Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Alex Stark

Alex "Buttons" Stark was probably Falkirk FC's and certainly my favourite player in those years before the club joined the League. Sandy, as he was sometimes known, was a born and bred Falkirk Bairn, his Family home being on Kerse Lane backing on to Bell's Meadow, the family running a dairy business.

Apart from being registered as a scholar in the 1881 census I have never discovered what Alex did in the real world, but it is highly likely that he helped in the family business. the earliest he shows up in the extant match reports was during the 1884/85 season when it was mentionied he scored in the 2nd XI's 7-2 win against Tayavalla 2nd XI in the New Year's matches. Throughout the random reserve matches that the Falkirk Herald noted he had scored some 6 goals in four matches for the reserves all at Inside-Right to Alex Rule's outside-Right, and it was this form that must have prompted the committee to include him in an end of season friendly against Rangers Swifts, taking his, soon to be default position, at Outside-Right.

The Following season he started back in the reserves, but it was not long until he was brought into the 1st XI for his first senior match, a Scottish Cup Second round tie against local minnows Laurieston FC at Zetland Park. Falkirk won by 3-1 allowing the still young Alex to play in the next round against what was then still the most prestigeous opponents in the land: the Spiders [Queen's Park FC]. As was expected Falkirk got thumped, but Alex showed what was to come over the next decade by scoring twice in Falkirk's 3-8 defeat at the hands of the grand old team.

Forming a highly effective right-wing partnership with Thomas McDonald [AKA Tommy Donnelly], everything was set in motion. alex stayed at Outside-Right for the next decade [only occassionally switching to the other flank or Inside-Right when needed]. He quickly became a fan's favourite [I would say he became a legend, but that he is largely forgotten today], and it was a regular argument between FFC & ESFC fans as to whether he or Lawrence McLachlan were the best player in the county.

Of course, he was always highly in demand, for guest appearances for benefit matches by other other clubs and by various XI's, but also from other more predatory clubs wishing his services on a more permanent basis.

Therefore the Falkirk fans were crestfallen when it came to light that he had signed professional terms with Bolton Wanderers in 1889. Yet at the start of the following season, he was still there at Outside-Right for his hometown club. It is difficult from this distance in time to glean what exactly happened. Perhaps he just changed his mind, perhaps he didn't like Bolton! At the time Scotland had not yet recognised professionalism, so his professionalism down south would have barred him from Scottish football, but due to the little fact that he never turned out for Bolton Wanderers therefore never recieved any money, in Scottish Football he was not a pro, so could still play. the only ramification of his folly being that London Casuals refused to play against Falkirk with Alex in the side when they visited in a holiday fixture that year.

Alex came close to national recognition when he was chosen to play in the international trials, but Glasgow bias ruled as much then as it does now, and he was overlooked. Yet at the time there was an intermediate level for footballers to demonstrate their skills. Between club & country there were still Inter-County Matches and for a fair while a Stirlingshire XI was not a Stirlingshire XI without Stark, McLachlan & Inch [another legend of the 'shire].

During his last season with the club [and his last season in Scotland], Alx spent a fair chunk of the season guesting with Queen's Park, but as he had already played in the Cup for Falkirk he could only play in friendlies for them.

But in the end, he was a young man with a limited future in a game which paid little and offered next to no security, worse still he was only the third oldest son in the family, so had little chance of taking over the family business. So it was in 1895 he announced his emigration to New Zealand to go into business in a meat-packing factory with his uncle William [a former Stirling County batsman who had emigrated some years earlier].

And there the trail ought to have gone cold .... were it not for google! For, playing about on the internet a while ago, to my surprise my Alex Stark+New Zealand+Football searches brought one or two interesting results. It seems [confirmed by NZ Soccer's Historian] that Alex got involved in his new country's football scene, becoming the president of the Canterbury FA and Vice-President of the NZ FA, crowning this with an appearance in New Zealand's first ever representative XI in 1904 -alas, it was against a touring New south Wales XI so FIFA denied it international status.

A strange thing is that for all that is known about Alex, I have yet to find a definitive likeness of him: there was reported in the Falkirk Herald that his image was in "one of the evening papers in 1887", but I have yet to track it down; also I have a photocopy of an article about Falkirk FC which has a photo which purports to include Alex, but the contrast has reduced the entire team to a single amorphous blob, but there must be one out there ... even if only in New Zealand.

I do now!!!!

Alexander 'Buttons' Stark

b 11th April 1869, Falkirk, Stirlingshire
d c1935, New Zealand

Debut – Thursday June 3rd 1886 v Rangers Swifts (H) Friendly

Positions – Outside-Right, Outside-Left, Inside-Right, Inside-Left

Representative Honours – Stirlingshire v Forfarshire 1886/87, 1887/88, 1888/89, 1889/90, 1890/91, 1891/92, 1892/93, v Renfrewshire 1886/87, v
Linlithgowshire 1887/88, 1888/89, v Fife 1890/91, 1891/92, 1893/94.

Club Honours – Midland League W 1894/95, Stirlingshire Cup W 1889/90, 1894/95, RU 1886/87, 1887/88, 1891/92, Falkirk District Charity
Cup W 1889/90, 1891/92, 1893/94, RU 1890/91, 1894/95, Falkirk Infirmary Shield W 1891/92, 1892/93, 1893/94, RU 1889/90, 1890/91

Scottish Cup Matches /Goals [24/13]
Minor League Matches/Goals [53/20]
Minor Cup Matches/Goals [60/24]
Other Matches/Goals [152/57]

Hat-Tricks – 6 [Scottish Cup [1] Scottish Federation [1] Stirlingshire Cup [1] Other [3]]

Known Career – Falkirk [1885/86-1894/95], Queen's Park [1894/95], Canterbury (NZ)

Played for Falkirk Swifts v Redding Athletic, Friendly at Redding, 18th May 1887
Played for Falkirk Swifts v Carron Athletic, Friendly at Inns Pk, Carron, 8th June 1887
Played for Falkirk District XI v East Stirlingshire , Benefit Match at Merchiston Pk, Bainsford, 17th April 1888
Played for Falkirk District XI v Ibroxonians, Benefit Match at Brockville Pk, Falkirk, 11th June 1889
Played for King's Park v Corinthians, Friendly at Stirling, 31st December 1889
Played for Falkirk District XI v Glasgow Corinthians, Benefit Match at Camelon, 17th May 1890
Played for King's Park v Hurlford, Friendly at Stirling, 1st January 1891
Played for King's Park v London Casuals, Friendly at Stirling, 2nd January 1891
Played for King's Park v Dumbarton, Friendly at Stirling, 3rd January 1891
Played for Falkirk District XI v Grangemouth, Benefit Match at Grangemouth, 28th April 1892
Played for Laurieston v Camelon, Friendly at Laurieston, 11th February 1893
Played for Stirlingshire XI v Grangemouth, Benefit Match at Bainsford, 9th May 1893

Finally - that nickname! I have no idea as to why he was called buttons, not a clue. But I can tell you that the Club Secretary Robert Bishop was moved to write to the Falkirk Herald on several occasions of its use in match reports. Make of that what you will!