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Life Jottings of an Old Edinburgh Citizen
Chapter Twenty-One


"Be it a weakness, it deserves some praise,
We love the play-place of our early days."
-  COWPER.

1858

ON my return from abroad I began to realise the change that had taken place n the provision of reasonable sport for the young—a change of which I took full advantage in my leisure hours while I was studying for the Bar. I found my old school, the Edinburgh Academy, in possession of a splendid cricket field, and the boys turned out in white flannels. Matches were regularly played, and the Academy elevens went often long distances by rail to contend with other schools at games. Such a thing was unheard of in my boy days. I think I can hear my father, if such a proposal had been made for his sanction, and the producing of the necessary railway fare, say in decisive tones: 'The match of that for absurdity I never heard." there was not much of the "nos mufamut in him, and there were, I know, many others who thought as he did. I think improbable that if they had had any say in the matter, there would have been no Academy field. "What was good enough for me, must be good enough for you," was the feeling. However, the innovation was accomplished while I was absent from Edinburgh, and looking back now on the effect of .It, I am satisfied that IT was for good. It brought about the recognition that those to whom parents handed over their sons for long hours daily had a responsibility to give attention to bodily development, both for its own sake, arid because without it the general powers of life might be deficient and under the mental advance, both by bad effect on the body, and the body reacting on the mind.

I threw myself as a former pupil into the activities of the cricket and football field. As regards football, we then played twenty a side, and a scrum was a scrum indeed—fifteen pushing against fifteen in a tight maul, which often was immovable for several minutes. The steam rose from the pack like the smoke from a charcoal-burner's pile. It was much more straining and fatiguing than the more open game of to-day. During_ the years of my football work I never was able to cross one leg over another on a Sunday if I had been playing a match on the previous Saturday, and as for shins, the breaking-up of a maul, when it came, meant vigorous kickjng ahead, on the chance that ball and toe might meet. I bear the marks yet.

We had not much luxury. A small loft over an outhouse in the garden of a villa in the corner of the field, approached by a wooden ladder—which is still visible—-was our only pavilion. We played in old clothes of any sort, and coming off the ground we had no basins, and no lockers. We used to sit and chat till it was dark enough to go home, without observation. But I know that we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, and did not miss the luxuries of to-day, for we had no example of them. Even the Grange—the most prominent cricket club of Scotland at that time—provided nothing for us, except a very squalid room with one corner basin, in the house of the professional, he Grange Pavilion (!) was a wooden shed with gravel floor, a bar, and a wretched small room for a visiting team. On great match occasions, marquee tents had to be erected to give the visitors accommodation.

The public interest in outdoor games was at that time very small. Unless an All England or a United All England Eleven was to be seen, scarcely a visitor came to the recreation fields in the cricket season, and football matches of importance were unknown. No one came to see the ordinary school or old pupil contests. But gradually the organisation of outdoor sports of all kinds progressed, and the estabhshment of annual games created an interest, and led to parents and Mends assembling in large numbers.

I would here call attention to the fact that the Academy field contains an erection of historic interest. In early days Scotland played football vigorously, as well as golf, the rulers of the time found that the defence of the country was neglected, and an Act of Parliament was passed in the reign of james IV which is a model of brevity and pointed injunction, so tersely put that it can be quoted in small space:

"It is Statute and ordained that in no place of the Realme there be used fute-ball, golfe, or any other siiklike unprofitable sports." This followed  on a previous Act, declaring, "The fute-ball and golfe to be utterly direct down and not to be used. ... That all men busk themselves to be archers." And both statutes direct the making of "bow markes," at which the citizens were called on to practise archery.

Fancy what would be said if a Government enthusiastic for home defence were to bring in a Bill in modern English to the same effect as the statute of James! "Foirbid Foiotball" "Forbid Golf" There wpoul;d ne strong cries of a General Election, to test whether His Majesty's Government had the confidence of the country. The R. & A.G.C. and the Football Unions would present Brobdingnagian petitions, and thousands of condemnatory meetings would be held, at which the Iron Duke's statement as to where the country's battles were, won would be quoted. Resolutions would be passed, with vehement acclamation, worthy of a constitutional revolution.

In the Academy field there stands one of these bow marks for archery practice, in preparation for meeting the country's enemies. In the neighbouring field, now occupied by the Grange Cricket Club, stood the other butt, completing the range, and it is to be regretted that the size of that field made the removal of the butt necessary if the area was to be used for cricket. Fortunately the Academy has now a second large field, so that there is no temptation to remove the remaining butt—a silent record of the patriotism of the ancient Scot. Is there not a lesson to be learned from that simple symbol of national detence? Although no such statute could be passed now, is an appeal to patriotism to be ineffective to-day when our land defences are by no means in a state to give public confidence that we are prepared for contingencies which may arise, a fact which it is fatuous for us to ignore with the optimism which says: "No one will ever desire to attack us. The strong man Is not truly strong if he is unarmed or inefficient In preparation in time of peace. But this is trite—pity 'tis that as is trite because :is true, it appears to be treated as trite—in the sense of "not worthy of consideration."

The butt in the Academical cricket field forms a grand-stand for viewing the annual games, and for occasions when a match is so attractive that the spectators at the fences of the football ground stand three or four deep, and therefore it is not easy to see. Although it is a silent witness for obedience to the ancient statute, it must be confessed that football races all around it every winter. But I am inclined to believe that the keen footballers are not as neglectful of drill and rifle-shooting as many others. Many a former pupil of the Academy has done his duty when called on, not a few have fought, and a few have died, when their country called on them. But the butt pleads silently for preparation, and preparation in time.

The Academical Cricket Club held a high placei n the Fifties and Sixties. Although I did not shine as a bat, I was generally good for some runs, but where I did strong work was in fielding. Having by nature fairly good juggler's hands, it was not a labour but a pleasure to me to practise "holding the ball." My mediocrity at run- getting was, I think, compensated by the prevent: of other people in their efforts to make runs. It is my experience that there are more matches lost by inferior fielding than by failure in batting. A man who makes a moderately good score does more than neutralise it by a catch or two dropped. One miss may—often does—cause the loss of a match. Too often we read: "After being badly missed in the slips, Slogg increased his score from 11 to 117." The Records of the last season give many instances of fielders' failure, and consequent defeat. Therefore I say to the young cricketer: "Do not think that because you swipe away at the nets chat you are making a cricketer of yourself, but practise catches and fielding. Without skill at them, no wise selector will put you in a team. And remember that the training of the eye in such work counts for much in quick eye action when batting.

In football the Academy, and the Academical Club, have always held a high place, although at times they have temporalily fallen under eclipse. Rut the Academical footballers have one record which, so far as known, is unique. It may be equalled some day, but that may safely be said not to be a likely event. In one year, never to be forgotten, not only did they win all their matches, but never once during the whole season did they have to time out for a try obtained by their opponents.

Since this chapter was written the dogs of war have been suddenly let loose once more, and the face of Europe presents a scene more awful than history has known. What will come out of it, who can tell. But it is to us once more a warning that the duty of being ready is imperative, and that it is vain to trust in treaties or diplomatic assurances, if unprincipled ambition is allowed to override truth and honour. Also we have been told of the implacable hatred which we have earned by faithfulness to our solemnly pledged word.

We must make certain that this obsession of hatred s met firmly, and at all costs.


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