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Brechin City: 1906-1920, the Early Years



 Dedicated to the men who established Brechin City Football Club, to the players of its first decade and in particular to James Adam, Frank Forbes, Walter Fowler, David Glen, George Hastings, Thomas Irvine, Robert Jaffray, Collie Martin, Gordon McFarlane and Robert Strachan, who played for BrechinCity, served in the 1914-18 War and did not return
As Brechin City approaches 2006 and the centenary of its formation some celebration of its formation and of its earliest years is appropriate.  George Cumming’s pamphlet, Through the Years with Brechin City, published in 1948, sketches the key events of the early years.  This small work starts by attempting to provide a more detailed narrative of the club and its players.
 Football in Victorian Scotland
 The Scottish Football Association was formed in 1873, with the then-omnipotent Queens Park Football Club, the driving force. Queens Park won the first Scottish Cup in season 1873-74 by beating Clydesdale by two goals to nil in the final. Queens Park continued by winning the Scottish Cup in its second and third seasons but in 1876-77 the run was broken by Vale of Leven.  Vale of Leven also won three Scottish Cups in a row, two of Vale’s three successes being over Glasgow Rangers.
The two most important developments to follow the formation of the SFA were intimately related, the legalisation of professionalism and the inauguration of the Scottish Football League.  The League was formed in April 1890, its first season being 1890-91 when Rangers and Dumbarton shared the title.  The SFA adopted professionalism in May 1893.  While much of what characterises football then was profoundly different from today’s game, these initiatives essentially set the course for football as we know it now.
Professionalism was shaped by the desire of the growing industrial workforce of Scotland for a form of mass entertainment which fitted its pocket and its self-perception.  Bob Crampsey, doyen of Scottish football historians and commentators, has noted the paradox which made a game, whose rules were fashioned in English public schools, the ‘fervent and abiding passion’ of working-class Scotland.[1]  It did so by offering a platform for the display of courage and stamina but also of individual skills.   For the labourer or artisan with a flair for the game it also offered a potential escape from the drudgery of mine or factory.
Wilkie, in his history of football in Dundee, sums up the relationship between social class and football in Victorian Scotland: “It was then that men in their frantic escapist search first discovered the spiritual qualities of football, for although to play at the highest level was the achievement of few it was the aspiration of many.  Merely watching its matches brought a new kind of release, a new kind of solidarity and a new kind of sociability.”[2]
It articulated the intense expression of local rivalries and in small industrial communities it expressed a local pride of place and ritualised a sense of identity which was expressed in rivalry with neighbouring communities.  Moreover, at a time when a sense of British-ness was perhaps stronger than at any other in Scotland’s history, it provided ‘a theatre’ in which Scottish ‘nationhood and difference’ could come to the fore.[3]
One of Scotland’s leading social historians, states that by the 1890s the workers of Scotland were becoming ‘football-mad’.  For a class which often perceived itself as exploited and down-trodden, football satisfied a need to identify with winners[4].  For those corralled into five-and-a-half days’ subservience in employment, Saturday afternoon on the pitch or the terracings offered the opportunity to relieve frustrations and assert a spirit usually dormant.  Football had become ‘the new opium of the masses’.[5]
The Early Years of the Twentieth Century
Scottish football in the years between 1900 and 1914 had elements which today look positively archaic and others which would be entirely recognisable.
Goal-nets were still uncommon although the posts and tape had disappeared. (The first use of goal nets at the Brechin Public Park, home of most of the local Junior sides, was in September 1911.[6])  Only in 1905 was the rule introduced whereby the keeper was required to remain still on the goal-line during a penalty kick.  The goal keeper could hold the ball in his hands anywhere within his own half until 1912.  If the rules were somewhat different, the structures however, bore remarkable similarities to those of the contemporary scene.
Then as now, the ‘old firm’ dominated the first fourteen seasons of the twentieth century.  In these years Celtic won the Cup six times and the League seven times.  Rangers won the Cup once and the League five times.  The closest any club came to challenging that hegemony were Hearts with two Cup victories and Hibernian with one Cup and one League triumph. Dundeealso offered a challenge to Rangers and Celtic at the end of the Edwardian era, being twice runners-up in the League and once winning the Scottish Cup.
In 1901 the First Division comprised ten teams.  By 1914 it had doubled to twenty and the Second Division comprised fourteen.  A Second Division of the Scottish League had existed since season 1893-94 but neither  promotion nor relegation were automatic but rather were decided by a vote of the First Division Clubs.  In that sense the situation was no different from that which led toFalkirk’s being denied promotion to the SPL at the end of 2002-03 or the initial farce which almost denied Inverness Caledonian Thistle promotion at the end of 2003-04.
Aberdeen FC was formed in 1903 with the amalgamation of three sides, Orion, Victoria United andAberdeen.  The new club finished its first league campaign seventh in the Second Division but was immediately elected to join the First Division for season 1905-06, presumably because Aberdeen’s population offered a support base likely to generate reasonable crowds.  Among the Second Division champions over the first years of the new century were St Bernards (Edinburgh’s third side), Leith Athletic, Ayr United and Cowdenbeath, all of which clubs were champions twice in the period immediately before the outbreak of the Great War and none of which were promoted.
In addition however to the Scottish Football League there existed several senior regional leagues.  The Northern League had been formed in 1891 and the Highland League in 1893 and, along with the Borders League, the East of Scotland League and the Central League, offered Clubs which had ambitions to move into national league football the opportunity to start that process within a local structure where travelling costs were moderate.
Although the existence of the leagues, both Scottish and provincial, modernised the game, there remained an enormous loyalty to the concept of the knock-out competition.  League programmes, especially in the minor leagues were often uncompleted since clubs would always prioritise cup-ties over league fixtures.  This was true not only of competition in the national cups, Scottish, Qualifying and Consolation, but also of the county cups.  Competitions such as the Forfarshire Cup (not to mention the Glasgow, Lanarkshire or Stirlingshire Cups) retained a high status and winning the county cup was, especially for the smaller clubs, an honour pursued with verve and enthusiasm.
In one other sense football in these pre-war days was substantially different from today.  Clubs were local institutions.  Despite the advent of professionalism, in Scotland it was only in the First Division of the Scottish League, that clubs could pay wages which would attract players away from their home towns.  (There was also of course a drain of talent to England where even higher wages prevailed.)  The Second Division and provincial league clubs were staffed by players who lived in, or at least within an easy train journey of, the towns in which their teams were based.  The sense of identity therefore between the working class population of Scotland’s small industrial towns and their football clubs was emotional and intense.
 Brechin City: Before the Formation
 Various football clubs played in Brechin over the years.  There had been intermittent attempts to maintain a senior team and, although Brechin Cityas it is known today, was founded in 1906, at least one club of the same name, playing senior football, had existed previously.
The Forfarshire Football Association (and the Forfarshire Cup) had been initiated in 1883, although with no Brechin club among its inaugural members.[7]  A Brechin Club by the name Dalhousie played in the Forfarshire Cup in seasons 1885-86 and 1886-87.  The cathedral city was represented in the county cup in 1887-88 by Brechin United, by Brechin in 1888-89, 1889-90, 1890-91 and 1891-92, although in the middle two of these Brechin scratched.  The Forfarshire records then show Brechin City in 1892-93 but Brechin again (although this may have been the same club as that previously as Brechin City) in 1893-94 and 1894-95.[8]  Records also show that Brechin City played in the first round of the Scottish Cup in each of seasons 1888-89, 1889-90, 1890-91 and 1891-92.  In each year Brechin City lost its first round tie: to Montrose by 8-1 in 1888, to Lochee United by 4-1 in 1889, to Kirriemuir by 4-2 in 1890 and to Arbroath by 9-3 (after a 1-0 victory for Brechin was successfully appealed) in 1891.  That appearance against Arbroath in 1891 was the last occasion on which the name of Brechin City appeared in a Scottish Cup draw until 1908-09 when, as a result of their progress in the Qualifying Cup, Brechin played Third Lanark in the first round of the Scottish Cup.[9]
In the Qualifying Cup in season 1892-93 Arbroath FC defeated the then Brechin City by a stupendous fifteen goals to nil and in the same competition in 1895-96 Arbroath again triumphed over the earlier Brechin City side but this time by five goals to nil.[10]
A club therefore by the name of Brechin Cityhad maintained an existence from at least 1888 to 1896.
Junior and Juvenile Clubs in Brechin
Brechin also however supported several Junior and Juvenile football clubs through which local talent flourished.  In the period immediately prior to the formation of Brechin City three Junior clubs operated, Brechin Harp, Brechin Hearts and Brechin Rovers.
Brechin Harp Junior FC, whose home ground, NurseryPark, was rented from the local Cricket Club,[11]  had an impressive record in the years immediately prior to the formation of Brechin City.  In 1904-05 Harp won the Forfarshire District Cup (beating Forfar Celtic in the final)[12] and reached the finals of the Arbroath and District Junior Cup (losing to arch-rivals, Brechin Hearts)[13] and the semi-final of the East of Scotland Junior Cup. The Harp-Hearts final of the Arbroath and District Cup was notable in that six of the Harp players and four of the Hearts players would ultimately turn out for Brechin City.  In January 1905, almost 3,000 spectators watched Harp and Glasgow Parkhead in a Scottish Junior Cup fourth round replay at Clepington Park (now Tannadice) in Dundee.  Harp lost 4-3.[14]
In season 1905-06 Brechin Harp played in the Melvin League, a Junior league involving teams from Brechin, Arbroath, Carnoustie and Friockheim.
Harp again won the Forfarshire District Cup, defeating Arbroath Rovers in a replay in the final.[15]
It had also appeared, that season, as if Harp had won the Arbroath and District Junior Cup.  Hearts had beaten Harp 5-2 in the semi-final[16] but the Arbroath Association upheld an appeal by Harp that Stewart, one of the Hearts players was a registered Senior.  Hearts then refused to replay as instructed by the Association.  The final went ahead[17] between Harp and Arbroath St Thomas.  Harp won by three goals to one.[18]  The Forfarshire Junior Association however over-ruled the Arbroath Association and, despite the fact that the final had been played, ordered the disputed semi-final to be replayed.[19]  Harp initially refused to do so but the game was played on the first Saturday of the next season.  Hearts won by two goals to one, Livie, the former Harp but by then Hearts keeper, saving a penalty against his old club.
After the disastrous defeat in the replayed 1905-06 Arbroath and District Cup Final and the almost simultaneous formation of BrechinCity, Harp seems to have collapsed as a club.  A revived Brechin Harp however was playing in the Juvenile League in 1912[20] and continued to do so in the years after the First World War.[21]
Brechin Hearts Junior FC played at ViewforthParkin season 1904-05 but opened their new ground, Central Park, on the opening day of the 1905-06 season.[22]  Hearts, a highly successful local  Junior club in the early years of the century, won the Arbroath and District Junior Cup in 1901-02, 1904-05 and in 1905-06, when they beat Arbroath St Thomas in the much disputed final, following their delayed semi-final defeat of Harp.  Brechin Hearts also won the Forfarshire District Cup in 1903-04 and were beaten finalists, in a replay, in the Forfarshire Cup in 1904-05.  The first final, at Dens Park, attracted a crowd of between 3,000 and 4,000.[23] Brechin Hearts appear to have competed in the Melvin League in seasons 1904-05 and 1905-06.[24]

Brechin Hearts Junior FC 1905-06 Back: J Christison, J Valentine, W Chapman, A Dundas, A Esplin, RC Whyte, J Bushnell, A Milne, A Dalgety,. Centre: G Bruce, J McGarrie, D Duncan, A Stewart, D Croy, AM Reid. Front: J Hetherington, D Glen, G Richardson, L Duncan, D Stewart

Hearts however, unlike Harp, continued well after the formation of Brechin City and were playing competitive Junior football until at least after the outbreak of World War One, having been finalists in the Forfarshire District Junior Cup in 1908-09, 1909-10 and 1912-13[25] and winners of the Arbroath and District Junior Cup in 1913-14, beating Arbroath Ardenlea 3-2 in a replayed final in which Guild scored a hat-trick.[26]  In one game, a friendly against Dundee Fairfield, in early 1914, they won by the astonishing margin of fourteen goals to three.[27]BRECHIN ROVERS
The third of the local juniors was Brechin Rovers Junior FC, noted as a Junior club in 1904-05 when they played Brechin Harp in the Forfarshire District Cup.[28]  Although they did not play in the Melvin League in 1904-05 they sought to join for the succeeding season[29] but in 1905-06 there is no note of Rovers in the league tables published in the press.  They did however, that season, play in the Scottish Junior Cup, the Arbroath and District Junior Cup and the Forfarshire District Junior Cup.[30]  The Melvin League appears not to have operated in seasons 1906-07 or 1907-08.  In 1909-10 Rovers won the Arbroath and District Junior Cup by defeating Arbroath Fairfield in the third replay of the final.[31]  They maintained a presence as juniors until the end of season 1912-13 but played as a Juvenile Club in the post-war years.[32]
A new Junior Club, Brechin Hibs, emerged in season 1908-09.  In that season also the Melvin League seems to have been re-established but of the three Junior clubs in Brechin, Hearts, Rovers and Hibs, only Hearts seem to have competed in it.  Hibs, which had been a Juvenile club, lasted only one season as Juniors and reverted to Juvenile status.
Brechin Rangers, a juvenile and second class junior club, entered the junior ranks in 1911-12.[33] They lasted two seasons but, like Rovers, were unable to maintain a presence in season 1913-14.
Several Juvenile (and ‘Second Class Junior’) clubs played in Brechin during the early years of the twentieth century.  As well as local Juvenile leagues there existed what were known as Second Class Junior Leagues (one centred around Brechin and another centred on Arbroath) but since the same teams often played in both it is assumed that these were both variations on the juvenile theme.  There was also a competition for the American Cup, a trophy brought across the Atlantic by a returning Brechiner after an exile in theUnited States.
Pre-eminent among the Juvenile clubs was Brechin Arnot.  Brechin Arnot was in existence from the earliest years of the century.  At different times Arnot played in the Brechin Juvenile League, the Brechin Second Class Junior League[34]  and the Arbroath and District Second Class Junior League.[35]   In 1908-09 Arnot reached the final of the Arbroath and District Second Class Junior Cup, losing by four goals to three to Arbroath Hearts.[36]  Arnot was playing juvenile football in 1914.[37]   Arnot appears, in the early years of the twentieth century, to have been the most consistent nursery club for the Brechin Junior teams.

Brechin Arnot 1903-04

Additionally, and more intermittently, Brechin Rangers, Brechin Hibs,  Crown , Brechin North End, Brechin Renton, Brechin Thistle, Brechin Hawthorn, Brechin East End and Edzell all played in one of the Juvenile or Second Class Junior Leagues in the pre-war epoch.[38]  Brechin Hibs and Brechin Rangers of course had forays into the world of Junior football.
Brechin Victoria (the ‘Vics’) are noted as having been a juvenile team in 1914 and again after the War but, in common with Renton and Thistle, became Juniors in 1923.
The Foundation of Brechin City

Brechin Hearts 1906-07

Brechin Hearts are often quoted, along with Brechin Harp, as the “nucleus” of the formation of BrechinCityin 1906.  “The juniors, particularly Harp and Hearts, had been doing so well in their sphere, that was urged that here was the nucleus of a first class organization.”[39]  The initial public meeting to launch Brechin City FC, held in the Temperance Hall on 25th May 1906, indeed considered that, rancour between Harp and Hearts notwithstanding, “difficulties in the way of amalgamation were not insurmountable”.[40]  Brechin Harp and Brechin Hearts may indeed have provided the personnel for the nucleus of Brechin City but there was no amalgamation.  Mr R.N. Clift, secretary of Brechin Harp became secretary of the new senior club when the office-bearers of the new Brechin City FC were elected at a committee meeting on Thursday 31 May 1906.  As well as Clift, the office bearers of the new club were Alexander Potter, president, James Johnstone, vice-president and George Cumming, treasurer.[41]  These men were artisans and tradesmen.  George Cumming, aged thirty five and originally from Fraserburgh, was a self-employed printer.  Alex Potter, thirty two years old and born in Friockheim, was employed as a Linen Cloth Stamper.  Robert Clift, aged twenty four and born in Brechin, was a linen factory worker.
The annual general meeting of Brechin Hearts FC however, took place on the following evening[42] and while Brechin Harp, which provided the new club’s secretary and the largest single contingent of its players, seems to have ceased to exist very shortly after this point, Brechin Hearts continued an active and reasonably successful existence until during the First World War.  In fact Harp’s last recorded game, the disastrous replayed cup semi-final on 3rd August 1906, was a defeat at the hands of Brechin Hearts.[43]
The author of this article would be glad to hear any information which corrected, improved or enhanced any of the information given here and would be delighted to hear of any readers who have documents, photographs, articles or simply memories or knowledge of any of the names mentioned or of any other Brechin footballing connections with the 1914-18 War.  The author can be contacted at: .
Any such material will be used to supplement this article.

The major sources for this work were:
Adams, David G: The Kirn Poke o’ Brechin, Chanonry Press, Brechin (1986)
Adams, David G: The Brechin Bran Tub, Chanonry Press, Brechin (1987)
Adams, David G: The Brechin Rag-Bag, Chanonry Press, Brechin (1988)
Adams, David G: The Brechin Lucky Dip, Chanonry Press, Brechin (1989)
Alexander, Jack: McCrae’s Battalion, Mainstream,Edinburgh (2003)
 Carr, William: A Time to Leave the Ploughshares,London (1985)
Cheshire, Scott: Chelsea, A Complete Record 1905-1991, Breedon Books (1991)
Crampsey, Bob: The Scottish Football League, the First 100 Years, SFL,Glasgow (1990)
Cumming, George: Through the Years with Brechin City FC, Simmath Press,Dundee (1948)
Falls, Cyril: History of the Great War, France and Belgium, 1917
Gibbs, Philip: The War Dispatches, Tandem,London (1968)
Gourlay, David M.A.: A Brechin Eleven and A Printer’s Dozen
Hampton, W: Collection of Colin Hampton Memorabilia (including medals, press cuttings and photographs)
Lynch, Michael: Scotland, A New History, Pimlico,London (1992)
McArra, Kevin: Scottish Football, a Pictorial History,Edinburgh (1984)
McLeod, Rod: 100 Years of Scottish Football, STV,Glasgow (1973)
Price, Norrie: Up Wi’ The Bonnets, N Price,Aberdeen (1993)
Smailes, Gordon, Scottish Football Records,Derby (1995)
Smout, T.C.: A Century of the Scottish People, 1830-1950,Fontana,London (1997)
Swinburne, John: Motherwell Football Club, 1886-1999, Tempus, Stroud (1999)
Wilkie, Jim: Across the Great Divide, Mainstream (1984)
Wood, Alex.: Collection of Walter Fowler memorabilia (including medals, photographs and Brechin Hearts membership card)
The Brechin Almanac 1918
The Brechin Almanac 1920
Brechin and The Great War 1918 (Brechin Advertiser, February 1919)
The Brechin Advertiser
The Courier and Argus
The London Gazette
D & R Duke, Denburn Works, Roll of Honour, Brechin (1919?)
Relichtie Arbroath FC fans’ website
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Debt of Honour web-site
The County of Angus Roll of Honour
Corstorphine, James K: The East Fife Football Historian website
Dundee United FC website
Fulham FC website
Loons Mad, independent Forfar Athletic fans website
The National ArchivesDocuments on Line, for World War One medal lists
McColl, Brian: Scottish Football Encyclopaedia website
Parker, Jim: Machine Gun Corps Research
Ross, James M: Scotland – List of Qualifying Cup Winners, website
Robertson, Stuart et al: The Scottish Football Historical Archive, website
Tangerine Dream, independent Dundee United fans website
WELLnet, Motherwell FC website
Birth Certificates were traced for most mentioned men and marriage certificates for several via Scotland’s People, the web site for the General Register Office forScotland, from which were also traced census entries
In addition the following individuals and institutions were of enormous assistance in compiling the material on which this article was based and their efforts and support is acknowledged with gratitude:
Chelsea Football Club (Claire Lait);
Crystal Palace Football Club (Rev Nigel Sands);
Dundee Football Club (David Forbes);
Dundee United Football Club (Mike Watson and Steve Gracie);
Bill and Agnes Hampton, Brechin;
Jenny Hill, The Brechin Advertiser;
The late
James Livie, Brechin;
Ken Macaskill, of Edinburgh and formerly of Brechin
The late Steve Mitchell, Editor,BrechinCityProgramme and Director, Brechin City FC;
Jack Souter, Luthermuir;
The Staff, Brechin Public Library;
The Staff, The National Library ofScotland.

[1] Crampsey, p 1
[2] Wilkie, p 16
[3] Crampsey, p 1
[4] Smout, p 152
[5] Lynch, p 360
[6] The Brechin Advertiser,19 September 1911
[7] Wilkie, p 17
[8] Robertson et al
[9] Smailes, p 24 et seq
[10] Relichtie
[11] The Brechin Advertiser,25 July 1905
[12] The Brechin Advertiser, 21 March 1905 et seq
[13] The Brechin Advertiser,25 April 1905
[14] The Brechin Advertiser,3 January 1905
[15] The Brechin Advertiser, 1 May 1906
[16] The Brechin Advertiser,13 March 1906
[17] The Brechin Advertiser, 15 May 1906
[18] The Brechin Advertiser, 22 May 1906
[19] The Brechin Advertsider, 29 May 1906
[20] The Brechin Advertiser,9 January 1912
[21]Adams (1986), p 54
[22] The Brechin Advertiser,5 September 1905
[23] The Brechin Advertiser, 23 May 1905
[24] The Brechin Advertiser, 3 January 1905 et seq
[25] Wood (Brechin Hearts Membership Card, 1913-14)
[26] The Brechin Advertiser,28 April 1914
[27] The Brechin Advertiser,6 January 1914
[28] The Brechin Advertiser,10 January 1905
[29] The Brechin Advertiser,15 August 1905
[30] The Brechin Advertiser,3 October 1905 and23 January 1906
[31] The Brechin Advertiser,7 June 1910
[32]Adams (1986), p 51
[33] The Brechin Advertiser,13 June 1911
[34] The Brechin Advertiser,5 February 1907
[35] The Brechin Advertiser,22 October 1907
[36] The Brechin Advertiser,6 April 1909
[37] The Brechin Advertiser,27 January 1914
[38] The Brechin Advertiser,7 November 1905
[39] Cumming, p 5
[40] The Brechin Advertiser, 29 May 1906
[41] The Brechin Advertiser,5 June 1906
[42] The Brechin Advertiser, 1906
[43] The Brechin Advertiser,7 August 1906

One Comment

  • john Aitken says:

    hi there
    If you take a look at my book on East of Scotland and Midlands Junior clubs there is little more information on the Brechin Junior clubs defunct and still going below are the main defunct clubs from Brechin and you can get in touch with me via my e-mail as I am just finishing of the update to the 100 year book from 1988 of the SJFA
    below are ther defunct clubs from BRechin
    Brechin Harp
    Formed – 1891 Merged – 1906 (Brechin City)
    Ground – Public Park, Viafield, Nursery Park
    League – Forfar & District League (Founder Member), Melvin League
    East of Scotland Challenge Cup
    Runners up – 1904
    Brechin Hearts
    Founded – 1900 Defunct – 1917
    Ground – Low Common Nursery Park
    League – Forfar & District League, Melvin League
    Brechin Matrix
    Founded – – 1944 Defunct – 1969
    Ground – Nursery Park
    League – Angus League, Midland Regional League
    Brechin Renton
    Founded – 1917 Defunct – 1955
    Ground – Glebe Park
    League – Forfar & District League, Angus League
    any amendments will gratefully be be acepted and if you haver any photo of former junior sides with trophies that I can use the more the better
    john aitken

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