Research into the history of Football in Falkirk district : mainly concentrating on the the period up to 1945 I like to dig through the newspapers from the days of yore to find little vignettes that were rarely included in the published histories.
From the ugly side to the downright obscure, just don't expect me to write about anything too obvious ....
Now I have always been a bit of a purist when it comes to 'Bairns' [that is people from Falkirk for the rest of the World] but I was surprised to be outdone by the correspondent of the Falkirk Mail in 1893 about this.
Falkirk Mail Feb 18th 1893
"It may interest some of our readers to know that of the eleven players who compose the Falkirk team, eight of them are "bairns". The other three belong to the shire - McGregor hailing from Slamannan, Lees from California and Smith from Carronshore. It is a long while since so many "bairns" figured in the Falkirk first eleven. and the fact is worth noticing." I am not the first "bairn" who was parochial in his outlook, and glad that I am not as parochial as he was!
I personally would never include Slamannan or California as Falkirk, but Carronshore is a grey area, but now I know now that historical precedent says they are not!
This very morning I got an e-mail from Gavin Bertram from New Zealand about a photo he had found in New Zealand which might be from the marriage of Falkirk's very own legend Alex Stark.
Now some provisos, The person who played for Falkirk FC may not have been the only Alex Stark in Christchurch, New Zealand at this point and I have no pictures of Alex Stark so cannot compare this picture with anything else.
All this understood, this might be the first time for more than a Century that Falkirk fans can look upon possibly their best ever players and perhaps know who it is.
From the [Chrischurch] Weekly Press - January 1899.
I really hope this is the great Alex Stark [formerly of Kerse Lane, Falkirk]
Fixture congestion! Avoiding clashes with other matches! We have all become enured to football matches being played at random times times [usually at the behest of the broadcasters] instead of what was some would have us believe happened back in the good old days, when all the clubs across the country kicked off at 3 o'clock on a Saturday afternoon, but of course, like everything else the pundits are again talking rubbish!
Football matches have always kicked off when it was most convenient to the sides playing, and I found a match which I found rather interesting [well to me anyway]: A match between the Lawyers' Clerks and the Press Clerks of Falkirk in April 1896 which kicked off at 7 o'clock of a Wednesday morning. Of course it makes sense when you think about it ... The match was played on one of the few parts of central Falkirk where a proper game of Football could be played: Brockville Park, the evenings were taken up with Charity Cup or Benefit matches, and the Clerks would have to work from about 9 to 5 during the day, so morning would be the best time for the match.
However it still seems a bit weird, imagine a lawyer's clerk turning up at 9:00 in the morning having only finished a game of football about 15 minutes earlier, it certainly puts into perspective those office workers who cycle into work before showering and taking their place at their desk. Of course it is possible that the players were allowed to come in an hour or so late, in order to go home and bathe [I can almost guarantee you that none of them had showers in 1896] before turning up at work, but it is still a bit bizarre.
The next time that your club is asked to play a match on a Sunday at 7:00 in the evening, just think before you say that the World has gone mad: Football matches have been going on at strange times for over a century!
Not one of the most illustrious notes in the history of Falkirk Football Club, but still a match worthy of noting was Falkirk's 0-9 crushing at the hands of Bury at Gigg Lane in December 1896, notable because it was Falkirk FC's first match outside of Scotland. Of course the club were out of their depth, Bury were a serious force in the English League, whilst Falkirk were a middling team in the Scottish Combination [a league made partly of provincial sides and partly of City Clubs' reserve sides].
The result looks a bit embarrassing at first glance, but the gulf in the teams probably was about that size. Plus there were other things to take into account, for example there were significant differences between the laws in Scotland & England and this game would have been under laws that Falkirk had never played under before. And it must be said this was a bit of a makeshift Falkirk side [for example David Robertson [the Albion Rovers RB playing because his brother was at Bury and he was visiting]].
There is little doubt that John Pray had something to do with this match taking place, as the then Bury centre-half was a Falkirk lad and had risen to prominence in the centre of the Falkirk Half-Back line before going down south by the even back then circuitous route by way of Govan: there is nothing new in Scottish Football.
However, the thing I like most about this is the way the team never went straight to Bury on the train, and instead stopped by way of Pendleton [birthplace of John Simpson] to visit the Scotia Foundry, where there were many a Falkirk Bairn [and quite a few Bainsford folk too], this link between Falkirk/Bainsford & Pendleton has largely been overlooked now that the steel & iron is dead in both communities, but back then was so pronounced that it was not unknown for the Falkirk Herald to carry reports of inter-foundry matches from Pendleton depending upon the amount of locals involved.
Oh Dear, my atrocious filing system does me again. The other day whilst looking through the many pictures I have taken in Camelon Cemetery to try and cut down the sheer number of files on my computer I came across one I had no memory of - that of William Ferguson.
You see, when looking for the gravestones of former Falkirk players, I also take pictures of the headstones of people with the same name whose timescale is roughly similar to that of the Falkirk player, with the intention of having a closer look when I get home, the problem being that many of the pictures get lost in the mass of timestamped jpegs in the folder.
Well, I clearly overlooked the headstone of William Ferguson, so now I have forgotten in which part of the cemetery it lies, oh well ....
The big brother of Falkirk's first proper goalscorer Sandy Ferguson, Willie started out as a winger, but he never really shone in that position, and quickly settled down into his regular position of Right-Half. To be there is little to go on, as even though his career lasted over four seasons at the club, there is such scant information on most of the games in the early seasons that his 18 known matches only tell half the story. Most of the games back then have no information whatsoever about who played in most of the matches at all.
Right-Half was an unglamorous position even back then so very little was said of them unless they scored or had a particularly great game, it would seem William did neither, he played regularly until 1883, then a cameo appearance a couple of seasons later. I cannot say exactly why he dropped from the team for a while, but according to the 1881 census he was an Iron Moulder [another one: in Falkirk!] therefore it is entirely possible that he obtained a place in a foundry somewhere else, perhaps even down south as many others did at the time [for example the only reason that Jock Simpson was born in Pendleton, Lancashire, was that his Father who had lived in Campfield Street was working there].
I can not tell exactly what was going on, I have learned however that workers did move about much more than I previously believed, but until someone finds a William Ferguson playing for a local team in another area known for Iron Founding it will be almost impossible to prove either way, but, you know, I will keep looking.
b 23rd December 1855, Falkirk, Stirlingshire
d 8th November 1911
Debut – Saturday September 6th 1879 v Kirkintilloch Athletic (A) Friendly
Competitive Debut – Saturday September 27th 1879 v Grasshoppers (H) Scottish Cup 1st Rd
Scottish Cup Matches/Goals [4/-]
Other Matches/Goals [14/-]
The bizzare thing about the History of Football is that often it is better to read history backwards than forwards, for example after a club, such as Falkirk, sign a Junior player, you can only find out certain things about that player by going back and checking the reports of his junior games than going forward and checking his later career.
For example: often that player played with a brother at the junior level, the other player not making it to senior, which gives you a clue to finding him in the census, so you need to look up stuff of his exploits in the Falkirk & District Junior League.
Another problem is, of course: Births, Deaths and Marriages, I often find players in this section from when they became benedicks before they became Falkirk FC players, deaths is not so usefull for later players, but if they were from well enough to do families the births can help. Of course, the previous junior club can help in where to look, a player with Falkirk Excelsior [d'oh], but with players from outwith Falkirk District, and there are loads, well the Junior Club tells us where to look.
Sometimes it takes us a long time to research stuff. But I tell it here.
I am sorry, I have not posted in quite a while, I am sad to say I took my eye off the ball, I am glad to say that I took my eye off the ball because the GF gave me the book of all the English League players from 1888/89 to 1938/39, and I have been busy cross-referencing it with the other info that I have.
Mostly it has been about adding dates of birth/death that I did not know, but it has also revealed the identities of several trialists, who although only playing in one friendly, or minor cup match, still played for Falkirk FC [which is one more match than I will ever get]. It is a big book and it will take me some time [since after I go through the book looking for players who played for Falkirk, I will then go through it looking for the names of known Falkirk players].
But bear with me, I will be back writing about the more pointless [yet interesting to me] points of fact in the history of football in Falkirk District.
Then I will do it all again looking for 'shire players [I love it really].