advertiser, 06/07/1861, P8, Greenock Advertiser, 27/12/1866, P1 and Stirling Observer, 11/07/1861, P4.

45. Glasgow Saturday Post, and Paisley and Renfrewshire Reformer, 06/07/1861, P5.

46. Glasgow Evening Citizen, 10/07/1869, P1.

47. Glasgow Evening Citizen, 21/05/1870, P1.

48. Glasgow Herald, 13/06/1872, P1.

49. Glasgow Evening Citizen, 17/08/1868, P3 and North British Daily Mail, 04/12/1873, P8.

50. Glasgow Evening Citizen, 22/03/1870, P1.

51. Glasgow Herald, 08/03/1871, P3.

52. Glasgow Herald, 29/07/1872, P1.

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 emerge 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.