It was a fortunate day for Scottish Rugby football when
the game was adopted at Edinburgh Academy as a pastime for the boys in the
'fifties of the last century. From that beginning has grown the whole
structure of Rugby in Scotland, and to-day without the schools the game
would be of no account, if indeed it existed at all.
As far back as 1858-59 the Academy had an organised team
playing, no doubt, a game which was a blend of the ancient and modern, but
retaining the fundamental characteristics which enabled it to preserve its
identity as ' Rugby.'
Between that year and the period in the early 'seventies
which may be accepted as the beginning of organised football, a long list of
notabilites, some as cricketers and football players and others in the even
more distinguished spheres of public life, passed through Edinburgh Academy
teams: Lyalls, Moncreiffs, Bells, Finlays, Marshalls, Langs, Balfours,
Gilmours, Maclagans, Dunlops, and Macnairs are names which suggest to the
mind a wide range of activities. Two of the elder brothers, W. A. Finlay and
T. L. Finlay, were in the Academy team of 1861-62, which also included H.
Radcliffe, the man who started the Edinburgh Wanderers club. Academicals of
the time wondered why. John and Allan Gilmour were in the Academy team of
1868-64, and the following season T. R. Marshall gained his place. The Hon.
F. J. Moncreiff, first Scottish International captain, led the Academy team
of 1866-67. James Finlay had J. A. W. Mein and L. M. Balfour in his team of
1867-68, and in 1870-71 L. M. Balfour, while still at school, was invited to
play against England, but was unable to accept. In this summary may be
traced one of the principal sources of the first Scottish International
team, and the influence of the Academy on football of these times may also
be recognised. A few years later that influence expressed itself in the
historic Academy team of 1873-74, which in absence of earlier evidence may
be accepted as the first great school combination in the game. At least
three of its members were players of all time. N. J. Finlay, W. E. Maclagan,
and J. H. S. Graham still bear favourable comparison with the best that up
to the present time have appeared in the game. Another member, J. J. Moubray,
when he went to Oxford, was the first of the long list of Scottish
schoolboys to obtain his 'Blue' at an English University, though to be
accurate 'Blues' were not awarded for football at Oxford until some time
later. P. W. Smeaton, another noted player and an International man, also
played in J. H. S. Graham's Academy team. It was not therefore altogether
because the Academy were earlier in the field than their rivals that the
team of 1873-74 attained its position. It was abnormally strong for a school
side, and it so far stood comparison with club football of the times as to
be held in tolerably wide esteem the best team in the country.
W. E. Maclagan succeeded J. H. S. Graham as captain of
Edinburgh Academy in season 1875-76. Graham, Ninian Finlay, L. G. Aitken,
and J. J. Moubray had all left school. The first three passed into R. W.
Irvine's Academical team, and Moubray went to Oxford. W. E. Maclagan had
succeeded to a great heritage, but he had not the means to maintain it, for
the players were not available. As for himself, he was not a great schoolboy
player. Tall and rather overgrown looking, he had not developed the powerful
physique of his later years. Even in his football he was slow to mature, and
after leaving school he spent a season in the second Academicals.
Maclagan left Edinburgh in his prime, but what was the
Academical loss was the London Scottish gain, for he quickly raised the
standard of the play of the latter till very soon the club event of the
London season was the fight for Metropolitan supremacy between the
'Scottish' and Black-heath, at that time the leading club team, as distinct
from the Universities, in England. The Scottish Rugby Union had the greatest
faith in Maclagan. So much so that he was urged into International matches,
and even room made for him in unaccustomed places when, however active the
brain, the physical response was not forthcoming.
W. E. Maclagan was elected captain by the English Rugby
Union of the first touring team which left this country under official
auspices. They won all their nineteen matches in South Africa, and had only
one try scored against them. The Scotsmen who accompanied Maclagan were P.
R. Clauss (Loretto and Oxford University), W. Wotherspoon (Fettes and
Cambridge University), and R. G. MacMillan (Merchiston and London Scottish).
Cecil Rhodes guaranteed the expenses.
W. E. Maclagan comported himself very seriously on the
field. For his own he never could do too much, and often and often he
travelled down from London to help the Academicals when they needed help.
From about this time school football began to operate
more exclusively within its own circle. Previously, school teams, in their
matches with one another, had generally included some former pupils or
masters. Merchiston Castle, Loretto, Craigmount, and the Royal High School
had all been playing the game and had each produced a sufficiency of good
players to contribute to the first International team. Fettes College was
opened in 1871, but during the first few years their teams, naturally
perhaps, were not quite strong enough to compete successfully with those of
the other schools. Two Edinburgh Academy boys, T. J. Torrie and P. Russel,
who went to Fettes in 1873, appreciably added to the strength of the team. I
recollect both perfectly well. Torrie was a forward, a very tall fellow,
and, like all good forwards of the early days, became a most proficient
dribbler. Dribbling as a science has gone out of the game. These old - time
dribblers almost clutched the ball with their feet, kept it close and wound
round and out, often in a most sinuous course. I have seen players dribble
half the length of the field with the ball ' glued to their toes,' as they
used to say. It was the forward's most effective weapon against backs and
back play. Conversely, the back who would not go down to the ball and stop
the dribbling, seldom gained respect as a player. Torrie had 'great command
over the ball,' to apply the current term, and playing against England in
the memorable 1877 match, he was the first Fettesian to be capped. Pat
Russel ought to have preceded or followed Torrie as an International player.
Imagine a man at one time playing quarter, next half-back, then full-back,
all in representative matches, and being chosen one season as International
first reserve for all positions behind the maul, and yet never having the
luck to be included in the national team. By a strange anomaly his own
versatility and cleverness were his greatest impediment. He was a very
bright sprightly player in both football and cricket. I have never seen the
equals of Pat Russel and A. R.
Don Wauchope as fielders at cover-point. Two of the
Carruthers family were among the best of Fettes earlier players. The school
had not to wait many years before winning the championship. In 1876-77 they
beat all their opponents, including Edinburgh Academy for the first time. R.
S. F. Henderson, who later on played for England, and Edgar Storey, a
Lancashire boy who but for an accident would almost certainly have obtained
the same honour, were two of the leading players of that season, but it was
Pat Russel at quarter who was the life of the back division. He dropped a
goal in each match against Merchiston, Craigmount, and the Academy. I may
add that Russel, who was an Edinburgh boy and son of a notable editor of the
Scotsman, carried his versatility with him after leaving school. He
played cricket for the West of Scotland club and for the Grange, was one of
Glasgow's Inter-city football and cricket players, assisted J. H. S.
Graham's Edinburgh Academical team to beat the Glasgow Academicals for the
club championship, and shared some of the remainder of his activities with
the 'West' football team. Fettesians consider the 1876-77 team the best of
the school's earlier teams, and one that bears favourable comparison with
any of its successors. That, no doubt, is a correct estimate, but from
another point I think it was the team of the following season that did more
to establish Fettes football in general scholastic and public opinion. No
doubt their great fights with Merchiston brought them under more direct
notice and attracted wider attention. Having seen both teams and knowing the
situation at the time, I can quite confidently state that the issue was
accepted as lying between the forwards of Merchiston and the backs of Fettes.
Edgar Storey had become rather a school terror, and Nimmo, his companion
half, was both fast and dangerous.
A. R. Don Wauchope was beginning to acquire his great
scoring powers, and he and his elder brother made a very hot pair of school
quarters. Against this back division Merchiston depended largely upon J. A.
Campbell at quarter and T. A. Begbie at half-back. Campbell was a strong,
virile, and active player. 'Hash Campbell' he was called at Merchiston.
Fettes team looked big compared with Merchiston, but even then the forwards
of Merchiston were being drilled to perfection, and it was they who won the
first match and held out for a draw in the second, though without Campbell
they would never have kept the Fettes backs under control. Thus it was in
these years and under these circumstances that I think Fettes football was
established. A. R. Don Wauchope succeeded Storey in the captaincy, but had
to move back into the half-back line, whence he devoted a great deal of
attention to the development of combination and passing among his backs.
This feature has been referred to in connection with the 'Oxford game.'
There is not much doubt that had there been a sufficient number of
Fettesians at Cambridge with Wauchope, the open combined play and the
passing would not have been so peculiar to Oxford.
No player comparable to A. R. Don Wauchope has appeared
in football from the days he played in the Fettes team until the present
time. A completely equipped all-round player, his reputation rests in his
extraordinary running and scoring powers. Heavily built round the haunches,
he ran with a comparatively short stride and had the power to abruptly
change his course within a very short space of ground. No back division
could stop him, and no player could tackle him once he got fairly started
and into the open. An International player and a great tackier of his time
has told me that he did not believe any player could tackle Don Wauchope.
In the year that Merchiston beat Fettes for the
championship J. A. Campbell played quarter for Scotland against England. He
was not the first schoolboy to play International. That distinction belongs
to Ninian Finlay, conferred while still in the Academy team of 1874-75.
Merchiston at this time had uniformly good teams, and
Craigmount was one of the leading football schools. Two North of England
boys, Harry Springman and Paul Springman, were noted Craigmount players. A
large number of boys from England attended the Edinburgh schools during
these and later years, and several of them, including H. Springman, H. B.
Tristram (Loretto), C. H. Sample, and E. L. Strong (Edinburgh Academy),
obtained places in English International teams, while an even larger
contingent passed into the Oxford and Cambridge teams. When the brothers
Guild and little Playfair, a regular sprite of a quarter whom there was no
holding, were playing, Craigmount had one of the best teams of the season.
The Academy had dropped back, but towards the end of the decade, when C.
Reid, A. P. Reid, C. H. Sample, and F. T. Wright were all at school
together, their team ought to have taken a much higher position.
Two adverse influences retarded them. Primarily, as a day
school Academy football was not so well organised as at the
boarding-schools. Secondly, they were not keeping pace with the changes that
had set in, and when the other schools were playing a line of three halves,
the Academy adhered to the old formation of two. 'Charlie' Reid obtained his
International cap while still at school. Considering the importance attached
to physique, weight, and strength in the national pack, it was an unheard-of
thing for a schoolboy to be ranked among the giants.
Towards the end of the 'seventies Fettes and Loretto had
increased the half-back line from two to three players. The point, as
evidence of the origin of the passing game, is most important. A. R. Don
Wauchope in his last two years at Fettes, 1878-80, played half-back in a
line of three. G. C. Lindsay was one of a trio of halves in the Loretto team
which won the school championship in 1881-82, and it was not until the
following season that Oxford University first adopted a line of three
halves, and Lindsay was one of them. As the increase was made in the direct
interests of the development of the passing game, the source and origin of
the greatest change that had taken place up to that time are beyond all
doubt. Subsequent developments in back play were all founded on this
progressive step taken by the Scottish schools, earlier perhaps, but not
later than 1878.
When both the Scottish and English Unions hesitated and
experimented, the Scottish public schools, quite two years before the Unions
could make up their minds, boldly committed themselves to the line of three,
and went on their way unconcerned as to what their seniors might think or
From that progressive stroke, Dr. Almond, of Loretto,
must have derived gratifying support to his contention that the Union acted
wrongly in refusing to admit the schools to their councils. His own school,
Loretto, were very strong in seasons 1880-81 and 1881-82. Indeed, I should
be inclined to say these were the halcyon days of the school as far as
football is concerned. The production of players, and especially of backs,
was abnormal. Loretto just missed winning the championship in season
1880-81, which, for distinction's sake, we may be permitted to term 'A. G.
G. Asher's year,' without reflection upon the captain, H. B. Tristram, but
as perhaps a clearer mark of identification to Scotsmen. Our admiration for
Tristram was tinged only by the regret that Scotland should have reared such
a player for the 'enemy.'
Loretto beat all the schools except Merchiston. The first
match they lost by a goal to a try. That was T. Anderson's year at
Merchiston. A tall fellow, and a good full-back, he played once for
Scotland. Merchiston's forwards were strong and sound in their football, as
they always were. Loretto hoped to draw level in the return game, but it was
played in a sea of mud, and the Merchiston forwards again pulled them
through by a try. I do not mean to infer that Loretto had no good forwards
at that time. C. W. Berry, R. C. Kitto, and A. M'Neill, who all subsequently
became Oxford ' Blues,' and Berry an Internationalist, were in the pack. I
cannot claim to have seen much of that team, but I shall mention one match
presently which I did see and recollect very clearly.
D. J. M'Farlan played during the earlier half of the
season only. If I may be permitted another little degression, I would say
that D. J. M'Farlan, G. C. Lindsay, and H. T. S. Gedge were the best three
halves or three-quarters the school has produced. During the year in
question Lindsay had not defined his position. Sometimes he was in the scrum
and sometimes out of it. So likewise was M. F. Reid. The stability of the
back division rested with Tristram, C. Dunlop, and Asher.
Dunlop was a fine schoolboy player. In each match against
Fettes, Asher dropped the winning goal. Loretto had never previously beaten
But if that Loretto team failed to win the championship,
they accomplished even a more wonderful thing when in the closing weeks of
the season they beat an Edinburgh Academical side which included Ninian
Finlay, J. H. S. Graham, p. W. Smeaton, C. Reid, F. T. Wright, and T. A.
Bell, in a match which had been arranged in order to keep the Academical
International men in condition. Loretto, fit as fiddles, made the
Academicals gallop, and beat them by a goal and a try to two tries. I
remember in the closing minutes the Loretto boys buzzing about like bees
with three or four of them lighting on every Academical who tried to move.
Ninian Finlay in front of the posts let blaze at goal, and you caught an
indistinct glimpse of a projectile in scarlet, a tangle of bare legs and
bare arms, hurl itself at him ere you realised the kick had been charged
down. That was a 'save' by C. Dunlop, and one of the small things that cling
to one's memory. But I also recollect everybody thought that A. M'Neill was
a right good forward. The match was the talk of the day, and the wonder of
the football world long after it was played.
A. G. G. Asher, H. B. Tristram, and A. M'Neill all left
for Oxford at the end of the season. C. W. Dunlop joined another Lorettonian,
D. A. C. Reid, in the West of Scotland club, and was followed later by M. F.
Reid, and an influx from Loretto and other Edinburgh schools that raised the
'West' to a high position in the 'eighties and 'nineties.
In the following season, 1881-82, Loretto won the
championship clearly and decisively. They had a strong scoring half-back or
three-quarter line, G. C. Lindsay, M. F. Reid, and A. S. Blair, and two good
quarters, J. A. Dun and T. N. Henderson, and it was in their back play that
they beat all the schools. Lindsay I have referred to in his International
connection. A. S. Blair, I used to think, as a very fast man, a striking
example of the exception that proves the rule. He could run and score, but
as a defensive player he was very tenacious, and there was no getting out of
his reach. I always thought his defence better than his attack, strong as
the latter was. It was almost an axiom that fast men could not defend, yet
Blair was one of the finest short-distance runners Scotland has produced and
a tenacious defender.
In the Oxford and Cambridge athletic contest, he beat H.
F. Tindall, the English quarter-mile champion and record-holder. He got his
double 'Blue' at Oxford, and missed his football International cap by the
ill-luck of an accident.
I do not think Marshall Reid quite sustained his football
form after he left school. Had he gone to Oxford instead of to Glasgow, it
might have turned out differently with him. He retained his goal-dropping
proclivities, and in club matches he got on the nerves of some of the
opposing teams. His drops were not the lofty lunges of L. Stokes, Ninian
Finlay, or H. B. Tristram. They were more a gentle tap from the toe, a sort
of scientific demonstration of the mechanical law of propulsion. Gregor
MacGregor used to treat the ball in the same mild manner.
The career of A. G. G. Asher could only be done justice
to in a much more extended and detailed description than I am in a position
to attempt. As a triple 'Blue' at Oxford, A. G. G. Asher won great honour
for himself and renown for his school. In football he had the singular
experience of acting as partner at quarter or half-back with A. Rotherham in
England and with A. R. Don Wauchope in Scotland. Neither at the University
nor in Scottish International football have these partnerships been excelled
or even equalled. I saw a good deal of A. G. G. Asher's football and cricket
in Scotland, and I knew his 'form' on the track pretty well. The English
International of 1886 is one of the games most firmly impressed on my
memory, and on that occasion was seen perhaps the greatest half-back
conjunction-—A. R. Don Wauchope and A. G. G. Asher, A. Rotherham and F.
Bonsor—that has appeared in International football. Asher had the misfortune
to have his career prematurely closed by the accident of a fractured leg
sustained in an International Trial match at Raeburn Place in the spring of
1887. Projecting his foot across the line of a forward rush to push the ball
out of their way, he had not time to recover his balance before the mass
fell on the top of him. I happened to be standing near the spot at the time,
and I think that is how the accident occurred.
H. B. Tristram, by common consent, was acknowledged the
best full-back who up to his time had played for England. I know of no
change in the requirements of the position, and I have seen little on the
part of any of his successors that would weaken the claim that he is still
the best. Tristram was a son of Canon Tristram, Durham.
C. Reid once arrived late in a representative match. His
side's forwards were being beaten till he came on to the field. One who
played in the game has told me that well as he knew Reid's play, he never
realised its potency until that occasion. The moment Reid joined the pack
the balance turned as quickly and decidedly as a scale with a prepondering
In a London match, when he was playing for the '
Scottish,' an opposing forward at the beginning asked Reid what all his
bustle and hurry meant— what was he making the fuss about. Five minutes
later he got his answer in a couple of tries scored by Reid, and the crowd
were asking, 'What manner of man is this?'
The Welshmen opened their eyes in wonder when he kicked
off for Scotland and sent the ball over the bar. It was his practice when
kicking off for the Academicals to make the other side touch down. I
recollect coming into Raeburn Place rather late and arriving at a spot just
opposite the goal-line as Reid was about to kick off. Stopping for a moment,
I watched the kick, and nothing will persuade me the ball did not pass
within six feet of the top of the posts.
I have endeavoured to sketch the conditions and touch
upon the circumstances under which school football was established in the
form in which it has remained practically until the present time. To
enumerate all the important happenings or to deal closely with each
championship team and its players would occupy a volume in itself. After
Loretto's first championship win in the early 'eighties, the competition for
the position of honour during a number of years was practically confined to
three schools, Merchiston, Fettes, and Loretto. Overshadowed by Edinburgh
Academy in the earlier days, Merchiston football was even then of high
quality. I can recollect how, in a match against the great Academy team of
J. H. S. Graham and Ninian Finlay, every one admired the play of the
Merchiston forwards, small and light as the boys were. It was the perfection
to which their forward play was brought that impelled the late Dr. Almond in
1892 to write: 'I have no hesitation in saying that in recent years the best
football in the world has been played at Merchiston.' With the exception of
the years 1884-85, 1885-86, when Fettes were very strong and won the
championship both seasons, Merchiston dominated school football after
Loretto's championship year till the close of the decade. During the two
years in which the Merchiston sequence was broken, Fettes had a number of
players who attained great prominence after leaving school. C. J. N.
Fleming, M. M. Duncan, H. F. Menzies, W. Wotherspoon, and Ian Maclntyre all
played for Scotland, and quite a number of the others obtained University
'Blues.' Fettes matches with Merchiston, in the earlier season mentioned,
produced most conflicting results. Fettes won the first game by the
unusually large score for a Merchiston match of 5 goals and 5 tries and lost
the return by 3 tries. A. N. Woodrow was so badly injured in the early
debacle that he had to be withdrawn from the field and sent off to
Merchiston in a cab.
Of all who came before or after him, I do not think the
school ever produced any one more true to type or more representative of
Merchiston traits and training than A. N. Woodrow. Not that he was a great
Internationalist, or even a great player, but, dapper and trim, he dominated
football all the years he was at school. He was always being injured, but he
had the heart of a lion, and would play on though hardly able to move. He
played in all three Internationals of 1887, and, coming under the
observation of 'Jakes' M'Carthy in the Irish match, that somewhat eccentric
authority described the football of the Merchistonian as a 'poem,' and
henceforward he was known to the football world as 'Poem' Woodr,ow.
I believe I must have seen all the Merchiston teams of
the successful period that followed the two seasons of Fettes triumphs. One
of my recollections is that rivalry between the two schools was very keen,
and there was always a crowd at the matches, even when played on week days.
The Neilson brothers were very prominent in Merchiston football in these
times. F. W. J. Goodhue, W. R. Hutchison, and J. N. Millar were all good
forwards, but we have to go back some years earlier for the best of all
Merchiston forwards, R. G. MacMillan, one of the greatest of all Scottish
scrummagers. Merchiston did not specialise in back play, but if they got two
quick, active halfbacks with their eyes open and their wits about them, they
seemed content if the others took care not to spoil the good work of the
forwards. I recollect a particularly nippy pair, A. W. Livingstone and W. M.
Gow. W. J. Reid was one of the cleverest Merchiston half-backs of that time,
and although W. Neilson developed into a centre half and got his 'Blue' at
Cambridge and his International cap in the position, he was a forward for a
time at Merchiston. He retained the Merchiston tackle to the end of his
career, and especially in a winning game he made the back play go with a
There were good teams and good players at Loretto during
these times. J. D. Boswell was dropping and placing goals and scoring tries
in 1884-85, and Paul Clauss, F. E. Woodhead, and P. H. Morrison formed an
exceptionally strong line of school half-backs. Clauss was not big, but he
was strong, and besides being a clever runner he was a long and accurate
drop-kick. P. H. Morrison played for England. The Patons and Patersons were
also at school at this time, so that Loretto were strong. Not so Edinburgh
Academy, in whose team H. J. Stevenson was passing through a rigorous course
of defensive training that in later years rendered him a marvel in some
phases of this section of the game.
G. T. Campbell first appeared in a Fettes team in
1888-89, and the following season he, J. H. Hall, and C. F. Marshall formed
a very clever half-back line. Campbell was one of the most prominent
schoolboys of his day, and later became a first-rate International
three-quarter, sound in every detail of the game. Fettes recovered the
championship that season. I would not say it was a great, but it was an
exceptionally smart and clever team.
Craigmount had been displaced by Blairlodge, who never
took the same position in football as they attained in cricket. They were
strong when W. F. Holms and H. L. Fleming were playing, but Blairlodge was
never really a great football school. In 1893-94 Edinburgh Academy for the
first time since 1875 beat Fettes, but Academy teams had been improving for
a number of years, and that season W. M. C. M'Ewan, J. H. Dods, L. B.
Bradbury, J. I. Gillespie, and T. A. Nelson were playing in a side of
In 1892-93 Watson's College first began to take its place
among the leading schools. That year for the first time in their career they
beat Merchiston, and were all the more pleased with their success because
the Merchiston team contained A. Morton, the cleverest player in Watson's
team of the previous year. Fettes beat them by 50 points, and thereafter
suspended relationship with Watson's for a long number of years. The heavy
defeat, in characteristic schoolboy terms, was attributed by one of the
Watson's players to 'a frost of a halfback ' who disorganised the team. That
Watson's team will, I dare say, be identified by mention of a few of its
more prominent members: J. S. Tait, H. B. Wright, C. Wright, J. Hastie, and
Hugh Welsh, who, in my opinion, became the greatest amateur mile runner that
Scotland, or England for that matter, has produced; so when Watsonians hear
comparisons between Lieut. Halswelle, A. R. Downer, and E. H. Liddell, let
them never fear to bring in their own runner, Hugh Welsh. When I read of
great things done on the track by Norwegians, Finns, and other foreigners,
it gives me little concern, for I know that in her schoolboys Scotland has
the finest athletic stock in the world. Foot running is not their sport,
neither for that matter is cricket. The Scottish schoolboy doesn't take his
bat to bed with him and dream of strokes and scores all night. But think how
since 1871 Scotland, with her limited resources, has stood up to the pick of
England's masses from her Universities, from London, and from the provinces,
and I think it will be agreed that school football, as the pillar on which
Scottish Rugby is supported, is a marvellously solid construction.
To return to the Watson's College team of 1892-93, from
that date the establishment and acknowledgment of the school as a
participant in the first grade of the competition may be fixed. If Watson's
was not producing championship teams, the success of the Former Pupils and
the number of Watsonian International players who appeared between 1890 and
the date of the war is in itself a striking tribute to the quality of the
Not till after 1890 did the Academy begin to resume its
old position. W. M. C. M'Ewan, J. H. Dods, Ernest R. Balfour, L. B.
Bradbury, J. I. Gillespie, J. M. Reid, and T. A. Nelson were all at school
in the early 'nineties. I do not know but that Gillespie was the best
half-back the Academy ever produced. When W. M. C. M'Ewan and Gordon Neilson
were selected as schoolboys for the International, there were many who
thought that J. H. Dods was the best of the three. A host of
Internationalists, amongst whom Phipps Turnbull and J. H. D. Watson were
exceptional players, came from the Academy after that time.
The brothers Crabbie represented high - grade three -
quarter play. I have seen it stated that J. E. Crabbie, when captain of
Oxford University, instituted the oblique positions in the three-quarter
line worked out mathematically in relation to time and space.
Hugh Martin was a lively school three-quarter, and we saw
how quickly he could slip through even an International defence. He and K.
G. Macleod formed one of the cleverest combinations at three-quarter that
have played in International football since the turn of the century.
L. H. T. Sloan promised great things as a schoolboy, but
I do not think the army helped to bring him out. I never did fancy military
football as helpful to young players. A. T. Sloan turned out the best
stand-off half Scotland has had in recent times. A deadly tackier and a
dangerous scorer, we saw how he ran through the Welsh defence at Inverleith,
and Heriot's know how on one occasion he quenched the glimmer of their
championship hopes at Goldenacre.
But of all the Academy boys of that time, F. J.
Christison, who fell in the Great War, was, in my opinion, the one who held
out most promise. Scotland lost a great player in him. He was a football
genius, another H. J. Stevenson or J. H. D. Watson, and 'Bungy,' who went
down in the Hawk, was the greatest centre the game has seen for many
a long day. His 1914 performance for England against Scotland was only a
foretaste of what was coming.
In the closing years of the 'nineties Merchiston were
strong in players whose influence bore very directly upon the strength of
Edinburgh University teams and was appreciably felt in International
football. In a trio of first-class half-backs, F, H. Fasson, J. Knox, and E.
D. Simson, Merchiston would have to go back to the days of J. A. Campbell
and Hugh Neilson to find the equal of E. D. Simson. Not such a strong and
powerful player as either, his quickness and cleverness were marked
attributes in his football. W. H. Welsh will always be associated with the
Scottish successes of 1901. So will also A. W. Duncan, who at centre
three-quarter led a fine Merchiston championship team, and when Phipps
Turnbull and A. B. Timms blocked the way in the centre, Duncan fell back a
step to the rear and completed the most perfectly balanced Scottish back
division of modern times.
Before passing on to the events of the new century, allow
me to present a little problem in the economics of the game. Everybody knows
that schools pass through lean periods as well as rich periods, subject to
no law of control. All that can be done during bad times is to make the most
of them and wait with patience till the ills have exhausted themselves.
Every rule has its exception. The Fettes team of 1898-99 contained no fewer
than six future International players, D. G. Schulze, J. Ross, D. R. B.
Sivright, W. P. Scott, J. V. B. Sivright, and S..
H. Osborne, who played for England. A potential championship team and a
powerful one at that, yet in actual practice and on results it was one of
the most ineffective teams that ever played for Fettes.
During the latter years of the century and on to the
outbreak of war in 1914 school football was of a high standard generally and
was producing a proportionate number of first-class players. Fettes figured
very strongly in the competition, more especially in the years that followed
the turn of the century, but it is long years now since the characteristic
forward game departed from Merchiston. All school football is now moulded on
the one pattern more calculated to produce teams than to make players. I can
remember how, in early years of the introduction of combined play, the
'selfish' player was universally and wholeheartedly condemned to the depths.
Selfishness was eradicated, and the selfish player expelled or expunged, but
when he departed I am afraid a good deal of the self-reliance went out of
the game. However, I think the days of mechanical and clock-model football
are numbered. The 'break through' is quite a recent and significant addition
to the vocabulary, and nobody now condemns the scrum half who has the
'enterprise' to pick up the ball and run with it, but the wheels of time
have not yet revolved sufficiently to bring back the true forward, who in
the best days of forward play was the most highly skilled player in the
team. Why, John D. Boswell carried an emporium of component parts in his
game. J. H. S. Graham, long after he had retired, once turned out in a team
of old International players in a charity match. Slow and stones overweight,
he got the ball between his feet, and although nearly every man in the
defence made the attempt, they could not stop him till he had traversed
nearly half the length of the field. I have often seen forwards carry the
play from their own goal-line to the other ' 25 ' and never a hand laid on
Even for a strong football school the run of successes of
Fettes teams in the opening years of the century was very remarkable. From
1902 until 1906 Fettes were not beaten in a school match. Following a very
moderate season in 1900-1, Fettes gained the championship in 1901 and
retained the title till deprived of it by Edinburgh Academy in 1906-7. The
period may be more clearly recognised as the times of the brothers Macleod,
and more particularly as those of K. G. Macleod, one of the most brilliant
football players that have come out of Fettes. The three-quarter play of the
brothers Macleod and J. Burt Marshall occasioned a deal of comment even
beyond school circles. Indeed, both the English and Scottish Rugby Unions
were said to have sent up kites in the direction of K. G. Macleod, but
Fettes school authorities have never allowed one of their pupils to take
part in an International match. J. Burt Marshall would have obtained his cap
after leaving school, but for ill-health. A number of Fettes forwards of
these years, including G. C. Gowlland, J. M. Mackenzie, A. L. Purves, W. G.
Lely, played for Scotland.
It was a good Academy team under A. B. Mein, in whom a
connection with the first International in 1871 may be traced, that deposed
Fettes in 1906-7. Hugh Martin, in the three-quarter line, was the schoolboy
back of the year and carried his form to Oxford and into the Internationals.
Loretto followed the Academy as champions with a fair
level side, and Fettes regaining the title during the next two seasons, had
won the honour eight years out of ten. R. A. Gallie, subsequently Glasgow
Academical and Scottish ' hooker,' was in the 1909-10 team along with two
more International forwards, R. W. Symington and P. C. B. Blair.
A. T. Sloan was in the Academy team which came to the top
in 1910-11, and also W. M. Wallace, later Cambridge University and Scottish
full-back. Merchiston, which had been the great football school in the later
'eighties and 'nineties, had long lost their particular efficiency in
forward play, and when after a lapse of about ten years they won the
championship in 1911-12, it was by general smartness and cleverness all
Edinburgh Academy was very strong in players in the years
immediately preceding the war. Three of the best backs that have come out of
the Academy in recent times, F. J. Christison, A. T. Sloan, and G. B. Crole,
were in school teams of these years.
War football can hardly be recognised in the same degree
as that of normal times. Since the resumption the general pre-war standard
has not been regained, and the production of the highest class of players,
until the last year or two, has been low.
Watson's College, almost alone, have advanced, but it
seems as though a year or two must still pass before the old standard has
been recovered. There is no doubt that players of very moderate calibre were
obtaining places in International teams just after the war, but that was
inevitable. Loretto and Fettes between them have supplied the Glasgow
Academicals with a batch of players who have raised the team to the highest
position in club football, but Watson's College has not yet supplied the
force necessary to re-establish the Watsonian team in its old position,
though D. M. Bertram, J. C. Gillies, J. A. R. Selby, and J. H. Carmichael
bear evidence in an International connection that the school is still
producing first-class players. No great team has issued from Loretto in
recent times, but national contributions, if not on a lavish scale, are
being maintained as exemplified in R. S. Simpson and J. C. Dykes. The best
that Fettes has given are, I think, G. P. S. Macpherson, H. Waddell, and G.
S. Conway. The limit of Macpherson's football has not yet been reached, and
the old irony of the position once again reveals itself in the presentation
to England of G. S. Conway, one of the best forwards that has been reared in
a Scottish school for a number of years past.